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The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, this amendment brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, sets out to try to sort out the serious problem of under-sized parliamentary constituencies in the Glasgow area which just happen to be held by the Labour Party. At the same time we have to consider the special problems of representation on the remote island groups and in sparsely populated areas of the mainland. It comes as no surprise that the noble Lord has brought forward an arithmetic formula in his amendment. I suspect that he may have it generally right, but if a formula is less generous than is ultimately desired for rural and remote areas it will not be of assistance to the Boundary Commission for Scotland. It will be found to be perhaps too prescriptive. I cannot support the amendment but at the same time believe that it constitutes good general advice and encouragement to the Boundary Commissioners.
Lord Sanderson of Bowden: My Lords, I hope that those on the Front Bench opposite will listen closely to what my noble friend has said about this matter. We return to a point which I believe I raised earlier in the course of this Bill in your Lordships' House. I do not think it is any good just expecting the parliamentary Boundary Commission to deal with this matter without also considering the local government Boundary Commission for Scotland which constructs the building blocks for the parliamentary constituencies. In the early 1990s I considered these various constituencies. At every turn we were told that the building blocks for a parliamentary constituency--whether it is Glasgow, Hamilton or wherever--were the local government wards, districts or whatever one likes to call them. In trying to deal with this particularly difficult matter I suggest that the Government ask the parliamentary Boundary Commission in Scotland to seek the right answer. But one will only get that if one gets the size of the wards or districts correct as designated by the local government Boundary Commission for Scotland.
Lord Hardie: My Lords, this amendment would provide that 90 per cent. of the Westminster constituencies for Scotland would have to be within 10 per cent. of the electoral quota, leaving aside Orkney and Shetland. Noble Lords will appreciate that setting constituency boundaries is not an exact science. I respectfully suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that it is a mistake to seek to apply mathematical certainty to this exercise by the commission. As the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, said, such an approach is too prescriptive.
Before I discuss the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, I should confirm that the calculations for the future will obviously depend on the population at the time. However, our present estimate based on the present population is 60,000 to 69,500 as the electoral quota. Applying that quota to present
As I understand it, at the next review there will be more flexible divisions available in the sense that local government divisions as opposed to regional wards will be used. If this new approach of using local government divisions had been available at the time of the previous report of the commission, the commission may have been able to contemplate using four as opposed to three divisions in Glasgow. The noble Lord made a good point in identifying that the problem for the commission has been the unit that it has had to apply in drawing up a constituency. That may explain some of the discrepancies in numbers that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has highlighted.
However, I am concerned at the suggestion, or implication, by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that somehow some political influence has been brought to bear. There was clearly a heavy innuendo to that effect. I regret that not because of the implication as regards the Labour Party but more particularly from the point of view of the Boundary Commission for Scotland. It is an independent body chaired by a judge which comprises independent members who take evidence and apply the rules to the best of their ability independently of political influence. The noble Lord and his party in Scotland, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats had the opportunity to appear before public inquiries and make representations and to suggest that a constituency should be larger or smaller. At the end of the day the impartial commission has reached a decision. If there was any suggested or implied criticism as regards the impartiality of the Boundary Commission for Scotland I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw it.
The current rules quite properly allow the Boundary Commission to take other factors into account apart from electoral quota. I could see the point of the noble Lord's amendment if one was simply confined to the world of mathematicians, but there is more to the construction of electoral boundaries than simply mathematical formulae. One has to look into the special geographical considerations, including the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency. I shall discuss Glasgow in a minute. One must take into account the boundaries of local government areas and local ties. These amendments would largely prevent the Scottish Boundary Commission--but not its counterparts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland--from taking these factors into account. They would require the commission to concentrate solely on the mathematical formulae in 90 per cent. of the constituencies. We think that that would be wrong and unfair.
We are not prepared to tie the hands of the Boundary Commission for Scotland in this way. We think it is important that this independent and impartial tribunal under the chairmanship of a judge--a senator of the College of Justice--should be allowed to consider all the factors, including of course the electoral quota, and reach its own decisions and make its own recommendations to the Secretary of State and to lay the report before Parliament. At the next review the commission will of course apply the same quota as in England and we shall have to await the outcome of its deliberations.
During the debate today and on previous occasions the noble Lord has made much of his concerns--I am sure they are impartial concerns and are not influenced in any way by party political issues--about the relative sizes of constituencies in Glasgow compared with other urban areas, particularly Edinburgh.
I think the noble Lord has already been referred to the fourth periodical report of the Boundary Commission for the detailed reasoning of the commission as to why that happened. Part of it is the explanation I have given to the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden. The Boundary Commission report made clear what exactly it took into account in its proposals for each constituency. I think the noble Lord will find that it showed many factors that the commission quite properly took into account.
The reasons for making its recommendations cannot be summed up in a few words. The reviews are considered and thorough. So far as concerns constituencies in Glasgow, the noble Lord asked why they were so small. With respect to the noble Lord, I think he is wrong in trying to look at just part of the Boundary Commission's review instead of looking at what was proposed for Glasgow as a whole. You cannot simply take little pockets of the report which might suit your own aims or objectives: you have to look at the report as a whole.
At the time of the last review the number of seats in Glasgow was reduced from 11 to 10. That was the factor that the commission had to take into account. It was done to reflect the reduction in the number of electors in Glasgow. The commission then quite properly considered the best way of achieving that. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, one looked at that stage at regional electoral divisions. Glasgow had 30 such divisions which had been brought into operation following a local government Boundary Commission's second statutory review. As I have explained since then, the building block has gone down to local electoral divisions.
The commission considered various implications for dividing those electoral divisions. For example, it considered combining some of them within the city with constituencies outside the city, but it concluded that that would not be appropriate. Nor did it think that the number of constituencies should be reduced below 10. The commission concluded that the best way of achieving 10 constituencies would be to create them from three electoral divisions--that is, 30 divided by 10. It recognised that this would result in some seats being
Noble Lords will recall that earlier I said that one of the factors that the commission had to take into account was that of local ties. So it properly considered that and decided that it would not be appropriate to split those constituencies in that way. The commission strove, as it is obliged to do, to keep disruption to a minimum. In short, what I am trying to explain--and I do not know if I am doing it terribly well--is that the commission goes through a very thorough exercise. It takes into account electoral quotas which it tries to achieve. But it also has to take into account other factors. The anomalies that the noble Lord outlined in relation to Glasgow have been explained by the fact of reducing the number to 10 seats, so Glasgow is losing one seat. At that time the commission was obliged to create constituencies out of electoral divisions which were really too large. That is a situation which will not occur again, and with that explanation I would invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, we have had an interesting short debate and, if I may say so to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate, he has explained the position well. I am not entirely satisfied that he has succeeded in justifying it, and there is a difference between the two. However, first, may I say that I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, for his support in principle. I fully accept that perhaps I have been over-prescriptive in saying one-tenth. There were other ways of doing it, but as I did not think the Government would accept any amendment that I drafted I did not think it was worth burning too much midnight oil. Indeed, I think that your Lordships will see that I was fully justified.
My noble friend Lord Sanderson quite rightly identified local government building blocks. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate has pretty well prayed that in aid as the justification for the imbalances that I have highlighted. Indeed my noble friend Lord Sanderson is right. The trouble has been the primacy given to local government boundaries and that has seemed to be an immovable object. Indeed in the constituencies of Ayr and Carrick, Cumnock and the Doon Valley, that is what led to this large geographical constituency having 66,500 electors and the nearby pocket constituency--perhaps I might describe it in that way, without being disparaging but giving purely a description of its size in comparison--of Ayr being in the lower fifties. That would have been a simple way of doing it, but it would have meant splitting a regional government division, and they simply were not prepared to do it. That may be the effect of the legislation, in which case my view is that the legislation is clearly wrong. That is an opinion I have held for a long time. I would be quite happy if none of the things had primacy over the others, but I would actually prefer the numeracy to take primacy.
Your Lordships and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate might have thought I was attempting to say that every constituency bar one-tenth would actually hit 69,000 next time round. But I was not doing that. I was actually saying that they should hit somewhere between 62,000 and 76,000. That is a fairly wide target even for a Boundary Commission to manage to hit: not difficult at all. I have listened to the explanation in the case of Glasgow, but in that case even nine seats would have meant an electoral quota lower than that for the City of Edinburgh. There was no justification for leaving Glasgow with 10 seats, none at all.
The idea that by leaving them at 10, and not taking them to nine, communities were somehow held together and nobody disputed them is really, if I may say so to the noble and learned Lord, an indication that the noble and learned Lord lives in Edinburgh and not in Glasgow because at least one of the seats straddles the River Clyde, with one part on the north side and one part on the south. There is no greater divide in Glasgow than between the north and south of the River Clyde. You could do anything you liked on the north side and anything you liked on the south side, and the idea that you could actually join people from the one side of the river to the other side and say they have a community of interests is simply nonsense.
I am afraid that it was more to do with the 30 building blocks and it started there. We have 30. Nine into 30 does not go but, my goodness! 10 into 30 does, and if as a consequence Glasgow was totally over-represented--I speak as someone who lives in Glasgow and I am not very happy with my representation: that would not surprise your Lordships--there is no reason for Glasgow being so totally over-represented. We could go on and on with this, but I shall not do so. I am just disappointed that the noble and learned Lord does not see that my argument about the Boundary Commission has nothing to do with the lack of impartiality. It has more to do with the lack of numeracy than impartiality. However, I very much hope--one must clutch at straws in these matters--that the point made by the noble and learned Lord about the next Boundary Commission starting off with much smaller building blocks will mean that after the next parliamentary Boundary Commission in Scotland these enormous anomalies which have no justification will be removed and constituencies in Scotland, with the exception of the very obvious ones that deservedly are very small, are much nearer to the electoral quota and that the 58 Members of Parliament, bar a few, represent roughly the same number of electors each. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.