§ 4.15 a.m.296
Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this it would be convenient to take Amendment No. 55, in page 154, leave out lines 6 to 8 and insert:(b) in Scotland, regard shall be had to the boundaries of local authority areas;"; and in paragraph 4(2), before the definition of "county", there shall be inserted the following:area" and "local authority" have the same meanings as in the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973.".
§ Mr. Ross
This is a simple amendment and one on which the Government have been listening to what was said in Committee.
It is wrong that we should be restructuring local government and suddenly discover that we have, by a side blow, made changes in constituencies, and that before any boundary commission or anyone else has looked at them, if we stick by what was in the Bill:no region or part thereof shall be included in a constituency which includes the whole or part of any other region".It would mean that certain important constituencies would be affected. It is left to me to look after the interests of the Secretary of State.
There is also the constituency of Argyll. Part is in Strathclyde and part in Highland. There is the constituency of Moray and Nairn. We are putting Nairn in the Highland region and the other part in Grampian. I know that these people are loth to speak for themselves, and I felt it incumbent on me to do it for them. I do not know whether a great plot by the Secretary of State put this in and whether he was glad to be shot of Nairn or whether he had territorial claims on other people's constituencies to make up for what he lost there.
One thing we have discovered in the past on rules on boundary commission activities is that the Boundary Commission for Scotland had far more freedom to cross local government boundaries.
We have in Scotland the kind of thing we could not possibly get in England as the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) said, the unheard of and unthinkable thing of what is done by statute to limit the activities of the boundary commission.
I do not know whether the Government amendment meets all the points. I am prepared to be persuaded that it goes 297 some way because it has taken out the mandatoryregion or part thereof shall be included in a constituency which includes the whole or part of any other region.Now we are to have:regard shall be had".That is fair enough so long as we appreciate that "having regard" gives power to disregard regional boundaries.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for welcoming our amendment. We were persuaded by the arguments put forward on this point at Committee stage and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that in the amendment we are seeking to meet him on all these points.
The right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that, taking account of the way things work out geographically, the Boundary Commission should have additional freedom of consideration when drawing up parliamentary boundaries. I hope shortly to move formally Amendment No. 55. The wording of that amendment gives the Commission the freedom for which the right hon. Gentleman asked. In those circumstances I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree to accept the Government's amendment and withdraw his amendment.
§ Mr. David Steel
I, too, came across this paragraph in the small print, as it is. The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) is right. This appeared to be a consequential piece of legislation of some importance and outside the scope of the Bill when it first appeared. I have not been able to find the debate on this matter in the reports of the Committee proceedings—
§ Mr. Steel
—but, hearing the concern of the right hon. Member, I have come to the opposite conclusion. While it may not be right in this Bill, there is a case, given the new nature of local authorities in Scotland, for making it mandatory that no parliamentary constituency should overlap a regional boundary. I foresee difficulties if that is not done.
The Under-Secretary may argue that under the Government's amendment it 298 would be open to the boundary commission to take that same view. It could. But bearing in mind some of the peculiar decisions of boundary commissions in the past, given the latitude that they have had, I concluded that although I was surprised to find this in the schedule, I agreed with it. In the light of experience in my part of the world, I should have thought it useful that the boundary commission should be quite clear that it was Parliament's hope that parliamentary constituencies should not overlap regional boundaries. So long as that is the emphasis that the Government put upon it, I would agree to the amendment. I do not strongly oppose the Bill.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
Rather than the House being detained—I do not mean it in any derogatory sense—perhaps I should suggest to the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) that if he reads the Committee proceedings he will see the argument put forward then by the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), with which I certainly have sympathy when we come to these relatively few regions in Scotland.
We are seeking better parity of representation. If all the other criteria to be taken into account are met, there are occasions when, as a general rule, it is clearly better that constituencies stick to the regional boundaries. But there may be cases where, in order to meet the other criteria which the boundary commission has to take into account, it would be better to do otherwise. That is why this flexibility in giving a greater degree of discretion should be of greater benefit. I was certainly persuaded on that in Committee.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment made: No. 55, in page 154, leave out lines 6 to 8 and insert:
'(b) in Scotland, regard shall be had to the boundaries of local authority areas;"; and in paragraph 4(2), before the definition of
"county", there shall be inserted the following:
area" and "local authority" have the same meanings as in the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973.".')—[Mr. Buchanan-Smith.]