Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Jopling: I listened carefully to what the Minister said in response to the speeches made in support of the amendments. However, apart from telling us that he did not like them he has not gone far in explaining why. Putting the other way round the figures given to us by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and even if these amendments were accepted, that would mean that there would still be between 50 per cent and 64 per cent of members of the commission who would not be either current or retired members of the judiciary.

I would like to hear from the Minister what other areas of independence he would approach in order to find the majority of the members of the commission. When one considers those independent people of whom he spoke, one's mind naturally moves first to the judiciary. I have always felt that judges were the most impartial group of people in the land. However, that belief has been significantly shattered by the behaviour of some of the senior judges in the past few years, but I shall not dwell on that. Even so, and despite those actions, I believe that judges still comprise the most reliable group that one could look to.

I want to hear from the Minister what other groups he is of a mind to approach. He cannot just brush aside these amendments and say that we should be looking for sensible, independent people. At this stage of the consideration of the Bill, he must give us a better idea whom he would consider. I did not hear the Minister deal with Amendment No. 28 in the name of my noble friend Lady Fookes. I did not hear him apply himself to the point which had support from others in the Committee that the chairman of the commission should be drawn from the senior judiciary. I apologise if I did not hear the Minister say that, but I do not believe that he dealt with the point. It is a very

11 May 2000 : Column 1750

important one because without question the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Fookes ought to be accepted, even if nothing else is.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: When answering my noble friend Lord Jopling whose observations I wholly accept, and Amendment No. 28, which is distinct, can the Minister deal with the question that I put to him as to what objection he has as a matter of principle, leaving aside numbers, this and that, and odd amendments, to Amendment No. 27--subsection (7)(a)(b)(c) and (d)--if they are serving or retired members of the judiciary? The noble Lord ought to answer these questions.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: When the Minister replies can he tell us a little more about how the Government view the Boundary Commissions being linked to the electoral commission? I believe that my noble friend on the Front Bench tabled these amendments specifically with a view to discovering what the Government intend to do about that. The noble Lord said that at some time the responsibility of the Boundary Commission would be moved. In setting up the commission, it is important to know government thinking on that matter. It relates very much to these amendments. In answering, perhaps the Minister can tell us a little more.

Baroness Fookes: I was extremely disappointed about the dismissive way in which the Minister dealt, or rather failed to deal, with my amendment. If I was still teaching and had such an answer from a pupil, I would probably have written, "Inadequate: must give reasons". The most that I was told was that the Government would not rule out a senior member of the judiciary being chairman of the commission. As I say, that is wholly inadequate. If the Minister does not share the admiration of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor as to the worth of senior members of the judiciary in chairing such commissions, perhaps he would be kind enough to say so very firmly and give his reasons.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Before the Minister answers my noble friend's points, perhaps I may add two or three of my own. First, I shall answer some of the points that were put to me. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, asked me whether I was increasing the size in order to accommodate these appointments. That is what I was doing. I entirely agree with her about the overlap between the local government boundary commission and the parliamentary Boundary Commission. We should think about addressing that matter in this Bill. It has always seemed quite crazy that the local government boundary commission can go off on its merry way thinking in terms of local government numbers when along comes the parliamentary Boundary Commission and binds itself to the lines drawn on the map by the local government boundary commission.

11 May 2000 : Column 1751

That is often why neighbouring constituencies that are similar in many ways are of quite different sizes in terms of electoral numbers. The constituency of Ayr in Scotland, where from a Conservative Party point of view there was a highly successful by-election, is pretty small because of having to obey local government rules. As regards the adjacent constituency of Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, represented by Mr George Foulkes, not in my wildest dreams would I think that the Conservative Party might win a by-election there, but that is beside the point. The point is that it is a large constituency geographically.

Because of the Boundary Commission's devotion to local government boundaries, the small constituency had the smaller electorate and the large geographical constituency had a very much larger electorate. I agree with the noble Baroness on this. It may be that this is a matter on which she and I should get together to see whether we can persuade the noble Lord, Lord Bassam--she might have more success than I have had--to look at this issue seriously.

I heard what the noble Baroness said about that workload that that would impose on the Boundary Commission if it was given such a responsibility so soon after enactment. That seemed to me to be a good reason and one that was certainly arguable. I understand from the Minister that when the next boundary review is complete the electoral commission will take over responsibility and the provisions in the Bill will come into effect.

I say to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway that I do not have anything against retired Lords Justices of Appeal, Lords of Appeal in Ordinary and so forth. Sometimes one has a lapse in concentration when writing out a long amendment such as this. I have no problem including the word "retired" if that is what the Government want. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, believes that there are too many judges there. He whispered it in case anyone outside heard and he is in front of a judge tomorrow--of course, professionally. I noticed that he had no problem with the amendment of my noble friend Lady Fookes. As requested, I believe that the Minister should address that more fully.

I was staggered by what the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, told the Committee. It is unbelievable that the Boundary Commission should have bent to pressure. Every political party tries to put pressure on that commission, but by and large, I am happy to say, they all fail. Sometimes political parties believe that another party has put too much pressure on, but I suspect that that is not the case. It seems to me that if my party wants to exert some influence on the Boundary Commission we should recruit the government of the Republic of Ireland to our cause and then all would be well. I liked the unintended consequence, which is something I always tell the Government about in any constitutional arrangement. I do not believe that the government of the Republic would desire Dr Hendron to lose his seat and Adams to win it, but that is the working of the law of intended consequences.

11 May 2000 : Column 1752

I draw the Minister's attention to Clause 13 where the Boundary Commission's functions are set out. Subsection (4) states:


    "Only an Electoral Commissioner or a deputy Electoral Commissioner may be appointed a member of a Boundary Committee; and only an Electoral Commissioner may be appointed chairman of a Boundary Committee".

If the noble Lord does not accept my amendment, does that mean that, at some point in the future after the next Boundary Commission is set up, Boundary Commissions will no longer be chaired by judges? If the noble Lord does not accept my amendment because he does not want too many judges, he cannot have judges from whom to draw the chairmen of the boundary committee. Therefore, I wonder whether we have joined-up government in this Bill. If the chairman of a boundary committee must be an electoral commissioner and we are not to have judges, it seems to me that judges will not chair the boundary committee. Therefore, in order to prove me wrong, I should be grateful to hear from the Minister how he interprets that clause.

If I am right in what I have just explained to the Committee, I believe that we shall certainly need to look at the matter very carefully between now and Report. I quite understand that people who are appointed to the committee can be made deputy electoral commissioners. However, frankly, they are fairly limited in number. Am I right? I believe that they number the same as the commissioners. Therefore, when a Boundary Commission sits for all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, many members of the commission--both the commissioners and the deputies--will be tied up in the work of the Boundary Commission.

I wonder whether the Government have given enough thought to this matter. Perhaps they have simply decided, "It's a long way down the road. If we are not going to do it immediately, we'll bother about it when we get there". I do not particularly believe that one should legislate on the basis of crossing a bridge when one reaches it. I believe that we have reached it now and, in addition to answering the other points, I should like the Minister to explain how he envisages that the system will work once Clause 13 comes into effect.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page