§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)
I beg to move,That the draft Parliamentary Constituencies (England) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 14th February, be approved.The Boundary Commission for England submitted its third periodical report on 11 February and I propose that its final recommendations should be implemented without modifications. Article 2 of the order substitutes the constituencies described in the schedule for the present constituencies in England. If the draft order is approved by both Houses, I shall submit it to Her Majesty in Council to be made. Article 1(2) provides that the order comes into operation on the 14th day after the day on which it is made; but the new boundaries will not take effect until the next general election. This means that any intervening by-elections will continue to be contested on the existing boundaries.
The commission's report is the culmination of almost seven years' hard work, a reflection on the size of the task which faced the commission when it announced its intention to proceed on 17 February 1976. During this period, it was able to fulfil the extra duty of making recommendations for the first European Parliament constituencies in accordance with the European Assembly Elections Act 1978. The fact that the commission has managed to complete its extremely onerous and unenviable task before the statutory deadline of 21 April 1984 despite its many trials and tribulations is a tribute to the qualities and dedication of the deputy chairman, Mr. Justice Walton, and those who have served as members of the commission since 1976.
The 95 local inquiries which have been held and the degree of public consultation which has taken place during the last seven years exemplify the great care which the commission has taken in formulating its final recommendations. I am sure that the House will join me in thanking all the members of the commission, both past and present, and the assistant commissioners who held the local inquiries, for the meticulous conduct of this review.
The results of this seven-year review are set out in the recommendations in appendix E to the commission's report. It is these recommendations that are contained in the draft order before the House.
The draft order contains no modifications in the commission's recommendations, although many suggestions for modifications have been made to me. I have considered all these modifications and have decided to make none. The reason is that I believe we must retain the public's trust in this vital part of the democratic process. The temptation for Parliament to tinker with a parliamentary Boundary Commission's recommendations will always be there; and sometimes, as in 1948 and 1969, Governments cannot resist it. But every time this happens we damage public confidence in the integrity of our constitutional procedures.
Parliament has created the parliamentary Boundary Commissions as impartial bodies to do this difficult and sensitive work. We would devalue not only the 250 commissions but ourselves if we sought to substitute our own inevitably partial judgment for that of the commission.
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)
I understand my right hon. Friend's comments, but does he not agree that the names to be used for the new constituencies might be something about which Members of Parliament might have a point of view? Will he therefore comment on the amendment in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Sir V. Goodhew), which refers to Welwyn-Hatfield? Under the new Boundary Commission proposals the constituency does not have the same boundaries as the district council but retains the same name. Is that not unfortunate for the people of the village of Wheathampstead, which becomes part of that constituency, and for the ward of Northaw, which leaves the constituency?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
If my hon. Friends will cease telling me to answer, I will have a chance to do so. Many points can be made about both the names and the sizes of various constituencies, and about the problems connected with them. There is a considerable problem in my own area in Cumbria because a number of the constituents of my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip are passionately opposed to being placed in my constituency. I can understand why that is so, but I have not thought it right to propose a modification. I have decided to make no modifications and, although I understand my hon. Friend's point of view, that decision must apply to the names.
On a more practical level, I remind the House that power exists in section 2(3) of the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949 for the commission to undertake interim reviews. Any changes to local government areas which take place in the near or distant future can be looked at by the commission, which is empowered to make recommendations for adjustments to constituency boundaries.
Implementation of the final recommendations will increase the number of seats in England to 523, seven more than at present, and alter all but 48 constituencies in electorate size or area.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
Before my right hon. Friend proceeds further, could he please answer a question that repeatedly cropped up yesterday but was not answered? Why is England so under-represented when compared with the rest of the United Kingdom? If the sums were done fairly, England should have 18 more seats.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
An agreement was made with Scotland many years ago about the minimum number of Scottish seats. So far, Parliament has not decided to change that requirement. Until Parliament changes the situation, we must accept it.
There will also be a reduction in the number of borough constituencies from 304 to 279 and an increase in county constituencies from 212 to 244. This reflects significant movement of the electorate from mainly urban to mainly rural areas since the last review.
Members of this House, more than any other body, will appreciate that this is perhaps the most radical redistribution of seats that England has ever seen. There are two main reasons for this, as the commission makes 251 clear in its report—first, alterations to local government areas and, secondly, growth and movement of the electorate. The local government reforms of 1974 created new districts, some new counties and six metropolitan counties. As a result, 49 constituencies crossed county boundaries at the start of the commission's review. Then the London boroughs and the new districts outside the capital were re-warded and as the commission had decided to use district wards as the building blocks for new constituencies, changes to a large number of existing constituencies became inevitable.
At the same time, the electorate had increased—chiefly through the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1969—and had shifted, so that some very marked disparities in electorates had appeared. At the start of the review there were 46 seats with electorates more than 30 per cent. larger than the average electorate or electoral quota and 28 seats with electorates more than 30 per cent. smaller. By 1982 those figures had become 55 and 47 respectively. In other words, about one fifth of existing constituencies have electorates which vary by more than 30 per cent. from the average. To give a practical example at both ends, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) now represents five times as many voters as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cowans).
Those were the problems that faced the commission when it began its review. In setting about its task the commission is bound by the rules for the redistribution of seats contained in the second schedule to the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949. Those rules provide that England should not have substantially more than 507 seats. County and London borough boundaries must be followed so far as is practicable without causing an excessive disparity between the electorate of any constituency and the electoral quota or the electorate of a neighbouring constituency, but subject to those requirements electorates must be as near the electoral quota as possible. The commission may depart from those basic rules if there are special geographical considerations, including in particular the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency.
Section 2(2) of the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1958 absolves the commission from the need to give full effect in all circumstances to all the rules in the second schedule to the 1949 Act but requires it to take account, so far as it reasonably can, of the inconveniences attendant on alterations of constituencies, other than alterations made for the purposes of rule 4 of those rules, and of any local ties which might be broken by such alterations.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
Has it been possible or would it be possible for the commission to do anything about the quota of Irish voters in a constituency, in view of the danger that a constituency with a large quota of Irish voters might cause red Ken Livingstone to go across and talk and negotiate with terrorists and traitors in Northern Ireland so as to get himself nominated for such a constituency?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I do not think that I should allow myself to be drawn too far down that road. I shall content 252 myself with saying that the present rules do not require the Boundary Commission to consider that matter in reaching its conclusions.
The combined effect of the rules and of section 2(2) of the 1958 Act is to give the commission a wide discretion. The report makes it clear that the commission nevertheless had some difficult decisions to take at the beginning of the review. In particular, the commission had to decide to what extent local government boundaries should be observed.
The disparities between the electorates of the constituencies in Greater London apparently led the commission to consider crossing the borough boundaries, despite rule 4. As the commission points out in chapter 3, paragraph 2, of the report, however, the crossing of borough boundaries would have had serious repercussions, resulting in the breaking of extremely strong local ties and a ripple effect which might have led in the end to the fragmentation of nearly all boroughs. That is why the Conservative, Labour and Liberal party representatives in 1978 asked the commission to observe London borough boundaries.
In the metropolitan counties, the earlier requirement to observe county and metropolitan borough boundaries had been repealed by the Local Government Act 1972, but the commission decided to try to avoid the crossing of metropolitan district boundaries because of the importance, large electorates, history and sense of identity of those districts. This decision was in keeping with the informal advice which the Home Office gave the commission about the observance of district boundaries following the debate on the amendment of rule 4 in 1972 and was again accepted at the outset by all political parties. I say this merely to illustrate the care which the commission has tried to take in balancing the need to redress disparities with the strongly held views in some areas, such as London and Liverpool, about the need to preserve local ties and communities as much as possible.
Having decided on which local government boundaries to observe in greater London and in the metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties, the commission allocated each area the number of seats justified by its theoretical entitlment—that is, the number obtained by dividing the area's electorate by the 1976 electoral quota of 65,753. The detailed criteria and calculations used by the commission to do this are set out in Appendix B to the report. As its next step the commission tried to ensure that the electorates of all the constituencies allocated to each area were as reasonably close to the average electorate for that area, and to each other, as practicable.
In two areas, the Isle of Wight and the London borough of Haringey, the commission considered that local circumstances made this inappropriate. In the Isle of Wight, where the theoretical entitlement was to 2x00B7;38 seats, the commission decided that special geographical considerations pointed to the retention of the one existing constituency. In Haringey, although the theoretical entitlement was to 2.43 seats, the commission did not feel justified in allocating three seats because the electorate had decreased by nearly 20,000 between 1965 and 1976 and a continuing decline was projected—which has taken place. In three other areas, Cumbria, Lancashire and Northumberland, the commission allocated each county one extra seat because of special geographical considerations.
253 These, then, are the steps which culminated in the final recommendations for 523 consituencies which are before the House. Clearly, they will not all find favour with every Member of this House. However, before leaping in to criticise individual recommendations, we should acknowledge the overall achievement of the commission; one simple statistic exemplifies it: at present 198—nearly two fifths of constituencies—vary by more than 20 per cent. from the 1982 electoral quota of 68,534. Under the commission's recommendations only 24 constituencies will so vary. I commend these recommendations to the House.
§ 4.3 pm
§ Dr. Edmund Marshall (Goole)
The Home Secretary has described the redistribution proposed in this draft order as one of the most sweeping that England has ever seen. I agree that it is the most sweeping since 1832. Only 48 parliamentary constituencies are left without modification. As the Home Secretary said, one reason for these sweeping changes is the rapid movement of population within the country since the last redistribution. The people of Great Britain are increasingly on the move, by choice and economic necessity, from the inner cities to the suburbs and rural areas and from the depressed areas in the north to the south.
Secondly, the redistribution is sweeping because it is the first since the reorganisation of local government in 1974, which made wholesale changes to local authority boundaries and in many areas introduced new counties unrelated to previous local authority boundaries. Furthermore, the reorganisation of local government abolished the previous distinction between county boroughs and county districts with the result that the previous requirement for county borough boundaries to be taken into account when proposing new parliamentary constituencies no longer applies. 'Therefore, existing county borough seats in towns such as Preston, Luton, Northampton, Norwich and Lincoln are now extended by these proposals to take in surrounding dormitory and rural areas at present in county constituencies.
Furthermore, the Local Government Act 1972 had a far-reaching impact on the rules for parliamentary redistribution. The number of English local authorities whose boundaries are to be taken into account under rule 4 was reduced by that Act from the 1,243 applying at the time of the last Boundary Commission report in 1969 to 77 only today—45 counties and 32 London boroughs. Such a great change alters the balance of priority within the redistribution rules. The constraints imposed by rule 4 have been relaxed so greatly by the change in local authority boundaries as to make the achievement of the electoral quota required by rule 5 much more practicable.
This review provided the opportunity to achieve a pattern of electorally equal constituencies such as had never been proposed in England before. Such an opportunity has been grasped fully in Northern Ireland, where the separate Boundary Commission operates under virtually the same set of rules for redistribution. The experience of the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland has some relevance to England.
Paragraph 5 of appendix 4 to the third periodical report of the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland, which was made last October, reads: 254In applying the statutory rule that the electorate of any constituency is to be 'as near the electoral quota as is practicable' having regard to other statutory rules governing their work, the commission have followed the established practice of regarding a tolerance of 10 per cent. above or below the quota figure (viz. 61,206) as being acceptable.When the chairman of the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland, Mr. Justice Murray, was asked about the basis for the established practice of a 10 per cent. tolerance, he replied in a letter dated 18 January 1983 1:o my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who is hoping later to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, from the Back Benches:I recall that soon after I took over as Deputy Chairman of the Northern Ireland Commission on 17th February 1976 I was told by the then Secretary to the Commission that there was a practice of working on an acceptable tolerance above and below the quota figure, and she has recently said that this information was passed on to her by her predecessor, or one of them. It seemed to me and to my colleagues that the tolerance practice was an eminently sensible and workable one since (a) the statute says 'as near the electoral quota as practicable' and (b) it clearly is impossible to hit the precise quota figure. My further recollection is that the acceptable tolerance was said to be 10 per cent. above and 10 per cent. below the quota.… In my time we used the 10/10 formula to test and compare the various schemes we considered, and I do not see how we could have done our job without some such tool.The result of the Northern Ireland Boundary Commission's review was that none of the new constituencies differed from the electoral quota by more than eight per cent. While the Northern Ireland Commission certainly believed that it needed this 10 per cent. tolerance tool to do its job, the English Boundary Commission, working under basically the same rules, went ahead without even thinking that it needed such a tool.
According to the table on page 147 of the English Boundary Commission's report, a quarter of the constituencies proposed in the draft order had 1976 electorates differing from the quota by more than 10 per cent. The proportion had grown to 30 per cent. or three tenths by 1982. In other words, already 30 per cent. of the proposed new constituencies differ from the quota by more than 10 per cent. I venture to suggest that the constituencies proposed in the draft order will very soon tend to have electorates as disparate as the present constituency electorates. Within the lifetime of the proposed new constituencies, which could extend for 15 years or more, we shall see the shortcomings of the recommendations of the Boundary Commission.
§ Mr. John Watson (Skipton)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the analogy of Northern Ireland, may ask him whether he agrees that the analogy is not completely accurate, because the powers of local authorities in Northern Ireland are substantially smaller than those of local authorities in the rest of the United Kingdom? It was therefore sensible for the English Boundary Commission to pay more attention to local authority boundaries than was felt to be the need in Northern Ireland. Does he further agree, because he and. I share the unique distinction in the House of representing constituencies which span no fewer than four counties and in my case five district authorities, that when one is representing such a constituency the task of accurately representing the interests of one's constituents in so many local authority areas is not easy?
§ Dr. Marshall
On the Northern Ireland analogy, there are only 17 seats there. Therefore,, in many respects 255 Northern Ireland can be compared quite easily with an existing English county. Under rule 4 there are no statutory boundaries within the English counties. Therefore, the analogy of Northern Ireland is fair.
Of course, I recognise some of the difficulties that arise when constituencies cross county boundaries. The hon. Gentleman has rightly said that he and I represent four counties. No doubt he will agree that we still manage to do our job and that the really important factor in determining the work load of a Member of Parliament is not so much the boundaries that his constituency crosses as the number of constituents he represents.
Already the proposed constituency electorates in the draft order—I have the latest 1983 figures—vary from 47,426 in Surbiton to 95,358 in the Isle of Wight. That second figure is more than twice the first. Here I would correct the Home Secretary, who said that the Isle of Wight is entitled to 2.38 seats. According to the report of the Boundary Commission, it is entitled to 1.35 seats. Leaving aside the Isle of Wight, I can see no good reason why Surbiton man should have twice the voting influence of an elector somewhere else.
Even if we restrict attention to the mainland of England, we see that the range is from Surbiton up to Crosby with 84,359. The position is highlighted most dramatically in Greater London itself, with a 1982 range from 47,313 in Surbiton to 82,028 in Feltham and Heston, yet those two constituencies are only five miles apart.
Those figures show that the Boundary Commission could have done a much better job. Such malapportionment of constituency electorates cuts across the basic principle of democratic equality. We may have had universal adult suffrage since 1929, but its full effect will be obscured until we move closer to the equal electoral districts to which the chartists aspired 140 years ago.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
I listened to part of the hon. Gentleman's speech yesterday and I have heard what he has said today. Whether inadvertently or otherwise I know not, but he appears to be giving the impression that the Boundary Commission has not done its job properly. Does he agree that if there is a fault in the work of the commission the responsibility probably lies in the House because of the instructions which the House, in this or previous Parliaments, gave to the Boundary Commissions? Will he make that clear?
§ Dr. Marshall
That sentiment was expressed yesterday in the House by many hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). It seems that before long the House will have to turn its attention to how we can improve the rules that are given to Boundary Commissions to carry out their work.
In dealing with the details of the constituencies proposed in the draft order I want to highlight two or three areas and to mention a few others in passing. I invite the House to consider the proposals for the north London boroughs of Barnet, Haringey and Harrow, which are shown together on page 3 of the useful volume of maps which accompanies the report of the Boundary Commission. For the eight constituencies proposed in those three contiguous boroughs, the 1976 electorates ranged from 53,565 in Hendon, North to 84,401 in 256 Hornsey and Wood Green, while the 1982 electorates ranged from 54,490 in Hendon, South to 80,359 in Harrow, East, just across the Edgware road.
Particularly marked is the contrast between Finchley, with 56,098 in 1982, and Hornsey and Wood Green, with 76,970 in 1982, two constituencies which, as the map shows, dovetail into one another geographically and where it is hard to know when one is passing from one constituency to the other at Fortis Green. Such an excessive disparity between two constituencies cheek by jowl has arisen because of the decision of the commission not to use its discretion to recommend that constituencies should cross London borough boundaries and because of the method of allocating seats to different boroughs.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
As the hon. Gentleman will know, I represent a constituency which covers part of the borough of Barnet. There may be some point in what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but surely the commissioners are not at fault. He has no point to make simply because, as I understand it, all the political parties, including the Labour party, specifically asked that the new constituencies should not be drawn across London borough boundaries.
§ Dr. Marshall
That point was raised several times yesterday and was effectively dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook. I simply add that the Boundary Commission, in adopting its policies in a matter of such great national importance, is not beholden to meetings of officials from party headquarters, from whatever party they may come. The Boundary Commission has to devise its policies in the interests of the public as a whole. When we saw the way in which the proposals of the Boundary Commission were working out, which was long after the meeting with party officials to which the hon. Gentleman referred, there should have been another look at the position throughout Greater London.
§ Dr. Marshall
I was criticised yesterday for speaking for too long, but I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Waller
I must stress that there is no way in which the Boundary Commission could have avoided disparities other than by cutting across London borough boundaries. Part of the Labour party was clearly against the proposal, and it is no good the hon. Gentleman saying that part of the Labour party said one thing but another part believes in a completely different proposition. The public are extremely suspicious when one part of the Labour party says one thing and the other part says another. Is the Labour party so divided about what it believes in relation to boundaries?
§ Dr. Marshall
Two gentlemen in the Labour party ventured the views which the Boundary Commission assumed were the views of the Labour party as a whole.
On the arithmetic, the borough of Barnet was entitled to 3.45 seats in 1976, declining to 3.32 seats by 1981. Following the algebra that is set out in Sir Raymond Walton's appendix to the report, the commission provisionally recommended four seats for Barnet, which closely corresponded to the existing four seats. At the public inquiry the case was put that Barnet should have 257 only three seats. In his report the assistant commissioner at that inquiry, Mr. G. Hodgson, endorsed that case and tentatively suggested three such seats.
The commission was obviously piqued to have its provisional recommendations overturned in that way. Instead of revising its proposals to produce three new constituencies, it simply decided to hold another inquiry on the first proposals. In effect, it was telling the assistant commissioner, Mr. Hodgson, that it thought he had done a bad job, and it sent in another assistant commissioner, Mr. M. E. Lewer, to come up with the answer that it wanted, which he duly did, enabling the commission to recommend its original proposals. The status of that second public inquiry in Barnet is somewhat doubtful and the commission's treatment of Mr. Hodgson was less than gracious.
Meanwhile, for the neighbouring borough of Haringey, the 1976 electorate produced an entitlement of 2.43 seats, which would, if one follows Sir Raymond Walton's algebra correctly, lead to three seats being proposed for Haringey. The average electorate of three seats in Haringey in 1976 would have been numerically closer to the electoral quota than the average of the two constituencies now proposed. So the commission failed to observe its own rule of thumb in that instance. The sauce that was good for the goose of Finchley was not good for the gander of Hornsey. Consequently, after three sets of proposals for Haringey and two inquiries there, the commission still recommended two seats, which, electorally, are excessively large. A similar situation arises in the borough of Harrow, which adjoins Barnet on the western side across the Edgware road.
The obvious answer to those difficulties in north London was to propose at least one constituency—only one—crossing a London borough boundary. The commission could certainly have done that in order to remove an excessive disparity between the electorates of neighbouring constituencies. The electorates of the three boroughs together have a clear joint entitlement to eight seats on both the 1976 and the 1982 figures.
What is more, when, at the public inquiry in Harrow on 7 and 8 July 1980, there was a suggestion for a constituency crossing the Harrow-Hillingdon boundary further to the west of Harrow, that suggestion could not possibly have received proper consideration by the commission, because it published a notice on 9 July 1980, the day after the Harrow inquiry and long before the Harrow assistant commissioner could have reported. That notice stated that the Boundary Commission proposed no further changes in its provisional recommendations for Hillingdon. It is interesting to note that one of the amendments on the Order Paper is in the name of the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Sir A. Grant). That demonstrates the sort of difficulty that has arisen in one locality from the way in which the Boundary Commission conducted its review in Greater London.
A similar picture occurs in Lancashire—a very different part of the country. The proposed constituencies for Lancashire can be seen on map 39 in volume 2. In 1976 Lancashire had a theoretical entitlement to 15.47 seats. According to the algebra, that should have produced 15 seats, but the commission proposed 16. It tried to justify the allocation of an extra seat to Lancashire on the ground of sparsity of population. That is strange, as the population density of the county of Lancashire is more than five times 258 that of neighbouring North Yorkshire, and North Yorkshire will be somewhat under-represented in the proposals before us.
The constituencies proposed for Lancashire have 1976 electorates, which vary from 52,156 in Morecambe and Lunesdale, about 54,000 in Lancaster, and nearly 56,000 in Ribble Valley, to 72,611 in Rossendale and Darwen and about 76,000 in Blackburn. What is proposed in Lancashire is blatant rural weighting in favour of the north of the county; rural weighting such as we believed had disappeared from constituency boundary considerations long ago.
What is more, two of the proposed constituencies that I have mentioned—Ribble Valley and Blackburn—are contiguous, and the excessive disparity between their electorates could have been removed by transferring two wards—Billinge and West Rural—from Blackburn to Ribble Valley. That point simply demonstrates the inadequacy of the Boundary Commission's proposals far Lancashire and how it could have done a better job.
One could continue in detail around the country. It cannot be right, for instance, that in South Yorkshire there should be a disparity between the 1976 electorates of Barnsley, East with 52,000 and Sheffield, Central with nearly 77,000 simply because the commission did not see fit to have a constituency crossing the metropolitan district boundary between Sheffield and Barnsley when such a constituency is already in existence represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. McKay)
Similarly, my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) yesterday expressed grounds for concern because, among other things, in his area the Boundary Commission failed to consider the possibility of creating a constituency crossing the county boundary between Oxfordshire and Wiltshire. Such a constituency would have helped to remove the excessive disparity between the 1976 electorates of the proposed constituencies on either side of that boundary—Wantage with 58,262 and Devizes with 77,717, but Devizes having grown since to nearly 83,000. When such a possibility was suggested to the commission, by representation before the inquiries, the least it could have done was to hold a joint inquiry for those two counties.
Likewise, the commission failed properly to consider the possibility of deliberately creating a constituency crossing the county boundary between Avon and Somerset, even though witnesses at the inquiries in both those counties pressed for such consideration. The difficulty in that part of the country was that the Somerset inquiry was held on 18 October 1977—more than three years before provisional recommendations were published for Avon—but the report was not published until 15 April 1982, six months after the Avon inquiry had been held.
The assistant commissioner who conducted the Avon inquiry, in paragraph 84 of his report, commenting on the possibility of creating such a cross-boundary constituency, said:The usefulness of any comment I may make upon this question of a possible crossing of county boundaries is limited because I do not have before me all such relevant material in relation to Somerset as would enable me to evaluate adequately the arguments put forward.In paragraph 87, he said:With due regard to my limited knowledge of all the possible factors I do not feel able to recommend the crossing of county boundaries although I accept that to do so could simplify matters in many ways.259 In other words, by holding separate public inquiries in watertight compartments in these two counties, and also because the publication of the Somerset inquiry report was delayed, the commission effectively prevented the exercise of its discretion to recommend that a constituency should cross the county boundary to remove electoral disparities.
Several of the proposed constituencies for other parts of the country have unusual shapes, as can be seen from the volume of maps. The boundary between the proposed north Colchester constituency and the proposed south Colchester and Maldon constituency cuts arbitrarily across the historic town of Colchester, represented as an integral unit in this House since the early days of Parliament. Other constituencies are divided into two parts, with poor or no roads between those parts. One has only to look at Rossendale and Darwen, Billericay or Rugby and Kenilworth to see that.
I imagine that there will be some confusion in the House when we have hon. Members for Wyre in Lancashire and for Wyre Forest in Hereford and Worcester, or for Tyne Bridge in Tyne and Wear and Teignbridge in Devon. While talking about names, it seems odd that the two Luton constituencies should be called North Luton and Luton South. I can understand how that has come about. None the less, it seems very strange.
On points such as these, the House really should have had an opportunity to amend the proposals. Some amendments appear on the Order Paper, but rightly, according to the rules of procedure, you, Mr. Speaker, were unable to call them. It is monstrous that our procedure prevents them from being called and separate decisions being taken on them. There should have been a better opportunity to discuss the details of particular areas by having separate orders, as was arranged by the Conservative Government in 1954 and 1955. The proposals could have been divided among 50 different orders.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
Does my hon. Friend accept that the eagerness with which the Government have placed this massive comprehensive order before the House has prevented the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments from having the opportunity to call evidence, have it printed and provide it to the House? If the Committee had called for evidence, there would not have been time to present it, unless the Government had been prepared to defer the order.
§ Dr. Marshall
I bow to the knowledge of my hon. Friend in his capacity as chairman of that Committee, but I see that there is a note on the Order Paper and a document on the Table of the House indicating the views of the Joint Committee on this particular order. No doubt my hon. Friend, if he is able to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, will wish to expand on those points.
It really is too much for these proposals, with all their imperfections, to be foisted on the House in one great block. When one considers the parliamentary importance of these proposals, it is constitutionally draconian for the future composition of this House to be decided by a Boundary Commission with discretion so wide that it cannot be challenged in the courts and then by a 260 Government unwilling to take account of suggested modifications and with sufficient Lobby fodder to force their will upon the House.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)
I am sure we all understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. It is, however, far too late when it comes back before the House for individual changes to be made. The statutory rules and order do not provide for it, but if a change were made in one constituency it would have a chain reaction on many others. Is not the answer to this problem for the matter to be challenged much earlier—at the time when a person is appointed to inquire into a particular boundary area? It might be possible at that time for Parliament to say that there should be certain rights of further appeal at that stage to enable particular community interests to be taken into account. Once it has got beyond that stage and become an overall national proposal, it is too late to change it, is it not?
§ Dr. Marshall
The hon. and learned Gentleman raises wide considerations which will no doubt need to be examined over many months. When the recent litigation was being conducted, it was repeatedly said in court that this was ultimately a matter for Parliament to decide. Therefore, when the hon. and learned Gentleman says that when the matter comes to Parliament it is too late to do anything, we are in an awkward situation: it was too early to make changes earlier and now it is too late. The magic moment seems to have been when the Home Secretary decided straight away not to make modifications to the order but to table the draft order, imposing the Boundary Commission's recommendations, at the same time as the Boundary Commission's report itself was printed.
§ Mr. Adley
What the hon. Gentleman is saying is, with respect, ridiculous. If he thinks about it for a moment, he may agree with me, privately if not publicly. He said that the parts of the order should be debated in the House individually and in groups. Leaving aside the valid point of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies), is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that the work of the Boundary Commission should be subjected to partisan voting in the House on the basis of individual constituencies or groups of constituencies? Does he really think that such a proposition would be fair and that the people of this country would regard it as fair?
§ Dr. Marshall
The hon. Gentleman was obviously not here for the debate yesterday. Parliament must retain final sovereignty over its own composition.
§ Dr. Marshall
I am answering the question perfectly. It is for the House to decide how it should be composed, and we should have every opportunity to decide upon the details of that proposition. All the signs point to the fact that this issue has been rushed through hastily by the Government, who have used every opportunity to speed up the process.
The Boundary Commission has presented its report nearly 15 months ahead of the statutory deadline of 21 April 1984, whereas the last report in 1969 was made within six months of the deadline. [HON. MEMBERS: "What happened to it?"] I am making a comparison with 261 what happened to the deadline. The House of Commons was able to have its say at that time, but it is being denied that opportunity on this occasion.
All the signs show that since the Government came to power, the Boundary Commission's statutory deadline of 21 April 1984 has been replaced by the aim of getting the proposals implemented for the next general election. Among all the evidence pointing to that conclusion, I mention two major considerations, both of which are referred to in the 14th report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) has drawn attention.
First, let us look at the effect of the draft order on the relationship between parliamentary constituencies and European assembly constituencies. If the draft order is approved tonight and by another place, the next Westminster general election will be held on new and very different constituency boundaries, but there will be no change at the same time in the European assembly constituencies. According to the Home Secretary, when he spoke to the House on 3 December 1980, it will take the Boundary Commission about another 15 months to review the European assembly constituencies. I understand that the date for the next European elections has recently been fixed for 17 May 1984. Consequently, the assembly constituency boundaries at that election will be the present Euro-boundaries based on the present Westminster constituencies. We are therefore faced with the prospect of more than five years during which there will be much overlapping between Westminster and European constituencies.
For example, in my part of the country, the new Boothferry constituency will overlap with three assembly constituencies—Yorkshire North, Humberside, and Lincolnshire—while the proposed Doncaster North constituency will lie in both the Yorkshire, North and Yorkshire, South European assembly constituencies. We may also discover, when the European constituencies are being reviewed, that the proposed Westminster constituencies are not the most suitable building blocks for constructing European constituencies.
That crazy situation arises because of the European Assembly Elections Act 1981, which was hastily introduced by the Government when they saw that the previous arrangements prevented them from having the redistribution of Westminster constituencies in time for the next general election. Had that enactment not been made, there is now no reason to suppose that the Boundary Commission would not have been able to complete its review of both the Westminster and European constituencies together before the statutory deadline of 21 April 1984.
A second consideration, which demonstrates how the commission's statutory deadline has been replaced by the aim of having new Westminster constituencies at the next general election, is the Boundary Commission's failure to take account in its proposals of changes in local authority boundaries that have been made by statutory instruments since April 1982. I know of 10 such statutory instruments—there may be more—that have made the proposed constituencies in the draft order already out of date.
Three of those statutory instruments have altered county boundaries. As a result, there are five proposed constituencies—Stockton North, Sedgefield, Keighley, Wells and Weston-super-Mare—which from the outset 262 will cross county boundaries, contrary to rule 4 of the redistribution rules. They do so without removing any electoral disparities.
It is interesting to note that, of the other statutory instruments under this heading, two are mentioned by the Boundary Commission on page 77 of its report. There are strong hints in paragraph 4 on page 77 and paragraph 464 on page 146 that the Home Secretary should use his power to modify the commission's recommendations to take account of those changes. The marker is clearly in the Boundary Commission's report inviting the right hon. Gentleman to make those modifications. No one could have accused the Home Secretary, had he made those modifications, of tinkering, because he would have been doing so at the behest of the Boundary Commission. [Interruption.] When I use the word "tinker", I am simply echoing the word that the Home Secretary used. So desperate is he to get these new boundaries through that he has failed to carry out that responsibility.
§ Mr. Waller
The hon. Gentleman seems to b: suggesting that my right hon. Friend should not have used his good offices to bring these deliberations to a conclusion, but should have allowed them to continue almost until the end of time. Does he not realise that were these proposals not to be implemented before the next general election, proposals based on demographic data of 1976 would not come into effect until the late 1980s? Would not the hon. Gentleman criticise anyone who allowed that to take place?
§ Dr. Marshall
Were that situation to arise, it would still be within the rules guiding the Boundary Commission. The statutory deadline for the commission's present report does not arise for another 14 months. The other interesting thing about existing constituencies is that it was only nine years ago last Monday that they came into existence. That does not complete the 10-year cycle to which the rules refer.
However much the Government are now rushing through this redistribution, history has a cautionary note for them. A curious feature of modern political history in this country is that Governments who introduce electoral reforms and redistributions are rarely rewarded for doing so at the ensuing polls. The second Reform Act of 1867 led to the defeat of the Conservative Government the following year, and so too did the extensions of the franchise in 1884, 1928 and 1969, as well as the redistributions of 1949 and 1970. In all of those cases, the Government who made the changes lost ground at the next election. In all but the 1949 case, the Government lost power. So it will be with this redistribution.
The entire Labour party takes up the challenge that the Government have given in the draft order to fight the political battle on the ground of the Government's own choosing. We shall take the policies and principles of our democratic Socialist faith to areas of new parliamentary power—rural areas, new towns, dormitory villages and suburbs—and we shall demonstrate that there is a real alternative to this Government. We shall bring hope to the people where the Government bring only despair. We are determined to succeed.
§ Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)
I shall not attempt to follow the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. 263 Marshall), who has given us a geographical tour of England and taken almost 50 minutes in which to do it. It seems much longer to those of us who have listened to him. The hon. Gentleman also made a speech yesterday. I am thankful that I was spared that speech—apparently it went on for almost 40 minutes. I cannot help feeling that my poor right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has had to endure both of those speeches, must qualify for the title of masochist of the year for sitting through the punishment that has been inflicted on him by the hon. Member for Goole.
Boundary changes always cause enormous heartache for Members of Parliament and constituents. Not only do Members of Parliament who have represented a constituency for a long time move areas and lose their political supporters; they lose constituents who may have become personal friends. Moreover, there are battles for nomination between members of the same party. There can be enormous difficulties when sitting Members from the same party have an equal claim to a new constituency.
Someone once said that civil war is the nastiest of all wars as it sets brother against brother. The same applies to politics. Some of the squabbles have caused enormous bitterness. I speak with some feeling because I was involved in that type of battle during the previous boundary changes. That was the nastiest period of my political life. Nevertheless, it gave me an insight into the type of problems that hon. Members on both sides of the House now face over the English Boundary Commission's report.
It is worth noting that only 48 of the present 516 parliamentary constituencies in England are left unaltered by the report. With the extra seven new seats, there will be 523 constituencies in England. Compared with the rest of the United Kingdom, England is under-represented. My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) pointed that out in an intervention in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I understand that the average size of electorate in England will be about 68,000, whereas in Ulster—it will be about 62,000, in Wales it will be about 56,000 and in Scotland about 54,000.
I cannot help but feel that rather than have four separate Boundary Commissions—one for England, one for Wales, one for Scotland and one for Ulster—it would be fairer to have just one to deal with the problems of the United Kingdom as a whole. Perhaps the English would then have a fairer proportion of the seats. We have Welsh nationalists, Scottish nationalists and Irish nationalists. Who knows, if the mood against England having its rightful share of parliamentary seats continues, an English nationalist party might emerge.
Although I sympathise with the many hon. Members who are adversely affected by the boundary changes, no one can argue against the aims of the boundary commissioners. No one can justify the enormous discrepancy between the constituency of Newcastle upon Tyne, Central, which has an electorate of 24,000, and Buckingham, which has an electorate of over 100,000. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary stressed that point. As the hon. Member for Goole said, that coincides with the drift of population away from cities to suburbia and rural areas. That factor must be taken into account because 264 matters cannot be left as they are. We cannot leave some constituencies that are getting smaller and others that are getting so large as to be almost unmanageable.
The drift away from cities and the fact that those cities are to have fewer Members of Parliament creates problems for the Labour party. Nobody can deny that. I am sure that that is why the Labour party took legal action, first in its challenge to the High Court and then its appeal to the Law Lords. However, the Labour party has never been happy about Boundary Commission reports.
§ Mr. Montgomery
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to say exactly what he thinks. The hon. Member for Goole was foolish to refer to 1969 when his right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) was Home Secretary. We all know what happened then. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East introduced a Bill to postpone the bulk of the recommended boundary changes indefinitely. When the House of Lords rejected that Bill, the right hon. Gentleman tabled four draft orders that implemented the commission's reports. When those orders came before the House, he solemnly urged the Lobby fodder, in the form of his right hon. and hon. Friends, to vote them down.
§ Mr. Montgomery
I am not an expert, but surely the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) cannot justify what happened in 1969.
§ Mr. Montgomery
If the right hon. Gentleman can justify what happened in 1969, I hope that he will do so publicly. It should at least be accepted that the reports are made by an independent body. They are therefore worthy of consideration.
§ Mr. Adley
I do not know what stand the Liberal and Social Democratic parties take on these orders. I believe that they support them, but it might be useful for us to know, so that we can identify the fact that it is only the Labour party that is trying to oppose them, for reasons that are known to everyone.
§ Mr. Montgomery
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have noted that no Opposition Member has tried to justify what happened in 1969. I cannot help feeling that the Opposition's squalid manoeuvres about the Boundary Commission's proposals come ill from a party that once fought an election on the slogan "Fair Shares for All". Where the fair shares exist in constituencies of about 20,000 as compared with those of more than 100,000 is past all comprehension.
I do not want to deal simply with the overall circumstances as they affect England. I should like to deal also with the ways in which the proposals affect the area that I represent. We had hoped in the borough of Trafford that we would have three parliamentary constituencies. However, the Boundary Commission has recommended that we have two constituencies contained entirely within the borough of Trafford and that the third constituency, which is to be called Stretford, should consist of five wards from Trafford and two wards from the city of Manchester.
265 Two constituencies, one called Davyhulme and the other called Altrincham and Sale, are to be contained entirely within the borough of Trafford. I find that curious, because the Davyhulme constituency, which I hope will be represented in the next Parliament by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), will contain three wards from Sale. The total electorate of the old borough of Sale is 42,731, some 26,924 of whom are to be transferred to the Davyhulme constituency. In other words, more than half the electors of Sale are to be transferred to a constituency called Davyhulme. Moreover, the main shopping area of Sale will be in the Davyhulme constituency.
I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, who will wind up the debate, will consider that problem. I realise that if the order is passed the boundaries of the new constituencies will have been finalised. Nevertheless, I should like my hon. and learned Friend to tell me whether there is still any way in which the constituency names can be changed. I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend realises the confusion that will be caused to the almost 27,000 electors who regard themselves as residents of Sale. Will not their natural reaction be that they must live in a constituency that includes Sale in its title? Perhaps Altrincham would have been a more appropriate name for the new constituency.
The constituency will include four wards from Altrincham plus four wards from Sale and the Bowden and Hale wards which are now in the Knutsford constituency. I ask my hon. and learned Friend to bear in mind that boundary changes cause enough confusion to electors as it is, without the added confusion of misnaming constituencies. I assure him that I am not raising a niggling point on behalf of my constituents and I hope that he will deal with it when he replies.
§ 5.1 pm
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)
This is the first time that I have spoken from the Back Benches since, I think, 1964. In so doing I shall speak for myself. There have been some interesting altercations, both yesterday and today, about the Boundary Commissions having consulted the political parties. When the 1979 election was imminent and it was decided that the local elections would take place on the same day as the general election, because of problems about ballot boxes and other arrangements, all the major political parties were consulted. That does not mean that the parties should be consulted on the implementation of the commission's reports. That includes their functionaries and anyone else. However, what they say should be taken note of but not if it is felt that they are going against the spirit or the rules of the report.
The hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller) missed the point when he said yesterday that there were people with differing views in the Labour party. What is said by representatives at the Labour party's headquarters, the Liberal party's headquarters or at Conservative Central Office is interesting but no more than that. The job of the Home Office and that of the commission is to implement the law and not to listen to party functionaries. The hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough was being too clever by half.
We provided in 1969 that candidates in elections could state their party affiliation. The first cockshy of the Home Office was to say that there should be a registration body 266 and that all parties would have to register their name. That meant that the registration would have been ruled upon in the courts if someone has used the name of a party other than the party to which he was affiliated. The late Dick Sharpies, who later was to be a Minister of State, Home Office and who was vice-chairman of the Conservative party—sadly he was murdered years later; he was a very fine man—approached me as a junior Minister and said "We cannot do it this way. The Conservative party does not exist in law." He explained the way in which the Conservative party had grown up and reiterated that there was no Conservative party which was a body in law.
It was proper to consult the political parties on that issue. If the registration system had been taken any further, we might have found that what applied to the Conservative party applied also to other parties. Let us listen to what the political parties have to say about redistribution but that is as far as it should go. The fact that someone in the Labour party in the London area wanted it to be done in a certain way should not have been called in aid by the commission.
I shall talk about the redistribution of my constituency of Leeds, South while fully understanding that nothing can be done about it now. I appreciate that over the past 150 years consideration has been given to these matters in the light of a changing population. It is right that account should be taken of population movements. No one can justify small inner city seats, large rural seats or large new town seats. It is the method that I shall question and not the principle.
I was not involved in the recent case that went before the courts. However, I noticed that the judiciary always said, "This is a matter for the House of Commons." That may be, but the way in which the law is drawn and the rules are drawn means that there is precious little that the House can do once the commission has ruled. We are neutered and we cannot even influence the names of constituencies.
§ Mr. Rees
In 1969 the commission's report was not to the advantage of any one party. Regardless of what the newspapers said, it was about even. I was a junior Minister with responsibilities for these matters at that time. The officials told the Home Secretary and me that there would be major local government reform in the following three or four years, whichever party formed the Government. It was explained that the reform would have a profound effect on the local government map. London had been dealt with in local government terms, but for the rest of the country we were told that it would be better to hold the commission's report until the reform of local government had been enacted and implemented. That is the fact and it is set out in the papers.
Inevitably, there were cries of "Gerrymandering". That proves that a Government cannot tell the House that they are not accepting the commission's report. The judiciary seems not to understand. In my view, it is impartial when dealing with the law, but it does not understand the nature of the House of Commons or the way in which it works. Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends say, "Of course the Conservative party wants to implement the report." The newspapers tell us—I do not know how they know—that it will lead to a Conservative advantage of 20 seats. They do not have the faintest idea. Someone said at 267 some stage that there would be a 20-seat advantage for the Conservative party, and that is the view that the newspapers have adopted. Everyone says that the Conservative party wants it because it will be to its advantage and that anything the Labour party says is based on the potential disadvantage that it will suffer. Would that the House were able to consider this issue in the way that the judiciary believes it can. There is no way of doing that but there are other ways in which it could be done.
The redistribution will be to the advantage of the Labour party in Leeds and wider Leeds. I have and will have a large majority, and politically there is no skin off my nose. However, the way in which the commission has dealt with my constituency is plain daft. The methods that were used were not in the spirit of the commission's rules.
Early in 1982 I attended an inquiry at the civic hall, Leeds. It appeared that my constituency had been left alone in the commission's provisional report. I learnt that a part of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. Roberts) was to be added to it. The addition of that one ward would have made Leeds, South a large constituency. There were 84 objections to the wider scheme. Only two of those objections concerned Leeds, South and only about the addition of Rothwell. I sat in the civic hall for two days listening to the inquiry and the issue of my constituency was not raised. When the final report appeared three months later, I found that the commission had split my constituency down the middle.
We never had a chance to argue our case. I wrote to the commission and said that we needed a public inquiry, but the commission gave us two months to allow us to put in written criticisms. My criticism is that my constituency has been broken in two in the daftest way with no mention of it in the public inquiry. There was no right to have an inquiry. There was plenty of time, whatever may be said about the April deadline next year. In August or September last year there could have been another public inquiry.
No matter to whom one speaks, be it the Labour party, the Liberal party, the Conservative party the police, or spokesmen on education, no one can understand what the Boundary Commission had in mind in south Leeds. It is too late now to change what the commissioners have done this time, but when there is another major redistribution we should write into the rules that there should be a public inquiry whenever a major change is made, and not leave it to the commissioners to say, "We do not know the area; a public inquiry has taken place but that is the end of the matter apart from written submissions." My constituents are not ones for writing large numbers of letters and marshalling arguments.
§ Mr. Rees
There are four wards, all of which link together, where, because of the clearance that has taken place over recent years, people have moved southwards on to new estates—thankfully, not miles away. The river Aire may be narrow geographically but it is wider than the 268 Volturno, the Garigliano and the Tiber put together. North of the river is a foreign area for most of my constituents. South of the river, a vast clearance about a mile wide has taken place. All the old slums have been demolished. The Boundary Commission does not know about that, and so when the commissioners came up with their proposals they crossed that river with impunity. They must have sat in London with a map of an area about which they know nothing at all. The new boundary which crosses the river and goes right up to the university shows that it was drawn by someone who does not know the area.
I made an inquiry. I tried to find out whether anyone from the Boundary Commission came to Leeds and asked the city council or its staff if he could have a look at the area which was about to be divided up in this way. Perhaps what I was told is wrong, but I was told that the answer was no. I was told that one of the commissioners involved had a sister living in Horsforth and that he visited her from time to time and so he knew the area. That may have been the cynicism of people living in the city, but what has been done is so daft that people in the area cannot believe that the Boundary Commission has drawn the boundary in that way.
As ever, the south Leeds constituency has the worst end of the stick. The Boundary Commission has had the nerve to say that 87 per cent. of the people of Pudsey and 78 per cent. or so of people in the west Leeds constituency have been kept together. In south Leeds, the figure is 50 per cent. South Leeds always gets the worst end of the stick on anything that happens, and has done in the past. I shall not develop that point, but what has happened has proved that to be the case. I hope that next time when the rules are drawn up it is done differently. The hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West talked about a permanent Boundary Commission. I think that it would be better if it were done that way. There should be a permanent Boundary Commission whose responsibility would include the local boundary aspect. Local and parliamentary boundaries should be considered together.
I should like to suggest changes which I hope will be taken into account. How does the Boundary Commission work? I know that the distance between the Home Secretary and the Boundary Commission is as great as the distance between south Leeds and north Leeds. In other words, there is no connection at all. Perhaps the Home Secretary has met the deputy chairman once, but that is all. How does the Boundary Commission work? I hope that I can say this with deference to you, Mr. Speaker, but you should not be the Chairman of the Boundary Commission. That leads to people outside and the judiciary to believe that, although you are described as ex officio, you play a part in the procedure in the neutral way in which you act as Speaker of the House. The Speaker plays no part in the commission's work and it is phoney to put the name of the Speaker at the head. I do not know how Mr. Speaker feels about that.
Some of my best friends are members of the legal profession. My hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) quoted the deputy chairman of the Northern Ireland Boundary Commission. I think that I appointed him. We have had the Gardiner report in Northern Ireland, the Scarman report, and there is room and a role for judges, but what do they know in England about the local areas on which they are sitting in judgment? Perhaps they visit these areas on circuit, but what do they know about them?
§ Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Huddersfield, West)
Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the judges had to apply their minds to points of law and to whether the criteria given to the commissioners have been followed? They were not interested in the geography of the place. They had to apply their minds to the legalities of the matter, which they did.
§ Mr. Rees
We should, by all means, have people on the commission who consider points of law, but if that is the way it is being done it explains some of the daft things that have happened. Perhaps there is a role for a member of the legal profession. I should like to ask the Minister who is to reply—it was only today that I realised that I did not know the answer to the question, so I am not asking just for the sake of it—whether the members of the legal profession who are appointed to the commission are judges and are they there in a judicial capacity or are they members of the Boundary Commission because they are members of the legal profession but are carrying out their role in a wider context? I should be interested to know.
Yesterday, the Home Secretary revealed something that I would never have revealed, but that is the way it sometimes goes with the right hon. Gentleman. I was once responsible for removing a judge from the Boundary Commission. I do not think the Home Secretary knows that, for I recall that he did it after the general election. In the argument that took place beforehand, I was told that I would be reported to the Lord Chief Justice—well, bully for both of them in that case. I had a duty to do in the context of the Boundary Commission. If, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Dickens) says, the judges are appointed purely as lawyers, that may explain why there is something wrong with the judgments made locally, not in terms of fairness but in the way that they are carried out.
Who produces the provisional boundary report? I understand that it is someone sitting in London with a map. It is a cockshy designed to give people something to get their teeth into. What happens after the provisional report has been produced? What happens to south Leeds? The assistant commissioner performed an excellent task in the civic hall. But do people then sit round a table in London and say "We should put Hunslet with Middleton"? Does anybody really know anything about the matter? Was the assistant commissioner present, or did they sit in London and say "The assistant commissioner does not know much about it, so let us do something different from his suggestions"?
What part is played by the judiciary? Did they visit Leeds—the Dewsbury road, the Elland road, the Mafekings and the Longroyds—and consider the whole nature of the constituency? It is so different from many of those in the south, and people have belonged to it for generations.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins (Preston, North)
Will the right hon. Gentleman explore the difference in attitude in Britain to that in the United States, where local knowledge has led to all sorts of gerrymandering because it is defined on the basis of party affiliation? I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's point, but if he follows it through he will reach a conclusion that will worry me.
§ Mr. Rees
I intend to end my speech soon. I am unused to speaking from the Back Benches. The House should examine the way that redistribution is handled in other 270 countries. We should not pat our backs and clap ourselves to death for being impartial. We should not think that we do not need to examine how other countries handle the matter.
The Home Secretary was helpful yesterday when he gave the House a history of what had happened. It is part of the investigation process. When I was Home Secretary, I visited a country which handled redistribution for party advantage. It did not mess around with commissions.
§ Mr. Rees
Wild horses could not drag that information from me. However, the party involved was wrong and lost the next election. That is the way of the world.
It is time that the whole matter was examined in detail, Not a Royal Commission, but a Select Committee of the. House should be set up to examine the whole process. It could call people rather than give the matter to someone else. I am not interested in the recent judgment; I simply want to know what hashappened. I do not want to summon somebody and say "You have messed up my constituency". I want to ask about the procedure, the facilities in the office and what part the various people play. I want to know their relationships with the city council and how they allow for population changes.
I understand that the commission worked on population figures for 1976. Various people believe that the base should be the 1983 population figures, but the statute says that it must be 1976. Therefore, we are already seven years out of date. A Select Committee could look at membership, the role of the assistant commissioners and aspects of local government.
It has been suggested that there should be a permanent boundary commission. Its chairman should be a respected Member or ex-Member of the House. The party to which he or she belonged would not concern me. Members who have been in the House for many years would use their judgment in the proper way, as has been probed many times. We should not opt out and give the responsibility to others. By all means, judges, anthropologists and others could be included to give an air of respectability.
It is too late to make any changes—indeed, the House could not do so. If, in 1969, the Labour party had been in Government it would have used the same gerrymandering argument as the present Government. However, it is too important a matter to deal with in our Oxford Union-type method. We must accept that events have killed stone dead any idea by the judges that the House can consider the matter. We view it from party advantage, and nothing else.
My constituency is to be split. The Home Secretary and I played a part in having the single transferable vote in Northern Ireland. We were probably right to do so, but it went against the grain for me. I believe that hon. Members should represent a constituency of people whom they know, of all sides of opinion. Once we represent notional areas that constantly change, we lose something of great value.
I am only in the House because I am a member of the Labour party—
§ Mr. Albert Roberts (Normanton)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that a large number of his constituents are being rehoused in my constituency?
§ Mr. Rees
My hon. Friend is right. It proves a point about what the boundary commissioners should have done. However, that is water under the bridge.
I am in the House, unashamedly, as a politician. There are some newspapers, especially the clever newspapers, whose writers earn their living from politicians, while denigrating them. They should learn that something would be missing if we were not politicians. I am unashamedly a politician, and proud to be a member of the Labour party. I represent a wide variety of people. I speak in this Chamber on their behalf, and must take their views into account. I wish that the Boundary Commission understood that and did not play a game of chequers. I know that it gets its numbers right, as it must do in some places. I know also that my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) argues that it has the numbers wrong.
When we next consider the boundaries, for goodness sake let there be a senior politician involved who can explain what politics is all about—which is not Prime Minister's Question Time twice a week.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
Few hon. Members are more respected throughout the House than the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees). I think that many of us will have listened to him with a great deal of sympathy with the belief in our hearts that there was much common sense in what he said. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who listened to the right hon. Gentleman, will also be uneasy about some of the things that have happened. The right hon. Member for Leeds, South was extremely sensible when he did not try to refight the battles that had just been fought, but I am certain that we would be wise for the future to listen to what he has said and to the general expressions of concern by others.
I disagree with only one point that the right hon. Gentleman made. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) dealt with the same point. I entirely accept that many lawyers do not understand the way in which Parliament works and the problems that should concern them when they are creating parliamentary constituencies. However, I argue against the proposition that local people with local knowledge should be intimately involved in the creation of local constituencies because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North said, that could result in local knowledge being abused and partial rather than impartial views being put forward.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)
I accept most of what the hon. Gentleman has said, but it would be advantageous to the Boundary Commission to have an input of local knowledge when it is making its provisional recommendations. When the three new provisional constituencies were formed in the city of Leicester, the commission put a ward in the new Leicester, South constituency which it had intended to put in the new Leicester, West constituency. Local knowledge gained before publication enabled the Boundary Commission to withdraw the provisional report and rectify the mistake. That shows what can happen in the absence of local knowledge. It would help to have the input of local knowledge.
§ Mr. Adley
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point.
One of the points that has come out of the debates yesterday and today, to which I have listened, appears to 272 be the disparity of energy and diligence shown by some of the assistant commissioners. I attended two public inquiries—those for Hampshire and for Dorset. It was clear that the assistant commissioners had done much homework and taken the trouble to inquire into the geography, if not the political geography, of the areas. Perhaps a discrepancy arose in the way in which individuals tackled their tasks because they were inadequately briefed. I do not know whether that is so, but it is one other feature of this whole operation that should be looked at. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, when he replies, might advise us of the instructions on acquiring local demographic knowledge that are given to assistant commissioners before they start their job.
I strongly agree with one point made by the right hon. Member for Leeds, South. It was the political point that the assumptions made by the media about the number of seats that will be gained or lost by the political parties are probably erroneous. At the time of the last redistribution, assumptions were made that, for example, Coventry, South-West and Derby, North would be Tory gains. Both seats were won easily by the Labour party. Therefore, the assumptions that are made in the media about the extent of gains or losses are, as far as I am aware, not shared by many in the House. I do not believe that they are the deeply held convictions of the party political organisations either.
The two demon words in this operation have been "wherever practicable". They have been interpreted by the Boundary Commission as tablets of stone. I do not believe that when the words "wherever practicable" were written down and presented to the Boundary Commission in its instructions to proceed it was intended by the House that they should be regarded as absolutely inviolable. The commission chose to regard them as inviolable. That has been the cause of most of our problems.
In my intervention in his speech, I did not extract from the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall)—I should like to do so now at least via a nod, as it is important that he should do so—his preparedness to accept and state openly that he does not allege that the Boundary Commission has been partial politically. It would be extremely damaging and would do none of us any good if the impression were deliberately put about that somehow there has been an inbuilt party political bias one way or the other in the work that the Boundary Commission has done. I do not believe that there is. I know that the right hon. Member for Leeds, South has never suggested any such thing and is not doing so now.
§ Mr. Adley
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his nod. I would welcome a nod from the hon. Member for Goole to show that he is not suggesting that the Boundary Commission has been partisan. The hon. Gentleman is not prepared to nod. I have to draw my conclusion. That insinuates an unfortunate—almost disgraceful—allegation against the Boundary Commission that it is politically biased. Perhaps his constituency of Goole has been respelt Ghoul. It is a poor show that someone in his position, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, should allow to go on record and remain unrefuted the allegation that the commission's proposals have been made in a partisan way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) referred to constituency names. I shall 273 touch on that point as I do not know how Mr. Speaker and his successor in the next Parliament will cope with the geography. I am interested in geography and in maps. I have looked at the proposals in some detail. Many new constituencies are unknown places with names that mean nothing to me. I have more than a passing interest in geography. I am reminded of the marvellous recording made by Mr. Bernard Miles, who told the tale of the railway porter in the last war who, in order to obey the instruction not to let out the name of the place where the train was stopping, used the words in ringing tones, "'Ere you are for where you're going—all you in there for 'ere, get orf." I have a suspicion that that may apply to some of the names that the Boundary Commission has come up with.
As I said in an earlier intervention, if there are faults in the way in which the Boundary Commission carried out its work, they probably lie here in Parliament with the instructions given to the commission. I strongly share the view of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South that something must be done to marry political nous on the one hand with legal impartiality on the other in order to come up with a better proposition than we appear to have.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
I was extremely interested in the observation by the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) that there should be an input of local knowledge. My hon. Friend has also referred to local knowledge. I should have thought that my hon. Friend would agree that, when he is leaning over backwards to ensure the impartiality of the Boundary Commission, he may have to accept some lack of local knowledge for that very reason. I do not share the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman or, as I understand it, of my hon. Friend of the Boundary Commission not knowing enough about the local situation. It learns enough from the political representations that are made to it. One should lean over backwards to ensure its absolute impartiality by virtual ignorance of the political situation.
§ Mr. Adley
I must have been unclear in what I said. I started my speech by saying that the one point in the speech of the right hon. Member of Leeds, South with which I did not agree was about the need for local knowledge. I agree with my hon. Friend, and I said that I agreed with the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North that local knowledge can be dangerous. We should not try to have local knowledge as a major factor in the appointment of assistant commissioners.
§ Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)
Will the hon. Gentleman justify his point? Surely, apart from size and numbers, community interests, how people look at themselves in the area in which they live, whether there is a centre and transport facilities are the essential issues. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that it is best to have no knowledge and to do it all on a graph?
§ Mr. Adley
I was not saying that. I made a passing polite reference to a point that was made by the right hon. Member for Leeds, South and have now got myself into terrible trouble. I do not want to labour this point. I was saying that I do not believe that it would be right to select as commissioners or assistant commissioners local people with detailed local knowledge who live in the area. It is, however, important that, once they have been selected, 274 they should make a point of understanding something about the area upon which they will pontificate. I said that in Hampshire and Dorset both the assistant commissioners appointed for the public inquiries had done much homework to enable them to comprehend some of the geography of the area and the socio-economic background. That could not be described as local knowledge in the way in which the right hon. Member for Leeds, South described it. I do not wish it to be suggested that the commissioners should be totally ignorant and deliberately unaware of the features of the areas that they are judging.
The effect of the Local Government Act 1972 upon this redistribution has been responsible for almost all the problems that we are discussing. Although my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that the present Boundary Commission started work in 1976, the instructions upon which it started were issued before the coming into effect in 1974 of the Local Government Act 1972.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
The history books for 1969 are now written, but civil servants put the point to us in 1969 that it would have such a profound effect. It was not their decision, but the Minister's, and it was not their fault. The hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) is correct to say that our present problems are caused by local government reform. I understand that the Conservative party and the Labour party are talking about introducing further local government reform. The effect on boundaries will be great and we shall face such problems for ever. Fortunately, in 15 years' time, shall be watching steam engines at Lymington.
§ Mr. Adley
In that case the right hon. Gentleman will unfortunately be just outside my new constituency. I follow the right hon. Gentleman's point. It may not be realised that, under the terms of the Local Government Act 1972, the Local Government Boundary Commission will start its review of county and district boundaries in 1984. That commission will sit in perpetuity.
It is unnecessary and undesirable to require that all of the United Kingdom is considered simultaneously. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) feels especially strongly about that because Milton Keynes is in his constituency. It cannot be beyond the wit of Members of Parliament to devise a system that gives the future Boundary Commission much more flexibility in its timing. It would avoid all the charges that have flown back and forth across the Chamber since time immemorial that Boundary Commission reports are either gerrymandered away or rushed out to suit the political parties.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, South talked about Lymington in my constituency. The change in the Hampshire-Dorset county boundary is responsible for the changes in my area. They are not traumatic for me and will go through without great heartache, so I have no special case to plead one way or another. We shall regret saying farewell to old friends, but, equally, we look forward to making new friends.
In Dorset, in which my new constituency will be wholly sited, there will be three borough constituencies and four county constituencies. The former chairman of the West Moors Conservative Association, whose branch has been transferred from the present Dorset, North constituency into the new Christchurch constituency, asked me to mention the name of the new seat. Three of the four county constituencies in Dorset will be called Dorset, North, 275 Dorset, South and Dorset, West but the fourth will be called Christchurch and not Dorset, East. I am content with that arrangement, but not everyone is. Indeed, the new Conservative association has already seen fit, understandably, to designate itself the Christchurch and East Dorset Conservative Association, which is more acceptable. It may be asked "What is in a name?" To lawyers the name is meaningless, but it is important when creating these constituencies to form a consensus so that those who are brought together in a revised constituency feel at home together as partners, and do not feel that area A is taking over area B. Names mean more to party workers, who do most of the work, than to lawyers to whom a name is a name is a name.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale were both frank. I shall lose Lymington and other areas to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson). I am going into hospital next week, and it is my birthday today, so I hope that my constituents will be indulgent and not throw things at me for what I am about to say. In any case, I shall be out of their reach for a few days. I am looking forward to living four or five miles outside my new constituency. When in future I am accosted on a Saturday afternoon while shopping in Lymington high street, I can say, "I am sorry, but you must talk to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest"—whose name I am not allowed to mention in the House. I can disclaim responsibility for any points that they may wish to raise.
In future we should have a running commission that is not charged with the task of carrying out an all-or-nothing job in the United Kingdom. I urge my hon. and learned Friend to listen to many of the points made by the right hon. Member for Leeds, South, who commands the respect of many hon. Members. Many of our constituents have raised points that concern them, but are not considered by lawyers to be important.
I know that I carry many hon. Members with me on one final point. The report has been published and everyone is talking about the new constituencies. However, Members of Parliament will continue to represent all their present constituencies until the general election. I regret the impression given by the media that people will be left without a Member of Parliament for maybe a year. That is not true, and I am sure that everyone wishes to join me in making that point clear. All of us, whatever happens to be our constituencies, will continue to represent all our constituents, whatever their politics, to the best of our ability until the next general election.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) whose birthday today seems to have given him a new maturity. We congratulate him and wish him well in hospital.
It was generally thought that this debate would be two days of whingeing, and it is good that there has been less whingeing than many of us had feared. It is natural that Members of Parliament, used to coping with the volatility of the electorate and the selectivity of their party political executives, feel badly about having their security threatened even further, this time by faceless functionaries. I say that advisedly, because the assistant 276 commissioner for my constituency, who was in full view, recommended something that was overruled; we know not by whom—hence faceless functionaries; one wonders who and why.
In an earlier intervention, the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington asked how other Opposition parties felt about this matter. We on the alliance Benches accept the Boundary Commission's report and we accept that it is not party political in its execution. However, it must be recognised that it is completely party political in its date of implementation. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington say that he would like to see a permanent Boundary Commission. I agree, though he should not implement all the decisions throughout the country at one time, because that would do a great disservice.
I read Hansard today because I was away when the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) spoke and noted his wish that "the weight of each vote should be as equal as possible." That is a statement with which no hon. Member in the House would argue. However, let me remind the House that at the 1979 general election it took 40,500 votes to elect one Conservative Member of Parliament, 43,000 to elect one Labour Member of Parliament and 390,000 votes to elect one Liberal Member of Parliament. If the House thinks that means that the weight of each vote is the same then the House must think again. Is it not high time that an element of proportional representation was introduced?
No Boundary Commission report will be generally acceptable. Boundaries made by man are never popular nor easily understood, unlike the boundaries made by God, consisting of seas, mountain ranges or rivers. If boundaries cannot be politically popular, then at least let them be easily understood.
The important point about the name of a constituency is not the pride with which a Member of Parliament brings it to Westminster but the ease with which constituents identify with it. Dorset, comprises the constituencies of Dorset, North, Dorset, South, Dorset, West and Christchurch and the people know roughly whether they live in the north, south or west.
I wish that Cambridgeshire had been similarly placed. Cambridgeshire had, and it seemed eminently sensible, the cities of Cambridge and Peterborough. It had Huntingdon, which was a recognisable area, and the Isle of Ely, which was similarly so. Both were historic, identifiable and recognisable. The county seat was called Cambridgeshire—which was a cumbersome seat, but people were used to it; they knew that if they were not in the Isle of Ely, Huntingdon or one of the cities they were in Cambridgeshire.
The boundary commissioners decided that they would keep Cambridge and Peterborough. For some reason, the commissioners said that they would keep Huntingdon, although they changed it around a bit, but the other constituencies are to be called South-East Cambridgeshire, South-West, Cambridgeshire and North-East Cambridgeshire—designations to two points of the compass when the people most in need of their Members of Parliament tend to be those least able to work out where they live to two points of the compass. As a Member of Parliament for 10 years, I have never met anyone who said to me "I live in north-east Cambridgeshire." Indeed, the parliamentary constituency of North-East Cambridgeshire 277 now stretches about 10 miles further west than it stretched before when it was called the Isle of Ely and was identifiable.
The assistant commissioner recommended that the old Isle of Ely—it is to be deprived of the city of Ely—should change its name. He recommended that it should be called Fenland which was an eminently sensible decision given the nature of the land. However, he was overruled. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook will know that at the beginning of the century his constituency was called South-East Birmingham. In its wisdom, the Boundary Commission in the early 1900s changed the name from something which people did not understand—South-East Birmingham—to the identifiable constituency of Sparkbrook.
I am not whingeing—and nothing can be done this time—but I wish that the boundary commissioners and their assistants would bear in mind that the important aspect in the naming of a constituency is that people living therein should know what it is called and be able to identify the name.
I attended the inquiry by the Cambridgeshire boundary commissioners. I have great respect for the QC, who seemed an eminently fair person but I greatly shared the view of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) that a boundary commissioner should be an ex-Member of Parliament who not only understands the law, which I am sure is important, but knows something about the loyalty and the relationship that exists between a Member of Parliament and his constituents. The assistant commissioner in my area knew nothing of that. He had a vague notion of Cambridgeshire, because among the documents that were sent to him was a letter from his son who had been up at Cambridge university, and who had been asked by the Labour party to write a letter. The assistant commissioner asked us whether we thought that that would disqualify him from sitting. Rightly and properly, we said that it made no difference at all.
The hearing took place in shire hall, Cambridge, in a week when the roads were so icy that it was impossible to get there other than by parking one's car and using snowboots to ascend or by sliding down the hill. Attendance was thus limited. We were principally concerned because we did not know what was going to happen. It is no service to the people of a county if an inquiry is held that has no apparent ground rules. We sat around. When the assistant commissioner arrived, rather late, he told us who he was and, after a while, he asked us to give our names. We, as a nation, are not keen to jump up and say "I am me, and that is him".
There was a long silence until one of the secretaries to a district council stood up and said that he was a secretary to such a district council. By and by, the rest of us said who we were. Out of modesty, one waited for a while and then gave one's name. We did not know that the people assembled to give evidence would be called in the order in which their names were inscribed in the book. By the time it came to me—and I was probably most involved in the boundary changes—they had taken the evidence from all the people who had been quicker than I in giving my name to the assistant commissioner.
However informal an inquiry may be, it would be of enormous assistance if all inquiries were held in a specific way so that those who attend know what is to happen.
The assistant commissioner said to the people at the inquiry that he would look at whatever villages or towns 278 he was asked to look at and at one point in the inquiry I said that the village of Manea, which is in the Isle of Ely and was to remain in North-East Cambridgshire, was so totally different from the village of Farcet that the inhabitants seemed to speak a different language. Would he care to visit these places? I do not know whether he did so, but in the report I found that this had been changed. Instead of Farcet I now have three villages that I had not looked at during the hearing and that were outside my constituency. However, by then, it was too late to do anything about it.
If one criterion is the numerical similarity of constituencies, surely another and more important criterion must be the convenience of the electorate. Most of our complaints about the report stem from the fact that that was ignored. When professional footballers retire, they tend to become referees. When hon. Members cease being Members of Parliament, they might well become assistant commissioners, if only because they know that there is more to constituencies than a patch of land.
I share the views of many of those who have spoken. We shall desperately miss those constituents whom we lose, because no amount of politicking or advertising will make up for the years of representation, in which our constituents knew where we lived, who we were and what we represented—and, of course, representation went across political boundaries. One is political for the three weeks of an election and, after that, one represents. I am not at all sure whether assistant commissioners, with the input that they get from political parties, are sufficiently aware of that.
§ 6.1 pm
§ Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham and Crawley)
I agree with the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) in one respect at least. I refer to the very close association that every Member of Parliament naturally has with his constituency. It is inconvenient for Members of Parliament that between one Boundary Commission report and another the nature of constituencies can change quite considerably. We are discussing proposals that are based on the electorate in 1976. Since then I believe that the population in my constituency has grown at a faster rate than that in any other part of the country. I refer to the fact that part of Crawley and Horsham is dependent, to some extent, on the growth of Gatwick. Thus, the increase in population has been considerable both because of Gatwick and because of internal growth factors.
I have always represented a very large constituency. At present it has an electorate of about 110,000. Even now, under the Boundary Commission's proposals, Horsham will have an electorate of about 80,000, which is a considerable figure. In response to the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), I should say that it is of advantage if the boundary commissioners take account of local issues. I know that they are enjoined to do so, but it is not always easy. As it seems certain that the order will be passed, I can say now that it is not always easy for one Member of Parliament to represent a very large constituency that may cover different interests. One must be aware of those interests. I represent Crawley new town, and those who live there do not always have precisely the same interests as those who live in Horsham and the rural areas. For example, the growth of Gatwick is fax more likely to be welcomed in the new town than in Horsharm and the rural areas, because they have to suffer the 279 aeroplanes flying over and the noise at night. It is not always easy to represent two diametrically opposed views in one constituency, but one has to do one's best.
When the Boundary Commission reports, it should have more up-to-date figures for the electorate available to it. I am sure that that must be possible and the recommendations could then be based on up-to-date figures rather than on figures that are fully six years old. That point particularly affects those areas in which the population is growing quickly or dwindling rapidly.
It is essential that the Boundary Commission should be seen to be impartial. With respect to the views of others about judges, it is impossible for any other body of people satisfactorily to carry out the job that the House requires. I was amused when the right hon. Member for Leeds, South said that the House could not alter anything that the Boundary Commission did. I remember when he introduced the 1969 proposals. The House was invited to turn down the Boundary Commission's proposals en bloc, which it subsequently did.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Whatever I felt before 1969, I think that it is impossible for a Government to alter anything, because their motives would immediately be suspect. I offered that as a reason why it cannot be done.
§ Mr. Hordern
I accept that point. I remember the occasion well, because mine was one of the five constituencies exempted from that request.
I turn to an important constituency point. As the Minister will know, the Boundary Commission made positive recommendations for every constituency bar two. There are two constituencies in which there is what I would call a permissive right for the Home Secretary to make a change. That change can be found on page 77 of volume one of the Boundary Commission's report. It states:There have been two exceptional cases where orders implementing the Local Government Boundary Commission's proposed changes to local government boundaries with effect from 1 April 1983 have been made subsequent to our having completed our consideration of those particular areas.One of them concerns the boundary affecting a very small part of my constituency called Bewbush. It lies completely within the local authority boundary of Crawley. However, because of rapid growth, the Crawley area has now taken in what was within the local government area of Horsham.
The end of paragraph 4 in the Boundary Commission's report states:The Home Secretary may, however, in all the circumstances of these cases, wish to consider whether to make the necessary modifications to our recommendations prior to laying them before Parliament.Therefore, my right hon. Friend was invited to consider changing the recommendations. However, he did not do so, for the best of all possible reasons. He said long ago that he would place the orders before the House just as they reached him. The report adds:We would only add that the assistant Commissioner who held the inquiry in West Sussex was aware of the imminence of the second Order and recommended that, if it was made in sufficient time, his proposals (which we adopted) should be modified in the above sense.In those circumstances, it is only reasonable that a change should be made. I understand all the difficulties involved, but both the Crawley and Horsham councils have strongly put it to me that the change should be made 280 as soon as possible, and preferably within the order. The reason is that local government elections will be held on a register that will be different from that used for parliamentary elections. The issue affects only a comparatively few people. About 2,500 people will be directly affected. The Minister will be aware of the relevant paragraphs in the report which make the recommendations that I have mentioned, and I should be obliged if he would refer to them at the end of the debate.
I shall refer to only one other part of the report. Paragraph 19 on page 158 states:The Commissions may also conduct other reviews affecting just two constituencies or a group of constituencies between their general reviews.It therefore seems that it would be possible to hold an interim review before the next time the commission reports generally. However, in view of the specific nature of the recommendation and the fact that the assistant commissioner and the commissioners themselves recommend that that small change should be made, I do not believe that a review is necessary in this case. A simple order would do. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to invite the Boundary Commission to make an interim order as soon as possible to make that change in local boundaries as it affects that part of Crawley and Horsham.
§ Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)
We have heard some excellent and thoughtful speeches from both sides of the House, including the speech by the hon. Member for Horsham and Crawley (Mr. Hordern). We cannot tell who will represent which constituency after the next election, but whoever represents Horsham and Crawley will have 80,000 electors. That suggests to me that the Boundary Commission ought to operate on up-to-date figures instead of ancient ones. It is quite wrong that, when new constituencies have been formed, we should find ourselves with constituencies that vary enormously in size. That case has been made in the courts and was made from the Opposition Front Bench by my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall).
There is something very unsatisfactory about this debate. We know that there is nothing that we can do. We cannot change a single jot or tittle. We cannot change a title or a shape. The order must be accepted or chucked out as a whole. Clearly we cannot chuck out the lot and start all over again. I must therefore tell my hon. Friend the Member for Goole that I am not prepared to vote against the order, even though the Boundary Commission report has the weaknesses that he has pointed out.
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Barry)
There were many faults in the days when we used to vote on individual constituencies. That was absurd, because most hon. Members know little or nothing about the issues in a particular constituency.
§ Mr. Ennals
I warmly agree with the excellent point made by the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) that the House should not be confronted, as it is today, with an overall change for every constituency in England. Changes should be made successively over years so that we are able to look carefully at each region. It is absurd that Parliament cannot do anything about the proposal except to support or oppose it.
281 I am sorry that the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) is not present. He has ably prepared for himself his next job after the next election. He would make an admirable member of the Boundary Commission.
I am opposed to the ideas put forward yesterday by the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party, and developed briefly by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely, about multi-Member constituencies. I am prepared to support proportional representation for elections for the European assembly, whose Members do not have the same relationship with, or responsibilities to, their individual constituents as we have to ours.
I feel very deeply about this matter. Our task as Members of Parliament is to identify with all those whom we represent, whatever their political party. As has been pointed out, the vast proportion of our time is spent not on party political issues, but in seeking to serve the interests of our constituents. I believe that that applies to Members in all parts of the House.
Essentially, it is possible for us to do that because our constituencies are not too big and we know a large proportion of our constituents. We meet them and they come to see us. The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins) is no doubt waiting to contribute to the debate. If there were a multi-Member constituency of Norfolk with nine Members, people would have to decide whether to go to him or to me. That would be thoroughly unsatisfactory. We must retain the identity and the link between individual constituents and their Member of Parliament. Once elected, we loyally serve the interests of all our constituents. They do not have to agree with us. We do our best to serve the interests of all of them. Unlike those of my right hon. Friend the Member of Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), my constituents not only write to me but flock to my advice bureau.
I should prefer my constituency to remain as it is. A constituency of only 47,000 electors suits me very well. I feel that I can give better service to that number than to the 67,000 proposed for the new constituency. However, we cannot have a House of Commons with 900 Members. Indeed, I believe that there are too many already. I name no names, but there is a short list of 300 whom I should be happy to get rid of straight away. Therefore, I accept that there had to be a change for Norwich, which has two Members of Parliament each representing about 47,000 constituents. It was for the Boundary Commission to consider what the change should be. Nevertheless, it seemed unfair that people living just outside the city who work and shop in the city, who come into the city for their entertainment and culture, whose homes are in the Norwich postal district and who see the city as their centre, should find themselves suddenly part of a rural constituency when their interests are best served in the Norwich constituency of which they feel that they are part. My purpose in saying that is not, of course, to argue for further local government change.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South asked whether the commission examined the constituencies on the ground. Certainly, its first proposals for Norfolk, especially those affecting the constituency of Norwich, North, suggested that it had not. The first proposal was ludicrous. A hunk of five Norwich city wards was thrown on to the end of a long sausage, the rest of which was rural. There was no community of interests. 282 There were no common transport facilities. It was simply a ragbag, and we sensibly challenged the proposal at an inquiry.
The commission's other mistake was to propose only one seat for Norwich. It certainly underestimated the feelings of the people of Norwich, whatever their political parties. The city has had two Members of Parliament since 1265—since the first Parliament. The suggestion that the number should be reduced to one was therefore received with great anger. It was opposed by the city council, the chamber of commerce, individual traders and business people, citizens advice bureaux, church leaders and all kinds of other organisations. Thank heavens for the system of inquiries. The assistant commissioner who held the inquiry did a good job and a sensible constituency was constructed.
I am sorry to refer once again to the hon. Member for Isle of Ely in his absence, but as he is not here I cannot do otherwise. My modesty was greater than his. He explained his modesty and said that he raised his voice and was one of the last to admit who he was. I was so modest that I did not even go, because I thought that someone might have thought that I had a political motive.
§ Mr. Ennals
I thought it best that these issues should be argued by local people and organisations. However, I watched what happened with interest. The proposals made by the city of Norwich were accepted in full after examination and were welcomed enormously by all except the Conservative party, for reasons that I do not understand. Most of its supporters were glad to see that Norwich would continue to have two Members of Parliament.
I welcome warmly the addition to Norwich, North of those who come from Hellesdon, Sprowston, Thorpe St. Andrew and Catton. They are, in a sense, all suburbs of the city. As I said when I criticised the original proposal, the people come into the city to work, travel, park their cars, go to cinemas and theatres, and so on. I believe that they welcome the proposal and look forward to being represented in Parliament by someone who also represents the city. They form part of the postal area and community of interests of Norwich.
It will be a great relief for me—provided that I am renominated a week on Friday, as I hope I shall be—because, instead of having to pass on letters written to me by people outside my constituency who think that they are in my constituency, I shall now be able to deal with their problems. It will save me an enormous amount of time and give much more satisfaction to those who communicate constantly with me. As a result of the assistant commissioner's wisdom, we shall have a compact, balanced constituency with a common interest and centre. I believe that the vast majority of people, whatever their political affiliations, welcome the change.
I confirm that Members are elected not just to serve their party followers. It is a tragedy that the country does not always understand that. People write and say, "I do not want to get in touch with that Member because he is not of my party." That is wrong. Constituents receive good service because Members seek to represent them as well as they can. That is the message that should go to the country. Members of Parliament—there may be a few 283 exceptions but I do not know or see any—are hardworking people who represent the whole of their constituency.
I welcome warmly the changes made by the Boundary Commission. I believe that they will be to the advantage of the people who have been brought in to the new constituency of Norwich, North.
§ Sir Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals), and I agree with a good deal of what he has said, in particular the last few sentences. It is my proud boast that we represent all our constituents. I hope that I give as good a service to a person whom I know to be a Labour supporter as I do to the one who writes across the bottom of his letter, "I have always voted Conservative."
I have great admiration for the speech of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees). A great deal of his speech should be read and read again, particularly when we consider, as I hope we shall, some revision of the way in which the Boundary Commission goes about its work.
I agree with what the right hon. Member for Leeds, South and other hon. Members have said about proportional representation. There is a tremendous community of interest and feeling between a Member and his constituents, which must be maintained. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud)—if he is elected, it will be for North-East Cambridgeshire—who said that proportional representation would give Norfolk eight or nine Members of Parliament, to whom anyone, from Yarmouth to Downham Market, can write. A Member elected in those circumstances would not have the opportunity of seeing all those people.
Everyone works his constituency differently. A few years ago I gave up surgeries in the accepted sense because I found sometimes that so many people turned up without appointments that I was there until 7 o'clock, and on other occasions I sat there for three hours and never saw a soul. A great deal of money was spent advertising the surgeries. I try now to see my constituents on Friday afternoons and Monday mornings if I cannot settle matters over the telephone or by writing to them. One would have to travel all over Norfolk and one could not have surgeries, in the accepted sense, bringing people from Yarmouth, Norwich and so on. I am against the effect of proportional representation, which results in a Member of Parliament having responsibility for no particular area, but responsibility for every elector who wishes to take up a matter with him.
I was born and bred in my constituency. I was a county councillor on my patch and then chairman of my association, candidate and Member of Parliament. The process started in 1947 when I was sitting sound asleep at the back of a hall at an annual general meeting to which I had never been before when someone said, "What about Paul Hawkins, why not make him vice-chairman?" That is how it all started. Under our present system a Member and his family are known by a tremendous number of people and the Member knows them and their families. That means a great deal.
This boundary revision will mean that some 30,000 people will be taken from my constituency and another 284 30,000 will come from another constituency. It will be traumatic, not just for the Member involved but for many of his constituents. Thank goodness, in my case the name of Norfolk, South-West is being retained. That means that coming into Norfolk, South-West are three villages, two of which—Upwell and Outwell—are split down the middle by a canal. Part of them is in the Isle of Ely and part in the county of Norfolk. Despite the fact that they are divided only by a little water, one half is totally loyal to Norfolk and the other half is totally loyal to the Isle of Ely. I, too, am sorry that the name "Isle of Ely" is going, because the constituency has been represented by some fine men, including an old colleague, Harry Legge-Bourke.
I cannot agree with what the Home Secretary said about the commission having done a good job. As has been pointed out by many hon. Members, that may not have been the fault of the commission. It is probably the fault of the House for not having laid down better ground rules for the commission's procedure or the appointment of commissioners who understand how Members of Parliament work. Even though it may be said that it is a question of jobs for the boys, it would be better if in a new commission advantage were taken of the knowledge of Members who are respected on both sides of the House.
In the 1969 revision a constituency called Norfolk, Central was removed. Now a similar seat, called Mid-Norfolk, is proposed. It is the most peculiar seat I have seen. It runs from Swaffham in my constituency, right round to Acle, going round the top of Norwich towards Yarmouth. I pity the poor Member of Parliament who will have to represent that area. It is like a sausage and it will be difficult to manage. However, I hope that the 30,000 of my constituents who will be in that constituency will have a good Member of Parliament and will be as happy as they have been in Norfolk, South-West. To remove a seat from Norfolk and then to return it in 10, 12 or 15 years' time is wrong. It should never have happened.
In future my constituency will contain three market towns—Downham Market, where I live, Swaffham, which is in the constituency now, and Watton, which is just outside the constituency. I know like the back of my hand the road between Swaffham and Watton. In the original proposal four villages which overlap the road joining those two towns were being removed from the constituency. Obviously someone in London drew a boundary on the map and took those four villages out of the constituency because the main road, not the road that everybody uses, goes somewhere else. However, the commissioner understood the point and brought the four villages into the new constituency. There are too many mistakes like that. There has been too little feeling for constituents and their relationship with their Members of Parliament. Improvements should be made in future.
I felt it would be wrong for me to oppose the proposed change in my area, although it has destroyed a constituency with which I have had the closest relationship for a long time, because the commission was giving back to Norfolk a seat which had been wrongly taken away. The commission was righting a wrong which had been done in an area represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor), who has the task of looking after 105,000 electors in an area 65 miles long by 40 miles wide. Adjoining that constituency were the two 285 seats in Norwich, the closely knit centre of Norfolk. Historic though they may be, each has only about 46,000 electors.
We have heard three or four good speeches about how boundary revision might be carried out in future. I hope that something will be done early in the next Parliament so that there will not be a similar traumatic experience, not only for Members but for many of their constituents. It is the elderly, the ill, those who cannot write very well, those who do not have telephones and those who live in isolated villages who most often want the help of their Member of Parliament. They feel lost for a time when they are in a new area. As many distinguished Members have said, I hope that the whole process of the revision of boundaries will be examined again in the near future.
§ Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)
I, too, should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) who gave us the benefit of his immense knowledge and expertise on the subject; he also brought refreshing honesty to the debate, because it is about politics and the composition of the next Government.
In yesterday's debate hon. Members spoke about the effect of the changes on the prospects of the politicial parties, in particular at the next election. The report was accepted by Parliament. As almost every hon. Member has said today, the draft order will be passed. It is a fait accompli. We can do nothing about it. The general debate yesterday covered the overall effect on seats. There was vested interest. If we accept what the pundits are predicting, it is the Labour party which will be the loser as a result of the proposed changes. It is thought that 20 to 30 seats may be at issue. Therefore, it is in the Government's interest to get it through as quickly as possible.
Today's debate involves a more detailed discussion of the effects of the Boundary Commission's report on individual constituencies. Everybody who takes an interest in politics will realise that the new boundaries will have a far-reaching effect, especially in inner city areas. As the majority of those constituencies are Labour-controlled, it is in the Government's interest to have the matter dealt with as quickly as possible. Today's debate is an academic exercise. After the Law Lords decision all hon. Members know that the matter is a fait accompli.
I criticise the commission for treating voters as numbers rather than considering their needs. As has been demonstrated, there are vast discrepancies in the report's figures. What has not been taken into consideration are the discrepancies in the problems of different areas—especially inner city areas. I have listened this afternoon to hon. Members talking about their interests in geography, mathematics and so on, but very little has been said about people and the problems of inner city areas. It is not politically expedient to consider the problems of inner city areas at present. The effect of determining constituencies purely by number rather than by need will only be experienced in the future and then by individual constituents.
Cities such as Manchester have for several years experienced a mass exodus of young, able people, strong in wind and limb, to the suburbs and the new towns in search of employment. In the north-west we talk of the drift to the south-east of England. It has often been shown 286 that the people who remain in inner city areas are those most in need of support—the elderly, the semi-skilled, the young unemployed, and single parents. Those people need the advice of Members of Parliament and councillors. Their predicament makes them the most vulnerable sections in our society. The inner city areas have a heavy concentration of poverty and poor housing conditions and a great need for welfare facilities. How can we compare the lot of the people who live in inner city areas with that of better-off constituencies that do not have such problems?
Visitors to my advice bureaux do not have to make an appointment. I have four advice bureaux a month, at the Labour club or the library, and people queue up to see me. I can work from 10 o'clock in the morning until 3 in the afternoon and all the problems with which I deal are personal matters. That has not been considered at all in the boundary changes. We cannot blame the Boundary Commission for that but its dependence on the numbers game will eventually harm a great many needy people in the inner city areas.
The main objection to the report in my constituency is to the new size of the electorate. The commission has almost doubled the electorate in the inner city area of Manchester. I know that it is a small electorate and we knew that there would have to be changes, but the electorate has been increased to 74,750 in an area with one of the highest levels of deprivation. Yet in neighbouring affluent areas such as Cheadle, the Boundary Commission has established an electorate of 62,000, and in Hazel Grove—another affluent area—one of 60,000. How on earth can it be justified that two suburban affluent constituencies should have electorates of almost 15,000 fewer than the inner city of Manchester? To the layman, it just does not make sense. As has been said, it is absolutely daft. The disparity between needs and numbers should have been considered by the commission.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
The House will note what the hon. Gentleman says, but can he give some idea of the trend of the decline in the inner city area about which he is speaking? Might it not be that the Boundary Commission has looked forward and that the 75,000 of which he has spoken will be down to the 60,000s in a few years?
§ Mr. Litherland
I am grateful for that intervention. I shall deal with that point later. At the moment I am trying to deal with the disparity of need which has not been recognised in the report or by previous Governments.
Inner city areas suffer from disparity in aid programmes. Different Governments have directed aid to inner city areas because they know how deprived they are. The most socially and economically marginal groups, such as ethnic minorities and single-parent families, are concentrated in the inner city areas and they are the people who mainly come to my advice bureaux for assistance.
A Member of Parliament will have great difficulty in representing such an electorate of 74,000. If I have an advice bureau on a Saturday and my wife acts as my secretary she does not finish typing until Thursday because there are so many problems to be dealt with.
Manchester, Central is a massive inner city seat at the top end of the electorate quota while the suburban areas that I have mentioned are at the bottom end. That does not make sense to a layman like me. There could have been 287 scope in the interpretation of the statutory requirements for bringing about a fairer and more acceptable outcome to the inquiry. As it is, the electorate will suffer and the Member will have such a vast case load that it will become extremely difficult to provide the service required. I am sorry to say that in the inner city areas it will become far more pedestrian and some of us may finish up as mere letter writers.
People are not just numbers. They all have varied needs, none more than those in constituencies such as mine. Nevertheless, with all the representations that have been made by interested parties, including the local authority, little consideration has been given to this basic need and the commission has never been allowed to give it.
The Boundary Commission worked on the assumption that the population of inner city areas, including that of Manchester, would fall and that this would equalise the discrepancies. This appears to be a false assumption when this Government, with all their rhetoric, predict a regeneration of inner city areas and when the policy of local authorities is one of renewal to counteract the decline.
In other words, what we are doing in Manchester is trying to bring people back into the inner city area instead of the city going dead at night when people commute to surrounding areas. National and local policy, therefore, is to regenerate the city. If this is successful and more people come back into the city, that will contradict the commission's forecast of a decline in population.
My constituents will be getting a raw deal from the boundary change. The only concession given by the commission, funnily enough, was to revert to the title Manchester, Central. I am sure that that is some consolation to the electorate in my area.
I can see no good reason why Manchester, Central should be penalised in comparison with the more affluent constituencies that I have mentioned, in both case load and electoral numbers. The fault may lie with the House in laying down the remit for the commission, but it will be the inner city constituencies which have to pick up the pieces. The Boundary Commission should have been given the greater flexibility when considering the problems of these constituencies.
We have heard about cockshies, and they are unacceptable. We are talking about people and their problems and it is their interests that we must have at heart. It is too late now. We are going through an academic exercise and the debate this afternoon is rather farcical.
§ Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)
The hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) has raised a very real problem when he says that 65,000 inner city constituents present a Member with a greater work load than do 65,000 rural constituents. That is probably true. I work hard but I am not overworked. I am not sinking beneath an unmanageable work load. Some of my colleagues would be if they did not work until midnight every night. On a slack day I have five or six letters to deal with; on a busy one I have 15 or 20. Once, for an exercise, I compared my work load with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens) and we found that he had three times as much constituency work as I have.
288 Unfortunately, a Member of Parliament's pastoral and consultative or social work is not his only job. He also has another—some would say more important—function, that of taking part in the political process in the House. I am driven to the conclusion that constituencies ought to be about the same size, otherwise constituents in small constituencies have a greater weight in the democratic process than those in larger constituencies. I say "about". The commission should be allowed a certain leeway where there are special local considerations.
I agree too with what the hon. Member for Manchester, Central said about the need to come to terms with the party political nature of changes of this kind. The commissioners themselves are not influenced by those considerations but the report that they produce has party political overtones, so I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) that it is worth looking at a system of roving boundary commissioners who would deal with a few constituencies or a county or two at a time, so that changes would be made constantly and we would not have a long period with no change, followed by a sudden, very large, change, with all its political ramifications and the accompanying ill feeling. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that this is something well worth looking at and I am sure that we are not the first to have thought of it.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) in his opposition to the point put by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), to the effect that we should have multi-party constituencies, for all the reasons that the right hon. Member put forward. I am sure it would be a grave mistake. Neverthless, I agree with the hon. Member for Isle of Ely on the importance of names and of a link, which means something to constituents, between the name of their constituency and something significant in the community. As he said, it is not the pride with which we bring some name tag to this place that is important but the link that the constituent himself can make.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) amused us all by reporting that he had discovered that the Conservative party existed in fact but not perhaps in law. I could put it to him that his own party suffers from the opposite defect, as does my constituency, Derbyshire, West. It exists in law on a map but it does not really exist in fact. It means something to me and to the West Derbyshire district council but although most of my constituents know that they live in West Derbyshire they do not know who else does, where it starts or where it stops, because it is not really a place. It is like the east midlands. It does not exist.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Isle of Ely is not here. I wish he would make the speech he made to us to his colleagues in the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party, who have some idea of a regional local government based on such units as the east midlands. For all the reasons that he put to the House this evening, that would be a disastrous idea.
In my maiden speech in this Chamber, remarking on the fact that my predecessor had left the House to join the European assembly, I said,It could only be a sense of duty that leads a man to take Europe before West Derbyshire. I could weigh the whole of Holland against Hartington and Hathersage and the whole of Denmark against Doveridge, and find them wanting. Tideswell 289 and Bradwell may have their rivalries, but they are on a higher plane than the rivalries of Strasbourg and Luxembourg."—[Official Report, 25 July 1979; Vol. 971, c. 658.]There must have been some unhappy prescience in my remarks because, before two years were out, the boundary commissioners were suggesting that Tideswell, Bradwell Hathersage and Grindleford should all be taken away from West Derbyshire.
I understand the complaint formally put by the Labour party that the commissioners have played the numbers game too exactly, but my complaint is the opposite one and rather closer to that expressed by the hon. Member for Manchester, Central. In my constituency and in Derbyshire as a whole the boundary commissioners have played the numbers game rather too exactly when there was scope for greater leeway. They have succeeded in creating in the new West Derbyshire a constituency of about 65,000 electors, which is about right, but in doing so they have divided communities and have separated villages and towns from the market towns in whose hinterland they lie. They have aggravated a serious error made by local government boundary changes and they have destroyed the simple and helpful identity that we used to have between the West Derbyshire district and the West Derbyshire constituency.
It may be argued that I and others had the opportunity to put those considerations to the boundary commissioners while they were sitting and that the commissioners could have considered those objections and, possibly, have accepted them. We did so, and I am happy to say that as a result of representations Monyash, Taddington, Chelmorton, Eyam and Stoney Middleton have, on appeal, so to speak, been allowed to stay within the constituency.
I cannot blame the boundary commissioners for the fact that most of the alterations we would have liked were not made. It was not their fault. They were acting on instructions. My right hon. Friend suggested that in some sense the boundary commissioners were acting on the instructions of Parliament. Constitutionally speaking, they were, but, in every way in which we as Back Benchers have been involved in the process, they were not. I do not feel, now that we are debating the order, that our instructions are likely to count.
At present, my constituency has only 52,000 electors. That is below average, although in my view it is near enough to 65,000. The hon. Member for Manchester, Central spoke of the problems of constituencies in which the work load on the Member of Parliament was likely to be very great because of inner city difficulties. The problem with my constituency is that it is 40 miles long, and communications are difficult. Although I have only 52,000 electors, representing them in a constituency 40 miles from end to end is pretty hard work, particularly at weekends. My constituency has been enlarged greatly at one end and diminished slightly at the other. I am not happy about the diminution.
I am particularly sorry to see the large village of Tideswell go. Unfortunately, from the point of view of the boundary commissioners, Tideswell is on the way to nowhere, so it is hard to say that it belongs to anywhere in particular. However, in my view, and the view of the Tideswell villagers, the fact that it is on the way to nowhere is one of its chief charms.
Tideswell has belonged to the West Derbyshire constituency since 1884. It continues to belong to the district in every practical way. Its identity lies with us, and 290 for the sake of a few thousand extra votes that it will transfer to the High Peak constituency it is a shame that it had to go. I do not believe that it need have gone.
Had my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) been planning to stand again at the next election, I could part more willingly with those parts of my constituency that will go into High Peak. He is known and liked as much in my constituency as he is in his own. My constituents would have been happy to go in the knowledge that he would have been their Member of Parliament.
They will now go into a new constituency which will have very little meaning to them and which is allied much more to Manchester than to Bakewell, Matlock or Sheffield. They will also have a new Member of Parliament. I doubt whether the people of Tideswell are any happier about that than the people of Bradwell, which lies even more on the outskirts of my constituency.
Hathersage, which has a similar problem, looks entirely to Sheffield and to Bakewell. It does not look towards Buxton, Manchester, Chapel-en-le-Frith or those other centres of population associated with High Peak. We are sorry to see Hathersage go as well.
A particular problem is the village of Grindleford, which, due to a seriously mistaken local government boundary change some time ago, is now tied in with Hathersage. Because Hathersage had to go, Grindleford had to go, because so far as practicable the boundary commissioners were not allowed to divide wards. There is no argument for Grindleford being in any parliamentary constituency other than West Derbyshire.
We shall lose the identity between the West Derbyshire district and the West Derbyshire constituency. Some people will be living in the district of West Derbyshire but voting in the High Peak constituency. Others will be living in the Amber Valley district and voting in the West Derbyshire constituency. That was a simple identity that people found easy to understand, and it is a real loss, as well as expensive in terms of the confusion that it will cause. This is particularly worrying, because, although I know that the local government boundary reviews are not obliged to follow parliamentary constituency boundary reviews, there will always be some pressure to draw the new West Derbyshire district along the same lines as the West Derbyshire constituency.
I ask the Minister to confirm beyond any doubt that local government boundary reorganisations need pay no heed at all to parliamentary reorganisations. I like the identity between district and constituency. The district of West Derbyshire is right as it is, and just because the parliamentary constituency has changed—unnecessarily in my opinion—that does not mean that the district should change.
Change is always exciting. We in West Derbyshire know and like Belper town, Duffield, Quarndon, Kirk Langley and all the other towns and villages that wall come into the West Derbyshire constituency. We welcome them, and are pleased to have them join us.
I have no axe to grind, because the changes will make my constituency safer for the Conservative party. However, I cannot allow the loss of Tideswell, Bradwell, Hathersage and Grindleford to pass without remarking that I do not feel that their loss was necessary. Whether or not they miss West Derbyshire, we shall miss them.
It is important that we say, and that our constituents realise, that up to until the next general election we are the 291 Members of Parliament for our old constituencies. The voters in those parts of my constituency which will go should remember that I remain their Member of Parliament. I am pleased and keen to look after their interests right up until the next general election. I do not want them to go. They have not gone yet. They do not go until the next general election. It is important to make that plain.
§ 7.7 pm
§ Mr. Albert Roberts (Normanton)
I am pleased to have this opportunity to comment on the Rothwell area. I was delighted by the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who hit the nail on the head when he talked about the boundary commissioners making decisions although they were completely devoid of any local knowledge and ignored the evidence put to them.
I shall not be standing at the next election. Therefore, I have no political axe to grind. I was born and bred and have lived for 74 years in my constituency. I can therefore claim that no hon. Member or no one in my area has a better knowledge of that part of the country than I. That also goes for my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South.
I have been told in the last 18 months "We shall be sorry to lose you, Albert, but our next Member will be Merlyn." Not long ago my right hon. Friend rather than I was asked to open a new club. That is why I wish to put certain facts on record. First, the boundary commissioners reported that the Rothwell area, which is part of the Normanton constituency, should go into the constituency of Morley and Leeds, South. An inquiry was held, and Mr. Hindle of Liverpool was chosen to conduct both the Wakefield and Leeds inquiries.
My hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Handsworth (Miss Wright) and for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison) put tremendous pressure on the Wakefield inquiry for west Yorkshire to have another Member of Parliament. There was to be another seat in Rothwell. There is no doubt that at that time the commissioners were nodding in agreement. My right hon. and hon. Friends thought that they could take it for granted that we would get the extra seat. That was before the Leeds inquiry.
Mention has been made of housewives giving evidence. A housewife did give evidence. She was a member of the Liberal party. The Liberals believe that they can do well if Rothwell is linked with Normanton and Ossett, which is miles away. That is a political consideration. I am not speaking in those terms because I have no political axe to grind.
I have already said that I was born and bred in Rothwell. Before the 1950 redistribution, the Rothwell constituency included part of the Leeds, South constituency. There was an electorate of more than 80,000. That redistribution broke up Normanton and left just Normanton urban district council. The present Normanton constituency comprises three urban district councils—Normanton, which has a population of 17,000; Stanley, which has a population of 18,000; and Rothwell, which has a population of 28,000.
292 I became a member of the local council in the late 1930s. I was a member for 15 years and the chairman in 1948–49. I know well that we were an advanced urban district council. We exercised delegated authority from the West Riding county council. We ran our own welfare services and our own immunisation programme against diphtheria. That is going back quite a bit.
All those sub-committees and connections were tied up with Leeds. We were completely Leeds-oriented. The new constituency, after the 1950 redistribution, was called Normanton and it was nearly twice as large as the urban authority. That was an injustice to the people of Rothwell, which was the largest. I am not speaking of the Normanton people. They have supported me well and I have served them well, but I still have a divided loyalty. In the final analysis I can speak with more authority and authencity about Rothwell.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) is to have dinner in Normaton on 18 March, but I shall not be there, owing to another engagement. He referred yesterday to breaking inter-county boundaries. There has been an incision by taking Rothwell from the Leeds, South constituency. The commissioners are taking in to Leeds, South areas that are three miles closer to Ossett than we are. There are none so blind as those who do not wish to see. I am convinced that the commissioner who conducted the local inquiry did not look at the map that shows that the bulk of the population in Rothwell is flowing over into Leeds.
I have a moral right and duty to raise this issue tonight. After the Leeds inquiry I wrote to the commissioner. I pointed out the developments in the Rothwell area. We had dusk-to-dawn lighting long before most other county boroughs. We provided excellent services. Why they should have been ignored on this occasion is beyond my comprehension. I know that the boundaries are a fait accompli now. Nevertheless, I appeal for the name of Rothwell to be appended to the Normanton constituency.
The Home Secretary said that Parliament instructs the boundary commissioners. Nevertheless, the issue of names has been raised many times today. Some may ask why I did not make this appeal at the inquiry. The answer is that we did not know that this would happen. It came out of the blue. That is why some of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South are especially cogent. I am dissatisfied. I hope that something can be done to recognise the people with whom I have been brought up and lived for 74 years.
There should be more consultation with local people. In spite of what some people have said, we have all been disoriented. Nevertheless, the evidence has been completely ignored by the commissioner. When I sent proposals and information to the commissioner, I said that I was prepared to be cross-examined on what I had said. I knew that I could give him a week's start and lick him in a fortnight. He used the words that suited him in the report. He never referred to the services and links between us and the county borough. He merely said that he could take Rothwell and put it with Normanton and Ossett, thereby producing the extra seat with which everyone would be happy.
The Home Secretary said that we must consider people and their attitudes. That has not been done. According to the structure plan for Leeds, which the commission never mentioned, we are to absorb 10,000 people from South Leeds. It takes me 10 minutes to drive from my home to 293 Leeds, yet we are to be put with Ossett, a textile town, that is miles away. The people of Rothwell do not want that. If that is an example of justice, I do not know what justice is. The Rothwell people have a right to be recognised. I hope that the Government will say what steps can be taken so that the name of Rothwell can be appended to Normanton.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. Roberts), who is to retire from the House at the next election and will be missed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, expressed an objective frustration that many hon. Members feel about some of the recommendations that have been made by the Boundary Commission. Although we all appreciate that this exercise must take place every so often and that it must be conducted entirely independently and properly, I must echo, on behalf of Harrow, many of the frustrations about the decisions that have been made.
Unfortunately, I missed the beginning of the debate, and I apologise to the occupants of both Front Benches for my absence. I had unavoidably to attend other meetings. In reciprocity and fairness to the House, I shall keep my remarks brief.
I agree with the remarks that were made yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) in the general debate on the Adjournment of the House. In a remarkable suggestion he proposed specifically that boundary considerations should be determined with the modern technology of computers, information technology and all the fascinating techniques with which hon. Members are now beginning to grapple—we have them installed in the Library—which are designed to obtain information and to enable decisions to be made quickly. My hon. Friend suggested the detailed computer mapping of all areas that would take account of the human, social, geographical and historical factors of different areas as well as the numbers as easily but more competently, more scientifically, more thoroughly and with more justice and fairness than the present procedure. Above all, the result would be achieved with more rapidity, which is the main factor when consideration is given to the present exercise.
When the House debates orders of this character we expect the resentments of various hon. Members to be expressed, including their personal fates. We also hear about the misjoining of different areas or the separation of areas which were hitherto joined. Reference is made to the imbalance of social factors and disparity in numbers. Reference was made to all these resentments and frustrations against the background that the exercise is already out of date. The present exercise mirrors the 1976 position, not the current one, and it appears to be quite arbitrary.
There is some substance in the argument that the commission should not be required to give detailed individual reasons for its final decision. However, I have some hesitation in accepting that principle when the commission goes against the specific and tangible recommendation of the inspector or assistant commissioner. That has happened in a number of instances in the report. Although the conventional wisdom of the press and the demonology of the newspapers tell us that the proposals will assist the Conservative party and cause it to benefit by about 20 seats, that issue is separate from the detailed debates 294 that will take place. That opinion is based on conjecture and speculation, and none of us can be sure about it. I echo the feeling of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes and others that the boundary exercise is not conducted in the right way for modern conditions—that is putting it mildly and modestly—and should be undertaken in a more modern manner, notwithstanding the successful way in which the commission has exercised its responsibilities over the years.
During yesterday's general debate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Sir A. Grant) referred to the nonsensical and deplorable decision of the commission in respect of the London borough of Harrow. It has adhered to its recommendation that the representation of Harrow should be reduced from three seats to two, notwithstanding the strong and unequivocal recommendation of the inspector that three seats should be retained. I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central in seeing, to use a military phrase, his horse shot from under him. I have enormous sympathy for the anger and resentment of all local groups, especially those which represent residents of Harrow, Central, as well as the entire borough.
The borough is well known to the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who was once the Labour party's parliamentary candidate for Harrow, East. The conventional line—this is a common feeling—is that the Labour party in the London borough of Harrow is in favour, for its own reasons, of a reduction to two parliamentary seats, but that is not strictly so. The anger and resentment of the Labour candidate in Harrow, Central is as strong as that of anyone else. That is the view of those who see the seat disappearing arbitrarily and without logical justification.
Reference is made on page 27 of the commission's report to the inspector's report. In paragraph 121 there is a long list of reasons why the inspector took careful note of the arguments advanced by many individuals and interested parties during the two-day inquiry that took place. They sought to advance arguments in favour of the retention of the three seats. Before the war there was only one Harrow constituency. There were two seats immediately after the war and, following the 1948 recommendation, there were three. Account was taken of the increase in population.
The arguments and reasons that have been enunciated by hon. Members in respect of their own constituencies have similarly been expressed in Harrow, but an additional element has been included. It is one of increasing validity because it draws attention to the influx of new populations into the outer as well as the inner London areas, which has led to a great deal of additional work when Members attend their surgeries. The "welfare" work has much increased. It is right that that has happened, and I am not complaining about it, but it has added to the normal work that hon. Members undertake. There has also been an increase in the number of elderly citizens in the outer London areas. These people have their own special problems, and they add to the burden. I am not indulging in any excessive special pleading about the extra work that Members undertake in the outer London areas. It is a factor that is much more evident in all our large cities than in the rural areas.
Much more important even than that is the respectable statistical, constitutional and local boundary basis on 295 which the inspector made his main recommendation to retain the three Harrow seats. Paragraph 122 on page 27 states:Turning to the matter of the re-warding of the borough, the inspector found that their number had been adjusted on the assumption of three constituencies and that, if the present proposals had been foreseen, different adjustments would have been made.Paragraph 123 confirms the illogicality of the commission's conclusions. I am not making that up, because I have read a number of these reports. Normally we do not read the reports at any great length, because they are extremely wearisome, especially when the conclusions are not relevant to our own areas. However, I have read a number of them and I consider paragraph 123 to be the strongest inspector's report that I have ever seen in favour of retaining three Harrow seats.
One of the proposed two constituencies had to have about 7,000 more electors than the other to accommodate the 21 wards that had already had their frontiers reconstructed. These are the two new seats of Harrow, East and Harrow, West. Based on the 1976 figures, Harrow, East will have 79,705 electors while Harrow, West will have 72,890. They will not come anywhere near the 65,000 electoral quota datum line. They will be miles apart with a built-in major discrepancy. This is because of the illogicality of trying to achieve equality of population in the constituencies. This represents an effective negation of the whole exercise without any explanation.
Under existing law the commission is entitled to say "Despite what the inspector said"—despite it being one of the most powerful reports that I have read—"we shall adhere to our recommendations." That is a sad reflection on the inefficiency of the present exercise. Perhaps it is accidental, but an unfortunate unfairness is imposed on many constituencies, especially when one seat disappears in a cluster of three.
In paragraph 124 the report states:We observed that the assistant Commissioner had assumed that the departure from the 1976/77 ward review was probably unique and the degree of resulting imbalance in a high-electorate borough was certainly unique.How can that admission be made when the commission is empowered under existing arrangements arbitrarily to go ahead with what it had decided hitherto?
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central was right yesterday when he said that the worst aspect was the commission's response when the borough acted on the advice that it, the commission, could receive further representations after the inspector's report, which itself had received tremendous support and enthusiasm within the entire borough. The borough council, on behalf of all interested parties and in an entirely non-party political way, made further representations. It merely received an acknowledgement card from the commission. There was no further response, and a couple of weeks later the arbitrary announcement was made that the commission was adhering to its decision.
Harrow is now obliged—this has happened arbitrarily and unfairly—to accept a reduction from three parliamentary seats to two. Almost everyone has protested and that has not been done in a party political manner. The local groups in Harrow, Central have been forced to dissolve their committees. The Labour candidate for Harrow, Central—he is perhaps beginning a political 296 career, but I do not mean that in terms of Harrow, Central if it were to continue to exist—will be forced to go elsewhere. Perhaps that personal inconvenience for him is a minor matter compared with the global solution for the London borough of Harrow, but it is a disturbing reflection of the accidents and wrong results that can be produced by the nature of this exercise as it now stands. It must be modernised and made ready for the 1980s.
Once again I should like to state my feelings of sadness and regret that the people of Harrow, Central have to lose their local party formation and that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central will see his seat disappear after such a long and distinguished career. We hope that better procedures in future will avoid this most unfortunate and disagreeable result.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I shall be brief. Our comments about the review of boundaries are relevant only in so far as they concern what happens in future because the die is cast and there is nothing that we can do about it. That fact gives an air of lethargy, unreality and even hopelessness to the debate. What is happening in Member's constituencies should be told only if it has an impact on what happens in future.
The debate, both yesterday and today, has underlined the necessity for a complete change in how the review takes place. No longer can we go on in the old way. Although contributions so far in this debate have emanated largely from hon. Members who are dissatisfied for one reason or another, there is something wrong about what has happened in the past and is happening now which makes a larger number of people dissatisfied than hitherto. They are dissatisfied not necessarily for personal reasons. My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. Roberts) has said that he will not seek re-election, yet he still feels deeply about what has happened. A grand tour of our constituencies does not necessarily do much good.
I listened with immense interest to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) who told us about the beauties of his constituency. As a lifelong rambler, I ramble regularly through that lovely constituency. The difference between us is that he runs through it. He knows a great deal about the area, as I do. I also know a great deal about my area. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) spoke of his lack of dissatisfaction with what has happened in Birmingham and his dissatisfaction with what has happened in south Yorkshire. We were both born in Hillsborough. Indeed his mother, our former lord mayor, is still a constituent and an old friend of mine. I, like him, feel dissatisfied not with individuals but with the Boundary Commission. I believe that it is outdated, that it does not do a proper job and that we must think a great deal more about it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) described the Boundary Commission as a farce. Although I hesitate to use such a word about it, that word does come to mind. Without blaming anyone individually or collectively, there are so many and such massive irregularities in its findings that, no matter how the commissioners try to do their job, especially with the criteria they use, all types of wrongs emerge that are bound to make hon. Members think more deeply about this.
When one thinks about the size of the commission and the unknown people who work for it, one is bound to 297 conclude that it cannot possibly do a proper job. Even we politicians do not know how many people work for the commission, how they go about their work and how they come to their conclusions. We do not know whether any form of democracy is involved or whether their decisions are completely arbitrary. We do not know how decisions are made by these powerful individuals who, in their normal lives, probably have nowhere near the same power as they have on the Boundary Commission.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) pointed out that the chairman of the commission is not a chairman at all. That we give a nominal chairmanship to Mr. Speaker, thus conveying the impression that it is a democratic body, when he plays no role at all underlines what a farce the commission is. My hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall), who is hardly a mob orator, made a thoughtful, knowledgeable speech in which he underlined many wrongs that could be construed by the Home Secretary to be criticisms of him. But the way the whole thing is organised means that seemingly dishonourable things are done because the results are so wildly astray from any form of democracy. Virtually no one, even the Chamber, apart from those deeply involved, understands exactly how these forces come into play and how the commissioners arrive at their conclusions.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook pointed out that the review in West Yorkshire was conducted completely differently from the review in South Yorkshire. God knows why—I do not. In West Yorkshire there was one inquiry and one inspector. In South Yorkshire, there was one inquiry for each district. I went to the inquiry in my area. I was virtually the only person there because people feel that inquiries can have no democratic impact. I went out of interest, because I wanted to know what would happen to my constituency and how and why it would happen. It is disgraceful that there should be one inquiry in West Yorkshire but four in South Yorkshire. It meant that the interplay of ideas between the four districts in South Yorkshire could not take place. We had to discuss the Sheffield area without any interchange of ideas with Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster. Those areas were satisfied but those areas that were not satisfied had no opportunity, because of the lack of democracy, to argue democratically about what was happening. Meanwhile, just over the border in West Yorkshire, there was one inspector. Such a thing should not be allowed because it is wrong and undemocratic. I do not know whether that has occurred in other areas. Something is drastically wrong with the whole business.
The procedure is partisan in its impact, whether the commissioners intend it or not. It allows people to say that things have gone wrong but it allows one party to emerge with a whole group of new safe seats. We should not have to argue about that. We should not have a system imposed on us that allows that to happen. Any system that allows that to happen and causes unnecessary friction, hardship or strife is wrong and therefore should be examined with great care with a view to changing it and to ensure that it does not occur again.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central said that a constituency that included an inner city, where there are many problems, should have a smaller electorate. I profoundly disagree with that view. The main raison d'etre of the commission is the old Chartist demand of equal electoral areas. They fought for that with a great 298 petition many, many years ago, together with their struggle for suffrage and so on. But we still do not have that. It is time that we had equal electoral areas, and not the disparity that now exists.
Three seats have been created in Barnsley—one with 58,000 electorate, one with 53,000 and one with 52,000. That is an average of 54,000. Sheffield has six seats with a total electorate of 420,326, which is an average of 70,000 a seat. One seat in Sheffield has an electorate of 77,000, and another of 76,000, yet the smallest seat in Barnsley has an electorate of 52,000. That is a difference of about 25,000. Such a disparity is absolute nonsense. It shows the utter failure of our method of dealing with the problems that confront us.
Even were Sheffield given another seat, the average would still be more than 60,000 per seat, compared with an average of 54,000 per seat in Barnsley. It is nonsense to tolerate a position where the frailty of human decisions and the imposition of criteria that can be blatantly violated without criticism are bound to make us think that the system should be changed. We must recognise that we are in the 20th century and produce a method of computerisation that includes a large element of humanity.
During the recent court case the Labour party put forward the view that there was ample time to do as I have suggested. However, the die is now cast and nothing can be done. The disparity in numbers is appalling, and no one can defend that. There will always be partisan reasons for saying "I am all right, my party is all right". That is had counsel and anti-democratic. It has nothing in common with the reason why we are in this Chamber. We are here to carry out the democratic will of those who elected us. I want there to be one man, one vote. I do not want one vote to be more important than another vote. We must abolish the undemocratic system of the present Boundary Commission and institute a completely new method of review based on modern approaches and, more than anything else, on the old Chartist demand of equal electoral areas. That lesson must be learnt, even though the die is cast.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook raised the fundamental point about the idea of not crossing boundaries. People have sought refuge in the neat business of keeping boundaries intact. If boundaries are not crossed, and that results in a disparity in the number of electors per constituency, the boundaries become undemocratic. We must democratise the whole system by ensuring that the boundaries are not the raison d'etre of the commission. There is far more to the matter than that, and we must think about computerisation.
§ Mr. John Wells
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it might be a better service to democracy if local government boundaries were changed by tie same commission, although not necessarily at the same time? If there were a single commission, using computer techniques, we could achieve a far more democratic system.
§ Mr. Flannery
There is a great deal of good sense in the hon. Gentleman's remarks. The matter should be considered in the context of what we all want, which is real democracy and new methods.
The lesson to be learnt from the debate is that there is dissatisfaction with the present method, which allows a partisan and wrong approach to the problem. There must 299 ultimately be new legislation so that people can see that real democracy is operating and that all the arguments that arise because of the wrong methods now being used are rendered wholly unnecessary in future.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)
What's in a name of a constituency? A number of hon. Members have asked that. The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) said that "North-East Cambridgeshire" was meaningless. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) said that a name carried little understanding to the people. I wish to show that when there is a total misnomer, as in the case of Thanet, it is going too far.
For more than 1,000 years Thanet has remained the Isle of Thanet—from the days of the Wansom with the Fleet going from Richborough through to Reculver along the coastline. It was, and remains, an island. It still becomes an island when there are floods. It is cut off from any outside area. Yet the recommendation of the boundary commissioners is that there should be two new seats—one covering Herne Bay and Thanet, West and the other Sandwich and Thanet, East, and that they should be known as Thanet, North and Thanet, South. But Herne Bay has not the remotest connection with Thanet, and Sandwich has even less. Neither of them forms any part of Thanet. No one recognised that fact when the new names of Thanet, North and Thanet, South were proposed.
If I have the privilege of representing one of those seats, which would be Herne Bay and Thanet West, I would wish it to be known by that name in the House. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr Aitken) will share the view that his constituency should be called Thanet and Sandwich, rather than Thanet, South.
I am the only hon. Member of all those who have spoken so far who had the task of representing a whole constituency on the previous occasion, 10 years ago, when the boundaries were considered. We had a hilarious time. The size of Thanet was about 88,000. Hon. Members will know that when split the two seats were under 50,000—about 44,000 and 46,000. There was a strong view on the provisional case to split it up and put Sandwich into Thanet together with some of the surrounding villages. There was no question about Herne Bay at that stage.
I was briefed on behalf of the Isle of Thanet. I then represented the whole of the Isle of Thanet. I was to attend the inquiry and present the case for Thanet that it should remain one and indivisible, and that if and when it was split it should be split within the boundaries of Thanet—with Ramsgate and Broadstairs making Thanet, East; and Margate, Westgate, Birchington and the villages making Thanet, West. There was one important body to be considered—the burgesses of Sandwich. So to Sandwich I went to meet the mayor and burgesses. I went into their magnificent medieval hall and started by saying, "The people of Ramsgate are not at all keen that the people of Sandwich should join Thanet." The laughter echoed throughout the hall. I am sorry to say that the people of Sandwich had no great inclination to join the people of Thanet. They wanted, then as now, to retain their independence.
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary knows better than anyone, Sandwich is the greatest golfing centre 300 and one of the greatest social and entertaining centres in England, certainly on the south coast. The people of Sandwich are an independent crowd. They did not want to join Thanet. They still do not. They wanted to remain where they were before in the constituency of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees). However, because of the numbers game, there was no hope.
When we considered the matter 10 years ago the figure of 54,000 or 55,000 was regarded as perfectly normal for a seat. Note that the magic figure now is 65,700. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) mentioned that in the proposals there are seats of 53,000 and 54,000 as well as of 65,000 and 70,000. However, I am sorry to say that there are none under 50,000. Both Thanet, East and Thanet, West are under 50,000.
I was advised that there was no way that we could successfully oppose splintering the Isle of Thanet. We then had to consider how the matter could be dealt with. The Boundary Commission has reported that Sandwich plus some villages go into the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken). Herne Bay joins us. Let us put ourselves in the position of someone in Herne Bay when we are asked to join Thanet, which we may visit from time to time. Incidentally, there are some happy aspects. Both towns are strong tourist centres. Herne Bay has a good road to Birchington and Margate. Communication is not too bad. However, communication from Sandwich and the villages to Ramsgate and Broadstairs is negligible.
The commissioner presenting the case is usually a silk, a Queen's counsel, and has, apart from knowledge of the law, an appreciation of how to take evidence properly. In the case to which I have referred I presented and called the evidence. First, on communications I called the traffic manager of the area to give the evidence about the buses to show that there was no communication, as there is now, between Sandwich and Ramsgate or Sandwich and Broadstairs, and that the villages faced not in the direction of Thanet but the other way. That is relevant evidence. Then the evidence was given of whether the people have clubs and other community facilities that hold them together. Hon. Members have said that that is an important aspect. It is true that one cannot possess the precise numbers. There must be a greater difference than 1,000 to take account of the community aspects in different areas.
It is fair to say on behalf of those who sit to take the evidence that they sift it and listen to the community case, the transport case and other local aspects without considering the party political aspects that are naturally pressed upon them by those who give evidence on the different cases.
I agree that the matter must be looked at carefully again. With the computer additions that we have, we must consider what the right size is. How was the magic figure of 65,700 arrived at? Is it the right figure? Should it be less? Should it be more? Having represented nearly 90,000 and representing now only half that figure, I think that probably around 60,000 is right. I do not feel overworked with a constituency of about 45,000. However, the numbers game is not the prime consideration. One must look after the areas. One must consider the problems that arise in those areas. It must be true to some extent that the inner cities raise more problems than the county and rural constituencies.
301 That is the general picture. In considering the matter, one must see that the community aspect is dealt with properly. In my constituency there is a delightful little village called Minster. It has a lovely old church, very attractive pubs and so on. It is charming. For some reason, which I fail to see, it has been taken out of my constituency of Thanet, West and put into my hon. Friend's constituency of Thanet, East, so it will join the new constituency of Thanet, South. However, it will cut straight across the local authority boundary. The county council will have to represent Minster and the villages in Thanet, West. The numbers involved were only about 2,500. It was singularly unfortunate that the decision was made to move Minster from Thanet, West to Thanet, East, which will become Thanet, South.
I revert to the name. It is extraordinary that one can invent a name and put into a geographical entity that has existed as one for 1,000 years towns from outside and call them part of Thanet, to make up Thanet, North and Thanet, South, when they are nothing of the kind. I am not prepared to accept that, whatever is said. I shall always take that view.
I hope that in due course the necessary amendment can be made. Woe betide the first person, if I am returned, who calls me the hon. Member for Thanet, North. I shall say, "No. The hon. Member for Herne Bay and Thanet, if you please." That is my view.
The matter must be looked at carefully again. We must consider how the numbers game is to be worked out. It is for us to give the guidelines on whether the numbers should be 65,000 or 75,000. Then it is for us to say what the margin will be—for example, 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. A 10 per cent. margin is more than enough and is probably necessary.
If we ensure those two matters, we must then have a good method of ensuring that evidence is given properly. I was surprised that the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) was so humble—it is contrary to his general pugnacious nature—as to allow other hon. Members to speak first. In presenting the case, the existing Member of Parliament should speak first. I have used that right and would use it in future if I was presenting such a case. We must present the evidence to someone who is totally objective and impartial in his consideration of such matters.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
The cost of the Boundary Commission report at nearly £50 and the cost of the order are prohibitive for the vast majority of those who may wish to examine them. As they are part of legislation, the Government should use their best endeavours to keep down the cost of all Government reports and statutory instruments to a minimum because those affected have the right of access to the legislative process.
I shall divide my speech into two parts, the first being concerned with the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, of which I am Chairman. The order that we are discussing was first considered on 22 February, a week ago yesterday. The Committee decided to ask for a memorandum from the Home Office. However, it meets weekly, and the Home Office needs time to provide all Members with such a memorandum. It is a convention of the Committee to allow a Department a minimum of a week to produce memoranda. We received the memorandum, and the Committee decided against 302 obtaining evidence from officials who were standing by. I shall return to the questions that I wished to ask in a moment, but I have little doubt that the Committee believed that, had it taken evidence yesterday, there would have been great difficulty in presenting it to the House. It is worth recalling that the House set up the Committee to carry out a job. Whether an instrument is controversial or not, the Government, in their organisation of the timetable, should allow the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments enough time to do that job. The only evidence that would have been available would, at the best possible speed, have been uncorrected evidence from the cross-examination of officials.
The position with the Scottish order, which we shall debate tomorrow, is even worse. There would not have been time for the Committee to obtain a report from the Scottish Office for assessment and presentation to the House, which means that the Government are deliberately and calculatedly setting aside a Committee that they helped to set up and that acts as a watchdog in the process of delegated legislation on behalf of the House, and therefore on behalf of the people of Britain. It makes the Committee a travesty of what it could and should be. It was established following complaints about the use of delegated powers by Ministers. The fact that a member of the Opposition chairs the Committee shows that, along with the Public Accounts Committee, the House wishes to see some zealous scrutiny rather than the supine acquiescence that might occur if a Member of the governing party chaired the Committee.
The Committee was so dissatisfied that it agreed that I should write to the Leader of the House generally, but especially about the Scottish order, urging the Government to allow one week between the consideration by the Joint Committee or the Select Committee and the instrument being debated either on the Floor of the House or in a merits Committee. In case hon. Members believe that I am partial about this order, may I say that I raised the question on the Floor of the House about three weeks ago. The Joint Committee had pushed a report, as fast as it could, into the Vote Office to help a merits Committee to debate an instrument. The Committee criticised the Joint Committee for not providing the information earlier, but the true culprits were the Government, who decided the timetable and who did not provide enough time between consideration of the instrument by the Joint Committee and consideration by a merits Committee or by the House.
The evidence that the Committee did not consider is the relationship between the Boundary Commission and the Local Government Boundary Commission. For example, it is claimed that this order is not affected by other orders because the local government units are those existing on 1 February. That removes from consideration the many orders that come into effect in April and May and that are listed in the memorandum supplied by the Home Office. However, some orders come into force on 1 February. One example is the North Yorkshire and West Yorkshire (Areas) Order 1982, which came into operation for the purposes described in article 2 on 1 February 1983. Article 2 refers to the Local Government Area Changes Regulations 1976, as amended. That instrument provides that immediately after the coming into operation of this order a new register of electors can be compiled. If that had happened on 1 February, the electors of Kildwick, which is at present in the Keighley parliamentary constituency, will be in the Skipton parliamentary 303 constituency. Therefore, the order is not composed of the local authority wards that the Boundary Commission believed, but is qualified by the order.
The House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1958, in section 4, states:Where a Boundary Commission revised any proposed recommendations after publishing a notice of them under … Part III of the First Schedule to the principal Act, the Commission shall comply again with that paragraph in relation to the revised recommendations, as if no earlier notice had been published.Having knowledge of the alterations to the North Yorkshire and West Yorkshire (Areas) Order and the knowledge that it gives a power under the 1976 statutory instrument, should the commission have published a notification of the changes under the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1958? That disparity and confusion exist because of the separate natures of the Local Government Boundary Commission and the Parliamentary Boundary Commission.
It has been suggested that the two commissions and the legislation should be combined so that that disparity and apparent conflict may be eradicated. The argument that can then arise is that the Government have been over-hasty in their considerations of the procedure to a point where they are accused of fixing Parliament to get the order through because it gives the Government a parliamentary advantage. It is quite wrong that the position is such that it can give rise to that accusation.
The workings of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which is not at the glamorous end of parliamentary business, do not come to public attention week after week. The last occasion on which the Committee came to public notice was when it discovered that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had failed to provide immunity for the participants in the Lancaster House conference. Indeed, Bishop Muzorewa could have been arrested at any moment on a certain date because the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had not done its work. That was years ago.
I understand from a report in The Guardian that the Conservative Whips were furious and that the door of the Leader of the House was open because it had "melted" because the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments had so arranged its business as to call for a memorandum, whereas the Whips, it was claimed, wanted everything to slide through smoothly. I would be very disturbed if such allegations were true, because it would be interfering with the proper consideration by the Joint Committee of the statutory instrument concerned. That would lend weight to the suggeston that the Government were determined to steamroller the order through irrespective of the proper parliamentary procedures. That is a serious charge.
Coupled with the question raised not by myself or the Committee but by another hon. Member about the relationship with the European assembly seats, there are real grounds for supposing that the Government are only too eager to get this legislation through. As my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) pointed out, it is a patent absurdity that Conservative Members should flock into the Lobby to vote for the legislation to allow for simultaneous presentation of parliamentary and European assembly seats—that is sensible because the building blocks of the European assembly seats are the parliamentary constituencies—and then subsequently go 304 into the Lobby in support of the 1981 Act which removed the requirement from the Boundary Commission that both the European assembly seats and the parliamentary constituency seats should be presented simultaneously. The memorandum makes the point that while we should fight parliamentary seats on the new boundaries, the European assembly seats should be on the old boundaries. That is a patent absurdity. That gives rise to severe criticisms against the Government. The Government should not be surprised if people make the charge that this is a gerrymandering process to give them an advantage.
While there have been cash limits on education, on local authorities and on nationalised industries, there have been no cash limits on the Boundary Commission. There have been expressions of dissatisfaction from both sides of the House, not just from the Labour Benches. The Boundary Commission's future must be established as an independent body. It must be seen to be independent and separate from the Government, and not, as in some people's minds, as yielding to the Government's pressure for speed to present the report. The position in my constituency demonstrates to some degree the subservience of the Boundary Commission to the wishes of the Government.
In my view, and that of many others, the assistant commissioner's report on the Keighley constituency was badly written and judged. We suggested that Bingley should be substituted for Ilkley in the proposal, in order to bring Keighley nearer the target figure. However, we were concerned that there was no clear refusal to hold a second public inquiry, despite a major decision about the Aire valley trunk road—running from Keighley to Bingley and finishing almost on the edge of the old Bingley urban district council—being announced in May, well after the assistant commissioner's recommendation had been made to the Boundary Commission in February. For the sake of brevity, I shall not go into some of the other factors.
After an exchange of letters between myself and the secretary of the Boundary Commission, the commission agreed to accept further written representations. Point by point I refuted the commissioner's attempt to downgrade Ilkley and to upgrade Keighley. Keighley is entirely different, is nearer Bingley and is a textile and engineering town like Bingley. It is not the sort of declining spa such as the commissioner inaccurately described Ilkley.
Nearly £50 of heavyweight documentation has been provided to all too few people. From the complexity of the report and documents, it is clear that the printing process must have been well under way when my representations were made, approximately in the middle of December. Therefore, contrary to what had been implied, the Boundary Commission could not have closely considered my representations. That underlines the point that the Boundary Commission was more concerned about the Government's pressure on it to finish the report and to present it to Parliament than about the fact that there were bound to be people of all political persuasions who would be dissatisfied, because the work had to be seen to be done as scrupulously and fairly as possible. However, that is not true of the preparation, printing and presentation to the Government of this report.
The report demonstrates the Conservative Government's ruthlessness. They have pressed this issue through Parliament. They have trampled on the rights of Parliament and set aside the proper processes of Committees set up by the House. The Minister has just 305 wandered in, and he knows that that is so. I hope that later he will tell us why the Government did not allow adequate time for the reports of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments to be made. Do the Government accept that there should be seven days between the Committee's consideration of an instrument and consideration in the House?
It is said that the Conservatives will gain a number of seats as a result of the Boundary Commission's report. When the Conservatives wanted to get rid of London county council and to bring in the stockbroker belt, they enacted the London Government Act to end Labour rule in London. With the GLC shaped by the advent of the stockbroker belt, it was thought that London would never see Labour control. However, it did. Because Labour controlled the county boroughs, the Local Government Act 1972 was introduced, under which the posher suburban areas were brought into the big county boroughs to form metropolitan district councils and district councils. Labour was supposed not to have much chance. However, we now happen to have control, in the most part, of the former big county boroughs. The Boundary Commission will not provide rule for the Tories either. We shall win not because of reshaped boundaries, but because of political ideas that will bring hope to the people of our country.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)
I should like to talk about two separate but closely related matters. The first matter concerns the problems facing the Boundary Commission in its consideration of constituencies for Hampshire and the second is the considerations that led the commissioners to construct the proposed new constituency of East Hampshire from most of my present constituency.
The task facing the Boundary Commission was very difficult. The commissioners had to make a number of fundamental decisions at the outset and did not find them easy to make, constrained as they felt themselves to be by the rules that governed their conduct and their decisions. At present, as can be seen from table 5 on page 76 of volume 1 of the report, there are 12 seats wholly within the county of Hampshire and two that are mostly within the county but fall partly outside it because the local government reorganisation removed Christchurch and a small part of the New Forest and added them to Dorset.
That anomaly had to be corrected but, roughly speaking, there were 14 seats. The first problem facing the Boundary Commission was to decide how many seats there should be in Hampshire, with the newly drawn map of Hampshire and the constituencies therein. According to table 5, the theoretical entitlement on the 1976 electoral roll was 15.38. The Commission decided to allocate 15 seats. That sounds sensible until one considers the problem of the Isle of Wight, which is in most respects a separate county. It now has the status of a county, although it used to be part of Hampshire and still shares the Hampshire police authority and does not have its own county health authority.
In their preliminary remarks, when they set out the parameters within which they felt that they should operate, the commissioners stated that they would not cross county boundaries unless there was a compelling reason to do so. They mentioned the Isle of Wight as one area where there 306 might be a compelling reason to do so. They therefore had the option of taking Hampshire and the Isle of Wight as one entity.
In the recent past, the Isle of Wight has always been represented by one seat. It was one of the larger seats in the country, and under the current proposals it will be by far the largest. According to table 5, the Isle of Wight's theoretical entitlement was 1.35 seats. If one takes Hampshire and the Isle of Wight together and adds together Hampshire's entitlement of 15.38 seats and the Isle of Wight's entitlement of 1.35 seats, one gets a total theoretical entitlement of 16.73.
Had that figure been announced for any other county, there is no doubt that the Boundary Commission would have given it 17 seats. There would have been no argument. However, as in the end the commissioners declined to look at the two areas as an entity we have only 15 seats for the new Hampshire constituencies and one for the Isle of Wight. We are one seat short. That under-representation of the electors in that part of the country ought to be questioned before it is tolerated.
In addition, the commission felt that it was bound, except in exceptional circumstances, to work on the basis of the 1976 figures. The figure for Hampshire was then 1,011,505, but in seeking to justify its argument the commission itself states in paragraph 209 on page 108 of its report:The assistant Commissioner who held the inquiry reported that the preliminary issue was whether the county should have been allocated sixteen, instead of fifteen, seats. A number of authorities and bodies of electors argued that there was a strong case for sixteen seats, based on the substantial growth in the electorate to 1,082,521, with a theoretical entitlement to 15.93, at the time of the inquiry in 1981.I should have thought that 15.93 was as close to 16 as one could expect to get. The commission then made the following powerful statement:The assistant Commissioner accepted the merits of this proposal but considered that the Rules for the Redistribution of Seats provided no basis on which to grant Hampshire an extra seat.I shall not detain the House with the long and controversial arguments that were made on an earlier occasion for an additional seat in Lancashire, but the assistant commissioner who presided over our inquiry decided that the situation was not the same and that there was no justification within the terms of reference for him to do that which, according to his own clear statement, he felt that it was right to do.
The growth in population in Hampshire between 1976 and 1981 was just over 70,000 electors. Not only could that increase have been accommodated through the allocation of an extra seat to the county without any effect on the entitlement of that seat, but it means in effect that more than a constituency's worth of people collectively have no vote in the House. Because the assistant commissioner felt unable to do what he knew was right, a whole constituency's worth of electors has been denied the right to representation in the House.
One must add to that the even greater population growth in the Isle of Wight, where the figure was 88,460 in 1976 but is now, I believe, knocking on 100,000. This means that there has been even greater distortion of the level of representation of the people of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight in this House. That is not right and it is too big a difference to be tolerated.
We cannot blame the assistant commissioner or the Boundary Commission. Ultimately, we must blame 307 ourselves. I have gone into this in some detail because—here I agree with the hon. Members for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) and for Keighley (Mr. Cryer)—we must ensure that on the next occasion we give the Boundary Commission or whatever we call the new body enough scope for sensible variation of the terms of reference to meet the needs of people rather than being tied by boundaries that we ourselves have set for quite different reasons. We must ensure a reasonably even representation of the people of this country in this place by the Members who come to this place.
There was great disappointment in Hampshire. First, more than 70,000 people have been robbed of representation in the House. Secondly, the result of that has been the compulsion upon the commissioners to divide the county into seats, many of which made no sense whatsoever either with what had gone before historically or with the community of interests, generally, within the county. We have all had to shuffle around and ties have been broken. I shall not go into the details of the other parts of the county because the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) spoke a length yesterday about the divorcing of parts of that borough into the Eastleigh constituency, which has no local or county tie with the city of Southampton.
The same thing has happened in Portsmouth. It has happened in Fareham, a borough constituency which everybody understood, with an almost total community of interest. A large part of the southern area of my rural constituency will now be taken into that largely urban one with, I think, dismay on both sides. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd) has no cause for dismay; he will be getting some very good, sound, sensible and loyal country people who will be a credit to him and to the new constituency of Fareham.
Of course, to create a new seat there has been a fundamental change in Christchurch and Lymington, which have always looked together but have had to part because of this arbitrary change in the county boundary. It has happened in the New Forest, Winchester, Basingstoke and Aldershot, all because the assistant commissioner said, "Yes, we should have an extra seat in Hampshire, but, no, I cannot allow or direct myself to do it because the rules for the redistribution of seats provide no basis on which to grant Hampshire an extra seat."
Let us note this, and when we come to consider, as we must, what to do next, let us, for goodness sake, not again tie the hands of the boundary commissioners so that they cannot make decisions which they have confessed in their report would be sensible and for the good of the people whose welfare they are seeking to serve.
What actually happened in Hampshire was that the commissioners started in Gosport, which they considered the fulcrum. There were great difficulties because of the water barriers at Southampton—the river divides Southampton—the Hamble, and the water barriers in Portsmouth. Gosport was a little island on its own that could not conveniently be coped with, so they started there and worked their way round doing the mathematical calculations, trying, obviously, to keep communities together but not succeeding because of the limits that they had set themselves. When they found that the jigsaw puzzle was all but complete they said, "Well, the rest will have to be East Hampshire".
308 The assistant commissioner was quite frank about this when he spoke to us at the inquiry. Petersfield, which I have had the great honour to represent for the past nine years, is a fine closely knit rural community with a complete district council and part of another. Instead of that, we have now been left with a long, thin sausage stretching from north of the M3 practically to the borders of Portsmouth; with the district council cut in half; with one third of another district council added and with the two major urban communities within that district arbitrarily split, after we had spent seven or eight years following the local boundary commission review of local government in 1974, knitting the two communities of Alton and Petersfield together and getting people to work together, because they had been fiercely independent urban and rural district councils before local government reorganisation.
Having just achieved all that, with great efforts having been made by the district council itself and with tremendous help from the county council to get the whole thing working as a unit, we find that the work that we have all been doing together over the years is arbitrarily destroyed because the constituency is cut in half. Alton has been pushed into the Winchester constituency, to which it looks for absolutely nothing, leaving the rest of the district council, of which Petersfield is now the largest part, and part of the Hart district, which has always looked to Aldershot and indeed further north than that, put into that semi-urban conglomerate that is the corner of north-east Hampshire.
The assistant commissioner said, according to paragraph 213 on page 109:Objectors to our proposed East Hampshire constituency were mainly divided between those who objected to the drastic alterations to the present Petersfield seat and those who wanted an East Hampshire constituency coterminous with the district boundary. The assistant Commissioner accepted that the seat we had recommended was less than ideal"—I may say that he used rather stronger words when he was speaking to us at the inquiry—and considered a counter proposal in respect of East Hampshire and the remainder of the county. He concluded, however, that a coterminous seat in East Hampshire would produce ripples in Eastleigh and North-West Hampshire".More than ripples have been produced in Petersfield. They have been damned great waves and they have practically destroyed a very close-knit and highly united constituency. Nothing can be done about this. I toyed with the idea of putting down amendments. I notice that some of my hon. Friends have done so. Clearly, because again of the system which we ourselves have determined, nothing can be done about this. We cannot agree that one bit of the report ought to be changed, because it stands or falls together.
§ Mr. Cryer
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that it would not have been helpful if three or four orders, instead of one massive order, had been put down for the different regions? The legislation provides that if any order is rejected the Home Secretary is entitled to bring back an amended order. In that way, instead of having all or nothing, which is the ordinary characteristic of delegated legislation, we could have had a shot, without massive changes in primary legislation, at producing the sort of changes the hon. Gentleman has in mind.
§ Mr. Mates
There may well be some merit in what the hon. Gentleman says. I have not studied the whole thing 309 closely enough to be able to give a judgment on that. There may well be merit, as has been suggested, in having a rolling look at what the Commission is doing. These are complex matters and I expect there are many disadvantages, as there would be advantages.
It cannot he right that a report of such importance and complexity, although it can be debated, cannot properly be amended even when the arguments are overwhelmingly in favour of change. We have to like it or lump it. It would have been intolerable if my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had sought either to change the report or to send it back. Because there would have been absolute nonsense made of any form of change in the parliamentary representation, he has had to accept it, unlike one of his predecessors who knew that he had only two choices—to accept or to reject the report. He came to the Dispatch Box as Home Secretary and, in one of the most shameful episodes in gerrymandering, recommended his hon. Friends to reject a report which had been independently arrived at.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
The hon. Gentleman should have been here earlier when I fully explained what happened. The hon. Gentleman genuinely does not know what he is talking about.
§ Mr. Mates
I was referring to the fact that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) made remarks that in my view were totally shameful.
Having talked briefly about the Hampshire problem, I should like to make one more comment about my constituency. One of the threads which has run through many of my hon. Friends' arguments is the way in which the constituencies have been named. We had before in Hampshire 14 seats, all of which had names which were focal points that people understood and with which they could identify. Furthermore, people who were not members of the constituency or from that part of the world had some idea that the Member for Winchester had Winchester at the heart of his seat. The same applies to Christchurch and Lymington, Fareham, Eastleigh and Gosport. They all rang a bell with people and therefore one was able to identify oneself with the people that one represented.
There are two fundamentally changed seats now in Hampshire. What have the commissioners done? Instead of keeping to the well-tried and trusted habit they have called one North-West Hampshire and the other East Hampshire. I shall not say much about North-West Hampshire; it is largely a new seat and I do not suppose that many hon. Members will be able in the twinkling of an eye to say that they know where it is. However, right at the heart of it is Andover and everybody knows where that is, because it is the market town. So why on earth call it something as amorphous, as meaningless, as North-West Hampshire? There can be no reason behind that except bureaucratic tidiness and that is something that the House ought to be able to do something about.
My constituency is now to be called East Hampshire. I argued in front of the assistant commissioner at the inquiry that that was nonsense because not only does it fly in the face of history but it will create rather than prevent confusion and doubt in electors' minds. It is sad to have to say that there will not be a Member in the House representing Petersfield after the next election because for 676 years there has been a Member here for Petersfield. 310 The first Member came here in 1307 when Henricus de Celario and Ricardus atte Brouke were summoned to attend Parliament which was meeting at Carlisle. From that date until 1553 the same situation applied and from then until 1832 there were two Members for that constituency. The electorate seems to have varied from about 70 in 1754 to some 40,000 or 50,0000 in the latter stages.
§ Mr. Waller
Is my hon. Friend aware that one of his great predecessors was known as "one-speech Hamilton" and in his great maiden speech in 1755 he spoke from 2 o'clock in the afternoon until a quarter to 5 the next morning? Would my hon. Friend like to emulate him? I am sure that there are many hon. Members who would be delighted to hear him make a speech of a similar length.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Order. An equally large number of hon. Members would not wish to hear such a speech.
§ Mr. Mates
I take the point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was not going to mention "one-speech Hamilton". He never spoke again. I fear that if I were to try to emulate him I might find it somewhat difficult to catch your eye in the future.
Although I seem to be ending on a slightly light-hearted note, it is with a heavy heart that I say that it is an absolute shame that after more than 600 years, just to please some bureaucrat, Petersfield will not be represented in the House. I hope very much that this will be only a temporary lapse, because next time round one will want to fight even harder.
The practical reason why I object to the change in the constituency is that we now have a parliamentary constituency of East Hampshire, which is this Long, thin sausage that I have described, an East Hampshire district council, half of which is not now to be in that parliamentary constituency, and an East Hampshire Euro-constituency. Thus, we have three different levels of representation, local, national and international, all with the same name. Is it any wonder that electors become more rather than less confused about who represents them to do what?
I very much hope that when we look at this in the future we will be able to arrive at some more sensible decisions and that the system will allow us to ask questions and argue in this place about the sort of anomalies that I have mentioned.
§ Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Scotland Exchange)
Like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I rise to speak against the proposals of the Boundary Commission and to support the argument put forward by the Labour party in the courts for a fairer and more equitable distribution of seats. Before discussing the problems of Members of Parliament who represent inner city constituencies, I must say that I was not present when my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) spoke. His constituency has many problems similar to those of my own and I may repeat points already made by him, but from a Liverpool point of view.
Hon. Members will be aware that publication of the census review in November 1981 showed that male unemployment in Liverpool, Scotland Exchange approached 43 per cent., the highest level of 311 unemployment in the United Kingdom. Since then unemployment in Liverpool has increased by several thousand. We have seen more factories close and more people moving from the inner city areas into the suburbs. The census survey also highlighted the problem of poverty. Scotland Exchange has probably one of the lowest figures for car ownership in inner city areas in the United Kingdom.
Tógether with the rising level of unemployment, we have seen an increase in crime. At Question Time in the House only a couple of weeks ago the Home Secretary accepted that increases in crime are linked with high levels of unemployment. As in most city centres, we have in the Liverpool, Scotland Exchange constituency a number of night clubs and social clubs. We have a large concentration of public houses, Yates's wine lodges and things of that nature.
§ Mr. Parry
These establishments cause great problems for the police—it is the old question of law and order—and the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn) will agree with what I say because for many years he served as a police officer in the city centre and he is aware of the problems of trying to maintain law and order in areas such as inner Liverpool.
As if this were not enough for any constituency, the Boundary Commission in its wisdom has proposed that Liverpool, Scotland Exchange, with all its problems, be merged with Liverpool, Toxteth. We all know what happened in the summer of 1981 during the riots in Toxteth. We are aware of the multiple deprivation and high levels of unemployment in that area. There was racial discrimination and, until recently, much police harassment.
Based on the 1976 figures, the proposed new constituency will have 74,000 electors, although it will be far less when the general election is fought on the new boundaries. That gives a clue to the feeling of the commissioner who put forward the proposals. At times I feel that such people should serve as a Member of Parliament, if only for a short time, and try to serve such constituencies with multiple deprivation and social problems. I am sure that the gentleman concerned is on a much higher salary than I, but I am certain that he works fewer hours.
The inner area of Liverpool, particularly Toxteth and Scotland, Exchange, has an aging population. Among other things, it suffers from the problem of adult illiteracy. As a result, the work load placed on the Member of Parliament is enormous. Nowadays, there are large numbers of supplementary benefits claimants, such as the long-term unemployed, yet at the same time there has been a reduction in the number of DHSS civil servants. The extra work involved will, therefore, be placed on the Member of Parliament.
The person who made these proposals should, even for a short time, sample the problems faced by a Member of Parliament. I shall be the candidate at the next election for the new Liverpool, Riverside constituency. I feel that the person who rushed these proposals did so at the request of the Home Office rather than the Government. It is quite 312 obvious that the Government wish to fight an early general election on the new boundaries, which will benefit them by 15 or 20 seats.
Many hon. Members have argued that as far as possible we should retain old and established constituency names. We from Liverpool have argued that ancient names such as Wavertree and Toxteth should be retained on the ground that such constituencies are recognised by the local communities and the electors who were born and have lived there most of their lives.
In Scotland, Exchange, there is an area called Sandhills. With an address such as Sandhills, Riverside, Liverpool, one has visions of sandy beaches and palm trees. In fact, the area is an industrial desert, caused by the Government through the closure of the Tate and Lyle refinery with the loss of 2,000 jobs.
The Scotland and Exchange constituencies, prior to amalgamation in 1974, were formed in 1885. The Scotland constituency was responsible for two Fathers of the House in succession—Mr. David Logan and Mr. T. P. O'Connor who between them served more than 80 years in the House. The Liverpool, Exchange constituency was represented for 25 years by the late Mrs. Bessie Braddock, who will still be remembered with affection by many hon. Members.
The constituency is recognised by the people. Although the name Scotland may, sadly, not be included in the new name of the constituency, it would be appropriate to retain the name Scotland Exchange. In the city centre, we still have the cotton exchange, the fruit exchange and the stock exchange. We also have the site of the old Exchange hotel and the old Exchange station. If the name Exchange cannot be kept, a more appropriate name would be Liverpool, Central.
The commissioner has botched up the names of the new constituencies in Liverpool, he has not made an equitable distribution of the voters and he has made a mockery of democracy and good sense. For Liverpool, the report is a charade.
§ Mr. Jim Lester (Beeston)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) on a painstaking speech. If there were a prize for mentioning the most constituencies by name in a speech, he would win. The hon. Gentleman gave us some valuable advice. One such gem was that only nine years ago last Monday, the previous review was implemented. As my amendment has not been accepted, I shall be the first, the only and the last hon. Member for Beeston. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates), who has a long parentage, nine years for an hon. Member for Beeston is like a comet across the parliamentary sky. Nevertheless, it is still a matter for sadness.
Although my point may seem to be a constituency one, it underlines what many hon. Members have said. It has much wider connotations. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that the whole point of the boundary review is thata balance has to be struck between the need to ensure equality of representation and the need to respect natural communities."—[Official Report, 1 March 1983; Vol. 38, c. 143.]One thing that is important to a community is its name and the association of that name with a real place on the map, as my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield said. 313 I understand the feeling of other hon. Members who face the same problem. Moreover, continuity, wherever possible, is of immense help to constituents. Therefore, any change of name, especially where it affects a natural community, should be logical, sensible and lead to a real improvement in communications.
The change of name of my constituency fulfils none of those conditions. Until the end of the second world war, seven-eighths of my constituency was called Rushcliffe. Then my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health, the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), took one-eighth of the constituency and the name and crossed the river. The constituency was then renamed Beeston. Beeston happens to be the local town and the centre of the constituency. The constituency is also coterminous with the district council of Broxstowe. The name Broxstowe was called back from history to try to satisfy local problems about the council called Beeston, another part of the district called Eastwood, and the arguments between the two about which should take priority. Therefore, the ancient Danish wapentake name of Broxstowe was called up.
If the Boundary Commission had not concluded its work, there would be some logic in changing the name of my constituency from Beeston to Broxstowe if the boundaries remained coterminous. However, the Boundary Commission has changed the boundaries, so the areas are no longer coterminous. Although I have no objection to the substance of the review—it only goes to make my seat safer—I regret that I shall no longer be associated with Eastwood and D. H. Lawrence which were the subjects of my maiden speech. It seems illogical that when the boundary changes concentrate the constituency around the town of Beeston, the Boundary Commission proceeds to change its name to Broxstowe, in spite of the many representations that have been made.
In future the district council of Broxstowe will be represented by two Members—the hon. Member for Broxstowe, whoever he might be, and the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes). One can understand the confusion of the Beeston electorate. It has become used to the name of Beeston and it will remain in the district of Broxstowe with an hon. Member for Broxstowe who will act with the hon. Member for Ashfield. One can foresee what will happen.
A further complication is the commission's apparent lack of local knowledge. In Nottingham the name Broxstowe refers to a housing estate in the constituency of the hon. Member for Nottingham West (Mr. English). If anyone in Nottingham says that he comes from Broxstowe, he is not referring to anywhere in the district that I represent. If someone comes from my district, he talks about his natural community, which is Beeston, Chilwell, Cossall or wherever. If someone says that he comes from Broxstowe, we all acknowledge that he comes from the housing estate in Nottingham, West which is a separate community. The commission's conclusion will lead to tremendous confusion.
Without any prompting from me I received a letter addressed to the hon. Member for "Broxstowe, Notts". The letter arrived on my desk. Written on it was "Try Michael English MP", who is the hon. Member for Nottingham, West. The hon. Gentleman's secretary opened the envelope, read the letter, and suggested that it should be sent on to the hon. Member for Ashfield. After two other hon. Members had handled it, the hon. Member 314 for Beeston, myself, received the letter addressed to the hon. Member for Broxstowe. This means that we are talking not about what might happen but what has happened and will happen even more in future.
I understand that the change will be made, although submissions were presented to the commission. In future, as the constituency is likely to be concentrated even more on and around Beeston, the change of name will become even more illogical.
The debate is taking place because of our desire to improve the present system. We require maximum support from those outside the House as well as those within it. It is important that the rules that we set are impartial and that they lead to progress in boundary reviews. It is essential that they make sense. Meaningless and pointless changes of name will cloud the real issues. The detriment is not necessarily to hon. Members who will soldier on whateve:7 their constituencies may be called, and even though my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) will continue to refer to himself by that title and not as the hon. and learned Member for Thanet and Sandwich.
The confusion that is likely to arise will affect and harm our constituents. They do not identify themselves with new names. Parliamentary democracy will be damaged. That means that the contact that is so essential between ourselves and our constituents will likewise be damaged.
When my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office replies, I ask him to tell us whether he has been able to discover any logic in the change of name of my constituency. I confess that I find nothing logical or sensible about it. I ask him to give the assurance to all those who have spoken on this issue, not only myself, that changes will be designed to link names with communities so that the balance between numbers and communities will be safely preserved in future.
§ 9.5 pm
§ Mr. Gary Waller (Brighouse and Spenborough)
I apologise for not being present in the Chamber throughout the day and for missing the contributions of a number of hon. Members. I remained in the Chamber throughout yesterday's debate, but I am sure hon. Members will understand that I have had to attend to other duties both inside and outside the House.
Many points made, mainly from the Opposition Benches, seem to have contained an inherent conflict. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) referred both yesterday and today to the need to retain equality of representation. At present, equality of representation is the paramount consideration it the eyes of the Opposition. I am bound to say to the right hon. Gentleman and to other hon. Members that the complaint most often made to me about boundary changes is not that equality of representation has not been achieved but that the boundary commissioners have played the numbers game. I hope that the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) is listening carefully because I know that he, too, has put forward that argument. I am sure that he has heard, as he has gone from one inquiry to another, the complaint put to the assistant commissioners that inadequate attention was being paid to local communities and that the commissioners were interested only in getting the numbers right.
I strongly believe that there must be a compromise between the need to get the numbers right—that is 315 essential if we are to have a properly democratic system—and the need to consider local community interests and local geographical factors. I do not complain that one of those considerations is not regarded as paramount. I believe that the commissioners must be left to make up their own minds as to which of those factors is the most important in individual circumstances.
In York, the boundary commissioners originally decided that, in the interests of equality of representation, a part of York should be hived off and placed in Selby. When the inquiry took place, it was put to the assistant commissioner strongly that to take that piece of York and place it in another constituency would do a grave injustice to the unity of York. After long deliberation, the assistant commissioner accepted that strong argument even though it meant that York ended up with an electorate of more than 80,000. I would defend that decision, but those who have argued that we should consider numbers above all would have allowed that part of the city to be removed from the other parts. Those who argue in favour of equality of representation must face that fact, which they have not yet faced during this debate.
A similar conflict has emerged between those who wish to see more formality in the procedure followed by the Boundary Commission and those who argue that informality is the best way to proceed. I believe that there is great advantage in continuing with a considerable degree of informality because the position varies from one inquiry to another. I have attended an inquiry at which only 12 people with short contributions came forward. There were opportunities for them to cross-examine others. That inquiry took only half a day to complete. In other cases, inquiries have gone on for two or three days. Clearly one cannot have the same procedure for both. If at those inquiries where a great many people were interested in giving evidence cross-examination of each witness by each individual attending were allowed, the inquiry would go on not for three days but probably for three months. It is important that some information should be given beforehand to those attending inquiries so they know what the procedure will be and whether, for instance, there will be an opportunity to cross-examine those who come forward with arguments. Unless one knows in advance, one cannot come best prepared to present one's case as strongly as possible.
The argument has also been put forward that the boundary commissioners should have crossed county boundaries, that county boundaries were not impenetrable barriers. That argument should be considered. I very much regret that county boundaries were rejigged in 1974. As a Yorkshireman, I sympathise with those who, by a strange quirk, found themselves in the county of greater Manchester or in Humberside. Many of those people have now thus had to be transferred from one parliamentary constituency to another.
This is to be the largest boundary change for a long time, not because of population changes from one area to another—although that has been considerable—but because they are the first parliamentary boundary changes since the local government boundary changes took place.
It has been argued that the commissioners should have been willing to consider whether a county should have a constituency which crossed into another county. How could that be achieved? Enormous numbers of 316 permutations would have to be considered to determine whether a county should contain a constituency that crossed into another county. That would lay the groundwork for inquiries taking not three days, but three years. Arguments could be put forward ad infinitum that boundaries should be crossed and other counties included in a constituency. There must be basic units that can be considered separately, and it is sensible that they should be the counties.
Some hon. Members have suggested that Parliament should intervene. One hon. Member even suggested that Members of Parliament should be represented on the commission to put forward their views. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) suggested that the Boundary Commission should be cut off from Parliament altogether. People putting forward such arguments should recognise their implications. There are no good precedents for intervention in the work of Boundary Commissions. The intervention of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) has been mentioned, and there have been other cases. Shortly after the war the Government determined that an additional 15 constituencies should be created, which went beyond what the Boundary Commission suggested. Such intervention is bound to throw doubt upon the way in which we conduct our democracy, and I deplore it.
The hon. Member for Keighley also said that it was extraordinary that additional resources had been allowed to the Boundary Commission for its work when the Government had made cuts in other areas. That is nonsense. Whether the Boundary Commission completes its work within three years with considerable and adequate resources or within six years with fewer resources, the eventual cost will be the same. It is advisable and preferable for Parliament and the Government to allow the commission sufficient resources to complete its work quickly. That will ensure that the boundaries are not too out of date.
Many hon. Members have expressed regret that the boundaries are based on demographic data and electorates for 1976. There is a conflict between the argument that Parliament should move quickly and the argument that the Government have brought forward the Boundary Commission report with unacceptable haste. What the Government have done is absolutely right. They have allowed the Boundary Commission to complete its work expeditiously and carefully. They have done their best to ensure that the boundaries will not be too out of date and that they can be put into effect for the next election, and not for a subsequent election in the late 1980s.
It has been suggested in the debate that the Government wanted to move more quickly because there would be an advantage if the Boundary Commission's work were implemented. In a sense the Government have an advantage, but only in a sense. They have an advantage in that a grave injustice that existed at the time of the last general election will be put right. At the election, the majority in terms of votes that the Conservatives succeeded in obtaining was one of the greatest since the last war, but because of the inbuilt advantage that the Labour party had the majority in terms of seats was considerably smaller than it should have been. It is only in that sense that the Government will have an advantage. The injustice will be corrected.
It has been suggested that certain areas should have more Members of Parliament and that the quotas should 317 be smaller so that the areas are better represented. That argument has been put forward on behalf of rural areas because they are more difficult to cover. It has been put forward also on behalf of urban areas on the ground that they have greater problems. It is true that hon. Members who represent urban constituencies have more problems to deal with, but I suspect that hon. Members who represent rural constituencies receive many letters from people who write about complicated issues expecting a reply. It probably evens out in the end. The casework of some hon. Members may be greater, but others have to spend a great deal of time responding to queries from their constituents in more general terms.
§ Sir Albert Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
My constituency is half urban and half rural. I get the same amount of letters from constituents from either side, particularly if it has been a wet Sunday.
§ Mr. Waller
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's point. I shall devote some time to nomenclature. I am delighted that other hon. Members have discussed the matter because it is important and our constituents regard it as extremely important. The Boundary Commission in its report declares that it has a preference for local authority names. That is where it went badly wrong. It applied that policy patchily. Where it was applied, it was often applied badly.
It is worth recalling how many of the names came about. When several local authorities were amalgamated in 1972 the steering committees made up of representatives of the former authorities were given power to choose the name because local jealousies and civic community pride often meant that the obvious name, because of the dominance of a certain town, would be unacceptable. I do not deplore local pride, which to me is a noble thing. However, that meant that many of the local authorities chose artificial or concocted names instead. They offended no one but meant little.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester) mentioned how the new local district of Broxbourne was named. It is not the name of a town with which people could identify. Many people found it a strange name to be saddled with so suddenly after local government reorganisation.
To illustrate that important point I shall mention how my local government district of Kirklees came to be named. The main centre of the district of Kirklees is Huddersfield, but the autonomy of other towns in the area, such as Dewsbury, Batley and Spenborough, was destroyed by local authority reorganisation. As there was resentment about the dominance of Huddersfield, the steering committee in its wisdom rejected the obvious name. It was presented with a list of alternatives. It chose Kirklees, perhaps because it believed that it had a slightly superior tone. It did not seem to matter that, when the reorganisation came into operation, the Kirklees estate, which was on the edge of the district, was placed in the Calderdale district. But by then it was too late to change the name. Many residents of the area must be astonished that they live in a district called Kirklees. No one considers himself a resident of Kirklees, and anyone who refers to Kirklees is speaking about the council. The names of other local areas have, I dare say, evolved in much the same way.
Constituency names are supposed to represent real places, and many decisions of the Boundary Commission 318 are especially unhelpful in achieving that objective. How many hon. Members know that Halton is Widnes or that Copeland is Whitehaven? Ilkeston will disappear from the political map to be replaced by Amber Valley, and Kidderminster will be replaced by Wyre Forest. We can forget about Clitheroe and must learn to talk about Ribble Valley. Accrington is no more. We are under orders to refer to that constituency in future as Hyndburn. Leek becomes the awkward Staffordshire Moorlands, and for Dorking and Leatherhead we are expected to say Mole Valley. I pity the person who must represent Mole Valley. He will have to be a Minister so that we need not refer to the name of his constituency in the House.
I would not wish to represent Erewash—[Interruption.] I understand that I have mispronounced the name. The officers of that authority, who are no doubt proud of the name, must get used to the fact that it will be pronounced incorrectly. They are so keen to advertise the name that if one travels up the MI one sees that the river Erewash is named alongside more famous waterways such as the Trent. It is not regarded as an important waterway, but because it is not possible to signpost local authority names on the M1 the authority decided to get round that rule by putting up a sign with the name of the river.
There is a lack of consistency in the reports on the various counties. In his report on Oxfordshire, the assistant commissioner ignored the supposed rule that local, authority names are used and, because he ignored the rule that the commission chose to adopt, he came up with the right names.
The electoral map of Oxfordshire had to be redrawn substantially to accommodate an extra seat. Two new constituencies were created that were proposed to be called Witney and Wantage. Witney coincides almost completely with west Oxfordshire district, so when objectors argued that the constituency narrie should be changed to West Oxfordshire it seemed likely that that alteration would be accepted, especially as Witney would be one of the smaller British towns to have a constituency named after it. Yet the assistant commissioner, in an exemplary way, rejected the argument and the commission's rule. Paragraph 387 of chapter 5 of the report states:Suggestions that the names of the Banbury, Henley and Witney constituencies should be changed to North Oxfordshire, South Oxfordshire and West Oxfordshire respectively were also rejected because Banbury, Henley and Witney were all ancient towns and the boundaries of the constituencies were not coterminous with those of the districts whose names he was urged to adopt. We concurred with the assistant commissioner's conclusions".The excellent assistant commissioner for Oxfordshire applied common sense and used the name of another small town, Wantage, in preference to an unwieldy district name.
Faced with exactly the same issue, the assistant commissioner for Bedfordshire came to precisely the opposite, and surely misguided, conclusion. The assistant commissioner changed the name of an existing constituency—that is a good reason for not making an unnecessary change—of Bedford to North Bedfordshire, even though the new North Bedfordshire constituency is not coterminous with the district of the same name. Thus the name of the county town disappears from the map.
Perhaps the worst examples are in the new county of Avon. The commissioners relied almost exclusively on district names and they have taken decisions which I regard as quite mad. The practicalities will be nightmarish 319 for the Members of Parliament for those seats who will for ever be writing to electors to tell them they are not their constituents, though they live in a district with the same name.
The new constituency of Northavon, formerly known as Gloucestershire, South, does not contain within its boundaries all of the Northavon district. Much, much worse is to come. The Woodspring constituency contains only one-third of the Woodspring district and half of the Wansdyke district. The small community of Woodspring, after which the district is named, is for good measure not in Woodspring at all but in the adjoining Weston-superMare constituency. The Wansdyke constituency contains half of the Wansdyke district but also part of Kingswood district. The Kingswood constituency contains a small part of the Kingswood district but a rather larger part of Bristol. Avon hon. Members will need a special allowance for research assistants to direct electors towards their Member of Parliament.
Consider, however, what occurred at the Northamptonshire inquiry. In chapter 5, paragraph 340, it is said:There were a number of suggestions that the proposed Corby constituency should be renamed East Northants or East Northamptonshire. These were opposed on the grounds that the traditional practice"—and I stress the words "the traditional practice"—was to name a constituency after the name of the largest town in the area, and the assistant commissioner concluded that there was no compelling reason to alter the name of the proposed constituency".In following the traditional practice the assistant commissioner followed common sense. Unfortunately, his example was not emulated by the decision to change Oswestry to North Shropshire.
Having spoken to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, I know of his regret that the name Oswestry is to be lost from the political map, to be replaced by the anonymous name of North Shropshire. My hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) is to have his constituency renamed East Hampshire.
Some of the examples are of more recent origin. The name Bracknell would be the obvious choice for a new constituency containing that town. Bracknell is a major town. However, it is to be called, anonymously, East Berkshire. Confusion will reign in this House as the number of seats named after compass points rises, for the most part quite unnecessarily.
There are two counties where the nomenclature decided on can only be described as perverse. In Humberside, it was decided to name a constituency Boothferry, even though it contains not only the Boothferry district but parts of the East Yorkshire district and the East Yorkshire district of Beverley. The renaming of those two districts by the people of Humberside shows just how strongly they feel that they are still part of East Yorkshire and not in the new anonymous county of Humberside. It is a mischief that the constituency should be named in this way.
A worse mischief is to come. The assistant commissioner accepted the argument that Scunthorpe should be renamed Glanford and Scunthorpe merely because a small part of the Glanford district lies in the new constituency. That decision can only be described, again, as perverse.
320 In Suffolk, it was decided to name a constituency somewhat inelegantly Suffolk Coastal, instead of, say, Woodbridge. But in an even more eccentric mood the commission changed Mid Suffolk to Central Suffolk to avoid confusion with the mid Suffolk district, with which it is almost completely coterminous. In so doing, it uniquely went against an ancient rule that county constituencies are prefixed by "mid" and borough constituencies by "central". To do so when so much confusion has been caused elsewhere by deliberately and unnecessarily choosing a district name can only be described as adding insult to injury.
I have been rather hard on the commission, because it went badly off course when it came to the names of constituencies. I could go on for a long time and name 60 constituencies in England to which this criticism applies, but I shall not do so. It is a pity that the confusion thereby caused to hon. Members, the media and the electorate may give the impression that a bad job has been done overall. That is not so. However, I hope that I have shown that many things need to be considered carefully. Although there is no opportunity to reconsider them before the scheme is implemented, I hope that there will be an opportunity in the not too distant future to correct some of the errors that we have allowed to creep into this boundary review.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
I hope that I speak for all hon. Members when I say that we immensely enjoyed the political tour d'horizon given by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller). Several hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) yesterday, have said that we all approach this issue subjectively. Some hon. Members are literally seeing their constituencies disappear, or exploding in different directions. Others find that their constituencies are considerably modified.
I belong to that rare breed whose constituency is not being changed. Therefore, I must begin by being immediately prejudiced in saying that I welcome the Boundary Commission's report and fervently hope that my constituents do so as well. Not only is my constituency not changing, but the name will remain the same. For the benefit of some hon. Members whose geography may not be as good as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough, Chipping Barnet does not nestle in the Cotswolds, but sits easily in north London, between the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, which is immediately to the south, and, perchance, that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South (Mr. Parkinson)—the chairman of the Conservative party—which is immediately to the north. After every ministerial reshuffle, my wife reminds me that I am always being overlooked.
The commission has done its job well within the rules, guidelines and the specific request which I shall refer to later that was made to it. It started its work in February 1976. I am told by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that it expected its work to take three years. However, it has taken seven years, although it has completed its work one year before it was statutorily bound to do so. I understand that its work was delayed because the Local Government Boundary Commission's review was delayed, and it was not, for example, until the spring 321 of two years ago that the last district—Manchester—was, to use its phrase, re-warded. During that seven-year period it was involved, for the first time, in drawing up the European assembly constituencies.
The hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) referred to the unfairness—as he perceived it—of the way in which the boundary commissioners had dealt with the London borough of Barnet and the London borough of Haringey. That was in line with the journey up Finchley road made by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook yesterday. I nearly intervened then to mention that if he went further up the road, he would come to the glorious pastures of my constituency.
In the report, London is to be reduced from 92 to 84 seats. Its theoretical entitlement is only 80. That gives some idea of the tremendous movement of population in recent years out of London into the home counties or beyond.
I should like to remind the House of the procedures of the Boundary Commission. I believe that the commission has acted impeccably. Paragraph 16 on page 3 of the report refers to the procedures. The commissioners tell us that they began by formulating provisional recommendations from a neutral position. They did not, at the outset, invite suggestions for changes from outside or interested parties. Incidentally, like other hon. Members, no doubt, I received advance notification of the provisional recommendations just before they were announced and I was grateful for that courtesy.
The second stage of the process was to consider the provisional recommendations in the light of representations made. The commissioners took particular notice of all the reports and recommendations of the assistant commissioners who conducted the local inquiries. I understand that an inquiry could be held if one of the local authorities in the area wanted one or if 100 electors in the area declared an interest in having an inquiry. In all, 95 inquiries were held.
The policy of the boundary commissioners was that if an assistant commissioner's recommendations were in accordance with the statutory requirements and carried local support they were accepted. Paragraph 26 of the introduction concludes:We never differed from the recommendation of an assistant Commissioner save after anxious consideration.I ought also to quote the beginning of paragraph 27, which states:The representations received in writing or at local inquiries have, sometimes, clearly been inspired solely by political motives.That brings me to the question of how the commission has dealt with the London borough of Barnet. By the statistical method, Barnet's theoretical entitlement was 3.45 seats. At present it has four seats—Chipping, Barnet, Finchley, Hendon, North and Hendon South. Under the boundary commissioners' initial proposals, and under their final proposals in the report, I am glad to say that there are still four seats. I understand that the figure has been rounded up because the commission always gives figures to one decimal place, and in the case of a "5" the figure is always rounded up rather than down. Thus, 3.45 becomes 3.5 and 3.5 becomes 4. I must say that I agree with that formula.
I gather, however, that the main reason why Barnet retains four seats, despite a theoretical entitlement of 3.45, is that four seats are closer to the electoral quota than three 322 would be. In Buckinghamshire, for the same reason, despite an entitlement closer to five seats, the number was raised to six. Lest any false conclusions be drawn from the fact that Barnet is a Conservative area and Buckinghamshire is scarcely a centre of Socialism, I should add that Greenwich, which I gather is prone to take a different political view, retains three seats despite a theoretical entitlement of 2.45.
Therefore, I do not believe that any allegation of unfairness or gerrymandering can be sustained.
Barnet was in the unique position of having not one but two local inquiries, although there is some doubt as to whether the second was an extension of the first. The reason for that was that the local Labour and Liberal parties amassed their 100 electors and demanded an inquiry. If we were all prejudiced in favour of our own boroughs, we might have expected them to fight for the larger number of seats. It may therefore surprise the House to hear that the leader of the opposition on Barnet borough council led the Labour party case before the assistant commissioner and vigorously argued that Barnet should have not four but three seats. Incidentally, I should point out to the hon. Member for Goole that their argument was not that Barnet should have four seats but that one or more of them should cross the borough boundary. I do not speak for the commissioners, but in fairness to them I must respond to the hon. Gentleman's comments by quoting part of paragraph 14 on page 7 of the report. I assure the House that, in quoting only part, I in no way take the passage out of context. It reads:We discussed the situation with the representatives of the political parties. They were of the unanimous opinion that none of the constituencies in London should cross a borough boundary, despite the disparities which currently resulted from this arrangement.I therefore believe that the commissioners acted logically, impeccably and with the utmost propriety.
We must now look to the future. I wish to suggest one or two changes in the rules and guidance that might be given to the commissioners. As a preface to the next review, they should consider the county and London borough boundaries, with power to alter them marginally or, to put it another way, in parochial detail. I do not for a moment argue that there should be another vast local government boundary change, but the fact remains that there are some absurd anomalies. I shall mention just two which affect areas adjacent to my constituency.
My constituency includes a beautiful part of north London called Arkley. Arkley is divided from the developments of the southern part of Hertfordshire by two to three miles of pleasant, open, green land. However, because an old parish boundary has been adhered to, one road and two half roads, which in every sense belong to Barnet, are put in Hertfordshire while all the main properties around are in the London borough of Barnet. It is absurd for that to continue. Equally, the old parish boundary of Arkley runs parallel to, but 150 yards to the west of, the A1, which is one of the main roads leading into London. To the west of the A1 is Boreham Wood, but a 150-yard sliver immediately adjacent and parallel to the A1 belongs not in Boreham Wood, which is Hertfordshire, but to Arkley parish in the London borough of Barnet. That seems absurd also, particularly as electors have to cross that busy road and walk, if they have no means of public or private transport, about a mile to their polling station.
323 I hope that the local government boundary commissioners will iron out those absurdities and anomalies, even if it means crossing county boundaries. I hope that the next guidance notes or rules given to the boundary commissioners will be more explicit. I have a great deal of sympathy for the point of view expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House that, so far as practicable, the number of electors in each constituency—as I put it in an intervention to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook yesterday—should be equal. While I believe that that could be achieved in the main without crossing county boundaries, there is a case for giving instructions—if that is the right word—to the commissioners that they should be prepared to cross London borough boundaries, although to the minimum degree necessary. In other words, I share the view of the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Milian) that, at least within London, rule 5 should take precedence over rule 4.
My third recommendation is that the boundary commissioners should be allowed to make an intelligent assessment of future population trends. Some hon. Members have suggested the use of computers. I do not know whether a computer can achieve that, but it seems wrong that we hope to change the boundaries in England tonight based upon figures in the electoral register of seven years ago. I suggest that the commissioners should be allowed to judge electoral population trends and then, before submitting their report to the Home Secretary and the House, should look at the latest electoral register available and, if necessary, make last minute press revisions to their original proposals.
The aim must be to have numerically even electorates so that—this is important—ties can be forged by Members of Parliament and there will be a greater likelihood that constituencies will remain within the same boundaries for longer.
I finish on a rather emotional note. We all agree, whatever our views on the report or our political differences, that it is a privilege to serve our constituents. The strength of the service that we are able to give to our constituents depends very much on the personal relationships we can build up. One of the things that gives me immense satisfaction is that, generally speaking, constituencies are still small enough geographically and in the number of electors to enable us to give that personal service. That is why I support the existing electoral system. Long may it survive, in spite of the anxieties which arise from time to time because of changes in constituency boundaries.
§ Mr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley,West)
During this lengthy debate the House has been less than charitable to the Boundary Commission. I must remind the House that it was Parliament itself which laid down in clear terms the instructions to the Boundary Commission to carry out the review which started seven years ago in 1976.
Many hon. Members have given examples yesterday and today of the inequality of electoral areas. Paragraph 10 on page 7 of the report says that one of the conditions laid upon the Boundary Commission was that it would seek to get equal electoral areas.
324 There have been many interesting speeches about the identity of constituencies. Having the honour to represent the constituency of Dudley, West, I have perhaps got the best or the worst of both worlds in that I am identified with Dudley but the western part is probably unknown to most people outside the west midlands. The Minister of State should note the opinions expressed about the titles of constituencies and the retention of identity. Many right hon. and hon. Members who have served the House with distinction are associated with their individual constituencies. That is a relationship we all want to foster.
The report highlights in paragraph 16 on page 154 the movement of the electorate. The figures in the report relate to 1976. To give a personal illustration, since 1976 4,700 planning applications have been approved for the development of houses in my constituency. So the 1976 figure as a base rate for my constituency is completely distorted by the amount of new housing development.
There is a great desire for equal constituencies in the boundary commissioners' report that many hon. Members have missed. If it is true that constituencies are created by the building of bricks—if I may use that expression—which are actually local authority wards, to ensure that the constituencies are built correctly one must look at the ward level to see that they form the correct component of the constituencies that are to be represented in the House.
Apart from the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), I think that I am the only Member from the west midlands who has spoken today. I should like to direct the attention of the House to the parliamentary constituencies in the west midlands. They have certainly seen tremendous population changes, particularly since 1976. There is no doubt at all that they have become completely out of balance. I see hon. Members who represent constituencies with electorates in excess of 80,000. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller) represents an electorate in excess of 100,000. There are also smaller constituencies. It is in that spirit that I welcome the report because it brings a more even balance to the constituencies.
The borough adjacent to my constituency has four Members serving in the House. I must, in the spirit of honesty, compliment the Boundary Commission on the size of the electorates of those four Members. Warley, East has an electorate of 58,000; Warley, West, 58,000; West Bromwich, East, 60,000; and West Bromwich, West, 58,000. Three of the four constituencies have an electorate of 58,000 and one of 60,000.
It is ironic—this is my real criticism of the Boundary Commission—that the borough of Dudley, which has three Members in the House, will, as a result of the report, have the remarkable electorate of 75,000 in Dudley, East, 77,000 in Halesowen and Stourbridge, and, with the will of the electors, I shall be representing the largest constituency in the west midlands. In order that I may achieve that I need not only the grace of God but 16,000 more votes than the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, whose constituency has an electorate of 54,000. I do not complain about the right hon. Gentleman on that score. I know his constituency well and I know that it is nice and compact within the city of Birmingham. However, there is an overwhelming case for four hon. Members to serve the borough of Dudley in this House.
325 As a result of the reports, a public inquiry was held, with an assistant commissioner. I must speak warmly of the service that the assistant commissioner gave the borough of Dudley. The inquiry lasted for three days and I know that he visited the constituency privately to see the situation at first hand. The report was produced and the subsequent changes levelled off the constituencies at about 77,000 each. The demand for a fourth seat was rejected—I think unfairly—and we will not have the opportunity in the coming election of having four Members of Parliament.
Everyone is prepared to allow a margin of error. Life is not so perfect that every constituency fits into a little box with exactly the same number of electors. I think it was the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) who said that he could, in certain circumstances, accept a margin of 10 per cent. but that anything above that was unacceptable. That is my view also. Here, however, we have a disparity of over 20 per cent., which I find quite unacceptable.
It is in that spirit that I welcome the report of the Boundary Commission. It is obvious to anyone who reads it that it has brought about a more equal distribution of seats in the west midlands. It has not done so in Dudley, where the case for a fourth seat was, in my view, overwhelming.
The most important thing is that we spend some time thinking not about Members of Parliament but about the electorate. The national electorate are often confused about the new boundaries, they have been dismayed by some of the titles and they are experiencing considerable difficulty in associating themselves with a constituency and with the Member who will serve it as a result of these boundary changes. If these changes are to be approved by the House, they must be right. For the electors' sake, it is important that they understand clearly the boundaries which have been created and the Members who will serve them, because of the difficulties—I say this without a vested interest because my constituency, although changed, remains within the borough of Dudley—referred to in the debate, of the elector who finds himself in one local authority area and the Member of Parliament who covers another local authority area. I ask the Minister of State to pay particular attention to these difficulties. To add to the problem, there has been a loss of identity.
§ Mr. Charles Irving (Cheltenham)
My hon. Friend has made a splendid and constructive speech. The whole House is grateful to him for all the information that he has imparted, which will help us to reach a firm decision. His last point is one of great importance—that parliamentary divisional boundaries and local government boundaries may not be coterminous. In my own leafy and pleasant pastures of Cheltenham there is a great problem because we are a close-knit community, just as Dudley is, as I remember from former visits to that splendid constituency which my hon. Friend represents. Is it not rather absurd that, although we represent one parliamentary area, 80 per cent. of the complaints that come to us are on local government matters, perhaps arising from a slightly different area? I sometimes think we are the most sophisticated and under-paid social workers in Europe. Is it not a fact that most of those complaints touch on local government matters? Therefore, if local government and parliamentary boundaries were coterminous it would be simpler and easier for the Members to know exactly to whom they referred. I make no—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. With every respect to the hon. Gentleman, is he addressing the House or interrupting his hon. Friend?
§ Mr. Irving
I thought that it was helpful to asist the House to come to the view suggested by my hon. Friend—that it would be wiser to have coterminous boundaries than to have the elongated, bastard situations that are created at present and which are quite unacceptable.
§ Mr. Blackburn
My hon. Friend has served the constituency of Cheltenham with distinction. He is absolutely right about the number of complaints generated in the local authority sector. That creates another problem for hon. Members. No hon. Member serves his constituency as conscientiously as any other. We all work hard on behalf of our constituents, but some work harder because they have more electors to care for. It is in that spirit that my hon. Friend is perfectly right.
I offer a warm acceptance of the Boundary Commission's report. In many respects, it is entitled to our congratulations. Some aspects of the report do not please all hon. Members. In particular, we have a responsiblity to create as little confusion as possible for the electorate, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) has given a classic example of the problems that can be created. Let us therefore accept the report in a spirit of service to our constituents.
§ 10.8 pm
§ Sir Peter Mills (Devon, West)
I welcome this opportunity to say a few words about the effects of the order on Devonshire, the county in which I live and am privileged to serve.
For me, this is the third constituency change in my career as a Member of Parliament. I first represented Torrington, then Devon, West and it will now become Torridge and West Devon. Many hon. Members have grumbled about the names of the new constituencies, but I am proud of the new name of Torridge and West Devon. Torridge comes from the lovely river Torrington that flows through the constituency, and West Devon is a beautiful part of the county. I am completely happy with the name that the commissioners have given to this new constituency.
South Hams is the new constituency in Devon. That is a lovely name, given all that it means in that area. The Teignbridge constituency is also new. The river Teign has plenty of salmon in it and nice people all round it. It is the right name for that area. We also have such constituencies as Torbay. Everyone knows what a lovely place Torbay is. One could have called the constituency Paignton, Torquay or Preston, but most people know Torbay as the centre of the holiday industry in the west country. It has plenty of sunshine, which is conjured up by that pleasant name.
In Plymouth, we have such lovely names as Plymouth, Drake. Everyone knows what that means. We think of the great sailor of the past. We are fortunate in the west country, and especially in Devonshire, that the new constituencies are being named so well. I have nothing to grumble about in that regard.
I accept that changes are inevitable. I Jo not like change—once one has grown used to an area, one likes to stay with it. Change causes quite a few problems and 327 upsets people. It also involves the loss of those whom one knows, especially one's enemies. Once one gets the hang of one's constituency, it is useful to know who one's enemies and supporters are. When it changes, one has to start all over again. That is not easy, either for the candidate or the constituents.
Of course, changes must come. The population in Devonshire is growing and it is impossible to remain static. My area has had a tremendous influx of retired people from other areas. We welcome them, but they have pushed up the size of the electorate considerably. Because of the increased population, an extra seat has had to be provided in Devon. That involves a switch. We shall have 11 rather than 10 seats. I do not wish to be to frivolous, but every time there has been a change in Devonshire it looks as though the commissioners have sorted out the other seats and then say "Oh well, Millsy can look after what is left." That is what has happened. The two constituencies that I have had the privilege to represent—Torrington and Devon, West—have been among the largest in England. With help and a little work, I might represent the Torridge and West Devon constituency as well.
I hope that I am not using the wrong expression, but it is sad for me to lose the bottom end of my constituency. I lose the pleasant Ivybridge area. That causes me great sadness, but I gain the northern area and take over a large chunk of the Devon, North constituency around Bideford, Appledore and Westward Ho. They are lovely names where lovely people live.
I do not suppose that there are many hon. Members who will take back a large part of a constituency that they once held. Many years ago, when I first started out, I had the privilege of being the Member of Parliament for the Bideford area. The circumstances are difficult for an hon. Member, because if he says that he is delighted to represent the new constituency, the constituents whom he will no longer represent will say "He never did like us." It is difficult both for the hon. Member and the constituents.
I should like now to deal with the important problem of the community aspect. I do not wish to be rude to urban and city Members or their constituencies, but I believe that it is difficult for a constituency to have what I call a rural and city mix. I think that most people will understand that I am a rural man. I should find it difficult to be a Member representing a city. It is important clearly to define rural areas and city areas and to retain the community aspect where we can.
There was quite a considerable problem in my area that stemmed from Plymouth's wish to expand. The city wished to have three Members of Parliament and it wanted to take over quite a large village in my constituency called Wembury. Naturally, the people of Wembury were unhappy. They did not dislike Plymouth or the Plymouth people but they lived in a rural area—many of them had chosen to live there in retirement and peace—and they did not wish to be included in a city. Fortunately the commissioners took the point and Wembury has now been saved, as it were, from the fate of being included in Plymouth. It is now to be included in the new South Hams area.
The sense of belonging is important. People have firm views about where they should belong. In north Devon 328 there has always been a certain amount of rivalry between Bideford and Barnstaple. In the previous change Bideford and Barnstaple were put together. I do not think that Bideford was ever very happy about that. However, it is now being returned to the Torridge and West Devon area. The people of Bideford will be very welcome in that area and I am sure that they will fit in well. They will have a sense of belonging to their own area because Bideford looks to the west and Torridge. To marry two towns or two areas that have always had a sense of rivalry is not always very wise.
I do not wish to grumble, but a serious amount of hard work is imposed on a Member whose constituency is 60 miles long and 20 miles wide. I hear that some of my colleagues can cycle around their constituencies. That is very fine, right and proper but it would take me a long time to cycle between the five towns in my constituency.
§ Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln)
I always bicycle around my constituency and I advise my hon. Friend to take up the practice as it is an ideal way of meeting one's constituents and understanding their problems.
§ Sir Peter Mills
If I set off from my home, which is about two miles outside my constituency near a village called Bow, and cycled south-west towards Wembury—the journey takes me about one hour and 10 minutes by car and so the return journey is two hours and 20 minutes—I should not be fit to address my constituents let alone get off the bicycle after such a journey. I do not think that bicycling would be very helpful to me. Distances are a real problem.
The commission does not seem to realise that in a constituency such as mine most of the roads run from east to west. Very few of the roads run from south to north. This means that it is extremely difficult to travel around the constituency, especially during the summer months when hundreds of thousands of holiday makers come to the area. They are very welcome but the population doubles in the summer months. That makes it difficult for hardworking Members of Parliament who are trying to get from the south to the north. Distances and the position of roads in a constituency are important.
Finally—the House will be glad that I have come to the end of my speech—the commissioners have wisely seen to it that in the new constituency two complete district councils are included. It is difficult for a Member of Parliament to have only a part of a district council in his constituency. While I get on very well with my colleagues and neighbours in west Devon, and those district councils bordering west Devon, the new position is much more satisfactory. I now have a complete district council. I am sure that you will be interested to know, Mr. Speaker, that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales is coming to confer that status on west Devon in a few days time, which is a great honour for my constituency. His Royal Highness stayed on a farm at Chagford in my constituency for more than a week, to study the problems. I am sure that he will understand what I am saying.
It might be wise to have smaller, more frequent adjustments, and there should be real concern for the community aspect. I am very much in favour of constituencies being composed of rural areas or city areas rather than having too much of a mixture. I hope that the commissioners will remember, long after I have gone, 329 always to ensure that the roads go the correct way, as, otherwise, it is extremely difficult for Members of Parliament to operate in their constituencies.
§ Sir Albert Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
I have listened to the debate with a certain amount of nostalgia, appreciating that when all this is over I shall not have the honour of representing my constituency.
It is a matter of great joy that the commissioners, in producing their report, have not altered a single thing in my constituency. Those who have studied these matters carefully will appreciate that Kent is the only county which has five parliamentary constituencies the boundaries of which are exactly the same as those for local authorities. We should thank those who went before us, in the reorganisation shortly after the war, for setting those boundaries. It is a great advantage for any Member of Parliament to be able to represent an area which has the same boundary as the local authority. No problem arises about which local authority to deal with.
I represent a very attractive constituency. I shall not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) with a commercial, but we have one port, two airports, four castles, several holiday camps and a coastline which is similar to the coastline of Belgium. Very few people appreciate what an advantage that is. We also have three fishing fleets, and a private enterprise model railway which even takes the children to school. We have five towns, two of which are Cinque ports.
We always had difficulty with names. The only problem has been the decision whether to keep the name Folkestone and Hythe or adopt the name Shepway. When the reorganisation of local towns took place, alas, the three important towns had to concentrate on one name but could not agree on what it should be.
Fortunately, I still have the honour of representing Folkestone and Hythe. Hythe had two MPs at one time. I am afraid that one of them was debarred for bribery. He bribed the electorate with his own money—unlike others who use taxpayers' money. One should not spend one's own money on bribery. That took place in the 1400s. I understand that it cost that gentleman £20 to buy his seat.
My constituents are delighted that the Boundary Commission has kept the existing boundaries. They are also delighted that Kent will have an additional seat, which will cover our increased population. Other hon. Members have not been as fortunate as I, and their boundaries have been changed. That has caused them some anxiety. I wish to put on record the fact that the Boundary Commission has done a proper and thorough job in Kent, and we appreciate that.
§ Mr. Frank R. White (Bury and Radcliffe)
I will not attempt to follow the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain) other than to say—I am sure on behalf of both sides of the House—that, following the implementation of the Boundary Commission's report and the subsequent general election, it will be a sad loss to the House to see the retirement of the hon. Gentleman, who has contributed so much to our deliberations. I am a new 330 Member joining the Opposition Benches. I have appreciated the hon. Gentleman's chairmanship of Committees and valued his expertise and advice. I am sure that all hon. Members wish him a happy, successful, prosperous and long retirement.
I have been motivated to rise to my feet by— —
§ Mr. White
The hon. Lady is wrong on this occasion, although she is right on many other occasions. I have been motivated by the comments of the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn), who spoke about the failure of the commission to relate the tradition, heritage and history of various seats to the new seats proposed in the report. My constituency of Bury and Radcliffe is to be split asunder. The metropolitan district of Bury must have been the Boundary Commission's dream. It has 16 wards split down the middle, with eight wards to the north and eight wards to the south. It retained the identity of Prestwich, Whitefield and Radcliffe in Bury, South, and the identity of Bury, Tottington and Ramsbottom in Bury, North. But it failed to reflect in the titles Bury, North and Bury, South the traditions and history of the respective communities. It must have been a dream. The commission succeeded in meeting its yardstick. Bury, North has 65,365 electors and Bury, South has 63,494 electors. However, in calling the two constituencies Bury, North and Bury, South, it imposed on the geographical communities a title that eliminated their traditions from history.
I have made it clear in my constituency that I intend to fight Bury, North, so unfortunately the people in Radcliffe and I will part. However, we join in the public appeal about the name. Radcliffe is named in the Domesday Book. It is an ancient and honourable establishment and community in British history. People talk about coals from Newcastle. In Radcliffe we would dispute the fact that coals originally came from Newcastle. We would say that coals came from Radcliffe, and that the failed elements of coalmining might have been shoved over the border to Bury and called black puddings.
Radcliffe—it has a long and ancient history. There is a paper mill in our area that is 304 years old, built before the industrial revolution was conceived. There is tremendous pride in the name of Radcliffe. For the first time, as a result of the report, the name of Radcliffe will be removed from the annals of the House. No Member of Parliament will represent the name of Radcliffe.
One could say that Radcliffe is taken care of in Bury, South. It would be a brave person who would go to Radcliffe and say that it was now Bury, South. One may say it once, but one would not get out of Bury, South, or Radcliffe, twice.
I cannot go the whole hog with regard to my party's position in my area. The geographical location is right, the numbers are right, the communities are right, but the name imposed on it is wrong. People in Radcliffe will not accept the title of Bury, South. They wish the constituency to be known as Radcliffe.
On a wall in the Chamber is a plaque to Captain Richard Porritt, who was the first Member of Parliament killed in the second world war. He represented the constituency of Heywood and Radcliffe. Before that, Radcliffe figured in the names of other constituencies. Radcliffe and I are at 331 the parting of the ways, but I would fail in my duty to those constituents who loyally supported me—I hope that I have returned that loyalty—if I did not raise the fact that the Boundary Commission has failed in the small way of reflecting a community spirit and name in the title of the new constituencies.
In technical terms I cannot argue about the proposals for my area. The 23,000 people whom I have had the privilege of serving, and who I hope will continue to be served by a Labour Member of Parliament, will feel that the House and the Boundary Commission have failed them when, for the first time since the Domesday Book and William the Conqueror, the name of Radcliffe will not be in the annals of the House of Commons, the mother of Parliaments. We may say "the hon. Member for Bury, South" in future, but for the people of Radcliffe, it will be "the hon. Member for Radcliffe".
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)
My main objection to the Boundary Commission's report is that it plays the numbers game, and that that, and not communities, is its greatest priority. In my constituency the ward of Woolston is taken out of the city and placed in Eastleigh. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) and I put down an amendment, which we did not expect to be taken, to alter the order and to retain Woolston in my constituency.
The change was made simply to equalise numbers. It does not matter in an urban constituency such as mine whether I represent 65,000, 75,000 or 80,000 people. I could do all three. It is absurd that, in a major city such as Southampton, one removes a ward and places it in a county constituency with which it has no connection. It is ironic, because you, Mr. Speaker, may remember the old floating bridges in Southampton that were pulled across the river with chains. A few years ago we decided that those bridges, which linked the city of Southampton with Woolston, were not suitable in a modern age, so we spent £10 million of our own money, with no Government help, to build a bridge across the river Itchen linking the main part of Southampton with Woolston. Now the ward on the other side of the bridge is being placed in the Eastleigh constituency, with which it has no relation. No one from Woolston shops in Eastleigh, and there are no cultural ties with Eastleigh. Woolston is an essential part of Southampton. Many old people from Woolston have written to me asking whether they will lose their bus passes because they have been moved to another constituency. I must assure them that, for local government purposes, they remain in the city of Southampton and that they will receive the bus passes provided by that city. Eastleigh does not provide bus passes.
The position is made even more absurd by the fact that when Woolston is moved to Eastleigh, the latter will become very large. The electorate will be well above average. Had it stayed in my constituency, where it belongs, there would have been little difference in the total. There is no reason why that ward, which used to be part of the county borough that was destroyed by the Local Government Act 1972, should be moved to a neighbouring rural constituency. Almost everyone at the public inquiry objected to the change. I, as the sitting Member, objected to it. The Labour party and the Eastleigh Conservative 332 party objected to it, but it went through only because it makes the numbers slightly more equal. It is interesting to note that the numbers are more equal only if one takes the older electorates on which the Boundary Commission operated.
If one considers the 1982 or the 1983 electorate, which is the reality of today, the Eastleigh constituency, which this ward goes into, becomes a large constituency, well above the norm. The Boundary Commission has looked at these matters wrongly. It has ignored communities and looked purely at the numbers game. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James), even more than me, has found that to be so in his constituency.
The Boundary Commission has gone into the silly little numbers game, which is relatively unimportant in the present situation. I, for one, shall vote against the Boundary Commission's report tonight.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
My one regret about today's debate is that I unavoidably missed the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees). I was at a meeting that he would have attended had he not been speaking in the House. It has been repeated to me in detail. Indeed, every speech that followed from both sides of the House for the next two hours praised its significance and quality. I suspect that the Minister will have something to say about its contents and proposals. It may well have been one of those rare speeches that influences the House when it is being made and afterwards. It clearly fell on one side of the line that has inevitably divided most of today's speeches into two principal categories.
A third category of speeches that occurred late this evening bore evidence of careful preparation during the past 10 days or fortnight and took the House on guided tours of new constituencies.
The speeches that were made earlier in the debate fall under two headings. There were those—I am in no way being disrespectful in describing them as such—which were expressions of frustration, with descriptions of boundaries that were believed to have been drawn capriciously and arbitrarily and could neither be approved by the individual Members who described them nor understood by the people who have to live within them.
Although the problems were described in trenchant and positive terms, I describe those speeches as expressions of frustration because hon. Members were clear that, as far as this Boundary Commission is concerned, there is nothing that they can do about it, irrespective of the inadequacy of individual proposals and the future of individual constituencies.
The criticisms of the Boundary Commission have been simple and severe. They have with one exception involved the methods by which the commission attempted to describe and delineate the new constituencies. The exception was the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell), who accused the Boundary Commission of playing the numbers game. That is the most extraordinary accusation that has been made in the two-day debate. Almost every speech in the debate has described the Boundary Commission as making the numbers obligation its second priority. Some hon. Members regard that as a mistake on the part of the commission. Some hon. Members have regarded it as the right course.
333 The idea that the Boundary Commission might be accused of playing the numbers game could be advanced only by someone who has not read either the report or the rules by which the Boundary Commission is required to act. Had it played the numbers game, it is highly probable that it might have been taken to court and the action against it might have prevailed. It is clear from the way in which the rules must operate that numbers are to be regarded as less important than local authority boundaries.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The hon. Gentleman says "Rubbish". I urge him to read the report and the description the report gives of the legal obligation that has been placed upon the Boundary Commission. When the hon. Gentleman has completed that task, he may care to read yesterday's debate and most of today's debate, which he did not attend, and he will discover that the real argument is whether it was right or wrong to ignore the attempt to equate numbers. No other hon. Member chose to argue against that simple fact.
Those who offered criticisms did so in terms that were both simple and severe. The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) described some of the commission's decisions as deplorable. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) said that some of the commission's decisions were a farce. Until 10 pm not one hon. Member had simply applauded what the commission had done. Many of the speeches echoed the message of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South. That message was surely that, although the commission had worked within its existing terms of reference and had done—in its view—what it was required to do, it must do better in future, and avoid, as it can avoid, the criticisms that have been levelled against it by both sides of the House.
I want to end my part in this two-day debate by describing briefly the improvements that could be made. I hope that I do not cause offence when I say that some of the criticisms levelled against the commission are of secondary importance. I cite the example of names—or nomenclature, as the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller) chooses, for some reason, to call this subject. I am glad that he has returned to the Chamber. No doubt he has been away lengthening his words. However, I hope that he will forgive me if I describe nomenclature as names.
I do not underestimate the importance of names to sentimentalists such as me, and clearly, the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough. However, while it is interesting to say that a major criticism of the Boundary Commission is that it once, in 1918, changed Birmingham, South to Birmingham, Sparkbrook or that it abandoned the historic names, it is not a point of primary and overwhelming importance. Great names pass easily from our memory. The hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough could not even pronounce—for he had never heard of—the Erewash valley, on whose banks both D. H. Lawrence and the Midland railway were born. If such a name is not memorable to the hon. Gentleman, it must be accepted that names are transient. If the Boundary Commission had only got the names wrong, it would not be accused of performing its task inadequately. Names are of secondary importance and so—if I may say so, with absolute, total and overwhelming respect—is the convenience of Members of Parliament.
334 It is vital to discuss the commission's recommendations in terms that do not concern our convenience. The speeches that worried me most—I am far too craven to identify them—were those that were made in terms of constituency correspondence and miles travelled. A Boundary Commission's job is not to equate the burdens on Members of Parliament. Indeed, that equation is impossible. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) spoke of varying degrees of constituency responsibility, although I do not, for one moment, accuse him of saying that a Member of Parliament's interests are paramount. He suggested that perhaps there should be some way of building into the formula the different levels of burden. That is impossible. There is no way that we can balance inner city concentrations with shire county sprawl the demanding middle classes with the determined ethnic minorities; the number of surgeries that we are expected to take; the amount of our correspondence or the sort of people whom we represent. Members of Parliament must take such things as they find them. That is an obligation that the Boundary Commission cannot build into its considerations. That is a Member of Parliament's point. We should be thinking about the interests of the constituents, the constituencies, and democracy.
A Member of Parliament may be tempted to confuse what seems important to him or her with what is important to his or her constituents when talking about natural and normal communities. In a rural area, a town which has been discrete in the statistical sense, if not discreet in the social sense, for 500 years may take the view, to suggest an appropriate example, "I am Cambridge, and I do not want to be Cambridgeshire". A town on the border of two counties may think of itself as a town in one county and may not wish to be associated with a small rural area in another. I understand that feeling of community. In cities, however, boundaries can be drawn in a way that does not disturb natural communities because outside the constituencies the natural communities do not exist.
In Birmingham—the example that I know best—half of Sparkbrook is in the Small Heath postal area, and part of Small Heath calls itself Sparkbrook. The lines between those constituencies in the south of Birmingham can be adjusted without the constituents feeling that they have been upset in any way or that their lives have been disjointed. I humbly and respectfully suggest that we should not concern ourselves about such issues. We should concern ourselves with fairness, because the issues of fairness are the issues of genuine democracy.
I return to a point that I made yesterday. I believe that in these matters the issue of fairness is served best of all by giving constituencies as equal a number of voters as possible. Yesterday that was rather meaninglessly called the tyranny of numbers. I am not sure what the various hon. Members who used that phrase meant by it, but what I mean by equality of numbers is the knowledge and understanding that a vote cast by an elector in one constituency has the same weight as a vote cast in another constituency. That should be the aim of every Boundary Commission. That aim of near-equality must be pursued. I do not suggest that the numbers can be exactly equal, even within England. Clearly they never have been and never will be exactly the same throughout the United Kingdom. But the aim must be pursued in a consistent manner. Hon. Members have drawn individual complaints to the attention of the House. What has caused most complaint today—and yesterday, when we discussed the 335 theory behind the Boundary Commission's operation—is inconsistency between one area and another. If there had been a common pattern of procedure, much of the disturbance and disquiet could have been avoided.
I can give an example of what I mean. My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. Roberts), having informed the House that I would be attending a dinner in his constituency in a month's time and then remarked that he would not be present at it, seemed to take exception to what he believed to be the praise that I had offered the Boundary Commission for allowing Wakefield and Leeds to be examined by a single examiner and then disturbing one constituency in such a way that part of each borough was included in it.
I do not make any impertinent judgment about whether that decision by the commission was right or wrong. My complaint was that the willingness in West Yorkshire to consider two areas together and therefore eventually decide on an overlap was not duplicated in South Yorkshire, where the appellants actually wanted several boroughs to be considered simultaneously so that proposals for overlap could be made to the commission. My complaint both then and now is that the commission and especially its inspectors have behaved differently in different areas. That has inevitably produced the disquiet that we have heard expressed time after time.
That disquiet is in no way allayed by those hon. Members who jumped up during my speech and the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) to say that in arguing against the commission refusing to cross county boundaries I am arguing against the case forcefully made by the London Labour party when the matter was first considered. No doubt that is true, but I believe that the London Labour party was wrong, just as I believe that the split in the west midlands Labour party was wrong when the Sutton Coldfield part of that association took one line about county boundaries and the Birmingham part took a quite different line.
In my view, our duty today is not to endorse the views of political parties or sections of them but to describe what we believe is the best way for the Boundary Commission to proceed. I believe that it would have proceeded much better if it had given more consideration to equalising numbers and less to the problems of crossing boundaries.
Having made that criticism, I must put it into proper perspective. I certainly do not accuse the individual members of the commission of any kind of political bias, nor do I suggest for one moment that they behaved in a way inconsistent with the rules and instructions, but I believe that the rules by which they were governed and which they properly operated could do with revision. I shall therefore use my last five minutes to explain why I believe that now is the correct time to consider such changes and what some of them might be.
I believe that now is the appropriate time, because I do not withdraw for a second what I said at the beginning of my speech yesterday. When boundary commissions reach their conclusions and report them to the house and we vote upon them, we are all unavoidably—and, in my view, not improperly—biased by the political implications of what is suggested. As I said yesterday, one's enthusiasm or 336 distaste for a boundary commission recommendation is unavoidably influenced by its political effect on one's own seat or one's party's fortunes.
Assuming that the commission's proposals are approved today, we can then examine the working of the commission without worrying about its political implications for the next 10 years. Now is the time to decide what should be changed, free from the political pressure of fearing that what the commission does next week, next year or even next decade will influence us as individuals or our parties. I therefore offer four proposals that I believe it is our practical duty to suggest to the commission.
First, I believe that rule 5 should take clear precedence over rule 4 in the next redistribution. In other words, the principal, primary and overwhelming aim of the commission should be equality of numbers, with local government boundaries relegated to second place.
Secondly, I absolutely share the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South that if we are to go through the long and complicated business of a second report, a public inquiry into the second report is essential, not least because the second report sometimes bears little relation to the first or to any of the evidence given at the first inquiry.
Thirdly, an obligation of consistency of some kind must be placed on the commission—not an obligation to achieve exactly the same numbers, but an obligation to operate in exactly the same way and to apply exactly the same techniques in inquiries.
Fourthly—I believe that this would solve many of the problems—the commission should be required to explain the reasons that led it to the conclusions that it offers to the House. We can only guess why boundaries have been drawn as they have. We may sentimentalise about roads or rivers or we may believe that the lines have been drawn abitrarily on a map without visiting the area, but whatever the real reasons, we do not know them.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I fear that I cannot give way. I must allow the Minister the full half hour that he needs and deserves.
If the commission were required to describe how it had reached its conclusions, that would concentrate its mind wonderfully on arriving at sensible conclusions.
When the report has been considered by the House, we must consider how improvements can be made. I accept entirely that such improvements can properly come about only if they have the unanimous, near-unanimous or collective approval of all the parties. I hope that the Minister will consider how those collective views can be brought together. That is the way to approach these matters. In the hope that that process can be encouraged, I do not intend to urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the Boundary Commission's recommendations. However, some of them may wish to do so.
I remember that when I was an undergraduate complaining about education services, Dame Florence Horsbrugh, whom I had been picketing earlier, voted against the Boundary Commission report shortly after she ceased to be Minister of Education. It is a Member's right in a free Parliament. I shall not vote against the recommendations in the hope that some mutually agreed system of improvement can be introduced.
337 I sit down in lively anticipation that the Minister will respond in the spirit in which the Opposition have tried to conclude the debate.
§ 11 pm
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)
Yesterday, we debated the general topic of the parliamentary Boundary Commissions. It was an arrangement that permitted a discussion about many important points of general principle which, hitherto, could be discussed only when draft constituency orders were discussed—in other words, when it was much too late to do anything. Anyone reading the speeches in yesterday's debate will conclude that it was a valuable exercise.
No one familiar with the House, and alive to the delicate and often painful nature of these considerations, could possibly have expected that all references to any of those general matters would be set aside in the speeches made today, and nor were they.
It is right that the application of the recommendations to hon. Members' individual constituencies should be able to be explored. It tends to be those who are injured, if not aggrieved, by the proposals of the Boundary Commissions who lead the exploration. The House always has considerable sympathy for those who will lose their seats or whose seats are altered substantially, if the proposals are carried.
I know enough about the diligence and assiduity of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who will lose their seats, or have them changed severely, to know that many of their constituents will, on personal grounds, share the regret of those hon. Members at what is and has been proposed.
Even if there were no other reasons, and there are, it is our sympathy with our colleagues in those circumstances that should underline the wisdom of earlier Parliaments in setting up non-political and impartial commissions to carry out the periodic reviews that we all know to be necessary to take account of changes of population and so forth.
The task of these commissions, as we all recognise, is far from easy. Listening to the speeches today, I began to think that if the commissioners had to be elected I doubt whether anyone would stand for the post and none would be re-elected whatever the wisdom of their proposals, because they are called upon to carry out an immensely difficult act of judgment. The rules that we have imposed upon them do not make it any easier.
At least those impartial commissions are not burdened with the natural claims of party allegiance, partisanship or indeed friendship of which the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) spoke so fairly and realistically yesterday, and the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) today. The latter has courteously explained to me why he can no longer be here.
My hon. Friends the Members for Altringham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery), Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) and for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins), the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) and other hon. Members have spoken movingly and realistically of the allegiances and friendships that are generated by the relationship of a Member of Parliament to his constituency.
I echo wholeheartedly what has been said about the importance of territorial responsibility and the territorial 338 link between a Member of Parliament and those whom he serves, of whatever party colour he may be. It was there that I, with others, parted from the hon. Member for Isle of Ely when he spoke of the need for proportional representation in Westminster seats.
It is vital that there should be no partiality involved in the decisions that we place upon the Boundary Commissions. The fact that the House recognises that the commissions are utterly impartial and independent stands out strongly from yesterday's debate. I do not think that any imputation to the contrary would have found much favour in any quarter of the House.
Now we have debated today at some length the draft English order. Perhaps I may say that all of us have noted and have greatly appreciated the exceptional length of time for which you, Mr. Speaker, have found it possible to be present today—plainly, of course, in recognition of your ex officio position as chairman of the Boundary Commission.
I have taken careful note, as has my right hon. Friend, of the views expressed by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House tonight. Not least have I noted that although there was general recognition that we are tonight unable to make changes to the proposals of the Boundary Commission—it is an all-or-nothing debate—there was also a strong body of dissatisfaction, variously expressed, with the rules which Parliament has imposed upon the commissions, taking a number of bites at the cherry as it has.
Many hon. Members have used the debate, properly and valuably, as a means of putting down, as it were, markers for a subsequent debate upon the revision of the rules. If anybody had any doubt about the difficulty of the commission's task beforehand, the debate would have dispelled it.
I shall try to deal with the majority of the points that have been raised during this wide-ranging debate. They ranged from criticism of the commission for following too closely the requirement that electorates should be as near the electoral quota as possible to criticism of it for recommending electorates either too far above or too far below the quota. It is not unfair to say that for every rule that Parliament has laid down for the commission, the commission has been accused at one time or another during the debate either of a breach of that rule or its observance. Many Opposition Members have complained that the commission has not given sufficient attention to equality of numbers, but the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) accused it of simply playing the numbers game.
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell
One of the criticisms is of inconsistency in different parts of the country. In my area I accused the commission of playing the numbers game. In other parts of the country no doubt the accusation would be of playing the local authority boundary game. It is the inconsistency in different parts of the country that worries many people.
§ Mr. Mayhew
That is another point to which I shall come.
It is plain that there is little agreement as to the importance in relation to each other of equal representation and the preservation of local ties, or as to whether, and if so how, a combination should be made of urban and rural areas. Yet we know that we would not support each 339 constituency having exactly 65,753 electors with no account taken of local ties or affinities. Nor would we settle for every non-metropolitan district, for example, forming a constituency of its own, when the electorates vary between 200,000 and 20,000 at the other end of the scale. In the end, after it has paid proper regard to local circumstances and feelings, the commission must surely apply the far from simple statutory discretion that Parliament has conferred upon it so as to achieve the best result it can.
In the event, we should be ready to recognise, when due weight has been given to all the criticisms that have been made, that the commission has, despite all the difficulties, achieved a remarkably high standard of representation. On the 1976 figures, 75 per cent. of its recommended constituencies fall within 10 per cent. of the electoral quota, while only 37 per cent. of existing constituencies do so. The commission has also improved on its predecessor—notwithstanding that the review has taken far longer. At the end of the second periodical review—this is the third—on 1968 figures 48 per cent. of the recommended constituencies fell within 10 per cent. of the electoral quota, whereas by the end of this review on 1982 figures 70 per cent. of recommended constituencies fall within that 10 per cent. band.
Of course, there is always the question whether the Home Secretary should seek to make modifications to the commission's recommendations in the draft order. The difficulties that we all recognise as being present when such a decision is made that may be potentially politically partisan but cannot be seen unequivocally not to be have partisan influence behind it, must weigh heavily with any Home Secretary when he asks himself whether to make or propose a modification to a Boundary Commission's recommendation.
§ Mr. Mayhew
So must the inevitability of what are called "ripple effects". But the Home Secretary must consider whether to propose modifications. My right hon. Friend did so consider and decided against it. In that connection I should mention in particular the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) and Horsham and Crawley (Mr. Hordern) and the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart).
I give way, much against my better judgment.
§ Mr. Cryer
If the Minister wishes to stir up the debate, perhaps he will answer the point that was made not only by Labour Members but by his hon. Friends. It was said that there ought to be some way of amending what is a massive order. The Home Secretary need not amend the Boundary Commission's report but he could have produced four separate orders for England, so that if hon. Members had decided to reject one of them the Home Secretary would be perfectly entitled under the legislation to accept the decision amend the order and bring it back to the House. Can the hon. and learned Gentleman explain why that was not done?
§ Mr. Mayhew
That confirms my judgment. It is a matter for the House whether it chooses to amend its procedures so that amendments may be tabled and debated. It would be possible to have a separate order for 340 every constituency. It is open to me to claim that we are following the precedent established in 1969 when we took the whole of the English order as one. Smaller orders would take much longer and debates would go on week after week. When I come to the speech of the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) I shall explain what could happen if one were to deal with the matter county by county.
My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and Crawley raised a question about his constituency and a recommendation or hint that was made in the Boundary Commission's report about modification. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has carefully considered the modifications that the commission invited him to make to its recommendation for west Sussex and Wiltshire. Those modifications were intended to take account of the effect that the two orders made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment would in due course have on the boundaries of Crawley, Horsham, Mid-Sussex and on the district boundaries in Thamesdown near Swindon. The modifications invited by the commission would have affected the proposed constituencies of Horsham and Crawley on the one hand and Swindon and Devizes on the other.
Although the issues in each case did not seem contentious, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary decided to make no modifications, because he knew that, had the commission decided to modify its recommendations to take account of those orders, it would have gone through the detailed procedures for public consultation laid down by law. He saw no reason why the proposed modifications, which involved relatively few electors, should be implemented without the process of consultation. He was also aware that there were other orders, not mentioned by the commission, which will affect other district and even county boundaries.
The right way to deal with all these forthcoming changes to local government areas is by means of an interim order by the commission under the powers conferred upon it by section 2(3) of the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949. Although it is not open to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to propose an interim review, it is open to the commission to conduct one. I do not doubt that it will consider very carefully what has been said by him today and, in the light of what it has said in its own report, I would expect it to deal very sympathetically with the request my hon. Friend has made.
§ Mr. Mayhew
It is open to the commission at any time, on its own motion, to conduct an interim review, and therefore there is no time limit, for example, that has to elapse after the making of a general order of this nature before it can take that step.
The hon. Member for Goole said that it would have been very much better if the Boundary Commission had adopted a 10 per cent. tolerance either way. My right hon. Friend dealt with this suggestion yesterday. He said that when, in 1917, Mr. Speaker's Conference first laid down rules for ensuring a mathematical equality of constituency representation, it was quickly realised that strict rules made the system inoperable, and Parliament has had to 341 relax them. It was decided that a variation of 30 per cent. below and 70 per cent. above the electoral quota was acceptable.
Much the same thing happened when Parliament returned to the problem 30 years later. Under the recommendation of the 1945 Speaker's Conference and the ensuing Act, it was proposed that a much smaller—25 per cent.—tolerance would be the maximum acceptable, but in 1946 Mr. Chuter Ede had to tell the House that the 25 per cent. formula had forced the commissions to recommend the complete dismemberment of many united communities, and the idea of attempting to enforce strict mathematical equality between evenly distributed broad limits was abandoned.
The hon. Gentleman went on to complain about the conduct of the commission relating to the Barnet and Haringey seats. I think he has been very fully and justly answered by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman). I was disappointed to hear the hon. Member for Goole make a slighting reference to the commission, saying that it had sent in another assistant commissioner, Mr. M. E. Lewer, QC, to come up with the answer it wanted. That was an unworthy remark and one which was quite unjustified. If the hon. Member reads paragraph 35 on page 16 of the report—which I will not read at this hour—he will see how unworthy that suggestion was.
The hon. Gentleman then said that what was proposed in Lancashire was a blatant rural weighting. Again, if he reads the report at paragraph 285 on page 120 he will see that the commission stated the reasons that led it to make that recommendation. He will also note the rule that permits it to take special account of geographical considerations.
The hon. Member for Goole also complained of the haste of the Government in laying this order. I point out that the enumeration date on which the electorates are taken was back in 1976. The electorates upon which this is prepared are already seven years old. It is astonishing to me that the hon. Gentleman's criticism should be that we are hurrying to get the order through. He apparently regards it as eccentric that the Government should believe it to be in the national interest for the next general election to be fought on modern rather than on thoroughly out-of-date boundaries. He said that there were 15 months to go before this need be done. What he was proposing was that the Boundary Commission should have been much more seriously delayed. Anyone who looks at this matter dispassionately will be sceptical about his motives.
The hon. Gentleman was acquitted of being a mob orator, and I readily agree with that. It was, however, disappointing that he did not follow the lead of his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South by acquitting the Boundary Commission members of any political partiality.
I am aware of the anxieties of my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale about the name of his constituency. Perhaps he will recall what the Boundary Commission said, and also that at the inquiry others took a contrary view to him. I fear that not everyone can be pleased, and I am only sorry that it should be my hon. Friend and his constituents who are not.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, South made an important speech. He asked why a judge was deputy chairman of the commission and why so many lawyers were involved. The commissioners are there to apply the 342 rules that Parliament has said shall apply to their task. It matters not if they are judges or anything else, save that the Act requires that the deputy chairman shall be a High Court judge appointed by the Lord Chancellor. It is desirable that, whoever they are, they should, beyond question, be people of integrity who are well able to elicit, weigh and assess evidence and interpret and apply the law to the evidence before them. It is, therefore, natural that senior lawyers of judicial rank should tend to predominate among those whom successive Home Secretaries have chosen to be members of the commission and why, when it comes to conducting inquiries as assistant commissioners, it is the practice that nominated lawyers are always asked for by the commission and appointed by the Home Secretary.
The law they must apply, and the rules governing how they shall apply it, are made by us in Parliament. We are now familiar with the rules. How they inform themselves to take account of all the relevant factors is left to them and to the commission, as it must be. It is for Parliament to decide whether it wishes to ensure that people with any particular experience should be on the commission, but any changes that are made to the rules would have to be made with all-party agreement if we are to adhere to our traditions and win general acceptance. My right hon. Friend has taken careful note of what has been said in that regard, but I believe that there is general agreement about what I have said.
Interim reviews can be conducted, as I explained in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and Crawley. I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for, Christchurch and Lymington that the commission accepted the view of the assistant commissioner, who said in his report:It would be unthinkable to omit any reference to Christchurch in the name of the constituency. Accordingly, I am of the view that the constituency should be as named by the Commissionin other words, Christchurch.
I have already referred to the speech of the hon. Member for Isle of Ely. I am happy that the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) was in favour of what the commission has done. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West has explained why he cannot be here. His speech illustrated the difficulties that confront the Boundary Commission. He found much to complain of, but also found something to be pleased about. That reflects the problems with which the commission has had to cope.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) attached much importance to names, as did many other hon. Members. The point was made time and again that a selected name must bear some significance to an identifiable locality. I thoroughly agree with that as must everyone.
I was sorry to miss the speech of the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. Roberts). He criticised the crossing of a borough boundary between Leeds and Wakefield. The commission says that Rothwell is part of the existing Normanton seat, which straddles the borough boundary, and there was support for such a seat at the local inquiry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) spoke with feeling. I can understand that in the light of the recommendations concerning Harrow. He asked whether it was right that an assistant commissioner's report could be over-ruled without explanation. It is for the 343 Boundary Commission to decide whether and, if so, how to explain the reasons. I am sure that the Boundary Commission will want to study what has been said, not least by my hon. Friend, both today and yesterday.
I paid careful attention to what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) said. My hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) spoke movingly of the loss of the name Petersfield from the annals of the House. Everyone will agree with him that it is an absolute shame that, after 600 years, the name of Petersfield will no longer exist. The Hampshire seats illustrate the difficulties that the Boundary Commission faces. It has to marry what are often conflicting considerations. There has been special difficulty in Hampshire. The issue turns on whether the Isle of Wight should be given a status of its own or whether it should be lumped with the remainder of Hampshire to provide the 17 seats for which my hon. Friend argued. The commission chose to give the Isle of Wight a separate identity. The result, I am afraid, is that Hampshire came out less well than my hon. Friend and many of us would have liked.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester) described himself as a comet crossing the parliamentary sky. The great thing about comets is that they come back. He spoke sadly of the loss of the name and asked about the logic of the change. The commission said that it had adopted the policy of giving a name to a new constituency that matched the name of the largest local government area that it contained.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller) spoke with much passion about the way in which the commission had dealt with names. I must ruefully acknowledge that there is nothing that I can say in support of the commission's policy on constituency names that can match the onslaught that my hon. Friend launched on some of the names that the commission has preferred. I can only, much more prosaically, draw his attention to what the commission said at paragraph 28 on page 10 of its report.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet made a most helpful and thoughtful speech. He felt that the commission had performed impeccably, that it had prepared its provisional recommendations from a position of neutrality, that it had gone on to take account of the reports of the assistant commissioners and had a duty to accord with the law. He felt that it had taken the right course in Barnet by making four seats there, as that came closer to the electoral quota than would have been the case if there has been only three.
I have not been able to deal with the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Dudley, West (Mr. Blackburn), Devon, West (Sir P. Mills), who treated us to a marvellous roll of the names of glorious Devon, and Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain), whom we shall be sad to see no more in the next Parliament but to whom the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. White) paid a most gracious tribute for which the whole House was grateful. I noted the points that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook made. I have not dealt with all of them, but I think that I have dealt with the spirit of them.
As a result of this long debate, we must all be left with one overriding consideration—the importance of preserving the independence and impartiality of the Boundary 344 Commission. I invite the House to approve the draft order giving effect to the commission's final recommendations without modification.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 297, Noes 47.346
|Division No. 82]||[11.30 pm|
|Adley, Robert||Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Eggar, Tim|
|Alexander, Richard||Elliott, Sir William|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Eyre, Reginald|
|Ancram, Michael||Fairgrieve, Sir Russell|
|Arnold, Tom||Faith, Mrs Sheila|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Farr, John|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne)||Fell, Sir Anthony|
|Atkins, Robert (Presfon N)||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th.E)||Finsberg, Geoffrey|
|Baker, Kenneth (Sr.M'bone,)||Fisher, Sir Nigel|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)|
|Banks, Robert||Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Bendall, Vivian||Forman, Nigel|
|Benyon, Thomas (A'don)||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Benyon, W. (Buckingham)||Fraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Fraser, Peter (South Angus)|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Gardiner, George (Reigate)|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Gardner, Sir Edward|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Blackburn, John||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Blaker, Peter||Goodhew, Sir Victor|
|Body, Richard||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Gorst, John|
|Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)||Gow, Ian|
|Bowden, Andrew||Gower, Sir Raymond|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Grant, Sir Anthony|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Gray, Rt Hon Hamish|
|Bright, Graham||Greenway, Harry|
|Brinton, Tim||Grieve, Percy|
|Brittan, Rt. Hon. Leon||Griffiths, E.(B'y St. Edm'ds)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Brotherton, Michael||Grist, Ian|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'n)||Grylls, Michael|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Gummer, John Selwyn|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Hamilton, Hon A.|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt. Hon. A.||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Buck, Antony||Hannam, John|
|Budgen, Nick||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Burden, Sir Frederick||Hastings, Stephen|
|Butcher, John||Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael|
|Butler, Hon Adam||Hawkins, Sir Paul|
|Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Hawksley, Warren|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hayhoe, Barney|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n)||Heath, Rt Hon Edward|
|Chapman, Sydney||Heddle, John|
|Churchill, W. S.||Henderson, Barry|
|Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Hicks, Robert|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Cockeram, Eric||Holland, Philip (Carlton)|
|Cope, John||Hooson, Tom|
|Cormack, Patrick||Hordern, Peter|
|Corrie, John||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Costain, Sir Albert||Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)|
|Critchley, Julian||Hunt, David (Wirral)|
|Crouch, David||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Irvine, Rt Hon Bryant Godman|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick|
|Dover, Denshore||Jessel, Toby|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Dunn, Robert (Dartford)||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith|
|Durant, Tony||Kaberry, Sir Donald|
|Dykes, Hugh||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine|
|Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Kershaw, Sir Anthony|
|Kimball, Sir Marcus||Newton, Tony|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Onslow, Cranley|
|Kitson, Sir Timothy||Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.|
|Knight, Mrs Jill||Osborn, John|
|Knox, David||Page, John (Harrow, West)|
|Lamont, Norman||Page, Richard (SW Herts)|
|Lang, Ian||Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil|
|Langford-Holt, Sir John||Parris, Matthew|
|Latham, Michael||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Pawsey, James|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Percival, Sir Ian|
|Lee, John||Peyton, Rt Hon John|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Pollock, Alexander|
|Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo)||Porter, Barry|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Loveridge, John||Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)|
|McCrindle, Robert||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Rathbone, Tim|
|MacGregor, John||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|MacKay, John (Argyll)||Renton, Tim|
|Macmillan, Rt Hon M.||Rhodes James, Robert|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|McQuarrie, Albert||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Madel, David||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Major, John||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Marland, Paul||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Marlow, Antony||Rossi, Hugh|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Royle, Sir Anthony|
|Marten, Rt Hon Neil||Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R.|
|Mates, Michael||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.|
|Mawby, Ray||Scott, Nicholas|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Mayhew, Patrick||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Mellor, David||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Shersby, Michael|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Sims, Roger|
|Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)||Smith, Sir Dudley|
|Miscampbell, Norman||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Speed, Keith|
|Moate, Roger||Speller, Tony|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Spence, John|
|Montgomery, Fergus||Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)|
|Moore, John||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Morgan, Geraint||Sproat, Iain|
|Morris, M. (N'hampton S)||Squire, Robin|
|Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)||Stainton, Keith|
|Mudd, David||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Murphy, Christopher||Stanley, John|
|Myles, David||Steen, Anthony|
|Neale, Gerrard||Stevens, Martin|
|Needham, Richard||Stewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)|
|Nelson, Anthony||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Neubert, Michael||Stokes, John|
|Stradling Thomas, J.||Waller, Gary|
|Tapsell, Peter||Walters, Dennis|
|Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)||Ward, John|
|Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman||Warren, Kenneth|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Watson, John|
|Thomas, Rt Hon Peter||Wells, Bowen|
|Thompson, Donald||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)||Wheeler, John|
|Thornton, Malcolm||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Townend, John (Bridlington)||Whitney, Raymond|
|Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)||Wickenden, Keith|
|Trippier, David||Wiggin, Jerry|
|van Straubenzee, Sir W.||Wilkinson, John|
|Vaughan, Dr Gerard||Williams, D.(Montgomery)|
|Viggers, Peter||Wolfson, Mark|
|Waddington, David||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Wakeham, John||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Walker, Rt Hon P.(W'cester)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Walker, B. (Perth)||Mr. Carol Mather and|
|Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.||Mr. Robert Boscawen.|
|Wall, Sir Patrick|
|Alton, David||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Atkinson, N.(H'gey,)||Newens, Stanley|
|Bennett, Andrew (St'kp't N)||O'Halloran, Michael|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Parry, Robert|
|Canavan, Dennis||Penhaligon, David|
|Cox, T. (W'dsw'th, Toot'g)||Pitt, William Henry|
|Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, M'hill)||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Crowther, Stan||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Skinner, Dennis|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Spellar, John Francis (B'ham)|
|Freud, Clement||Stallard, A. W.|
|George, Bruce||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Stoddart, David|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Tilley, John|
|Home Robertson, John||Torney, Tom|
|Howells, Geraint||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Huckfield, Les||Wainwright, E. (Dearne V)|
|Hughes, Simon (Bermondsey)||Welsh, Michael|
|Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||White, Frank R.|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Woodall, Alec|
|Lamond, James||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson|
|McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Mr. Bob Cryer and|
|Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Mr. Martin Flannery.|
|Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That the draft Parliamentary Constituencies (England) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 14th February, be approved.