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Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: I support my noble friend. The logic of his approach is absolutely correct. It is to recognise that there are parts of Scotland with very real geographical distances and very real areas of sparsity of population where there should be large constituencies with smaller numbers. The figure he gives of five or six seems about right. That must be the correct approach rather than these smaller ones in the centre of Glasgow and elsewhere.
As to his Amendment No. 289B, and the proposition that a constituency which includes the Western Isles should not include the whole or any part of a local government area other than the Western Isles, I am only sorry that my noble friend Lord Lang, does not have his name appended to it. Some will remember that in another place at another time my noble friend described such a proposal before the Boundary Commission as one of being "Give them a Minch and they will take an Isle."
Lord Sewel: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, for reminding me in Amendment No. 289B of the undertaking I gave on the first day of Committee to consider whether it was necessary to provide in the Bill for a separate constituency for the Western Isles for the Scottish parliament. I said then that I would reflect on the matter. I have done so. I have to say that I am not yet convinced by the noble Lord's arguments.
The Western Isles has formed a separate Westminster constituency for a number of years. I can see no reason why it should not continue to be so in the future. We can leave it to the Boundary Commission for Scotland to decide the appropriate boundaries. The comparison with Orkney and Shetland is not a true one. In the case of Orkney and Shetland, we are working from the present unit of a Westminster constituency--the Orkney and Shetland division--and splitting that into two constituencies for the Scottish parliament. That is why we are required to make special reference to that in the Bill. As the Western Isles already has its own constituency, there is no similar reason to make provision for that on the face of the Bill. So, on reflection, I came to the conclusion that we were not really comparing apples with apples; we were comparing apples with pears to an extent.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I do not quite follow the noble Lord's logic. If that is logical, why are the Government doing it when it comes to arrangements at Westminster? Currently, Orkney and Shetland are one constituency. There will not be any changes there. Unlike the Scottish parliamentary scene, they will remain one constituency. Why do we not leave that to the good sense of the Boundary Commission? The noble Lord's case is that, because they are splitting Orkney and Shetland in the Scottish situation, they feel they have to put in this point. I do not understand that, but I shall leave it aside this evening.
However, as far as concerns Westminster, they are not making any change to the position. Orkney and Shetland remain as they have been. Why do they have this special provision for Orkney and Shetland for Westminster when the logic of the first argument would suggest that they should not be doing that. They should leave it to the good sense of the Boundary Commission.
Lord Sewel: We are talking about representation in the Scottish parliament. That is why there is a necessity to make this point explicit on the face of the Bill in terms of representation of Orkney and Shetland within the Scottish parliament. There is no similar need to make that point in relation to the Western Isles.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: With all due respect, the rubric to Clause 81 says "Scottish representation at Westminster". That is what Clause 81 is about. So I do not see why we need the part about Orkney and Shetland at all. Nothing is changing. They are not being split in two; or are they? Are there going to be two constituencies at Westminster? It is totally illogical.
Perhaps I may move on to Amendments Nos. 290A and 290B. As a former principal teacher of mathematics at Oban High School, I recognise that quotas and mathematical formulae loom large in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. I have a strong degree of sympathy for the noble Lord's point that a mathematical balance should be taken very seriously into account. As I understand Amendment No. 290A, if I have interpreted it correctly, the noble Lord is simply attempting to ensure that most of the constituencies of the Scottish parliament are broadly of a similar size. That was a strong point which he made in his contribution.
The noble Lord has tabled his amendment to address his concerns about the Boundary Commission creating small constituencies predominantly in urban areas while allowing some geographically large rural constituencies to have a greater number of electors. That was one of the main points of his arguments.
The rules for determining constituency boundaries in the 1986 Act already include a rule that the electorate of a constituency is as near as is practical to the electoral quota. That is an instruction and a condition which the Boundary Commission already has regard to in carrying out its work. However, it is also given the flexibility to take a number of other factors into account; in particular, special geographical considerations, including the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency. In determining constituencies, it may take into account also boundaries of local government areas and the existence of any local ties.
The noble Lord is really trying completely to down-play all those other factors, whereas I can say from my experience of local government that they were the very factors which often caused the greatest local reaction when the Boundary Commission's initial proposals were published. People thought that the sense of belonging and ties were being broken, and broken in an arbitrary way, in order to achieve some form of mathematical quota. The approach which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, offers is too arbitrary. We should allow the Boundary Commission the same flexibility that the commissions in England, Wales and Northern Ireland already have.
The noble Lord has drawn our attention also to the current discrepancy in electoral size. The points he makes are rightly made. Almost two-thirds of all the current constituencies are either 5 per cent. larger or 5 per cent. smaller than the current electoral quota of 55,500. I argue that that shows that it is impractical to expect 90 per cent. of all constituencies to be within 5 per cent. of the electoral quota. As I say, the Boundary Commission is working from a framework which gives it an electoral quota and a requirement to have that very much in mind. I certainly would not make the point that the Boundary Commission, very largely, I suspect, appointed by a previous government, is full of political stooges in any way, shape or form. They are honourable people trying to do a difficult job. But in trying to reach an acceptable outcome they have found it impossible to achieve that very close bunching around the electoral
Lord Sanderson of Bowden: I thank the Minister for giving way. If the quota for the local government wards in Glasgow is set at too low a level--he pointed out that local government wards do have to be co-terminus--for instance, if one has a multiplication of three towards a parliamentary constituency in Glasgow, one ends up with the situation that one has in Glasgow where there is a lower electorate in each parliamentary constituency, as opposed to the situation in Edinburgh. Is not that something that goes back to the local government Boundary Commission's remit? It ought to look carefully at the whole of Scotland and decide what the quota should be for the local government wards.
Lord Sewel: The noble Lord has a point. As I indicated, the Boundary Commission can take into account--and effectively does--the local government divisions. I refer the noble Lord to the fourth report of the Boundary Commission specifically concerned with Glasgow and the arguments that it adduced to produce its final recommendations.
Perhaps I can return to the general argument. Much has been made of the over-representation of the central belt, particularly Glasgow. We want to ensure that we have a parliament which clearly represents the diversity of Scotland, and the electoral arrangements provided for in the Bill ensure that all areas will be properly represented. In looking at that, it is necessary not just to look at the constituency representation, but to bear in mind the modification that comes about by the application of the regional additional member factor. That is a point that has not been raised and has not been recognised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, in his arguments.
Seven regional members will be elected from each of the eight regions. That means, in absolute terms, that there will be only two members more from Lothian and Glasgow combined than from the most rural regions of the Highlands and Islands and the South of Scotland. To put it another way, with 26.4 per cent. of the electorate, Glasgow and Lothian will have 25.6 per cent. of the seats. Highlands and Islands and South of Scotland, with 21.1 per cent. of the electorate, will have 24 per cent. of the seats. It is through the constant regional representation coming into play that one gets that broad balance between urban and rural areas.
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