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In the context that the Government do not budge on the size of constituencies, we can think of no greater cause for retaining the public inquiry process than the likely creation of constituencies that have been outlined. Such constituencies would likely excite considerable concern, which should rightly be given an oral hearing and a forum in which to present fears and alternative suggestions on constituency formation.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton, for introducing the debate, which focuses on three rivers: the Mersey, the Tyne and the Thames. Although there have been a number of contributions about the Tyne and the Thames, I am sure the noble Baroness knows that she is not alone in her concerns about the issues of the Mersey.
I indicate at the outset that it has never been considered, even in the 1986 Act, which sets out the current rules for the Boundary Commissions, that rivers are geographical features that are so exceptional as to be unable to be crossed by a constituency boundary. Perhaps that is not surprising. As my noble friends Lord Cavendish and Lord Swinfen indicated, in many cases rivers can actually link communities. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, indicated that in Newport the river was by no means a barrier but was a link between communities. In many places, the transport arrangements are such that there is no particular issue.
An important issue has been raised in the debate on the importance of community. It was mentioned specifically by the noble Lords, Lord Walton of Detchant and Lord Dixon, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Quin and Lady Armstrong, mostly in the context of the Tyne. It is recognised that there are a number of rivers where north and south have a certain resonance.
In his introductory remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, reeled off a lot of the territorial names of noble Lords and Baronesses who have taken part in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will no doubt speak later. Strathclyde is a much bigger place than Tankerness or, for that matter, Gateshead or Detchant. The important point is that Tankerness is not even a whole parish in Orkney, whereas Gateshead is a constituency and Strathclyde was a territorial name even before it was a Scottish region. There are many different levels of community. It would be a rare Member of Parliament indeed who represented only one community; most Members of Parliament represent a number of different communities. I fully understand the strong sense of belonging that Members who have represented constituencies for many years have, but no Member of Parliament has a right to represent them. If there are boundary changes or there is a fluctuation in the swing of the pendulum, a Member of Parliament may find that he or she is no longer there, and a new Member of Parliament must start building relationships with the constituents whom they represent.
The important point is the relationship between the constituent and the Member; the constituent feels that they can go to their Member or the Member can go to them. That was the point that struck me during the early contributions to this debate on the idea that somehow or other the constituents would face problems having to cross a river to see their Member of Parliament. I thought, "Why can't the Member of Parliament cross the river to see their constituents?". When some of us have to travel hundreds of miles to visit different islands, it is not too much to ask a Member of Parliament to cross a river to see a constituent. That is not to deny the sense of belonging in communities that rivers often define. Nor is it to say that the Boundary Commission for England would necessarily recommend a constituency that crosses the rivers named in the amendments, although such constituencies have existed under the present rules-I think Tyne Bridge was mentioned. No constituencies in Newcastle, Gateshead, London or Merseyside sit on two sides of the areas' respective rivers.
However, the Boundary Commission is independent. The Government's difficulty is that they cannot say definitely that the Boundary Commission would not make such a proposal, and it would be wrong to do so. Equally, in a number of debates in which noble Lords have sought and pleaded for more flexibility, it would not have been right to pass amendments that would tie the hands of the Boundary Commission. If recommendations were made in the future that resulted in constituencies spanning any of the rivers concerned, anyone who felt that that was undesirable would be able to make representations to the Boundary Commission.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, made a great point, which I have no doubt we will come back to, about public hearings and tribunals. My noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes indicated that people are perfectly able to make written representations to the Boundary Commission if they feel strongly.
Lord Kinnock: I assure the Minister that there is no ambition on this side of the Committee to tie the hands of the Boundary Commission; the opposite is the case. The whole reason why we have spent many hours making the case for flexibility is to seek to ensure that the current power of independent discretion possessed by Boundary Commissions is retained. It is radically diminished by the formula in the Bill that allows for a margin of flexibility of merely 5 per cent. Conscious of that, this side of the Committee has offered an amendment which would allow a variation of more than 5 per cent but provide an absolute prohibition on one of more than 10 per cent. If there was an inclination to accept such an attitude, this side of the Committee and Cross-Benchers would not have to expend any more time and energy on trying to find a way to provide the Boundary Commission with effective discretion relating to the reality of boundaries and communities, because it would be able to exercise it within a realistic margin. I would be very much obliged if the noble Lord recognised the absence of an ambition to tie Boundary Commissions' hands; indeed, our motivation is the opposite.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, the terms of the amendments are quite deliberate, stating that "a Boundary Commission shall". If we go back to the original principle of parity and one vote, one value, the Government are not saying, "Get what the electoral quota should be and that must be it, with no flexibility whatever". There is flexibility, and there is a genuine debate as to its degree, but this and earlier amendments use "shall", which takes away some of that discretion.
If people feel strongly about a proposal when it comes forward, it will be possible for them to make representations to the Boundary Commission. Local ties and geographical considerations are among the factors to which it may have regard if, and to the extent that, it sees fit. As I indicated in response to the previous debate, the Boundary Commission cannot set aside those considerations at a whim when it makes its initial recommendations. Where "shall" does come into effect is in Clause 12. Subsection (1), which allows for a period for making representations that is three times as long as under existing legislation, states that,
The suggestion made in the debate that such representations can simply be swept aside and not given proper consideration is just not right. It gives the impression that the public will somehow be excluded from the process. In many respects, the public may have more opportunities, and certainly longer opportunities, to make representations; it may just be that the parties will not be represented by Queen's Counsel when a public hearing takes place.
Lord Wills: The Minister is making a strong case, but does he not accept that representations on the grounds of community are subject to the very inflexible electoral quota and the desire for equalisation of constituencies?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I make two points in response. Yes, there is a quota, but, first, in making recommendations, the Boundary Commission may have regard to local ties. As I indicated yesterday, the Government are minded to look again before Report at the question of wards, which, perhaps more than any other electoral area, best reflect local ties.
Secondly, as I indicated in my opening remarks, there are a number of different communities within one given constituency. Members of Parliaments of all parties seek to represent as best as they can different interests in different communities within their constituencies.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: If the noble Lord is saying that the Boundary Commission should have regard to the political makeup of a particular constituency, I can tell him that I am aware of no statutory basis for doing that. I would be very surprised if that was a function. Indeed, the way in which political parties presently dress up political considerations in all sorts of different guises when they give evidence to inquiries suggests very strongly that the Boundary Commission would not do that.
Our reservations about the amendment are nothing to do with the rights and wrongs of past and future representation in the areas concerned, but this is not the right place to deal with such specific exceptions. Where the situations described arise, they can be dealt with under the provisions presently in the Bill. If local circumstances argued strongly for a avoiding a cross-river constituency, the Boundary Commission's detailed consideration of specific elements of the case would produce the most effective result, where local specifics of geography and the importance of community structure in each riverside area would be balanced with the need for electors in all parts of this United Kingdom to have equal-value votes. That is the best way of achieving balance between equality of constituency size and having proper regard for community in design of our future constituencies. I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Morgan of Huyton: My Lords, there are times, particularly perhaps in the early hours of the many mornings that we have been here, when this Bill sounds like it is about practical maths and equations. We have seen in the past hour and a half or so that it is about people, relationships and the health of our democracy. These are illustrative amendments, but they show the practical and emotional implications of the Bill. I am grateful for that reason to the many noble Lords who have spoken. They have spoken from the heart, which has been very important in demonstrating why the Bill really matters. The debate has shown also why it is important that people still come to make representations in person to the Boundary Commission, which is so much more powerful than a lot of paper.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, we now return to Scotland. We have heard a few mentions of the Clyde-the River Clyde in particular-from my noble friends Lord Harris and Lord Bach. Of course, the arguments that we had in relation to the Tyne, the Thames and the Mersey rivers apply equally to the Clyde and to the River Forth. I think it is inconceivable that we would have a constituency in Scotland that would straddle the River Forth. It would create so many problems, and it has never been considered by the Boundary Commission for Scotland. This brings me to my second preliminary point. During the previous debate-and I have no quarrel with it because we were talking about rivers in England-there was constant reference to the Boundary Commission, singular; but, of course, there is more than one Boundary Commission. There are a number of Boundary Commissions; and, of course, my particular concern is the Boundary Commission for Scotland. This amendment would insert in the Bill, on page 10, at the end of line 21, the following sentence:
I think the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will be the Minister who will reply to the debate, and I welcome him back to our discussions. As I said on a previous occasion, he is an old friend and he used to be a constituent of mine. We have worked together-not always on the same side-for a long time. He knows Scotland well, and I think that he will understand some of the arguments that I am going to make.
In starting to think about how the Scottish constituencies would be allocated and distributed by the Boundary Commission for Scotland, I came up against a particular problem. It is one of these things that keep coming back to hit one as one sits through more and more of these debates-namely, that in this Bill there are many more problems, difficulties, traps and obstacles than seems to be the case initially when one reads it and thinks about it. The particular obstacle that I came across in thinking about the allocation of constituencies for Scotland is how many constituencies there will be for Scotland in the new arrangement if this Bill is enacted. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will give us some indication of that when he first replies, as it would be useful.
I looked at page 11, line 12 onwards, relating to the allocation method. I have tried very hard to work out from this how many constituencies there will be. If we have 600 for the whole of the United Kingdom, if we have the two preserved constituencies, how many will there be for Scotland? The allocation method-which we will discuss in greater detail later on amendments laid down to change it-is referred to in rule 8(2) as follows:
I am not sure whether this means that England-because England has the greatest electorate-or the constituencies that have the greatest electorate would be the first to be agreed. If the latter, I assume that if the Isle of Wight remained one constituency it would be the Isle of Wight, and if it does not, it would be Daventry on the present arrangement.
Lord Trimble: If the noble Lord will give way, I think I can help him. Rule 3 at page 9 refers to the four parts of the United Kingdom, which are named there. In that case, "part" in the rule must refer to one of those four parts.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I am really grateful to the noble Lord opposite-I never thought that I would be saying that. That is really helpful. That was my initial understanding, that the part of the United Kingdom would be England. Therefore the first constituency is allocated in England. The rule goes on to say:
"The second and subsequent constituencies shall be allocated in the same way, except that the electorate of a part of the United Kingdom to which one or more constituencies have already been allocated is to be divided by ... 2C+1 ... where C is the number of constituencies already allocated to that part".
I do not understand why they do not say England, because it is so manifestly obvious that England has the greatest electorate, greater than any other part of the UK if we are talking about countries. Nevertheless, I accept that the noble Lord's interpretation is right. It goes on to say:
"This rule does not apply to the constituencies mentioned in rule 6, and accordingly the electorate of Scotland shall be treated for the purposes of this rule as reduced by the electorate of those constituencies".
We can understand that. Orkney and Shetland and the Western Isles are not included, so it is mainland Scotland. I have tried to work out how many constituencies this would give Scotland, and I have not been able to do so. The Minister has many more resources than I have. He has behind him all the departments-principally the Cabinet Office, as well as the Ministry of Justice. It would certainly help our discussions today and subsequently if we could get some indication of how many that would leave for mainland Scotland if the Bill were enacted as it stands and there were 600 constituencies for the United Kingdom, with the two preserved constituencies.
Then we come to a dilemma. As I said in an earlier debate-I do not blame the present coalition for all of this-in Scotland we have a plethora of constituencies and of voting systems. These include council wards and council areas which have been changed on a number of occasions. We have election by single transferable vote. We have the Scottish Parliament constituencies, the Westminster constituencies and the whole of Scotland-which is one constituency for Europe. We also have the eight European constituencies, which are used for the regional elections to the Scottish Parliament, which makes it particularly difficult. As a result, we have ended up with 73 Scottish Parliament constituencies, elected by first past the post, 70 of them on mainland Scotland; we have the Western Isles as a separate constituency, Orkney as a separate constituency and Shetland as a separate constituency. Therefore, we have 70 mainland constituencies electing Members to the Scottish Parliament by first past the post.
Furthermore, we have 59 Westminster constituencies electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons by first past the post. However, because of the way that the Boundary Commission decisions have been made in the past, of course there is no correlation, there is no contiguity, there is no exact coterminosity between the Scottish Parliament constituencies and the UK Parliament constituencies. There could not be-59 and 70 are different numbers. As I said earlier, it was originally planned that, when the number of UK constituencies was reduced to 59, the number of Scottish Parliament first past the post constituencies would also be reduced to 59 on the same boundaries. However, this was not done by agreement across the parties of the Scottish Parliament and, I think, against the wishes of this Parliament. Nevertheless, the power had been devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Therefore, we end up with constituencies for the Scottish Parliament which are totally different from the constituencies for the UK Parliament. Very often, the overlap is not just that each Member of the UK Parliament has two MSPs to deal with. Sometimes it is three MSPs, sometimes four, because the overlap is so great and the system is so complicated.
When the Boundary Commission for Scotland looks at the new constituencies for the UK Parliament, it should take account of the Scottish constituencies and try to get a greater degree of contiguity. It will not achieve 100 per cent, of course-it cannot-but it might achieve some greater degree of coterminosity. I have thought about whether it would be worth suggesting that each Westminster constituency should consist of
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It is still possible for the Boundary Commission to draw up boundaries for the UK Parliament that cover no more than two Scottish Parliament constituencies. To take a random example, there must be a new Rutherglen parliamentary constituency, outside Glasgow, for Westminster. It would include the Rutherglen constituency in the Scottish Parliament and part of just one other constituency. In this case it would be Hamilton. That would make things a lot easier and understandable, and I think that it could be achieved. It is a very simple suggestion. It would be helpful for the public and the Members of Parliament and it would produce a much simpler and more coherent system for the Scottish constituencies. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on behalf of the Government, if he cannot accept the proposal in the form that I have put it, will say that it should be given sympathetic consideration.
Lord Tyler: I wonder whether I might offer a word of advice to the noble Lord. At 1.30 this morning, in one minute flat, I proposed a very simple and very straightforward amendment to the Bill, which was passed by the Committee. Rather than hearing from everybody who has ever had any constituency experience in Scotland-a repetition of the argument that the noble Lord gave us in 12 minutes of fascinating discussion-I wonder whether very simply we could now proceed to some conclusion.
In addition, this amendment may be too broad in its present terms. The intention is right and it may well be that my noble friend is prepared to accept it, but if the noble Lord would keep quiet now it would be more likely to be accepted.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I accept the second two parts of the noble Lord's three-part advice. As for the first part, I think he wants us to believe in fairy stories if he thinks that it was his eloquence that caused the Minister to accept his amendment.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: I rise to support the amendment and, pace the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, I have never had anything to do in a representational capacity in a constituency in Scotland, since I am not an ex-Member of another place.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will I know be very well aware of the crucial role that the Scottish Constitutional Convention played in the preparations
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The convention hammered out a blueprint for the Scottish Parliament that was almost wholly incorporated into the White Paper and the Scotland Bill. The convention consisted of the Scottish Liberal Democrat Party and the Scottish Labour Party, as well as nearly all local authorities, trade unions and churches in Scotland-in fact, almost the whole of civil society in Scotland except the Scottish Conservative Party, unfortunately, and the Scottish National Party. I declare an interest here, of which I am very proud. I shared with the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, the honour to be one of the final two co-chairs of the Scottish Constitutional Convention. In 1995, the convention launched a document entitled, Scotland's Parliament, Scotland's Right, in which it laid out its blueprint for how a Scottish Parliament should be set up and should from then on proceed once the legislation passed through the Westminster Parliament.
On the electoral system-and this is where it is very relevant to this amendment-the convention said that there should be a new method of electing Members of the Parliament. It said that the Scottish Parliament should have 129 Members, 73 elected by the first past the post system in the existing Westminster boundary areas and 56 additional Members elected from a larger geographical area through lists prepared by political parties and other organisations. The additional Members would be elected to reflect a degree of proportional representation depending on the votes cast for each list. Those additional 56 Members were to include seven Members for each of the eight European regional constituencies.
I hope that, in paying attention to what that establishes as the system for choosing the Scottish MSPs and allying it to what my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock said about the complexity of the whole system in Scotland, noble Lords will agree that because of this system-which is unique in the United Kingdom-it is crucially important that the Boundary Commission for Scotland may take into account the constituency boundaries of the Scottish Parliament. In a way, it makes the situation quite different from the rest of the United Kingdom. I support the amendment.
Lord McAvoy: My Lords, I suspect that not for the last time in the debates this evening I take a different point of view from my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale. The relevance of that is to do with her comments on the record of the Scottish Constitutional Convention. She says that it is relevant to what we are discussing now because it has been quoted as an example or a way of working or because the information that came from it is relevant. I do not wear quite the same rose-tinted glasses in relation to that organisation. I did not intend to speak, but as usual I failed to resist my annoyance-no, that is too strong a word and I would not say it, or not in your Lordships' House-or
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I bring myself to the relevance of the Scottish convention's record, to which my noble friend referred. Once again we had a situation where the great and the good got together and where everybody was all caught up in an atmosphere of being nice to each other and trying to work together for Scotland. I do not criticise that, as it was with the best of intentions, but in doing so they allowed the Liberals to sucker them because the Liberals gained more out of that system than anybody else. They gained an infamous list system-infamous is the right word-of electing MSPs in Scotland. It is not even just about electing them. These list MSPs, especially the Liberals, wander all over the Westminster and Scottish Parliament constituencies, plucking the cases that suit them for political purposes and ignoring the rest. Also, instead of concentrating on the regions which they supposedly represent, lo and behold, guess where they seem to spend most of their time? Again, this is especially the Liberals. It is in the constituency where they stood as a first past the post candidate. We should not let anyone get carried away, in my opinion, by the eloquent words of my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale because it is just not right.
I also tell my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock that I am still not quite sure about the primacy that his amendment would seek to give the Boundary Commission-advice or guidance on taking more account-because the Westminster constituencies are the true measures of how the commission should go about its work. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, made a relevant point. There are indeed many communities, or more communities than one, in a Westminster constituency. The one that I know best, Rutherglen and Hamilton West, has about five or six with the three core ones being, as I have said before, Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Halfway. I have to tell my noble friend that I am not convinced that the Scottish parliamentary constituencies are the real thing to take account of here. I remain to be convinced. I may come back in again once I hear from the noble Lord the Leader of the House, with the benefit of his experience, and my own Front Bench but at this stage I certainly reserve my position regarding my noble friend's amendment.
Three specific points emerge from this amendment. First, it is worth while to look at the experience of the Boundary Commission for Scotland in dealing with the drawing of the boundaries for the Scottish Parliament. The experience of those involved in public inquiries was that the rules were "too rigid". The rules, although much more rigid than previously, are less rigid than the current rules.
"Too little attention has been paid in my view to local authority boundaries, to geographical considerations, to inconveniences resulting from proposed constituency changes and to the sundering of local ties; and too much emphasis has been laid on the requirement (although qualified by the other rules)"-
Point two is that public inquiries were very important in dealing with it. There were, in the wake of the drawing of the boundaries for the Scottish Parliament, 10 major public inquiries relating to the constituencies. That is in the context of the paramount importance, although not quite to the extent in this Bill, of the electoral quota. Very significant changes, which came about because of those 10 public inquiries, were made to the initial proposals made by the Boundary Commission. Those public inquiries constituted both a safety valve and a means of looking at the specific problems that arose. I suspect that they would not have emerged if there had not been a judicial figure, such as Sheriff Principal Kerr in the West of Scotland, to deal with and listen to submissions.
It seems to me that, when drawing the boundaries of the parliamentary constituencies, it would be sensible for the Boundary Commission for Scotland to have regard to where the boundaries are in relation to the MSPs' constituencies. They cannot be coterminous because, as my noble friend Lord Foulkes has pointed out, there are 59 parliamentary constituencies and-I cannot remember what the number is in relation to first past the post.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: There are 70 in relation to the Scottish Parliament, so while they cannot be coterminous it must be sensible, as far as possible, not to try rigidly to make them coterminous but to have regard to them. I hope that the prescient words of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, who said, "Shut up and listen and you might make some progress", might mean that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will say that he will accept this amendment, because it seems sensible to
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The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, that was interesting and, by the standards of this Committee, a relatively short debate, so I will try to be as accommodating to the noble and learned Lord as the Government were to my noble friend Lord Tyler. I thought that the point which my noble friend was making, which was very sensible, was that we did not necessarily need to listen to everybody who had once represented a Scottish constituency to get the point being put forward-although it was useful to hear from other noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, was right. He was indeed the MP for my part of the world for some years. We worked together but it was, on the whole, on opposite sides. He was rather more successful at it than I was, unfortunately.
The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, asked a specific question about how the formula will work and how many seats there will be in each nation. It obviously depends on the estimates that will take place in each nation but if the calculation were to be run on the basis of the register as of 1 December 2009, Scotland would have 52 MPs, England would have 503, Wales would have 30, and Northern Ireland 15. However, I want to emphasise that these allocations may change, depending on the electorates in each nation. That is clearly understood.
What the noble Lord is after here is to add a fifth factor into the existing four in the Bill that the Boundary Commission may take into account. The Boundary Commission has indicated already that it takes into account issues which are brought to its attention as part of the public consultation process, if it believes them to be significant-that is the key. For example, the Boundary Commission for England said in its fifth general review, published in 2007, that, where practicable, it took into account district boundaries. The report noted:
"The Commission have previously recommended constituencies which recognise both metropolitan and non-metropolitan district boundaries, where it is practicable to do so, but often it is necessary to cross district boundaries in order to avoid excessive disparities. It is expected that this will be the situation during this general review but, of course, each review area will be treated on its merits".
What this means, if I may translate, is that anyone could make a representation to the Scottish Boundary Commission arguing that an element of Scottish parliamentary constituency boundaries constituted a significant factor to take into account when settling Westminster constituency boundaries. There would be nothing to prevent the Scottish Boundary Commission taking that into account. In this sense-I am trying to be helpful to the noble Lord-the intention that underlies his amendment would be achieved by the way in which the Boundary Commission has always worked, without the need to amend the Bill. The significant change which the Bill makes, as the Committee now knows, is
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I expect that I have disappointed the noble Lord in not accepting his amendment, but I hope that I have said enough for him to feel satisfied that it would not make very much difference if we did not accept it. I hope that he will withdraw it.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, that was a very full reply. I am learning that, if I speak briefly, listen to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and do not listen to my noble friend Lord McAvoy, I make progress. In light of that, I will not say any more, but, if I bring the amendment back again, I will bring it back in the form suggested most helpfully by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, in his contribution.
(a) Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands council areas;
(b) Comhairle nan Eilean Siar council area;
(c) Argyll and Bute council area;
(d) the Isle of Anglesey county area;
(e) the Isle of Wight county area;
(f) the County of Cornwall and Isles of Scilly council areas;
(g) the Highland council area.
(2) The number of seats to be allocated to each area shall be determined by dividing the electorate of the area or areas concerned by the United Kingdom electoral quota and rounding to the nearest whole number, and each area must be allocated at least one whole seat."
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I apologise for arriving late. The Government have consistently argued that the core principle underpinning their proposed new rule for drawing parliamentary constituencies is equality. The Bill is designed within a very narrow tolerance to create equal-sized seats. We agree with the principle of creating more equally sized seats but, as we have consistently pointed out, the Bill sets about that objective in a way that we regard as in many respects clumsy and unfair. As we have heard-and, I think, we will continue to hear-the Bill's aim to equalise seats will be done on the basis of an unequal electoral register and in a way that will override all other factors, such as geography, community and history, that ought to be taken into consideration when designing patterns of representation.
A curiosity about the Bill, however, is that, while the principle of numerical equalisation is deemed to be the trump card in almost all cases, there are some circumstances where the iron law of uniform statistics has been disregarded. For example, a new rule on the maximum territorial extent of a constituency has been set out in the Bill, accompanied by a clause to free at least one Scottish highland seat from the requirement to adhere to the electoral quota.
Alongside that, in the proposed new rule 6 in Clause 11, is a further exemption from the electoral quota. Two Scottish island seats, Orkney and Shetland and the Western Isles, are to be preserved in perpetuity. Despite having substantially fewer electors than the proposed new quota of 75,800-in the case of Orkney and Shetland, the electorate is around 37,000 and in the Western Isles just 21,000-these constituencies are deemed to warrant a special status in the Bill.
Some of your Lordships and Members of the other place have taken the view that this carve-out is unacceptable. We have already heard the view of Mr Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative MP who is often described as the brains behind the boundary review policy. He did not favour any exemptions when he produced his pamphlet on redrawing constituencies in 2004. In Pruning the Politicians, he wrote that,
I disagree with Mr Tyrie. I agree that we should create more equally sized seats, but we should do so in a way that continues to allow factors other than pure statistics to influence the shape of constituencies. There are occasions when the goal of equal numbers ought to be compromised in order to take into account other considerations such as geography, history and community. The two Scottish island seats that are specific exceptions in the rules are a case in point; I accept them as sensible exceptions. The question for this House is whether they should be the only case.
The Government do not think so. They have also made special allowances in the Bill for the Scottish highlands to escape the principle of equal numbers
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That said, Orkney and Shetland and the Western Isles are the only specific constituencies named in the Bill, as it originally came to this House, as having a preservation order. Mr Mark Harper, the Minister for Constitutional Affairs in the other place, said that they have been afforded that special status because they have "unique geography". That seems to be a difficult and unsatisfactory basis for their inclusion in the Bill and for others' exclusion. Many constituencies would argue that they, too, had "unique geography".
Mr Harper was presumably referring to the fact that these constituencies are island seats. As such, they are separated from the mainland by the sea and have natural borders that arguably help to create and, over time, reinforce a particular sense of community. That certainly makes them unusual-I repeat that I accept their entitlement to special status-but it does not make them unique. For example, they are not the only island seats in the United Kingdom. What about Argyll and Bute? That constituency is comprised of 13 islands. What about Anglesey? It is not in exactly the same position as Orkney and Shetland or the Western Isles, but then Orkney and Shetland and the Western Isles are not in exactly the same position as each other. They are all islands; they are island communities; they have very obvious natural borders, which give rise to issues of accessibility; and they have powerful local ties and traditions. While the two Scottish island seats are to be preserved by this Bill, however, apart from the change made by your Lordships' House, the other islands are not.
This House has rightly judged that the way in which the Bill would have split the Isle of Wight was not suitable. Tagging 40,000 Isle of Wight voters on to a part of Hampshire would have had a significant ripple effect throughout that county, as constituency boundaries were forced to be redrawn all over the place as a consequence of the influx of new voters. If a special case can be made for the two Scottish island seats, it can also be made for several other hard cases.
I am pleased to say that Amendment 79A is supported by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who has put his name to it. It would give special treatment to six areas where the primacy of the electoral quota rule would give rise to disproportionate disruption and practical difficulty and would unravel long-established patterns of representation that local people legitimately wish to protect. The six areas are: Orkney and Shetland and the Western Isles, which have already been covered; Argyll and Bute, which I have referred to; the Anglesey county area; Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly council
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The allocation of seats would be determined by dividing the electorate of the area or areas concerned by the UK electoral quota. In the view of the Opposition, this ought to be the total UK electorate divided by 650-the Bill at the moment says 600-and then rounded to the nearest whole number, with each area allocated at least one whole seat. In practice, that would mean that the Western Isles, with its 21,000 electors, would send the same number of representatives to Westminster as the Isle of Wight, with its 110,000-more once the prisoners on that island are enfranchised by the forthcoming Bill.
I am sure that Mr Tyrie will not be satisfied by that-he wants a calculator purely to draw the electoral map-but it is what the people living in those places want. They do not just regard themselves as numbers on a map. They regard themselves as members of a distinct community with a particular history and geography. If the Government judge that the people of Orkney and Shetland and the Western Isles are entitled to have those factors taken into consideration when determining the size and shape of their constituency units, they should extend the same respect to the people who live in the additional areas listed in our amendment, which are covered in exactly the same way. I beg to move.
Lord Liddle: My Lords, I have never before moved an amendment to an amendment in any other democratic body that I have been in. It is quite against Citrine's rules of procedure, from what I remember from my political education in the Labour Party. None the less, I hope that the House will recognise that this is a natural amendment to an amendment, which the House can agree to. The only reason why Cumbria was not in the original draft of the amendment that my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer submitted is that I failed to get to him in time. I hope that noble Lords opposite will accept this as evidence of the chaos and lack of co-ordination on this side of the House, rather than the planned filibustering that they claim is going on.
This is a serious amendment and there are serious local concerns. Why do I think that Cumbria qualifies for special treatment? I give several reasons. First, it is a very remote part of England. I am pretty sure of my facts but I might have got them slightly wrong. In the north-west region, Cumbria accounts for half the geographical area but something like only 6 per cent of the population. It is a geographically large and scattered area. It is also a naturally bounded area in its geography. To the north is the Scottish border. I am
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There is also a very strong sense of community in Cumbria. I am not saying that it is a community spirit that embraces the whole county in exactly the same way, but there is a community spirit in the many different parts of the county. It is a county that is divided naturally, not just by the geographical features that surround it, but by the Lake District mountains, which lie in the middle of it.
Cumbria is also divided by the economics that founded its communities. I was born in Carlisle; there is a very good story about why Carlisle became such an important railway town. One of the reasons was that it was physically impossible for a fireman on a steam train to manage to fire the train over the Beattock summit into Scotland from Carlisle and over the Shap summit south of Carlisle. It was a physically impossible task for a single chap, so all the crews changed at Carlisle. That demonstrates the natural boundaries of the area.
Then there is west Cumbria, which is a distinct old industrial community and is now the home of Britain's nuclear industry. West Cumbria's prosperity was made on iron and coal, exported through the ports of Whitehaven, Workington and Maryport. That is a distinct community. In the south, there is Barrow-in-Furness, where there was a marsh in the mid-19th century. It became one of the most successful steel-making, iron-making and shipbuilding towns in Britain and has played a key role in the history of the Royal Navy since that time. It is an isolated and distinct community.
I have talked about the industrial communities of Cumbria, but the rural communities are also distinct, because the Lake District divides the county into different rural communities-east, north, south and west of the Lake District hills. There are also distinct rural areas, such as the Solway plain and the Eden valley. This is an area that an expert in geography, demography, geology, economic history and all the rest would think was distinct. It is distinct geographically to the extent that it is difficult to see how you could hive off bits into other parts of England without creating the most unnatural parliamentary constituencies.
That is a case for adding Cumbria to the list in Amendment 79A and I hope that the House will accept it. It goes along with the argument that I have made at other times. For the sake of completeness, not because I want to bore the Committee unduly, I wish to say that the Boundary Commission has, on successive occasions, recognised the distinctness of the county. The commission decided in its previous two reviews that, despite the fact that the application of the quota did not strictly justify Cumbria's six parliamentary
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This makes a very strong case for adding Cumbria to the list of places where there should be special exemption. Ideally, this is not the way in which I would like this matter to go. I would prefer that we did not have a rigid cap on the number of Members of Parliament and that we had a Boundary Commission that was able to exercise proper discretion, as it saw fit, to deal with these kinds of circumstances. However, the Government have so far refused to show any flexibility on the cap on the number of MPs and on the rigid corset within which the Boundary Commission will have to do its work. As long as the Government are rigid about this issue, those of us who care about community considerations and parliamentary representation have no alternative but to move these amendments. That is what I now do. I beg to move.
Lord Teverson: My Lords, I speak for the first time on this Bill-on Committee day 13. I have obviously been remiss on the previous 12 days, but it is a pleasure for me to speak on an issue that is fundamental and important. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, I agree with the two principles of the Bill. The first is that, on the whole, constituencies should be of roughly equal size, whereby at least we have a starting point for equality of value of votes. I also agree that the people of this country should be given the opportunity to choose the electoral system by which they elect Members of Parliament.
However, no system is perfect-particularly in politics. There will always be exceptions to the way things work. That is because, in politics and communities, things are not even or homogenous. History and many other things shape society, which means that sometimes there should be different solutions for different situations and areas. I am not, on the whole, a traditionalist, but it is important that this Parliament and the Bill recognise that there is a history in particular communities, cultures and geographical parts of our islands that should be recognised within the way that democracy functions. That is why I have put my name to the amendment, because it is essential in terms of people and communities believing in the democracy in which they participate and allowing them more to participate in it.
However, one of the big problems when drawing up a list is deciding whether there should be any special cases and which they should be. We know that we could all make that list as long as the list of 600 constituencies which are supposed to be created when the Bill is passed. If we are to be realistic, there must be a limited list. It may be difficult to get to that. I have not spoken in Committee on the Bill before, but I have sat in on a number of debates. A number of areas that are listed in the amendment have been mentioned on many occasions, because they deserve to be treated in a different way. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said, the Bill and the Government have already recognised that some exceptions should be made to the principle of equal constituency size on the grounds of geography-for example, Orkney and Shetland. I welcome that deviation from the model.
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I will not extol the virtues of all the regions and areas that are listed in the amendment. I am sure that other noble Lords are far more expert on those regions than I am. I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not use the official Gaelic name of the Western Isles; I look forward to another noble Lord doing that later. Ynys Môn-Anglesey-in Wales, the Highland council area, Orkney and Shetland, and Argyll and Bute were mentioned a number of times earlier. I will concentrate on the south-west of the United Kingdom, on the county-indeed, the Duchy-of Cornwall. I will also refer to the separate unitary council of the Isles of Scilly. Although I could be tempted to add the Isles of Scilly to the list-I was privileged to represent it in the European Parliament-it has only 2,000 electors, so I might be pushing my luck too far. Cornwall naturally comes together with the Isles of Scilly, although they have separate councils. That is why they are together here.
Something that I remember from the 1970s, when I listened to the news and was interested in politics- I think I was even a member of the Labour Party for a year in 1973, but I will leave my revelations at that-was a very important report on the constitution produced by the Kilbrandon royal commission. I am sure that many noble Lords remember the name and have referred to the report. The report states that what the people of Cornwall,
Cornwall sees itself as the fourth Celtic nation of the United Kingdom. It has a strong and separate historical tradition. It has a definite boundary: the River Tamar. It does not in any way deny that the rest of the United Kingdom, or England, exists beyond that river, but it is very proud of its separate identity, its history and its community. I have been privileged to be a resident of Cornwall and to represent it in Brussels. Until recently it was a region, Celtic nation, county, Duchy-however one wants to look at it-that looked backwards in many ways. However, over the past decade it has become resurgent. It looks forward, it is successful and it enjoys being a progressive contributor to the rest of the United Kingdom. That is why there has been such resistance in Cornwall to the risk of a constituency crossing the Tamar between it and Devon.
We should make no mistake: this is not antagonistic towards Devon. Both are great areas. However, the Isles of Scilly and Cornwall form a special area. It is a Celtic nation with its own language and an exciting future. It wants to live as an important contributing part of the United Kingdom, but it wants to retain its identity. One of the main ways in which it should be allowed to do this is through its voting, its democracy, and the way that it is represented in Westminster. The amendment is important because I am sure that other listed regions feel exactly the same way. The list is limited and does not undermine in any way the general principles of the Bill, which I would not want to see undermined. I ask my noble friend the Leader of the House to consider this amendment and those regions favourably in his reply.
Lord Crickhowell: I have not been entirely helpful to the Government on the Bill until this point. I am a member of the Constitution Committee, whose rather critical report has been perhaps too often repeated during these debates. I supported the amendment moved from the opposition Front Bench increasing from 5 per cent to 10 per cent the variation of constituencies. I still strongly feel that that would be a sensible amendment for a variety of reasons on which I shall not elaborate today, and I shall continue to press my colleagues to consider that amendment very carefully. I also supported my noble friend Lord Fowler in his vote on the Isle of Wight.
However, turning to the case of the island of Anglesey, I support the Government's position. I start with the numbers. They are relevant in the light of the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, about his general belief in the equalisation of constituencies. The honourable Member for Ynys Môn, Mr Owen, was elected with 11,490 votes on a turnout of 34,444 and an electorate of 42,998. The constituency of Arfon, across the Menai Straits, is the smallest mainland constituency in the United Kingdom measured by electorate. It is larger only than the two Scottish island constituencies. The honourable Member for Arfon, Mr Williams, was elected with 9,383 votes on a turnout of 26,078 out of an electorate of 42,998. If we are talking about equalisation of constituencies, there is obviously something a little wrong there. Across the Menai Straits, in the Arfon constituency, are the towns of Bangor and Caernarfon, Bangor with a population of just under 14,000 if you do not include the resident university members and Caernarfon, again with about 14,000 voters and with natural links with Dwyfor Meirionnydd, which has an electorate of 48,823. Those are the numbers.
The comparison with the Isle of Wight is slightly absurd. The Isle of Wight is separated from the mainland by sea. The Menai Straits are rather narrower than the Cleddau, which used to separate the two halves of my former constituency of Pembroke. When I became the Member of Parliament, there was no bridge across the Cleddau. You could either drive a long way round by road or you crossed by ferry. Indeed, on the very last day of my first election campaign, when I had to cross from an election meeting in Pembroke Dock to Milford Haven in the launch, my seven month-old pregnant wife and I were seen drifting fast out to sea on the ebb-tide in growing darkness when the engine failed.
Lord Crickhowell: However, those who had organised it had foreseen that possibility and, luckily, there was someone watching with binoculars and we were brought ashore. In the case of Ynys Môn and the mainland, there is a short suspension bridge that you can walk across in a couple of minutes which, incidentally, bears an inscription that tells us that the grandfather of the present Chairman of Committees removed the tolls when he was Secretary of State for Transport. The other bridge, the great Brunel railway bridge, which was severely damaged by fire and, when it was reconstructed, had a road built on top of it, is again a perfectly comfortable walk across. I walked across it during its reopening ceremony.
The truth is that a great many people in Anglesey do their shopping not on the island but in Bangor. If they are going to hospital, they certainly go to Bangor, because that is where the district hospital is. When I used to travel up frequently as a director of Anglesey Mining, I usually got off the train at Bangor rather than Llangefni. The university obviously provides a hub of activity in Bangor, and great services are held in Bangor Cathedral. When my dear friend Kyffin Williams, the great Welsh artist, died, his service of commemoration was in the cathedral at Bangor, not on the island.
People say, "Ah, but history". If you go back into the depths of history, the links between the mainland and the island had been very close. When Edward I launched his first assault on Llewelyn the Great, Llewelyn-ap-Gruffydd, the Prince of Wales, he sent the ships of the Cinque Ports to capture Anglesey. Immediately, they destroyed the grain harvest and Llewelyn capitulated. Since then, Anglesey has not been the granary of Gwynedd, but it has been the place to which the farmers of Snowdonia sent their sheep to fatten. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy will recall, after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, it became a central part of the agricultural activity of the area that lambs had to be sent down to the island for fattening. Indeed, I believe that some of them still are.
The links between both sides are extremely close. The natural constituency is therefore Anglesey linked to Bangor. Dividing the Arfon constituency so that Caernarfon is linked with the neighbouring constituency of Dwyfor Meirionnydd fulfils pretty closely the general objectives of the Government, and I cannot see that in the case of Anglesey a strong case can be made out for special treatment. Therefore, on this occasion-I think for the first time during my activities on the Bill-I find myself supporting the Government.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I listened very carefully to what was said yesterday, in particular by the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, and the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, about the procedure being adopted in this House, and I listened very carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. I think he is being slightly modest about the strength of views expressed by the Constitution Committee on the content and
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To those who are going to get irritated by me if I speak about Lancashire or Cornwall, or by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, speaking about Ynys Môn-and I do not think he would have been speaking for my late friend Lord Cledwyn about Ynys Môn-I say that the irritation should be directed at those who brought forward legislation that seeks to do something that we all agree should be done-to establish much more numerically equal representation-but does it the wrong way, against all the practice of your Lordships' House and of Governments since 1832. I am assured by those who look back at 1832 that the then Government got that legislation through only by packing the House with new Members, a thing that could never happen these days.
I speak to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and support him on his point about Cornwall. At a very early age, I was taught about the importance of Cornwall by my grandfather who lived in Wales. He taught me about the importance of Wales, but his grandfather was a tin miner who had left Cornwall to work in Wales. I support everything that the noble Lord says about identity and the sense of belonging. I am saddened that he does not feel able to extend that sense of identity to other parts of the country. I say to him that every time a noble Lord in this House talks about, and is supported on, the principle of local community mattering-and I support local communities mattering, for example, in Northern Ireland-and every time an exception is made, it leads to a bigger question about why this Government have, for the first time since 1832, decided in advance what the number of constituencies will be at the end. That is what is so wrong.
If an exception is made for Ynys Môn, the Isle of Wight or Cornwall, it has numerical implications. If you have determined in advance the final number of constituencies, it is bound to come back and affect the rest of the country. That is my concern.
Where exceptions can be made-for example, for Cumbria, or, if your Lordships wish, for Ynys Mon, and, as your Lordships have determined, for the Isle of Wight-I hope the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the Government will be honest enough to say that that will have implications for where we end up, otherwise the rest of the country could be penalised.
I can see that the noble Lord, Lord Marland, thinks that this is amusing. It may be amusing in his part of the world, but I can assure him that memories die hard in the north-west of England. My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours will tell him that people still resent being taken out of Lancashire in the last boundary review, and that is a long time ago.
I do not want to have to do this in the House tonight. I want to know that the people of Lancashire, Cornwall, Wales and Scotland can make their own case through a tried and tested procedure. The Government are wrong to smash that procedure.
I said earlier that there had been damning reports of two major government Bills. I was on duty as the government Whip when it was deemed in No. 10 that the Lord Chancellor could go forthwith, but the Government of the day had to accept that they did not have the power to do that. I do not know whether the Government have the power to do what they suggest in this legislation but, even if they have that power, they ought not to exercise it by trampling on tradition. I can understand that the Liberal Democrats may wish to interfere with tradition, but the Conservatives?
Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, I listened with concern to what the noble Baroness said at the beginning of her speech. I think I made it clear yesterday that many Cross-Benchers-and I can speak only for the Cross-Benchers-are deeply concerned about the Bill and feel strongly that many elements in it undoubtedly could and should be improved. The point I was trying to make was that the conventions of the House suggest that these concerns should be brought to a head by means of an amendment, which is then called and divided on. Many Cross-Benchers would undoubtedly support such an amendment. The concern for a long time has been that no amendments have been brought forward and that the talk has gone on for far longer than is necessary to convince the Cross-Benchers that an amendment should be supported.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, when I came into this House I was told that it was not a tradition to divide the House too often in Committee and the general view was that we should concentrate our efforts for divisions on Report. I hope that noble Lords on the Cross Benches who have told us privately that they feel sensitive about areas of the Bill will join us in the Lobbies when amendments are moved in the next few weeks or months.
I would dearly love six parliamentary constituencies in the county of Cumbria but I recognise that there are problems. I want to go into this in some detail because, although we have each personalised areas in the debate, there are principles involved when dealing with boundaries in Cumbria that apply more widely.
Over the years, Cumbria has made a great contribution to British politics. We have provided a large number of Secretaries of State-Edward Short, now the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara; the noble Lords, Lord Cunningham, Lord Jopling and Lord Hutton; Lord Peart, my predecessor; and Lord Whitelaw-all of whom have been members of the Cabinet. We have provided many junior Ministers-the noble Lords, Lord Henley, Lord Inglewood, Lord Brett, Lord Judd, Lord Dubs and Lord Cavendish, who intervened in the debate today, and a number of other Peers have strong connections with the county.
My noble friend Lord Liddle took us on a quiet canter around the county and explained the interesting characteristics of many of the communities which it comprises. He stressed the very strong local loyalties and community identities that are often incomprehensible to people coming from outside the county. Noble Lords should remember that we are talking primarily about the Lake District and the communities that surround it. These are historic places with a long history of community involvement and identity.
I talk this evening about what I can describe only as a sensitive issue because I was MP for Workington for 21 years. I often say to people who write to me or even stop me in the street when I am in the constituency that I have had my time and I try not to interfere, as do many of us former MPs. We do not interfere in our former constituencies. Therefore, it is with great sensitivity that I venture into the numbers. We are now in the numbers game because this Bill is about numbers not communities. I will take the county as a whole and explain the problem and the possible solution, and how the Bill may well offend lots of people within the county.
At the moment, there are six parliamentary constituencies. Broadly, without going into the actual detail, Barrow has 68,000 electors, Carlisle 65,000, Copeland 63,000, Penrith and the Border 64,000, Westmorland and Lonsdale 67,000, and Workington 59,000, within a few hundred. That makes a total of approximately 390,000 electors across six constituencies in the county. That is an average of approximately 65,000 per seat.
Those who know the detail in the Bill will know exactly where I am going. It means that every seat in the county falls under the requirement in the Bill for 76,000. The actual figure is 64,972 people per constituency. Subject to the 5 per cent leeway or 76,000, we are 14 per cent under the 76,000 target in every seat, so unless there are major changes in the way in which this legislation is implemented, there will be major changes within the county of Cumbria. We will lose a seat.
How do we proceed? On the basis of the 76,000, we can cross boundaries and to some extent destroy the identity that Cumbria has tried to build up over the past decades of being a county with our various district authorities and MPs who do not cross the boundary. That is one way of proceeding. We can cross county boundaries and compromise that principle, or we can settle on five seats, which I will come back to later.
On the basis of the 76,000 target, if we crossed county boundaries and kept strictly to the target, a part of the county-that is to say, 11,000 votes-would have to go into a neighbouring county, which in itself may create difficulties. On the basis of 72,000, which is the 5 per cent leeway deducted from the 76,000 target, crossing county boundaries would mean that 35,000 voters in Cumbria would have to go into another county, which brings us to the amendment that was moved last night when I referred to the problems that might arise in Kendal or possibly in Penrith.
If we go for the five-seat option, there will be a major reorganisation within the county. What worries me is that Workington, when I represented it, was a seat with a wide social mix. We had the Lake District
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Some people might say that it does not matter, but I would object just as much if the position had been reversed and the whole county was to go Labour as the result of a boundary review. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, mumbles from his seat. I do not know what he mumbled to himself but the point is that some of us are interested in balanced communities and electorates. I am in favour of increasing the number of marginals in general elections. There will be some debate this evening about the whole question of marginal seats. A very small number of seats nationally changing hands can actually change government. I do not think that that is the proper way unless you have proportional representation. With a first past the post system, a very small number of seats can change government. That is not a particularly effective way to run a national election system. That is one of the reasons why I am in favour and have moved steadily towards proportional representation over the years.
The Boundary Commission, when making its judgment, could be organising it simply by saying that it will publish its findings, without realising the consequence that it will create a large number of seats that will rarely change hands. Carlisle, Barrow and Furness, Workington, and Westmorland and Lonsdale have all changed hands over the years, often with swings. That might stop because of the way in which this formula is being applied under the provisions of the Bill.
Some might argue, "Why bring all this statistical evidence to a debate on the Floor of the House of Lords?". The answer is that the discussion I am having now should take place during a Boundary Commission inquiry. There should be a discussion about whether we bridge the county boundary and basically export voters into other constituencies, or somehow accept that we are going to end up with five constituencies. If it is to be five constituencies, I would like to think that the Boundary Commission will have in mind the need to create some marginality in the seats and not simply create a series of safe seats that is damaging to the British constitutional arrangement.
This question of safe seats goes slightly wider because, under this mathematical formula, we might end up with a lot more safe seats-and because of that, we
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Lord Roberts of Conwy: I hope I may be able to say something as a native of the isle of Anglesey, which features in this amendment. The view from my home, which is of Snowdonia across the straits, is permanently engraved in my mind. Belonging, as I do by birth, to the southern part of the island, it is quite natural that I should look, as do others living in that part of the island, towards the Snowdonia end and the mainland. Of course, bridges have been built. We have virtually three: the Telford Bridge, since 1825; the Stevenson railway bridge; and now a road deck over that railway bridge.
Not only was I born in Anglesey, so I know something about the place, but I represented Conwy for 27 years in the other place. Conwy, in my day, included the city of Bangor, which, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell said, is the shopping centre for Anglesey and contains a lot of people who had come from Anglesey, as I found among my constituents. It really looked as though Telford's bridge of 1825 had proved to be a floodgate for people from Anglesey to come over to the mainland site. Anglesey is small, with a total electorate of some 42,000. If we are to equalise and abide by that principle, the Ynys Môn electorate could be amplified to include the Bangor area. Indeed, this has been anticipated by the inquiry conducted by the Welsh select committee of the other place. It quoted in evidence Lewis Baston of Democratic Audit, who suggested this very combination, which would result in a constituency of some 73,400 people and meet the criteria required by the Government.
Of course, there might be some objections from the Holyhead end of the island, which has tended to dominate the island politically ever since the days of the much loved late Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos. On the whole, if we are going to move towards equalising electorates and constituencies, this would not be an impossible move. Indeed, it might very well be welcomed. It would give additional strength-the combination of Bangor on the mainland and Anglesey-to whoever represents that constituency. I simply plant that thought, which means, of course, that I am against this amendment.
Lord Myners: My Lords, I support Amendment 79A, specifically from the perspective of its reference to the county of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. I will speak briefly now because in a later group of amendments, when the House will be considering amendments proposed by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and my noble friend Lord Berkeley, we will be looking at amendments specifically focused on Cornwall.
I do not come as well prepared for this as my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. I do not have a list of the size of the constituencies, nor can I immediately recollect great Secretaries of State who have represented
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One reason why Cornwall has had very few Ministers is because of the nature of the area and its geographical distance from London. At an earlier point in the Committee's proceedings, I listened with great interest to the persuasive arguments about the Scottish constituencies and I thought to myself that many of those arguments also apply to Cornwall. Cornwall is geographically distant from London; our constituencies are wide and diverse. The challenge of representing them is very significant. That would tend to support the argument that ours should be smaller constituencies than those that are derived from a formulaic proposal as put forward by the Government in this Bill.
I developed my political knowledge and interest in Cornwall. I remember as a teenager following the general election campaign of the Labour candidate, Ron Blindell, who was the chairman of Plymouth Argyle Football Club. He had a Rolls-Royce-we very rarely saw Rolls-Royces in Cornwall-and he went from village to village speaking. It would be advertised in the West Britonthat Mr Blindell would speak at 7.45 pm at St Agnes, at 8 pm at Perranporth and at 8.15 pm at St Merryn, and the same people who listened to him at 7.45 would then jump in their cars-or, in the case of Labour supporters, on to our bikes and pedal madly-to get to the next constituency in order to carry on our engagement with the candidate, either in support or in opposition to whatever he said.
We also had some great MPs in Cornwall. I think of one in particular from the Liberal Party-Mr David Penhaligon, with whom I went to school and who represented Truro. David was taken from us in a tragic accident while visiting the postal workers immediately before Christmas in the very early hours of the morning in an accident on a very icy road. David was a fine representative of the people of Truro and St Austell and would have been a figure of considerable national significance if he had not been taken from us in that cruel and tragic way.
There are currently no Labour Members of Parliament in the six constituencies for Cornwall. However, three of the seats are held by Liberal Democrats. I would like to believe that they are of the progressive wing of that party, who understand the needs of those who are most vulnerable in the community and speak up from time to time in the other place in support of the arguments that my colleagues there bring forward when pointing out the tragic consequences of the economic policies that the Government are currently pursuing. We have of course seen those policies reflected today in negative GDP growth figures, which do not come as a complete surprise to me.
As I said, Cornwall is geographically isolated. The constituencies are dispersed. Cornwall also has a distinct culture. We have heard this referred to in respect of other constituencies as well. Cornwall has its own language, which is growing in its usage. More people are showing an interest in understanding the history, culture and pastimes of the Cornish people. Indeed, we have a nationalist movement, which stood in all the constituencies in the last general election.
Cornwall also suffers from acute economic pressure. Our core industries of the past-tin mining, the kaolin, or china clay, industry, and fishing-are all under enormous pressure. Tourism has had to readjust its offering, which it has done extremely well, but the industry of the past has now had to target a completely new segment of visitors. This is an economy some distance from London that is suffering from an acute set of issues similar to that of a microclimate.
I am disappointed that, in the other House, the six Members of Parliament for Cornwall played very little part in the debate on this Bill. They did not speak passionately in favour of keeping Cornwall's current representation. This was in part because the governing party guillotined procedures in the other place. No doubt, if those Members had had the opportunity, they would have spoken, but it falls to us in this House to speak up when the process followed in the other place does not allow good and clear expression of the deep-rooted anxieties that are being created in communities such as Cornwall by this legislation.
I also believe that one of the reasons that so few of the Members representing Cornish constituencies in the other place played an active part in the debate on the Bill is because most of them are new to the House. They are new to understanding the challenges of representing a constituency. I suggest-without the benefit of having sat and represented a constituency in the other House, unlike many Members such as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, who spoke before me-that it is difficult for somebody contesting a constituency and then winning a seat to have a clear grasp of how much work is involved in representing constituents. One reason why Cornwall's MPs were not more evident in the debate in the other place is that they are still coming to terms with the difficulties of doing so, particularly given the geographical distance.
Lord Teverson: It is important to say that all six MPs are of the same opinion on the issue, although there was certainly some limitation on what they could say in the other place. The point about the political movement within Cornwall is that it has been across all political parties, from Mebyon Kernow to Labour, to the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats-and even the Stannary Parliament, which would usurp your Lordships' own role if it had the chance.
Lord Myners: I welcome that intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, which correctly informs our debate on this amendment. A general sense is being allowed to develop in Cornwall that the equalisation of the size of constituencies is not a matter of great consequence because they might be adjusted later through the work of the Boundary Commission. That
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At a later stage in Committee, I shall argue the case for Cornwall retaining its current six constituencies. For the time being, I think that it is important that we recognise that the culture and history of Cornwall, which has not had a parliamentary constituency cross the River Tamar into the county of Devon for 700 years, should be respected. The people of Cornwall however close they might live to Devon-be it in a small hamlet, a farm or a village abutting Devon-nevertheless look to Truro for leadership and regard themselves as Cornish. Parliament would be ill advised to disregard the strength of such feelings by adopting an approach that is entirely arithmetic, with regard neither for local culture, history and sensitivities nor for people who proudly believe that they are part of a geographical inheritance and who wish to be listened to.
I urge noble Lords to support these amendments. Later on, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, my noble friend Lord Berkeley and I will speak again-at some greater length, I anticipate-to issues relating to Cornwall.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer and my noble friend Lord Bach. It is important in bringing together those parts of the country that believe that they are exceptional and should be added to the two exceptions that were already in the Bill and the Isle of Wight, which has subsequently been added by your Lordships. At the root of that is the argument, as we have just heard from my noble friend Lord Myners, that some parts of the country have a particular character and are fiercely proud of it, and that they think that that should be recognised in their parliamentary boundaries.
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I have listened avidly to the discussion about Cornwall. As somebody who came to this country about 46 years ago, I have always thought that it is wonderful to have local involvement in politics, but that has been on the basis of local people getting involved in local or parish councils. Representatives from those local areas have had a wider vision of the contribution that their area could make to the national situation. That is how we came to vote for our MPs. It is wonderful to visit every part of this United Kingdom and to walk around looking at local cathedrals et cetera.
Baroness O'Cathain: However, I fear that if you bring everything local to representation in the national, economic, political and social government of this country, you might lose sight of the big picture. It is wonderful to have representatives from these areas, but they should concentrate just on Westminster and not on local issues which can be dealt with locally. I do not think that that point has been made. I have come in, looked at this matter and thought that. It is a strength, not a weakness.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: I think that I understand the point that the noble Baroness is making; that is, that regardless of which part of our country you come from or represent in the other place, you are making decisions here in Westminster largely on national issues, unless it is in relation to a Private Bill.
However, the Bill already acknowledges that there are certain boundaries that you should not cross, such as the boundaries between Scotland and England and between England and Wales; and Northern Ireland should remain discrete. Those are the beginnings of acknowledgement that it is not just about the UK issues or the GB issues; it is about something slightly more fine-grained now. In turn, the Bill already acknowledges, by making the exception for the Orkney and Shetland constituency and for the Western Isles, which are much smaller in population than would normally be allowed according to the formula in the Bill, that there is something so particular about those communities-as communities-that they should be separated out in the Bill. What I am seeking to argue in my relatively brief contribution, I hope, to this debate is that there are other particular communities. This has already been decided by your Lordships' House in respect of the Isle of Wight, and the electorate in that community should feel that it has a voice.
My understanding of Cornwall, as an example, is that the Cornish people to whom I spoke when I was the Regional Minister for the South West of England up until the last election already feel an alienation from London and that Westminster does not really understand Cornwall. It is an awful job to get politicians from Westminster to go all the way to Cornwall, which is quite a journey. You have to set aside probably a couple of days to do it-certainly if you want to go to the Isles of Scilly-and we do not really understand that. If they in turn feel that we in London have, through a formula, imposed a solution which means that they will have to start to share Members of Parliament with Devon-that boundary across the Tamar River is a profound one psychologically for many in Cornwall-I think they will feel more alienated from politics and from what goes on here. I do not think that we should cross that boundary easily. I am happy to give way.
Lord Trimble: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I have a question. My figures may not be accurate but, if you were faced with a choice of having six constituencies, one of which crossed the Tamar, or of having only five, all of which were in Cornwall, which would you prefer?
Lord Teverson: From the MPs, and from what we have gathered from the people in Cornwall, it appears that they are happier to have five than to share. In fact, I was speaking to my honourable friend Dan Rogerson, MP for North Cornwall, earlier, and he made that point to me. It may seem strange, but that seems to be the answer. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, has raised the question.
Lord Myners: I add my voice in agreement with the observation made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. The soundings that I have taken indicate that the
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Baroness O'Cathain: I make one observation again. There are the examples of Liverpool and Everton and of Celtic and Rangers. It is a situation where we are actually having tensions within an area, where we are all supposed to be part of-dare I say it?-a big society, and where we help one another irrespective of boundaries.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, I am delighted and slightly stunned to have stimulated such debate on day 13 of this Committee that I managed to get four interventions on the trot without being able to respond to them-and here comes another.
Lord Campbell-Savours: The reason why my noble friend is getting interventions is that this is precisely an issue that would arise at any public inquiry on boundaries: the dilemma of whether you export votes to another county or confine your constituencies within your county boundaries. What has just happened is very interesting. Everyone suddenly is alight; and it is only because this is the central issue in our inquiries today.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My noble friend hit the nail on the head. We will have separate debates around the need for the opportunity for a public inquiry, but I am absolutely convinced that the electors of Cornwall, the area in this list that I know best, would want the opportunity to make their voice heard and to protest, should the Boundary Commission suggest that the county boundaries crossed into Devon. Indeed, it must be an indication that all of us, certainly those who received correspondence by e-mail, have received considerable and assiduous representations from Cornwall about this Bill. People are watching. I have not spoken many times during the 13 days of this Committee; this may be only the fourth or fifth time that I have spoken. But I know from responses that I have had that people from Cornwall are watching us on the Parliament channel as we speak because they really care about this. They will know that we are debating their issue and that we will look forward to debating probably one or two more amendments as well. They will be paying careful attention to what we say.
I like to holiday in the Argyll and Bute area-and I know that there is a strong case to make and that the Member of Parliament in the other place believes that it should be an exception. I intend to go there on holiday again this year, because the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, who is not in his place, assures me that the midges will have been wiped out by the cold weather this winter, and that it is a good year to go. But my case is really around Cornwall. What I like about the amendment is the flexibility that it offers. It is not saying that there should be five Members of Parliament for Cornwall, or six Members of Parliament; it just says that there should be a whole number for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and that it should be discrete on that basis. That is exactly the sort of steer that the
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I did not want to delay the House unduly with a long speech, but I am delighted that somehow I have managed to stimulate some debate across the Chamber on this. I urge your Lordships to support this fine amendment.
Lord Touhig: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Knight reminds us that this is day 13 of the Bill. During the dinner break, one of my colleagues told me that the Second Reading of the 1832 Reform Bill took five days alone, so perhaps we are making some progress. I was deeply impressed by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who made a powerful argument about Cornwall. He made the point also that Cornwall, like Wales, is a Celtic nation with Celtic people. Indeed, at some time in the past, Cornwall was considered to be in west Wales. Indeed, the region of Strathclyde was occupied by the Welsh as well and was considered to be north Wales. We have no such ambitions at present, I assure the noble Lord.
I rise to support the amendment and am therefore at the opposite end of the argument to my Welsh colleagues sitting on the other Benches, the noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Roberts of Conwy. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, made some very important points about the links between Ynys Môn and mainland north Wales. In my previous incarnation as Wales Minister, we had this novel idea called prelegislative scrutiny. I regularly came to your Lordships' House to talk to your Lordships about proposals that we had for Bills effecting Wales. The noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Roberts, who bring extensive experience from their time as Ministers in the Wales Office, contributed to those discussions. I believe that at the end of the day we made better law as a result of prelegislative scrutiny than we are seeing at present.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, rightly makes the point that Ynys Môn is separated from north Wales by the Menai Strait-not by a sea, as is the Isle of Wight, although I am sure that like me he would not really fancy trying to swim the Menai Strait, which is quite a turbulent channel. Ynys Môn-Mam Cymru, or the mother of Wales-has been a parliamentary constituency since 1535 and it is the largest Welsh island, at 720 square kilometres. It is the fifth largest island in offshore Britain and the largest island in the Irish Sea. Its economy depends very much upon agriculture, as the noble Lord mentioned, and upon tourism. Indeed, when I was Wales Minister I went there to promote tourism as I understand that about 2 million people from the Republic of Ireland pass through Ynys Môn every year on holidays. The trouble was getting them to stop and spend some money. To my mind, the only way that we are going to get the Irish to do that in north Wales is to have a good golf course and some good saints. I am not sure whether the tourist board took up that suggestion, but I did make it generally.
The people of Ynys Môn have seen themselves as separated from the mainland not just by the Menai Strait but by having a fiercely protective local culture. Sixty per cent of the people of Ynys Môn are Welsh
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I want to emphasise that the Bill has not been the subject of a Green Paper, a White Paper, any consultation or any pre-legislative scrutiny. If it had been, then I have no doubt that my points and those of other noble Lords-indeed, the very valid points made by the noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Roberts-would have figured in that kind of pre-legislative scrutiny. The only answer, in order to make sure we get the best result for the people of Ynys Môn and the people right across the country, is for the Government to agree that there should be local public inquiries. The points made by my fellow countrymen-the quite valid points from the opposite Benches and those made on these Benches-would be properly considered by an independent body, which would then make a decision in the best interests of the community concerned.
Lord McAvoy: My Lords, I suppose that, as one of the Peers from Scotland, I am duty bound to speak up for the Argyll and Bute council area. However, there was quite an extensive outline of the very justified case for Argyll and Bute in a previous debate and it would be wrong to repeat that. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on his speech and I have certainly been impressed tonight by the contributions from the noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Roberts, who were outstanding in displaying their local knowledge. However, I make the point that when Labour or, I think, Cross-Bench Peers were making speeches of that nature we were getting accused of having a filibuster. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, was keeping an eye on the Door in case the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, came in and moved for closure but, fortunately, he did not appear. That emphasises that we are now getting a bit of balance in the Committee in that it seems that, thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, people are now being allowed to make the case for their local area without being accused of filibustering. It is a legitimate thing to do.
The breadth of knowledge coming from all sides of the House is deeply impressive, although I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, shuddered a wee bit at being part called part of a Celtic nation, with a hard "C". He should really think himself quite lucky that he was not called part of a Celtic nation, with a soft "C". Then he would really have had something to get upset about.
I welcome the change in attitude in the Committee. The display was terrific. I support this amendment with, at this stage, a small caveat over Orkney and
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The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, what a fascinating debate we have had on these amendments-rather more interesting than I was expecting. It went around the House and people spoke from their different experience and knowledge. I was particularly pleased to get the support of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, which is always welcome.
Lord Strathclyde: It is not that rare, but very occasionally-about once every 10 years-my noble friend is vociferous in his opposition. It is very nice to see him being so supportive today. I was also pleased to have the support of my noble friends Lord Roberts and Lady O'Cathain.
To me, this debate demonstrated the width and depth of the gulf that exists between what the Government are trying to achieve and the position of noble Lords opposite. At the heart of what we want is equality across the country of the number of constituencies. To me, that is entirely logical: 600 seats-we do not need to debate again why 600-divided by the number of the electorate to get a figure, plus or minus 5 per cent. That is what we are trying to do.
Lord Myners: Surely the noble Lord is aware that this is not about equality of the number of constituencies; it is about equality of the size of constituencies. Is the noble Lord not familiar with his own legislation?
Noble Lords opposite say that equality of the size of constituencies is not important; they say that something else is important. The Bill, of course, provides for some of the other things that are important. They talked about community links and they talked about counties, as if counties were the same thing as constituencies. I totally dispute that. I live in Ayrshire. Ayrshire is, in fact, not a county. Everybody recognises it as a county, but it is not, as it has been divided in two. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, used to represent part of it. However, I do not say, and nobody says, "I come from Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley", or whatever the constituency is called. I say, "I come from Ayrshire". I have no emotional link with the constituency at all.
Lord Strathclyde: I want the noble Lord to respond to this-I am looking forward to it. Not only do I live in a Westminster constituency, but I live in a Scottish parliamentary constituency, which is called something else that I cannot remember. It simply does not matter what constituency I live in. It is of no interest to me at all.
Lord Strathclyde: I will give way to the noble Lord in a moment. I know that some noble Lords opposite have represented part of the country for years and feel a strong emotional bond to that area. I understand that. What I do not understand is the belief that most of the people of this country identify the area that they live in by the constituencies in which they live. They do not.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: May I gently correct the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde? There are in fact three parts of Ayrshire-East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire and North Ayrshire-but there was a vigorous campaign to keep Ayrshire whole, as one county. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, will remember it well, because it was his Government, bringing in local government reform, who insisted that Ayrshire should be divided in three, against all the wishes of local people. They were gerrymandering Ayrshire to keep South Ayrshire as one unit, because they thought that the Tories would take control of South Ayrshire. That was the purpose behind it and that is the kind of gerrymandering that, unfortunately, we are seeing again in the Bill.
Lord Strathclyde: That exactly proves my point. The people of Ayrshire did not really care very much which constituency they were living in. To them, it is Ayrshire, whether or not there are different boundaries for different parts of it.
Noble Lords opposite will remember that in 2008 there was a by-election in a place called Crewe and Nantwich. I spent quite a lot of time in Crewe-the Conservative Party thought that I would be better in Crewe than in Nantwich, although I never quite understood why. They were two very different parts of the constituency. The Member of Parliament had no trouble representing both parts, even though they were very different. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, wants to jump up again.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I thank the noble Lord. I have been sitting quietly through the whole debate. At the most recent reorganisation of Westminster parliamentary constituencies in Scotland, there was an initial suggestion, supported by my noble friend Lord Reid when he was a Lanarkshire MP, to put part of Ayrshire into a constituency with Lanarkshire. All the Ayrshire constituencies, including the Ayrshire Conservatives, fought to keep Ayrshire with five constituencies. We won. Where did we win? At the hearing that was held to hear the views of local people from Ayrshire, including the Ayrshire Conservatives, of which the noble Lord is one.
Lord Strathclyde: Again, this rather proves my point. It is politicians who want to fix all these constituencies in a particular way, not people. They do not mind. That is my fundamental point: people do not identify themselves by the constituencies in which they live.
I was born in the constituency of Hillhead in Glasgow, which was represented by my father. People from Hillhead do not say that they come from Hillhead;
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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I have a simple question for the noble Lord the Leader of the House: has he ever attended a public boundary inquiry? He is making the assertion that local people do not get involved. That is not my experience or that of many other noble Lords.
Lord Teverson: I apologise for interrupting my noble friend the Leader of the House. It is important to say that nowhere in the amendment are we delineating an actual constituency. That is the point. It specifically does not delineate an individual constituency. I agree with my noble friend that constituencies change around, as they have in Cornwall, from Truro and St Austell to Truro and Falmouth. That is not an issue; the issue is the wider, broader community that people actually identify with, but that is not the constituency. I wanted to make that clear and I apologise again for interrupting.
Lord Strathclyde: I am happy to be interrupted on that. I understand my noble friend's point plainly. The point that he and others have made is that an MP cannot represent well a constituency that crosses county boundaries, but my right honourable friend the Minister of State at the Scotland Office represents a seat in the south of Scotland that crosses, I think, three local authority boundaries, and he does it rather well. The fact that the seat crosses several such boundaries makes no difference to his ability to represent it, so I do not accept the argument that my noble friend makes. I do not take away from him and other noble Lords the passion with which they make their argument. I just think, and this is the Government's point, that it is a better and safer principle to stick to an equality of numbers of electors in constituencies across the country than to try to make these arguments.
Lord Liddle: I think that the noble Lord is slightly misrepresenting the point that we are trying to make. There is no attachment here to lines on maps that mark county boundaries that cannot be crossed. We are talking about the fact that these lines on maps represent real communities, which in some cases are very geographically isolated communities, and it is impossible to draw constituency boundaries that would maintain that essential sense of community. We are asking for the flexibility to take that sense of community into account, not local government boundaries.
Lord Strathclyde: That is exactly what noble Lords opposite are saying. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said that crossing county boundaries destroys local identity built up in Cumbria. He said a couple of
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Lord Strathclyde: I have heard the noble Lord. The parliamentary constituencies do not create or destroy historic identities; it is simply wrong to suggest that they do. I know the noble Lord, Lord Knight, is trying to trick me by moving from that place to another but I spotted that.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: I certainly would not want to trick the noble Lord the Leader of the House. When I represented a seat in the other place, my constituency crossed four local authority boundaries. I am not for a second suggesting that Members of Parliament would not do their best if they represented across significant community boundaries. However, I put this scenario briefly to the Minister. When the previous Labour Government came to office, one of the things that they did for Cornwall was to ensure that the European Union considered Cornwall as a region in its own right, so that it became eligible for Objective 1 status. If a Member of Parliament had represented a seat that straddled Cornwall and Devon-the European Union previously looked at Devon and Cornwall together-he would have been in a very difficult position. The Cornish people would have been passionate about the need for him to represent Cornwall, and the Devon people on the other side of his patch might have had a very different view. We should not put Members of the other place through that difficulty.
Lord Strathclyde: I am sure Members of Parliament are able to deal with such clashes. I know the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, will get up again. Am I right in thinking that the North Ayrshire constituency includes the Isle of Arran? It is part of the Highlands and Islands development area, which has Objective 1 status. However, North Ayrshire certainly does not have Objective 1 status.
Lord Maxton: I know the Isle of Arran quite well. I look across to Argyll from my house on the Isle of Arran. It would be easy, given the hard logic that the Minister wishes to follow, to look at the map and say that the Isle of Arran ought to be part of the Argyll and Bute constituency. There are 3,500 electors on the island. It would be easy to say, "If you look at the map, there is a shorter sea journey between Argyll and Arran than between the mainland and Arran". You would say, "Why not?". However, there is no direct, regular sea connection between Arran and Argyll and Bute. Let us be clear: if you apply the noble Lord's hard logic, Arran might well become part of Argyll and Bute, but it would have nothing to do with the constituency itself.
Lord Strathclyde: My example answered the question of the noble Lord, Lord Knight. The noble Lord, Lord Maxton, raises a perfectly valid point but it is
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Lord Campbell-Savours: This comes back to the Boundary Commission, which some of us do not trust to take the right decisions. Tony Cunningham, my successor in my former constituency, asked the Boundary Commission why it had put Keswick into the Copeland constituency-the nuclear industry-based constituency. He was told that it was because Keswick and Whitehaven are strongly linked. That was a myth. I have lived in Keswick for most of my life. There is no connection whatever to Whitehaven, yet the Boundary Commission took that decision. How can we trust people to understand what real links exist unless we have those local inquiries that we are all arguing for?
Lord Strathclyde: The noble Lord's words spoke for themselves when he said, "I don't trust the Boundary Commission to come up with the right answer". Most of us do trust, and want to trust, the Boundary Commission.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said in his main speech that we must beware of destroying political balance in Cumbria, but the Boundary Commission is deliberately blind to such questions. That should continue to be the case. It is not the Boundary Commission's responsibility to create marginality or safe seats. It has to look at the criteria laid out in the legislation and come to its own conclusions. It is for all those reasons that we fundamentally disagree with the amendments.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, mentioned Cumbria. There are geographical circumstances in Cumbria that the Boundary Commission would want to take into account. However, the whole of Cumbria would fit into Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, let alone the largest existing constituency. Although the noble Lord put the case for Cumbria eloquently, it does not compare. What about Workington, which has an electorate of 59,000? The Bill allows geography to be considered within the 10 per cent range allowed between the smallest and largest constituencies. Is it really fair-this is the point that Bill is trying to deal with-that three electors in Workington have the same say as four in, for instance, East Ham? I do not think so. That is what the Bill is trying to correct.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, there could be complete agreement around the House if the noble Lord were to concede that the people who live in these areas may have much stronger views than his about his home and allegiance. After all, the noble Lord does not have a vote in a parliamentary constituency. Therefore, he is perhaps less interested. However, the problem does not relate to whether or not we are making a case that can convince the noble Lord. Has he investigated how often the original proposals put forward by the Boundary Commission have been changed as a result of public inquiries during the process? Therein lies the rub. The fact is that the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, are taking unto themselves decisions which we believe should be put back to the local people. The Boundary Commission listens. The noble Lord is not listening.
Lord Strathclyde: That is not what we are trying to do. We are saying that there should be a certain number of constituencies, there is a variance of 10 per cent between the smallest and the largest, there is a Boundary Commission, and there will be an appeals process. I know it is not an appeals process that the noble Baroness likes, but people's views will be heard and taken into account.
I always like to be positive when replying to noble Lords, but it is hard to find a way to be positive on all this. My noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy made a point about Ynys Môn extremely well. I would have said the same thing about the bridges. It is a different kind of island from those in Orkney and the Western Isles. I hope that noble Lords opposite feel that I have tried to do justice on this Bill. Of all parts of the country, I think there is a genuine feeling in Cornwall. There is a unified view from the four MPs. However, we reject the argument made in Cornwall because we want clarity and similarity to stretch right across the country. Cornwall has many links and communities of interest which stretch across the Cornish border. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Myners, will agree that a large number of Cornish residents work in Plymouth in Devon. Therefore, there is a transfer of people on a daily basis which crosses local authority and county borders, and I do not see why that should not work in Westminster representation.
Lord Strathclyde: I assure the noble Baroness that I am not trying to upset anyone, either in Cornwall or in Devon. I am trying to make the case for a fairer system of distributing the number of electors across the country. That is what the Bill provides.
Lord Campbell-Savours: I keep going on about the question of marginality, although I do not see it in a political context, as the noble Lord does. Does he think that the review that will be carried out under the new law if the Bill goes through will be successful if its effect is to create far more safe seats nationally? Would he regard that as a successful conclusion after the next general election?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, there is no evidence to suggest that that would be the likely result. The review might result in more marginal constituencies: I have not the faintest idea. The people who decide whether a seat is safe or marginal are the electors in that constituency, not the Boundary Commission.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I will reply and then the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, will reply. That was a debate from a golden age in the House of Lords. It had three particular characteristics. We focused on the issue, we heard brilliant speeches from all sides of the House and we had a fabulously attractive
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I will speak first about individual places. The noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord Roberts, made powerful speeches about why Anglesey should not be treated separately because of its relationship with Bangor. My noble friend Lord Touhig made an equally powerful speech about why it should be treated separately. It is inevitable in the light of the way that the Bill was drafted that this is what must be done. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, stated that we say that there should be other factors and Government say that the issue is numbers. I am afraid that that is not what the debate on this amendment is about. The Government have accepted that there should be exceptions. We accept the principle of equality. There should be a small number of exceptions: the question is what they should be. Because there is no independent process to decide this, it must be done in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, managed with the Isle of Wight, and in the way that has been done tonight. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and in admiration for the attractive way in which he can distract us from the real point, the question is: what should the exceptions be?
The powerful speeches made by the noble Lords, Lord Roberts and Lord Crickhowell, show that we need to think about whether Anglesey should be an exception. In relation to Cornwall, I hope that I will not make the same mistake as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, by saying, "This is what I think the people of Cornwall want". We must listen to what they have to say. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, rightly placed her finger on the point; we are seeking to determine the way in which we elect people to a national forum. However, that does not answer the question about how we select the units within which they will select those national representatives. I am very conscious of that, having spoken to people from Cornwall and having heard what they said to me. As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was good enough to acknowledge, Cornwall appears united on the issue. If I was allowed to refer to the Public Gallery, which I am not-I am conscious of the fact that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is not here-I would imagine that any elected representatives there would have nodded vigorously when I said that the people of Cornwall were united in this respect. I am conscious of the fact that there is strong feeling on this issue.
The amendment has given us the opportunity to consider a range of possible exceptions. There is agreement in this House on three of the exceptions: the two Scottish island constituencies and the Isle of Wight. There is a division of view about the Isle of Anglesey. There has been broad support for Argyll and Bute, but we have not had a detailed debate on it, nor in relation to the Highland Council. The striking thing about this debate has been the position of Cornwall, which everyone has acknowledged. We cannot vote on this compendious amendment because it covers too many constituencies and there are different views in relation to it. However, it is perfectly obvious that we will have to revisit the issue of Cornwall.
On the question of Cumbria, I do not necessarily agree with my noble friend Lord Liddle that it was not included in our amendment simply because he did not get to me in time, although, having heard what he and my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours said, one can see that there is a case for Cumbria. I say with respect and tentatively that it does not appear to have the same universal support as Cornwall.
Lord Teverson: My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for least going through the arguments. I must admit that I find them difficult to follow on this amendment. These small exceptions-exceptions have already been made-do not make a fundamental difference to the Bill, nor to the way that the solution for constituencies and democracy in this country would work. I find that response disappointing. I accept that not every area in that list may be correct, and that it is perhaps therefore not right to vote on the amendment this evening, but I strongly believe that community matters. Although what the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, said, was absolutely right-this is a national forum-we sometimes forget in this House a thing called casework, which comes to Members of the other place. That is hugely community-based.
I have to make one last admission. When I was an MEP, I was MEP for the Isles of Scilly, for Cornwall and for West Plymouth, and the constituency covered the River Tamar. It was not a good solution and did not necessarily work well for the city of Plymouth-although I felt that I did a fantastic job. The difference between those communities was huge, and the practical outcome was that that was not the right solution. I hope that the Government-whom I support in every other way-will reconsider this important area for the future. We live to fight another day for Cornwall in another argument. That is important.
Lord Liddle: To tell you the truth, I was not sure what I was supposed to do. I just wanted to say that I hope that we do not have to raise this issue again at Report, because I hope that the Government will bring forward more flexibility in the way that the Boundary Commission operates so that the needs of communities in places such as Cumbria can be taken more fully into account. If the Government do that
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Lord McAvoy: This amendment deletes the constituency of Orkney and Shetland from the preserved list. I hope a Liberal Democrat Minister will reply. The amendment contradicts the previous amendment moved by my Front Bench to keep Orkney and Shetland on the preserved list, and I shall explain the thinking behind what I am doing. First, I state that I support the aim of equalisation. The disparity between electorates in different seats has long been an anomaly, and I have always thought that some effort should be made to tackle it because the principle is right. The aim is right, but the methodology in this Bill to achieve that aim is too prescriptive and too tightly drawn. It does not take any real cognisance of communities, which is where I am coming from and how I approach this Bill.
My party supported the principle of having a referendum on AV, as did I. I think it is right that the people should speak. To my recollection we did not specify a date, and that is causing problems, but they are not insurmountable. I think it is important that I state that as part of the background to this amendment because a myth has built up that I and others are determined to stop this Bill, and I have never stated that that is the case. I hope that by stating my position vis-à-vis equalisation and support for an AV referendum, we can stop the spinners from the various newspapers saying otherwise.
The idea is surely to revise and improve, and that is what we are looking for in the Bill. In moving this amendment, I am trying to help the Liberal Democrats. Believe it or not, my name is Tommy and I am here to help. I can say that to our Liberal colleagues. The twists and turns that are going on to try and arrange the geographical condition and the natural state of the highland seats for Charles Kennedy, who is a first-class Member of Parliament, Danny Alexander and other northern Liberal MPs are quite unedifying. The position being taken on Orkney and Shetland is all right for us, but the rest of you will need to bend to this, and the contortions that are going on in the highlands do no good to the reputation of the Liberal Democrats. I say to my Liberal Democrat colleagues-or Peers, if they object to me calling them colleagues-that they are bringing an air of chicanery to their party, especially in Scotland, because every time boundaries or voting systems are discussed, the Liberals use their position as part of any set-up to argue for PR, list MSPs or not reducing MSP seats when the Scotland Act called for it-the so-called settled will of the Scottish people, except when it came to reducing MSP seats.
I am here to help the Liberals. By moving the amendment I am giving them the opportunity to justify on the Floor of the House why Orkney and Shetlands should still continue to exist, in contrast with Argyll and Bute, which has the best case in Scotland, even when compared with the highlands. As I said, Charles Kennedy is admired by nearly all of us on this side of the House-he is a first-class MP-but, of course, he comes from social democratic rather than Liberal roots, which makes a difference.
I am not demeaning anything that the Liberals are doing or how they are behaving, but their case lacks justification compared with the highland seats. Charles once told me that it takes him five hours to drive from one end of his constituency and back again, so he has made that case, but what is happening with the seat of Argyll and Bute is nonsense. I am not arguing a political interest in this matter because we have never won the seat. However, going back to my schooldays and early teens, John Maclay-who ended up here as a very distinguished Peer-stood for Parliament and was elected as a National Liberal, if I remember correctly. I am grateful to the Leader of the House for confirming that. There is perhaps a lesson here for the Liberals-and maybe a threat-because we know that history shows that members of parties who enter into a coalition with the Conservative Party end up, in effect, as Conservative Members of Parliament.
I am not arguing from a party political point of view. If there is a case for Orkney and Shetlands and a case for the highlands, the case for Argyll and Bute at least equals those. If Orkney and Shetlands is to be preserved, so should Argyll and Bute.
Lord McFall of Alcluith: I remind my noble friend that the Argyll and Bute constituency is a political construct from the previous Conservative Government. I well remember in 1994 pleading with the then Minister of State, Allan Stewart, "Do not take Helensburgh and put it into Argyll and Bute". The people of Helensburgh had a difference with their representatives at the time, the Labour councillors, and rightly so, but they had a short-term interest in doing that. I represented the Helensburgh seat. Now, less than 10 years later, the Helensburgh people are saying, "It was wrong for us to go into Argyll and Bute". The lesson is that if you carry out exercises in this House with politicians and do not include the Boundary Commission and the local element, you will get artificial constructs. That is the history of Argyll and Bute.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, calculated how much one vote was worth when compared with another. How does the calculation compare Orkney and Shetland, which has an electorate of just over 32,000, with, say, Rutherglen and Hamilton West, which has an electorate of 77,000? I am not having a go at the people in Orkney and Shetland; I am making the point-I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace
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The thing about this Bill and the various amendments is that a bit of a legend is being put about that I am the leader of the gang that is out to destroy this Bill. That is absolutely wrong. It is about time. I hope that the Cross-Benchers listen to what we are saying.
Lord McAvoy: I know. I was not being sarcastic. I hope that other Members listen as well because I have been speaking to Peers on all sides of the House over the past week or so. People have not been unfriendly. They have gone out of their way to speak to me and take me to tea. That was great, especially as they were paying, but the legend is that somehow I/we were being completely obstructive by trying to stop, damage and finish the Bill rather than get some concessions.
No concessions have come from the Government at all. The justified case for the Isle of Wight had to be pressed by a coalition of various Peers who tried to get common sense on that, but nothing has been gained. The noble Lord can disabuse me of that later if he can persuade me, but the Government are in a straitjacket. The straitjacket is the agreement that they reached behind closed doors in smoke-filled rooms with the Liberals. They extracted their price and the Government are quite willing to extract theirs, which does not seem to allow any room for reasonable compromise to come from the Government towards the Opposition.
Some points of view are held by many Peers in the House. For instance, the amendment that has the most support from noble Lords around the House is the extension of the variation from 5 per cent to 10 per cent. That would not destroy the Bill-it would be pointless to do that-but it would make a difference. I am told by a number of more experienced Peers than me that it would tackle a lot of the anomalies and many of the injustices in the Bill. It would not be a cure-all, but it would be a gesture towards recognising that there is a problem.
We would like local inquiries as per what has happened in the past and what is normal. If there were a gesture to indicate that there should be some form of restricted local inquiries, which could be the subject of discussion between the usual channels, a whole host of recommendations might go through on the nod. Folk would see the point and logic of them. A limited number of restricted local inquiries-a comparatively small number compared with the 600-odd-perhaps to clear a huddle before a local inquiry to allow local people and organisations to have a say, is the sort of compromise and concession that could come from the Government without destroying the Bill.
A number was plucked out of the air for seats. I will not go on about that, but is it so set in stone that it cannot be eased just a little for the sake of getting
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Lord Rennard: Before the noble Lord sits down-I assume that he must be reaching a conclusion after 14 minutes-perhaps he would explain something to help us. If he is so strongly opposed, as he is in this amendment, to the preservation of a separate constituency for Orkney and Shetland, why did he support in the other place the Labour Government's Scotland Act 1998, which provided for separate constituencies for the Orkney and Shetland in the Scottish Parliament and in particular preserved the specific identity for Orkney and Shetland constituency in the Westminster Parliament? Also, does he have any fears after 15 minutes that an impartial observer of his previous contribution might fear that this is another frivolous filibuster in this debate?
Lord McAvoy: The noble Lord has given me half a minute to answer about four questions. If the mood of the House is that I should sit down, I will. If the mood is that I briefly answer the noble Lord, I will. I will try to answer. That seems to be okay, but if someone objects I will sit down-do not worry about that. The noble Lord objects?
Lord McAvoy: That is fine. I will answer the question. Let me make it clear that I have no intention of putting this to the vote. It is a probing amendment to find out why Orkney and Shetland is given this preferential treatment and Argyll and Bute is not. I will mention the Scottish convention briefly, because I am sure it will come up. The whole attitude at the time of the Scottish convention was to get consensus. In that mood of consensus, there was recognition of the need to get everyone on board with Orkney and Shetland getting two seats. Internally, I disagreed, but I am a democrat. I played my part within my own party to alter that and did not win. Overwhelmingly, folk were in favour of it. I know the noble Lord was not listening to that answer, but that is the answer, and I can justify it at any time. I am a democrat and will play my part within my own party. I am not one of life's natural rebels, so I am not inclined to rebel. I would rather not encourage the wrath of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard. With that, I beg to move.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: I must tell my noble friend Lord McAvoy, for whom I usually have a great respect and affection, that on this occasion I cannot support his amendment. I mentioned the Scottish Constitutional Convention earlier this evening. As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, knows well, the convention
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I do not pretend to know Orkney and Shetland well. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, knows-although he is not in his place-that I have had the enormous pleasure of visiting both Orkney and Shetland with my noble friend Lord Gordon of Strathblane and his family, and with the late First Minister of Scotland the right honourable Donald Dewar, when the noble and learned Lord and his wife accompanied us on an enjoyable, informative and educational political working holiday. To visit both these areas is to appreciate at once how different they are from one another and from mainland Scotland geographically, topographically, in flora and fauna, in history and socially. They are in effect two different countries, and neither of them is like Scotland as we know it. Indeed, without going too much into the historical detail, most noble Lords are aware that Norway was the mother country in the past.
That is why, allied to the physical difficulties in connections between these two, the convention was persuaded that they should have two separate seats in the Scottish Parliament. As I explained to the House earlier this afternoon, the convention worked for 10 years on hammering out a blueprint for the Scottish Parliament-one that was almost wholly incorporated into the government White Paper and then into the Scotland Act.
The question of Orkney and Shetland was considered very carefully. Everyone in the convention was aware that there were important implications for other parts of Scotland by allowing special status for Orkney and Shetland. Such a major departure from what had been the Westminster practice of treating them as one constituency was serious but, in the end, that was agreed. In fact, when it came to the White Paper and then the drafting of the Scotland Bill, all the arguments had been so well rehearsed that there were no problems in agreeing to it. Surely that has to be an important lesson for this Government. Instead of the careful, painstaking, wide consultation that the convention provided, the Government are trying to rush this Bill through with no pretence at consulting the people of Scotland or anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: The noble Lord anticipates my next point. The Benches opposite have the temerity to complain when we try to examine the detail in this Bill. That shows an arrogance that none
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That brings me to a second lesson for the Government, if I may give it to the noble Lord the Leader of the House. The first was about wider consultation. The second is about objecting to how the Bill is scrutinised. The Scotland Bill, which was a well defined, self-contained and constitutionally important Bill, came from a White Paper arising from almost 10 years of the widest possible consideration by the convention. It was dealt with in this House by two days on Second Reading, which is very unusual, 10 days in Committee and four days on Report. All 10 days in Committee went on after 10.30 pm, five of them until after midnight. The four days on Report all went on after 10.30 pm.
I was one of the three government Ministers who took the Scotland Bill through the House and I remember this very well. On the Conservative opposition Bench were the very much missed Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, known affectionately some of the time as the Mackay twins. What a difference there was in the way in which we negotiated and behaved towards one another from what we see now. As the Government, we did not accuse or complain about the many amendments and the long hours that the Opposition originated or about the mantra-
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: Just let me finish the sentence. The mantra that we kept hearing repeated, which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will remember, was that, although the Conservative Party had campaigned for a no vote in the referendum on a Scottish Parliament, it accepted the decision of the Scottish people and all the many amendments were, as it said, only "to make it a better Bill".
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: There were many clauses, but it was one Bill-one self-contained, sharply focused Bill on the Scottish Parliament, quite different from the hybrid Bill that we have in front of us.
I am not claiming that there was some kind of golden age in 1998 when we were in government and the Scotland Bill was being debated. Of course we got tired and we got angry with one another sometimes. However, we kept our cool and even accommodated in the timetabling of the Bill the late Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish's love of salmon fishing by allowing dates when he could do that.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I suggest to the noble Baroness that one of the differences between the Opposition's approach then and the approach of the Opposition today is that then their objectives were absolutely clear. It was also absolutely clear who was in charge of the Opposition.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: I think that both those things are clear about the Opposition today. Then, the Opposition were not supposed to be delaying the Bill, but my goodness they certainly took a very long time and went to very late hours in moving their amendments, which were all supposed to improve the Bill-changed days indeed, judging from the behaviour of the present Government. I suggest that it would do all noble Lords opposite a great deal of good to reflect on that. I oppose the amendment.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I will be brief. I agree very much with a great deal that was said by my noble friend in moving his amendment. The trouble is that we cannot support the amendment, although we think that he talked a great deal of sense about matters of important principle that have been raised before in Committee, which I am sure the Government have taken on board.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Ramsay for her contribution. The Leader of the House asked how many clauses were in the Scotland Bill. Perhaps he could remind us how many printed pages were in the Bill. I remind him that this Bill is now 301 pages long, many of them having been added during the last knockings in another place, and there will no doubt be a few more government amendments in this place, too.
On the amendment and why we on the Front Bench cannot support it, my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer said in the last debate that we supported the fact that Orkney and Shetland was to be a preserved constituency. The effect of my noble friend's amendment would be to instruct the Boundary Commission in Scotland to treat Orkney and Shetland in exactly the same way as the rest of the country. The electoral quota would be applied to Orkney and Shetland. With an electorate of 37,000, Orkney and Shetland would have to be joined up with the mainland to form a constituency to meet the size of the electoral quota.
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