HC Deb 19 March 1984 vol 56 cc870-82 12.15 am
The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Mellor)

I beg to move. That the draft European Assembly Constituencies (Wales) Order 1984, which was laid before this House on 6th March, be approved. I appreciate that my rising to speak on a Welsh matter has taken you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by surprise. It took me by surprise, too.

As the House will know, the Boundary Commission for Wales submitted the report on its review of European Parliament constituencies on 22 February, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary proposes that its final recommendations be implemented in full. Article 2 of the order substitutes the constituencies described in the schedule for the present European constituencies in Wales. If both Houses approve the draft order, my right hon. and learned Friend will submit it to Her Majesty in council to be made. Article 1(2) provides that the order comes into operation immediately it is made; but the new boundaries will not take effect until the next general election of European parliamentary representatives on 14 June. It means that, in the unlikely event of an intervening by-election, it would have to be fought on the present boundaries.

This is the commission's first review of the constituencies created for the European Parliament elections in June 1979. This review has taken just under 10 months to complete. Some hon. Members may wonder why this should be so, when the commission's predecessor took under five months to formulate its recommendations for the present seats, which were implemented in full by an order similar to this in 1978. The reason is that, this time round, the commission was required to follow the full procedure for local inquiries, whereas its predecessor was not. This naturally added to the time taken to formulate the commission's final recommendations, and I am sure that the House will wish me to express our thanks to Mr. Speaker and his fellow members for the work that has been done to enable the commission to report in time for its proposals to be implemented for this year's elections.

I should, in particular, like to express our gratitude to the deputy chairman, Mr. Justice Kenneth Jones, and his predecessor, Sir Hilary Talbot, for ensuring that the review was completed as expeditiously and meticulously as possible and for providing such a detailed explanation of the final recommendations in the report. The fact that we have received no representations about these recommendations bears witness to the care with which the commission approached its task and its success in striking a balance between local wishes and the statutory requirements in the European Assembly Elections Act 1978.

I turn briefly to the commission's recommendations. Its proposals would leave the present North Wales constituency unchanged but alter the boundaries of the existing Mid and West Wales, South Wales and South-East Wales constituencies to varying degrees. Although the 1983 electorates of these constituencies were all within 5 per cent. of the electoral quota for Wales of 534,904, the present boundaries divided those of the parliamentary constituencies created by the Parliamentary Constituencies (Wales) Order 1983.

So a change was forced on the commission by part II of schedule 2 to the 1978 Act, which provides that no parliamentary constituency shall be included partly in one European constituency and partly in another. It also requires the commission to recommend constituencies that have electorates as near the electoral quota as is reasonably practicable having regard, where appropriate, to special geographical considerations. The commission therefore had no choice but to align the boundaries of the Mid and West Wales, South Wales and South-East Wales constituencies with those of the new parliamentary constituencies. One consequence of that is that the county constituency of Neath, which is currently divided between South Wales and Mid and West Wales, is now wholly included in the latter European constituency to produce electorates closer to the electoral quota in both seats.

The only significant counter-proposal to the commission's recommended alterations was discussed at the local inquiry in Cardiff last November. This is described in paragraph 34 of the report. In its favour was that it would have reduced the disparities between the electoral quota and the electorates of the South Wales and the South-East Wales constituencies. The commission, however, agreed with the assistant commissioner that it failed to take proper account of the separation of southern Powys from Mid Glamorgan and Gwent by the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains. We see no reason for dissenting from those views and note that the electorates of the proposed constituencies range from 3.9 per cent. below the electoral quota to 6.6 per cent. above. This compares favourably with the electorates of the constituencies recommended in 1978, which ranged from 5.2 per cent. below the electoral quota to 6.3 per cent. above.

My right hon. and learned Friend has therefore concluded that there are no grounds to justify modifications to the final recommendations, which I commend to the House.

12.21 am
Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

I welcome a bilingual report from the commisioners. The commission was right to consult the representatives of the main political parties. One representation suggested Welsh names for all four constituencies. What names were proposed? I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State wishes to respond. Perhaps he will spell out the names. The commission was shrewd to ensure at the local inquiry, held by Mr. D. G. Morgan, barrister at law, that there were facilities for making representations in Welsh and that Mr. Morgan could proceed in both Welsh and English.

When does the Under-Secretary of State propose to tell the House of the changes of the English boundaries? Are they on course? If I recollect correctly, during the debate on the statutory instrument on the European Assembly Regulations 1983, the Under-Secretary said that, if the commission reported by the end of March, the boundary changes would be implemented for England. Will the hon. Gentleman dispel rumours that the Government are delaying the changes? Will he give the date for the English and Scottish boundary changes? When shall we debate the orders on those boundary changes? Does he not agree that time is running out and that the House is entitled to know the Government's intentions?

Bearing in mind the name, one point is of topical import is the Under-Secretary of State prepared to tell me who Mr. A. R. Thatcher is? I know that Mr. Thatcher sat as an assessor on the commission, because he is the Registrar General for England and Wales.

The more I consider the report, the more I believe that Mr. Emrys Jones, the regional organiser of the Labour party in 1979, was shrewd to call for more than four seats for Wales in the European Assembly. He said: We must put on record once again our disappointment at the allocation of just 4 European Assembly seats to Wales. In our view, this allocation, with its associated quota of 513,793 electors per Constituency, and especially in view of the particular geographical conditions within Wales, makes it impossible to devise European constituencies which will provide effective representation for the people of Wales. In addition, on re-reading the case presented by Mr. Hubert Morgan, Mr. Jones's successor, I find his written submission most persuasive. It is plain that the decision of Mr. J. H. K. Thorne, the solicitor, clerk and chief executive of Neath borough council, to brief counsel with a cogent counter-proposal was most justified.

Neath borough council, backed by a host of senior and influential local authorities throughout south Wales, tested the commission's provisional proposals to the limit. I believe that the counter-proposals were an example of local government at its best. To his credit, Mr. Morgan the assistant commissioner said that he gave the proposals by Neath borough council the most serious consideration.

I wish to emphasise that the Labour party in Wales presented its views to the public inquiry as the largest political party in Wales. It obtained more votes than any other party and a clear majority of parliamentary seats in Wales at the 1983 general election.

The Labour party's views were set out to meet the commission's terms of reference. I shall repeat the view that the Labour party expressed in 1978—that the allocation of only four seats to Wales. makes it impossible to devise European constituencies which will provide effective representation for the people of Wales", especially in view of the geographical conditions that exist inside Wales.

The Labour party believes that there should be at least two extra seats. However, within the Boundary Commission's terms of reference, we proposed alternative boundaries that we thought approached the electoral quota more closely than the commission's preliminary proposals.

The Labour party proposed that North Wales should remain the same but that there should be some changes for South-East Wales, which meant that it would be 3.6 per cent. over quota, for South Wales which meant that it would be 2.2 per cent. under quota, and for Mid and West Wales which would have meant that it was some 1.5 per cent. over quota.

We believe that our proposals met the commission's criteria in relation to nearness to the quota. We also believe that they best reflect community ties. We said briefly that Aberavon had close links with Neath and that they should not be divided as the commission proposed and as the Minister has said. The Labour party's proposals would maintain that link. Our proposal for West Wales would include the whole of west Glamorgan and Dyfed in one Euro-constituency. It would thus relate more closely to local government boundaries.

On that basis, Brecon and Radnor looks more to the south for community links, for local government services and transport patterns than it does to Dyfed. Until 1983, parts of the Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil districts were included with Brecon and Radnor for parliamentary purposes. Much of Brecon and Radnor has close links with the Heads of the Valleys area. It is, therefore, more logical to combine Brecon and Radnor with the Heads of the Valleys than with Dyfed.

We said that the Rhondda had extremely strong community links with Pontypridd, but the commission persists in its proposals to separate them. For community links, local government services and transport, Rhondda combines more logically with Cardiff and Pontypridd than with Gwent. We believe that those are moot and real points that should have an airing.

We made coherent and well-informed counter-proposals. It must be said that the commission bluntly stated that there was consideration of one issue only—that the commission's provisional proposals were to stand or that the counter-proposal by Neath borough council and others should prevail. Further, the commissioner said that the minimal changes provisionally recommended meant that the review of boundaries could go forward within the shortest possible time. He said that political parties and other organisations would have sufficient time under the proposed minimal changes to prepare for the next elections to the Assembly on 14 June. He said emphatically that if more wide-reaching changes were to be made, there would be grave difficulties in keeping to the necessary time schedule. He said that it might not be possible to establish the new European Assembly constituency boundaries in time for the 1984 elections.

Paragraph 8 of the report is at the heart of the matter. I refer to "special geographical considerations". They are not defined in the 1978 Act. There is a qualification of the term "special geographical considerations" in the 1949 Act, concerned with the redistribution of seats, in schedule 2, paragraph 6. It is tantalisingly and partially defined only as "size, shape and accessibility".

In paragraph 10, the commissioner says: It is possible to argue the existence or non-existence of local ties almost ad infinitum and from a variety of angles, depending upon the point of view advocated. The Neath county council counter-proposal was a powerfully argued case. It definitely had immense south Walean support. As the commissioner said, the Neath county council counter-proposal was, on the whole, nearer the quota than the commission's provisional recommendations. He also said: This is a cogent factor in favour of the counter proposal." He went on to say Furthermore, there is some equalisation of the physical sizes of the European Assembly Constituencies. I am clear in my mind that the commission has considered at length the Neath borough council proposals, supported by the major local authorities throughout south Wales. With regard to the recommendation by Mr. Morgan, I am glad that on page 20, paragraph 1, he recognises the cogent arguments ably and eloquently advanced by the supporters of the counter proposal. However, it is infuriating that in the penultimate paragraph of the report—paragraph 2 of Mr. Morgan's recommendation, on page 21—the commissioner inserted, at that late stage in his observations, his belief that the 'Special Geographical Considerations', in the context of the review of the EACs in Wales, must be taken to refer to Wales as a whole. We have come full circle in the argument when we read that.

It is true that our counter-proposal would produce constituencies nearer the quota than the commission's proposal. It was rejected because the assistant commissioner and the commission felt that to keep Powys separate from Gwent was a "special geographical consideration" within the terms of the law. That consideration is strange because it was the same Boundary Commission that put forward in its preliminary proposals for parliamentary constituencies the notion that the line between Powys and Gwent would be crossed, and that it was the only county line in Wales that could be crossed. So be it. But I am confident of a successful defence of the three seats now in Labour's hands in Wales. I am even more confident than previously of winning the North Wales seat as well.

12.35 am
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

It is always a pleasure to see and hear the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department as ever putting forward his argument so cogently; but it is a great disappointment to us, and indeed surprising, that there is no Minister from the Welsh Office on the Government Front Bench tonight to speak on this important Welsh matter.

Despite the careful attention of the Boundary Commission for Wales to all the relevant issues, these proposals fall far short of removing the distortions that were present in the old Euro-constituency boundaries. Surely it is right to say that a boundary review is entirely pointless unless such distortions as exist are removed.

The distortions to which I refer, and which I shall enlarge upon in a moment, are magnified, indeed they are ossified, by the electoral system that the Government stubbornly and wrongly insist on using in the European elections. The distortion is demonstrated by the figures. Of course, in the next European election the parties that form the alliance, as the results of the recent general election give the clue, will do much better than the Liberal party did in the last Euro-election; as a result the figures will be even more distorted. But, if we look even at the last Euro-election, we see that over 21 per cent. of the people of Wales voted Liberal or Plaid Cymru and yet no Liberal or Plaid Cymru Member was elected. Indeed, the figures are even more starkly unfair if one examines Scotland.

The distortions are not simply a matter of local electoral import. They are very bad for the EC itself. Part of the strength of the Community in the worldwide forum depends very much upon its being seen as having its policies founded on and underpinned by the democratic will of its electors. One of the unhealthy deficiencies of the EC in the public mind, certainly in Wales, has been its apparent domination by a stifling bureaucracy. This type of boundary review, doing nothing to remove the electoral distortions, fails totally to remove the fears of the people of Wales about the continuing domination by that stifling bureaucracy.

The distortions caused by constituencies such as those contained in the order are inevitable when one applies the first-past-the-post system not to hundreds of seats but to only 81 seats in Britain, many of which will turn upon a very narrow margin indeed. I do not know, because the examination has not been carried out, whether fair constituencies, ironing out these distortions, could be produced on the first-past-the-post system. But what is plain beyond peradventure is that they are not produced by this boundary review, and that is why we shall be opposing the review tonight.

I am not alone. My party and that with which we are allied are not alone in complaining of those distortions. On 1 March last year, speaking in the House, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said: For a United Kingdom Parliament the weight of each vote … should he as equal as possible"—[Official Report, 1 March 1983; Vol. 38, c. 150.] One has only to look at the map and the list of parliamentary constituencies forming each Euro-constituency in Wales in the draft order to know that he will not be satisfied by the regulations.

The right hon. Gentleman was only echoing the words of the present Home Secretary, speaking some three and a half years earlier at the Conservative party conference, to the effect that a vote in Bromsgrove should no longer be worth a quarter of a vote in Newcastle and that a vote in Suffolk should no longer be worth a third of one in Salford. The right hon. Gentleman will not be satisfied, either. if he examines the order. It fails miserably in that regard, too. It simply serves to emphasise the fact that the British Government still refuse to enact within domestic law the treaty obligations that they voluntarily accepted upon accession to the EEC and that are contained in particular in article 138(3) of the treaty of Rome.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) told the House in a related context on 26 January, regulations such as these will be repugnant to anybody who has any respect for the good name of British democracy if, at the same time as applying them on a basis which is supposed to be a guarantee of fairness to the electorate, it is known that they will ensure that the votes are counted and arranged in such a way that the number of seats given to the parties bears no relation to them."—[Official Report, 26 January 1984; Vol. 52, c. 1156.] It is a matter of record that many other right hon. and hon. Members have thought as my hon. Friend thinks. When the European electoral system was debated here in December 1977, many right hon. and hon. Members of all parties showed that by their votes. My hon. Friends who were then present went into the same Lobby as the right hon. Members for Sparkbrook and Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) on the Labour side and the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) and the present Solicitor-General, to name only four examples.

We sometimes hear right hon. and hon. Members from Northern Ireland complain—probably rightly—that the Province does not receive fair treatment in the House. They have said so eloquently on many occasions. In this instance, the European electoral arrangements for Northern Ireland are a shining example, which show up the messy blot that the order and others like it place on the otherwise tidy electoral map of Europe.

12.43 am
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

I, too, have misgivings about the order, but I think that we should exonerate the commission. It has had to work within unacceptable guidelines. Wales has four seats in the European Parliament. The European dimension is of considerable importance to the Welsh economy and all aspects of life in Wales. The importance of the coal and steel industries and agriculture in Wales makes clear the significance of the European Parliament to Wales.

In the past 10 years the Republic of Ireland has done pretty well out of the EEC. It has argued and cajoled its way and got the deals, pacts and agreements that have delivered the goods for many of the Irish people. We in Wales often feel that we have not done quite so well. With an identical population, the Republic of Ireland has 15 seats in the European Parliament. That shows the degree of fairness in the allocation of seats. The order before us cannot do much about that. The commission is directed to work with the four seats. One vote in Wales is equivalent to four votes in Ireland. That is the discrepancy. As there are only four seats in the whole of Wales, there are tremendous disparities in the nature of the constituencies. If we are to have constituencies of 500,000 people, there is an argument for having an all-Wales constituency and an election on a proportional system, which would give a better balance in the overall result.

The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) said he was confident that the Labour party would hold three of the four seats and possibly even win the fourth. The tide could easily swing on a few votes. The Conservative party could win three of the four seats, which would be highly regrettable. That could happen because of the vagaries of the system and the structure of seats drawn up in the order. A small handful of votes could change the seats and create massive distortions in representation.

There is no representation for the Liberal, Social Democratic and Plaid Cymru parties. We expect to win the North Wales seat. On the swing since the last election, we are certainly in second place. We approached 60,000 votes in the 10 seats in the general election, and the Tories won it with slightly over 70,000 votes. Given the performance of the Euro Member of Parliament for North Wales during the past couple of years, we have every confidence that we will win that seat.

We do not want to base our victory on this system. We want a system that is equitable to all the people. There should be changes in the proposals before us. The North Wales seat runs from Uwchmynydd to Rhosllanerchrugog and Llanfairfechan to Llanuwchllyn. The geographical diversity of the communities within that area makes it difficult. The same is true in the south-west seat, although not quite so true in the south-east seat. I agree with the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside that there are better ways of putting the four seats together, even within the existing restrictions.

I hope that we can move to a system where we are not breaking European law, as we are now doing in insisting on an outmoded and outdated system, and that we will have a truly representative system. Wales should have a larger number of seats, not only in the European Parliament but in the Council of Ministers, although I realise that that is going beyond the order that we are discussing. Given that we are working within the restrictions, a better job could have beeen done in respecting natural communities. That is true not only in Wales. When we discuss the English order, it will apply to Cornwall. We should not slavishly adhere to units of 500,000 just to get numerical equivalents when we are cutting across natural communities.

If we talk about a European community, we should talk about communities within that community. We are failing to do that by taking a slide-rule approach. I shall join other Members from the Opposition Benches in the Lobby, not so much in protest against the work that has been done by the commission but against the whole set of rules under which it has been working.

12.47 am
Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

I agree with the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) that it is a great pity that a Welsh Office Minister has not deemed it worth his while to attend the debate. I see the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Best) shaking his head. Does he wish to intervene and defend the Minister for not being here?

Mr. Mellor

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to intervene, although I do not have the pleasure of representing Ynys Mon. There are two reasons why a Welsh Office Minister is not present. First, it is a Home Office responsibility and I do not usually invite colleagues to come to the House to do the job that I am employed to do. Secondly, it is a matter of elementary courtesy to my colleagues that I should not expect them to sit and listen to me, any more than I sit and listen to them.

Dr. Marek

I appreciate the Minister's comments. However, we are discussing matters of direct concern to the people of Wales and I should have thought that elementary decency would be followed and a Welsh Office Minister would be sitting next to the Minister.

Mr. Mellor

This breast-beating about matters of great importance to Wales does not help us. The hon. Gentleman might tell us where his 20-odd colleagues are who might also have been here tonight.

Dr. Marek

Nevertheless, some of us are here. There is a critical difference. We do not have responsibility for running matters in Wales, as does the Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards). It is a great pity that no Welsh Minister is here.

I associate myself with the remarks of other hon. Members that it is a pity that Wales has only four Euro-constituencies. We should have had five or six. For example, in the West Wales seat, Knighton and Pembroke Dock are more than 100 miles apart, which will make a huge constituency. If there is to be some identity among Welsh Members of the European Parliament, we need more than four seats.

Paragraph 29 of the commission's report states that Mr. D. G. Morgan speaks both English and Welsh and is a member of the panel of assistant commissioners appointed by the Home Secretary. He conducted the inquiry alone, and had to make recommendations to the commission. It is difficult for the commission to overturn an assistant commissioner's recommendations, and it certainly did not do so in this case.

Paragraph 36 states that the assistant commissioner admitted that that parliamentary constituencies of Rhondda and Pontypridd should be in the same European constituency because they have links. He also admitted that it would be better if all parts of the borough of Neath were in the same constituency, and that Neath has links with Aberavon. He admitted that all parts of the county of west Glamorgan should be in the same European constituency and that Brecon and Radnor parliamentary constituency should be joined with the constituencies in south-east Wales. He did not argue about what are called the counter-proposals.

The assistant commissioner also admitted that, if the counter-proposals were accepted, the electorates of the four European constituencies in Wales would be nearer to the electoral quota and would reduce the differences between the areas of the proposed constituencies.

Nevertheless, in paragraph 39 we are told that special geographical considerations showed that Brecon and Radnor should remain united with the parliamentary constituencies in Dyfed. I have lived in Dyfed for nearly 20 years, and there are many more links between Brecon and Radnor and rural Monmouthshire than there are between Brecon and Radnor and Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire. Most people who live in Wales would say the same. However, the commission says that the special geographical considerations show otherwise, although it does not delineate them in this document.

After considering the assistant commissioner's report in detail, the commission said: We concurred with the assistant Commissioner's conclusion that because of these geographical considerations … Brecon and Radnor … should not be placed in the South-East Wales Assembly constituency. The commission also said that the case for uniting the borough of Neath with Aberavon, or for having the entire county of west Glamorgan in one Euro-constituency, was bound to fail as it involved a large divergence from the electoral quota. Notice the way in which that is put. The commission said that whatever the counter-proposals were, once the status quo had been decided the counterproposals must fail.

I question the judgment of the assistant commissioner, as well as the way in which this report comes before us tonight. My reason for speaking—this is important—is that it is wrong for one person to decide on urgent and vital matters such as this. In future I should like to see at least two, possibly three, assistant commissioners at any local inquiry so that different views can be explored properly and a consensus arrived at.

I know of another instance where there has been only one assistant commissioner, and I am sure that other hon. Members on both sides of the House could quote further instances of where a critical decision on the make-up of constituencies depended on how one person presented something in an initial report.

I hope that Ministers and my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench will take this point on board and consider it. For democracy to be seen to work, it should not depend on one person.

12.56 am
Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West)

As I have always consistently supported proportional representation for elections to the European Parliament, I shall feel obliged to join Opposition Members in the Division Lobby tonight.

In view of the remarks of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) about the present MEP for North Wales, I felt I should make it clear that it was my pleasure to propose her for the job. I wish to make it quite plain that I totally support her on all occasions, just as she has always supported me.

12.57 am
Mr. Mellor

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply briefly to some of the points that have been raised.

It was a great pleasure, even at this hour, to be debating with the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), who, with customary good humour, raised some important points. The debate degenerated a bit after he sat down, but I shall not hold him responsible for that.

The English commission announced on 13 March that it had decided to make no further changes to its latest recommendations and would report these to my right hon. and learned Friend shortly. He can, of course, take no further steps until he has received that report, but it is his intention to lay it before the House as soon as possible after it is received and after he has had a chance to consider it.

It is our clear intention that the commission's recommendations should be implemented, with or without modification, in time for the elections on 14 June. Having regard to the progress that the commissioners made, we attach great importance to the fact that the elections should be fought on the new boundaries throughout the United Kingdom.

The electoral quota for Wales is 534,904. The equivalent quota for England is 539,155. Therefore, there is no question of Wales being under-represented. As the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside knows, the 1978 Act included—unusually perhaps—not just the total allocation of seats to the United Kingdom but how those should be broken down between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I was not here at the time, but I gather that after great thought it was decided that four seats were appropriate for Wales.

It may be worth recalling the reasoning of the Select Committee that considered this matter in the 1975–76 Session. It said in paragraph 12 of its report: The Committee take the view that the allocation of seats within the United Kingdom should be proportional to population (or electorate) with some allowance being made for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, partly by rounding up and partly to allow for the large size of certain areas and the scattered nature of their population. As any further additional allowance for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would have to come from the allocation for England, the Committee do not consider it right to recommend that any such further additions be made, either in order to secure equality for these smaller parts of the United Kingdom with some of the smaller Member States of the Community, or for any other reason. I remind hon. Members who have suggested that Wales should have six seats that that would mean that the Welsh electoral quota would be 360,000 per seat as against England's 539,155. It would be wholly disproportionate, and, while I appreciate that this is largely a Celtic fringe occasion tonight, perhaps I might tentatively suggest—before ducking as missiles are aimed at me—that England should also be fairly treated on these occasions; and we have, on the whole, succeeded in doing that.

I was asked about Welsh names for the constituencies. Apart, I suspect, from wanting to make life easier for Home Office Ministers, the commission, as it says in its report, received only one representation to that effect and took the view that there was not a great head of steam on that issue, although it has, properly, prepared a bilingual report, which must have brought pleasure to hon. Members who, unlike me, are able to read the other side of the page.

I also understand the difficulties involved with the borough of Neath. These matters are never easy, and all over the country problems arise about the precise delineation of boundaries. The difficulty again relates back to the legislation, which does not provide the same scope to take account of community ties and such matters that are relevant to the Westminster boundaries. Indeed, schedule 2 to the 1978 Act provides: The electorate of any Assembly constituency in Great Britain shall be as near the electoral quota as is reasonably practicable having regard, where appropriate, to special geographical considerations. These matters were looked at with great care by the commissioners on two occasions: first, when they prepared their original recommendations and, secondly, when they decided on their further recommendations, having had the advantage of considering the assistant commissioner's report. On both occasions they took the view that it was right to take particular account of the geographical considerations affecting Brecon and Radnor. While I can understand that feelings in South Wales may be to the contrary, it was a difficult decision and the commission has properly arrived at its determination, even though it will not please all sides.

The hon. Members for Montgomery (Mr. Cathie) and for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) made interesting contributions that were a fascinating mixture of high principle and low politicking. Which of those descriptions one would apply to which part of their speeches is a matter for individual taste. It is always a pleasure to find myself dealing with these electoral instruments late at night and seeing Members from the alliance streaming in from their all-night cocoa parties or beetle drives, or whatever else they find to do on these occasions.

I wonder, humbly, what it is about my performances on these occasions that brings them here. It is, of course, to put forward the case for proportional representation, on which, I accept, they hold their view with sincerity and which they will once again show in the Lobby. We for our part believe equally firmly that the link between an hon. Member and his constituency is precious and that that is a crucial part of maintaining the first-past-the-post system.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)


Mr. Mellor

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has sat here and played his role to the full, with "Hear, hears" in appropriate places, and that that will, no doubt, be marked on the card outside. I shall leave the pleasure of dealing with him to a Scottish Office Minister when we come to deal with Scottish boundaries. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's point, like good wine, will be all the better for having been kept a little longer.

I have heard nothing tonight to shake my confidence in the wisdom of the commissioners' proposals, and I commend their report to the House.

Mr. Wallace

I wish to make a very brief point in reply to the Minister, because it defies the credibility of this House to think that, when talking about a constituency of the size represented in the order, there could be any meaningful link between a Member and such vast areas. The argument is wholly spurious and does not merit taking up the time of the House to advance it.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 112, Noes 14.

Division No. 195] [1.05 am
Aitken, Jonathan Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Amess, David Bright, Graham
Ashby, David Brooke, Hon Peter
Baldry, Anthony Burt, Alistair
Batiste, Spencer Butcher, John
Best, Keith Butter-fill, John
Boscawen, Hon Robert Carttiss, Michael
Bottomley, Peter Chope, Christopher
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Conway, Derek
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Coombs, Simon Jones, Robert (W Herts)
Cope, John King, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Couchman, James Knight, Gregory (Derby N)
Dorrell, Stephen Knowles, Michael
Dover, Den Lang, Ian
Evennett, David Lee, John (Pendle)
Eyre, Sir Reginald Lightbown, David
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Lilley, Peter
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) McCurley, Mrs Anna
Forth, Eric Maclean, David John.
Franks, Cecil Mather, Carol
Gale, Roger Mellor, David
Galley, Roy Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Neubert, Michael
Goodlad, Alastair Newton, Tony
Gorst, John Nicholls, Patrick
Gregory, Conal Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Pawsey, James
Ground, Patrick Roe, Mrs Marion
Hampson, Dr Keith Ryder, Richard
Hanley, Jeremy Sackville, Hon Thomas
Hargreaves, Kenneth Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Harris, David Sayeed, Jonathan
Harvey, Robert Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Hawkins, C. (High Peak) Sims, Roger
Hayes, J. Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Hayward, Robert Spencer, Derek
Heathcoat-Amory, David Stanbrook, Ivor
Hind, Kenneth Stern, Michael
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Holt, Richard Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Hooson, Tom Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Sumberg, David
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Taylor, Rt Hon John David
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Taylor, John (Solihull)
Hunt, David (Wirral) Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Hunter, Andrew Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Jackson, Robert Thurnham, Peter
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath) Wolfson, Mark
Tracey, Richard Wood, Timothy
Twinn, Dr Ian Woodcock, Michael
Viggers, Peter Yeo, Tim
Wakeham, Rt Hon John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Waldegrave, Hon William
Walden, George Tellers for the Ayes:
Waller, Gary Mr. John Major and Mr. Archie Hamilton.
Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Bruce, Malcolm Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Steel, Rt Hon David
Howells, Geraint Wallace, James
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Wigley, Dafydd
Kennedy, Charles
Kirkwood, Archibald Tellers for the Noes:
Meyer, Sir Anthony Mr. John Cartwright and
Penhaligon, David Mr. Michael Meadowcroft.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft European Assembly Constituencies (Wales) Order 1984, which was laid before this House on 6th March, be approved.