HC Deb 23 June 1992 vol 210 cc144-98

Amendments made: No. 11, in page 2, line 31, leave out from 'which' to the end of the line and insert

'at the time of publication are prospective only.

(8) For the purposes of subsection (7) above, a boundary shall be regarded as prospective at any time if, at that time, it is specified in a provision of an Act, Measure of the Northern Ireland Assembly, statutory instrument or statutory rule but the boundary has not yet come into operation.".'.

No. 12, in line 40, after 'applies', insert '(a)'.

No. 13, in line 44, at end add


(b) a boundary which has not yet come into operation on a particular date and which, apart from this subsection, would not be regarded as prospective on that date shall be so regarded if it is specified in a Bill which, on or before that date, has been read a second time by the House of Commons'.—[Mr. Peter Lloyd.]

3.47 pm
Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 2, line 44, at end add— '(4) For the purposes of subsection (7) of section 3 of the 1986 Act (as set out in subsection (1) above) to the report of the Boundary Commission in respect of London constituencies and which is a report to which subsection (2) of section 2 above applies, the Commission may delay submitting its report to the Secretary of State until it is notified as to the boundaries of London boroughs to be in operation until 12th June 2000.'. This is a probing amendment, designed to consider the problems of local government structure and the absence of any clear sign from the Government about what they want to do in London. The local government structure in London, as in other districts, has a major effect on parliamentary boundaries and the work of the Parliamentary Boundary Commission for England.

There is a lack of clarity in the Government's approach towards the government of London. It is driven partly by the fact that, ever since the Government's abolition of the Greater London council, they have had no clear idea about what should be done in London. Since then, there has been confusion and difficulty in ascertaining what should be done in London.

There are two specific problems. The first difficulty results from the size of some London boroughs and, particularly, the fact that the electorate, as opposed to the population, in some London boroughs appears to be much smaller than one would expect. Under rule 4 in schedule 2 of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, the boundary commission is told that no London borough or any part of a London borough shall be included in a constituency which includes the whole or part of any other London borough". London boroughs are ring-fenced in a way that no other local authorities are anywhere else in the country.

Clearly, it was thought at the time—there seems to be some logic in this—that if the borough was meant o be the major service provider, there was something to be said for relating that boundary with a parliamentary constituency so that one Member of Parliament or group of Members of Parliament would represent constituencies within a London borough. However, that creates a twofold problem: first, the size of the borough may be such that the constituency is much smaller than one would expect of an English constituency; and, secondly, especially in London boroughs, where there is likely to be a review of the structure of local government, the work of the boundary commission will be made much more difficult as it will not know what the Government have in mind or what Parliament will enact between now and 1994, when recommendations for London will be complete.

It is perhaps not surprising that none of the Members who were making such a fuss on Second Reading about Scottish constituencies and their size is here today—

Mr. Robert B. Jones (Hertfordshire, West)


Mr. Darling

Perhaps one is. If the hon. Gentleman will just hold his horses for a moment I will gladly allow him to intervene later.

Comparisons between some of the London boroughs and Scotland are interesting. The constituency of Surbiton has 42,800 electors. That compares well with Glasgow, Garscadden, which has 42,000. Kingston upon Thames, the Chancellor's constituency, has only 51,500 electors, and Fulham has 52,400. It will be seen that London's constituencies are, by and large, with some exceptions, on the small side, bearing in mind the English quota of 69,000 to which the boundary commission will be working.

If Members who think that Scotland is over-represented look at London they will see that there are some anomalies. I would argue that anomalies in parliamentary boundaries are quite proper because it is right that the boundary commission should take into consideration community ties and the desirability of linking constituencies or boroughs in one parliamentary constituency.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Can my hon. Friend solve a problem for me? In the London boroughs of Camden and Westminster, what community of interest can explain dividing one side of a road from the other?

Mr. Darling

I do not know whether my hon. Friend has read the report of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England No. 627, published in May of this year, but it makes many interesting points—such as the fact that it is not clear why some boundaries run down the middle of streets. Some London boroughs certainly have a specific identity. Boundaries must be drawn somewhere. The report asks where London ought to stop. We who travel in and out of it often wonder where it starts and stops, but for the purposes of drawing up a satisfactory scheme for the government of London the Government will have to decide where London starts and stops. As I say, some boroughs have an identifiable existence and their residents identify with them. There are cases, however, in which it seems a matter of pure accident why the boundary commission of the day chose to make some people residents of one borough and others residents of another.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

If the hon. Gentleman is so interested in communities of interest in London, can he explain why his party was so keen to stop Streatham rejoining the London borough of Wandsworth, with which it felt a community of interest? The move had the support of the local Conservative party but was rigorously opposed by the Labour party.

Mr. Darling

That makes my point. There are parts of London where there is no unanimous voice saying which borough they ought to belong to. Presumably the hon. Gentleman and his party saw some advantage in removing Streatham from the borough it was in; others might have taken a different view.

It does not really matter whether one community or street is in one borough or another. What matters for the purposes of the boundary commission is that it should know what the position is likely to be for the next eight to 10 years. The Boundary Commission for England will have to determine and make recommendations on the parliamentary constituencies in London by 1994 and to comply with rule 4 it must take into consideration the existing London boroughs. If they are about to change to any significant degree, the commission should know that before it determines constituencies that are likely to exist for eight to 12 years, through three Parliaments.

I am willing to concede in advance that the drafting of our amendment may not be perfect in every respect, but the Government should still tell us what they have in mind for London. We know that the Secretary of State for the Environment has in mind a review process for the rest of England that will take some time. The parliamentary answers that we have been given about London are not exactly illuminating.

It would seem that the commission is bound to ponder on whether it can justify recommending that Surbiton, with an electorate of 42,800, should remain a constituency when the electorate of the Isle of Wight exceeds 100,000. It is perhaps inevitable, however, that there will be some disparities. If the Government were to make changes, or if Surbiton were to change in character, it would be useful for the commission, if not for the hon. Member who now represents the constituency, to know the position sooner rather than later.

It is fairly easy to ascertain the size of electorates in London boroughs but it is not altogether clear what the electorates should be. The figures show dramatic changes. There are considerable movements within electorates and I do not know where all the people are going. I accept that in London people move about as they do in other areas, but when we consider the pattern of movements between 1987 and 1992 the changes are startling. During that period the electorate within Camden, as opposed to the population, decreased by 11,000. In Hackney, it decreased by 25,000 and in Lambeth by 11,000. It seems odd that so many people should move. If we take London as a whole, more people have apparently left their boroughs than those who have arrived to live within them.

I would expect to see corresponding increases in population in other parts of England, but they are not apparent. That suggests that not everyone who is entitled to be on the register is on it. I accept that there will be some movement. For example, some people might have opted for Lord Tebbit's bike to seek employment elsewhere. It seems that yet another reason for delaying examination in London is that the individual registers appear to be inaccurate.

The various changes between 1991 and 1992 were also fairly dramatic. Hackney's electorate decreased by 20,000 while Croydon's increased by 5,000.

We are concerned because the Government seem not to know why these movements are taking place. I listened to the Home Secretary yesterday and he seemed not to care. He said that the answer might be that people are not keen to be on the register. He talked also about people having religious objections to being on it. I cannot believe that 20,000 people in Hackney have suddenly found a religious reason to disappear. The Government, both in the interests of good government and of arranging boundaries that fit the needs of London's population, should be concerned that there appears to be far greater movement than one would expect and that there is no apparent reason for it. There will undoubtedly be movement, as I have said, but it appears that there are more deep-seated reasons for it than normal demographic change.

Mr. Bowis

I understand that the reason for the reduced electorate in Hackney is a change in practice by the registration officer. He ceased to register automatically people who had not completed the registration form.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) is raising an important issue in the wrong debate. He is saying that the commission should have the ability to make major borough changes, but it makes it clear in its report that it does not have that discretion. It would be ludicrous, therefore, to wait for the commission to continue to deliberate. The hon. Gentleman should seek on another occasion to give the local government boundary commission new terms of reference. If he took that course, he might ultimately get what he wants.

Mr. Darling

We are talking about the parliamentary commission, which bases its recommendations substantially on London boroughs. It is bound to do so because of the rules. If the structure of London boroughs is not clear or is uncertain, or if the basis on which the recommendations of the local government boundary commission that bear on populations are wrong, it follows that the parliamentary commission's findings will be based on a misconception of the true situation. Surely that should concern us all, especially as so many constituencies are, of necessity, represented by London Members.

Many have said that it is high time that the Government accepted the fact that there clearly is a problem. It is obvious that some boroughs are not good at registering their population while others have made a determined effort to go through the registers to see whether people exist. But clearly, if one looks at the figures for all the London boroughs, there are tremendous discrepancies. It may have been more appropriate to raise the matter yesterday— I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was here yesterday—but that is another argument for saying that we have an interest in ensuring that we know how many people live in each borough and how many people are eligible to vote in each borough before we start drawing up parliamentary constituencies.

4 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Does my hon. Friend agree that recommendations on the drawing up of parliamentary constituencies, certainly in areas where it is obvious that there is a substantial under-registration, would be based on the wrong data? Why should there be any confidence in such recommendations when it is known that the commissioners have said that a certain electorate is living in a constituency which we know is an underestimate of the true figure?

Mr. Darling

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Before the review it was rightly complained that parliamentary constituencies are based on electorates that were thought to he accurate in 1976. It is odd that we should now draw up boundaries on the basis of electorates that we know, or have substantial reason to believe, are wrong in 1991. If they are wrong this year, the chances are that, by definition, they will be slightly changed by 1994. If the boundary commission's recommendations are accepted in 1994, it will be the beginning of the next century before we look at the matter again when the position may be very different.

The argument for ensuring that we know the population of a borough is compelling, not just for the sake of representation but for the purpose of calculating what boroughs ought to receive in terms of revenue support.

Another substantial reason for the parliamentary boundary commission delaying its work is the structure of local government in London. As I have said, the Government moved quickly once they were determined that the Greater London council was to be abolished. The GLC certainly had its faults. No one would deny that.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Name one.

Mr. Darling

I was hoping to complete this passage of my speech before my hon. Friend came into the Chamber. However, I am extremely glad to see him for a number of reasons.

The Government were quick to abolish the GLC, but they have been slow to tell us what they want to put in its place. The Government seem to have been more concerned with trying to create a political structure of their own political colour than with providing a structure of government that will efficiently deliver services to the people of London.

London is the only capital city in the world that does not have a strategic planning authority. It is not surprising that people who are not supporters of the Labour party, people who are objective inasmuch as they are not beholden to any political party, have drawn attention to London's problems when its policy is being determined by a number of boroughs without any strategic planning.

I well remember that in 1980 or 1981 the Government pledged to get rid of quangos, which they said had bedevilled the Government. Yet in London, following the abolition of the GLC, quangos are alive and well and flourishing.

The Local Government Boundary Commission for England, in its report to which I have referred, has drawn attention to some of the problems that it faces. Clearly it can continue its work and make recommendations on the basis of the present London boroughs and the present boundaries, but if the Government are to change the structure of local government, or if the borough boundaries are to be amalgamated, extended or whatever, the parliamentary boundary commission should take that into account. If it is thought important to link London boroughs and constituencies—clearly it must have been at least as recently as 1986—it follows that the boundary commission should have regard to the boundaries that are likely to be in existence for the next few years.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Peter Lloyd)

It appears that the hon. Gentleman does not want the boundary commission in Wales to take account of intended changes there that are much further down the track—as opposed to changes which might occur in London, but which are not intended because we have no plans to make them. The hon. Gentleman's remarks are inconsistent with those that he made about Wales yesterday.

Mr. Darling

There is no inconsistency. Our objection to the situation in Wales is that the Government propose that the boundary commission should have regard to changes debated in the House on Second Reacting but which have not received any further consideration. While in general the Bill proposes that the commission should have regard to changes that exist in the form of an Act of Parliament or some other measure, in the case of Wales it is proposed that such changes need only have reached Second Reading stage. It is quite within the contemplation of right hon. and hon. Members that there could be unanimity in all parts of the House that certain changes should not proceed.

We do not object to the commission having regard to changes which have occurred or which are imminent. Our concern is that the commission might proceed in the knowledge that changes might occur when they are at such an early stage, or are so uncertain, that no commission could possibly have regard to them.

The Government have not made clear their position in respect of London. If the Minister is saying that the Government plan to do absolutely nothing, that is an argument for the boundary commission to proceed in the way that the Government want. As I understand it, there may well be changes. The Minister shakes his head. Is the Minister saying that the present situation in Surbiton, for example, is satisfactory and should continue? It is a parliamentary constituency with an electorate of only 42,000, surrounded by much larger constituencies.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

This Minister will say, for the purposes of this intervention, that the hon. Gentleman is confusing the rule in schedule 2 to the 1986 Act, which says that London borough boundaries should not in the normal way be crossed by the boundary commission when recommending boundaries, with the reform of local government structure in London. The two are not the same. All the hon. Gentleman's arguments have been directed at the former, but his amendment is about changes to London local government structure.

Mr. Darling

The two are interrelated. I draw the Minister's attention to two written answers. The first, from the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), represents the Government's position in the terms that the Minister expressed it: There are no plans to change the general structure of local government in London."—[Official Report, 12 May 1992; Vol. 207, c. 59.] The second was given by the same Minister: We have no plans for radical change to the pattern of local government in London."—[Official Report, 2 June 1992; Vol. 208, c. 383.] That implies some change. If there are to be changes to the pattern and therefore to boundaries—in the sense that if local government is asked to effect changes, the units thought appropriate to deliver those changes might alter —it would be appropriate for the boundary commission to know about them.

The purpose of this debate is to draw the Government on what they plan to do. The boundary commission's report to which I referred earlier stated: There needs to be a clearer view of the role and functions of local government, both generally and in London, before the existing units can be evaluated and more fundamental decisions made on their boundaries. That suggests that we ought to know whether or not the Government plan any changes. The Minister appears to indicate that there are to be no changes whatever. I find that surprising, because I believe that changes are expected, and they are bound to have a knock-on effect on boundaries.

This is not just a London point. If the rules in the 1986 Act are to provide for the ring-fencing of London boroughs, the boundary commission must know whether there are to be changes in the boundaries; otherwise, it will proceed on a basis that will not apply in four or five years' time.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

The possible ring-fencing of London borough boundaries is relevant to schedule 2(5) of the 1986 Act. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, if we take a straight reading of the entitlement of London boroughs—using the information given yesterday to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones)—it is clear that the disparity between the population of the largest constituency, which is about 100,000, and that of the smallest, which is 54,000 or 56,000, outweighs almost any other aspect of the legislation?

Mr. Darling

I do not have that information before me, but the smallest London constituency has a population of 42,000. I am not sure from where the hon. Gentleman gets his 56,000 figure.

Mr. Bottomley

Hammersmith and Fulham is entitled to 1.44 Members of Parliament, and has a voting list of 100,000. Westminster has an entitlement of 1.58—in other words, it is entitled to two Members of Parliament—and an electorate of 109,000 plus the City of London's 4,000. Thus, unless borough boundaries are crossed, each Westminster constituency has an electorate of about 56,000, while Hammersmith and Fulham has an electorate of 100,000. The information can be found in column 7 of written answers in yesterday's Hansard.

Mr. Darling

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is arguing that London boroughs should be crossed or that they should not. I believe that he is saying that they should. Certainly, if the position does not change, it is difficult to see how the boundary commission can ignore rule 5 in the schedule to the Act, which relates to excessive disparity, and rule 6, which entitles the commission to cross London boroughs. It did not cross them to any material extent at the time of the last review. If, however, there are changes in any London boroughs, especially the smaller ones but also the larger ones—the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) is right; the commission must examine the boroughs to assess entitlement to parliamentary con-stituencies—entitlements may change as well, even if the alterations are not dramatic. The question of registration is also important. If, for instance, Hackney's 20,000 missing voters are actually present, there is bound to be an effect on its entitlement. The hon. Gentleman's intervention has helped my argument, although I can see from his face that that was not his intention.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

On Second Reading, those who criticised the over-representation of urban Scotland pointed out that London was also over-represented, and that it was therefore logical to cross London borough boundaries. The boundary commission has already set a precedent by grouping metropolitan districts to get around the excessive disparities. Surely it is reasonable for it to group two or more London boroughs to avoid such a problem in the capital.

Mr. Darling

I am not sure that all Conservative Members took that view, but I know that the hon. Gentleman does, and I do not quarrel with him. It may well be appropriate to cross boroughs in some circumstances.

Amendment No. 8 is designed to draw the Government on their intentions relating to boroughs. The rules come into play only when the boundary commission is faced with a set of boundaries. If there are to be changes, the commission should be aware of them before starting its work. If the rules are to be obtempered, and if the rationale behind the London borough rule in particular has any weight in terms of community and other links, the boundary commission should know where the boundaries are likely to be when it draws up the parliamentary constituencies.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

Is not it perfectly clear that the local government boundary commission can make minor tidying proposals, and has done—for example, for the borders between Bromley and Kent and between Croydon and Surrey—but the parliamentary boundary commission can have regard only to what has already happened? Since there are no proposals for major overhaul of the London boroughs, the parliamentary boundary commission must work on the basis of the existing London boroughs, irrespective of whether it crosses borough boundaries.

Mr. Darling

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but the purpose of the amendment is to probe the Government's intentions. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was present when I said that it was a probing amendment. If the Government say that there will be no change whatsoever, fair enough; the issues will have been canvassed and we can all go home happy that we have done an afternoon's work. But if changes are to be made —even small changes can be substantial—it would be appropriate for the boundary commission to know before it makes its recommendations to the Secretary of State.

4.15 pm
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

Is not the Bill a political hot potato for the Government, because nothing creates greater anger and confusion among electors than people in, for instance, Richmond being claimed by the London borough of Kingston and people in Esher, which is in the district of Elmbridge, also being claimed by the London borough of Kingston? The Conservative party loses votes under such arrangements, as we saw with the London Government Act 1963. Conservative Members are very anxious about the possibility of the same happening now. Hon. Members who are anxious to defend the integrity of the county of Essex are concerned to ensure that the Government fully and frankly disclose their intentions. Many people in the counties surrounding Greater London are deeply concerned about the proposal for local government and parliamentary boundaries. They wish to be in the parliamentary boundary that is coterminous or has a relationship with their district council and local government unit. Above all, most people want to stay in the counties—

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is making a speech.

Mr. Darling

It is clear that in the next eight or 12 years the Government will have to turn their attention to what constitutes London and whether the present boroughs are satisfactory. Suggestions will always be made about whether a boundary should be down one street or another. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West said that changes are contemplated all the time. When the Government say that they are not planning anything, it usually means that they are planning something but do not want to say. [Hon. Members: "No."] Our experience over the past 12 years tells us that that is true.

The amendment is a probing amendment designed to draw from the Government their intentions for the local government structure. It is important that the boundary commission knows what the Government plan, otherwise the basis on which it proceeds will be false and the boundaries that it suggests in 1994 may not be appropriate at that time, let alone eight or 12 years thereafter.

I hope that, in reply, the Minister will tell us the Government's intentions. If, as the interventions and grunts from Conservative Members suggest, no changes are to be made, which I find hard to believe, I am sure that the people of London and of its surrounding areas would like to know about it.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) said that the local government boundary commission seems to consider constituency boundaries simply on a street-by-street basis, but that has not been my experience. In the past two years, major changes to the boundary between the London boroughs of Ealing and Hillingdon have been suggested. We saw fit to contest those changes strongly and succeeded in having them withdrawn. From the local government point of view, the proposed changes are merely a tidying process, perhaps to move a boundary to a railway line where the railway line is close to the existing boundary. That seems to make good sense, and it is such small, tidying changes which are needed rather than major structural changes.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central rightly said that the smallest London constituency comprises 42,500 people, but not many London constituencies are anywhere near as small as that. In any case, it does not compare with the smallest Scottish constituency of 23,000. As he is making comparisons between Scotland and London, I draw his attention to that fact.

Mr. Bermingham

I understand the argument about Scotland, but it is a different matter and, like Wales, involves a different commission. However, can the hon. Gentleman justify the fact that Northampton—I choose that town deliberately, as it has two Conservative seats —has approximately 70,000 or 75,000 electors in each seat, whereas the London borough which was mentioned a moment ago has only 42,000? Is there something special about London, or is it part of England?

Mr. Greenway

It is interesting that Labour Members of Parliament argue as they do. I do not remember them arguing against the substantial number of London Members of Parliament when most of them were Labour. Now that 47 of the 84 Greater London Members of Parliament are Conservatives—

Mr. Bermingham

We need fewer of them.

Mr. Greenway

I hope not, but I was merely saying what crossed my mind when the hon. Gentleman invited me to comment on what he said.

I have heard nothing in today's debate or anywhere else about one of London's particular problems: we are obliged—I am not complaining—to give homes to substantial numbers of asylum seekers. In the past year, in the London borough of Ealing, about 220 housing units, some sizeable, were handed to asylum seekers. I may even be understating the case substantially, but the fact is that a fair number of asylum seekers have been put into leased accommodation, which means that local people who should be on the electoral register are not because they are not living in the units of accommodation which have been passed to the asylum seekers.

As I was saying only this morning to my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, a Member of Parliament is obliged—and, naturally, keen—to provide a service to asylum seekers. I dare say that, like me, many of my hon. Friends find that asylum seekers are keen to use the services of their Member of Parliament. They come to my surgery—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. What has this to do with the amendment?

Mr. Greenway

I am dealing with the numbers game which was a central part of the argument of the lion. Member for Edinburgh, Central, who asked: why had people gone from the register? I am explaining that many of them have disappeared from the register because, at least in my constituency and in Ealing as a whole, many of the housing units have been taken over by asylum seekers who are not registered—[Interruption.] Yes, it is a considerable issue.

Another matter about which I expected the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central to be knowledgeable—he probably is—is the fact that, between 1986 and 1996, 1 million fewer people will reach the age of 18. As those over 18 go on to the electoral register, that fall in the population will be reflected there. London has taken a substantial share of that population rail and that has substantially affected the numbers in our constituencies.

I hope that we shall respect the London borough boundaries and not cross them unless there are exceptional reasons for doing so. It is well known that all London boroughs individually seek to create their own identities and that they succeed in doing that. Ealing regards itself as —and is—the queen of the suburbs and is proud of it. People who live in Ealing have their own ethos, just as there is a different ethos across the border in Brent—one only has to go across the border to discover that. If we start crossing borders in redrawing constituency boun-daries, we shall introduce a substantial change which will mean that not everyone in London will he well represented.

All London boroughs, like other local authorities, have distinct services, such as the education and youth services. The services in one borough are very different from the services in others. For those and other reasons, I hope that constituency boundaries will continue to be drawn within boroughs, as they have been in the past.

Mr. Bermingham

As always, I declare an interest in the subject as a practising lawyer who has been involved in a number of inquiries.

I accept unreservedly that there will he no local government changes in London this side of the year 2000. I see no need for change because the boroughs, as has been said, have their own entities. That view may surprise Conservative Members.

I am concerned about the sense of justice in the country as a whole. I hope that the Home Secretary will find it in his heart this afternoon to be gracious for once and to give way to a fair point. I hope that he will give an undertaking when, no doubt, I persuade my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) to withdraw the amendment in return. The undertaking which I seek relates to paragraph 4(1)(a)(ii) of schedule 2 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 which deals with the London boroughs. The Home Secretary will recall that the paragraph deals with the question of crossing what I call the "skin" boundaries—the county boundaries.

We know that developments are taking place whereby certain counties are being redefined. I Lake no issue with that because it is fair and reasonable. Monstrosities such as Avon and Humberside. which were set up in 1984, are silly. Let us have a little hit of sanity. Why, for example, can we not go back to Lancashire? It will happen. Our skin boundary, for the sake of argument, would he Lancashire and within it would be a number of metropolitan district councils. In the redistribution between 1976 and 1983, one of the factors that led to the case of Foot and others v. the boundary commissioners was that the law at the time led to differences between the way in which the counties were considered, the way in which the metropolitan districts were considered and the way in which London was considered.

For my own purposes and for the record, I say that if we could have a system of every constituency having the same numbers, all well and good. No one could argue with that. However, I am a realist and I recognise that because a council is built in a series of wards—in some areas there are big wards and in others there are small wards—that is not always practicable. One must be realistic and realise that there will be an area of imbalance between constituencies. Provided that that does not exceed 5 per cent. either way, that is tolerable. It becomes intolerable when the imbalance is more than 5 per cent.

4.30 pm

For the purposes of my argument, I am leaving out Scotland and Wales because they have different commissions and the 1986 Act deals mainly with the English commission. One accepts that the Welsh and Scots will go their own way—I do not mean to be unkind.

In 1983, when we came to consider the matter in some depth, we found an interesting feature. We found that in the interests of achieving parity of number, for example in Tyne and Wear, it was necessary for the boundary to cross the Tyne bridge. I know that yesterday my mathematics were appalling, for which I apologise to the Committee. However, I corrected the figures for Hansard's purposes. I said that seven and a half plus three and a half equalled 12. That will undoubtedly bring a smile to the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), who is an expert in the subject. I got it wrong and I apologise for that.

The point was that by crossing, say, the Leeds-Wakefield boundary, the commission was able to create seats of similar size. Boundaries were crossed in the west midlands, in Dudley; in Greater Manchester, in Rochdale; and in the borough next to Oldham. That was logical because it made it possible to create seats of the same size.

When the skin boundaries come to be drawn for the counties or the new shire counties—leaving aside the future nature of local authorities and whether they will be unitary or otherwise—I hope that the commission will use common sense and try to keep towns in those areas as single units. Of course, that will mean crossing local government borders so that, within the county, seats of comparable size are created, perhaps consisting of part of the metropolitan district and part of the adjacent former county council area. But at least it will be possible to create seats of approximately the same size.

The problem arises with paragraph 4(1) (a) (ii) of the schedule to the 1986 Act. The 1986 Act says bluntly that in London one cannot cross boundaries except for reasons of excessive disparity. How can one cross the border of Surbiton and—if someone will think of the name of a large seat in north London, I shall be grateful because I cannot think of one off the top of my head—

Mr. Peter Bottomley


Mr. Bermingham

If the hon. Gentleman has a suggestion, I shall give way.

Mr. Bottomley

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) jokes from my side, there are not any large seats in London. The House understands the hon. Gentleman's point. He does the House a service in an additional sense. This is not a party political issue. Whether London is allocated Members of Parliament on the basis of its whole electorate or by adding up bits and pieces from column 7 of Hansard, the number comes to 70 or 71 Members. So London loses 13 seats, whatever happens. The question is, what sort of fairness and disparity will there be? Everyone is listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Bermingham

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and I take his words kindly. He understand the point that I seek to make. The first question is, what is London? Is it the total of all the London boroughs which are known as the London boroughs of—? Once that point is reached, we have the total electorate. When we have the total electorate, we can determine the total entitlement. If the matter is dealt with in that way, we shall avoid the problems of 1983. In 1983, in some London boroughs, a factor of 4.3 or 4.4 meant four seats and, therefore, small seats. In other boroughs, 1.3 meant two seats and, in others, 5.2 or 5.3 meant five seats.

In the rest of England the commission made a fair rule so that, for example, in Northamptonshire—I cannot think of the exact figures; I merely use Northamptonshire as an example—a quota of 8.4 resulted in eight seats, whereas in Leicestershire a quota of 9.5 resulted in 10 seats. In other words, the commission rounded up or down to the nearest whole number. In London it did not do that. It took 0.35 or 0.4 as the cut-off point, thus causing London to become over-represented. That is the root cause of the problem.

Hon. Members have asked whether we shall be able to keep the number of seats down to 651. There is a simple solution. If London is properly represented, with seats that reach the norm for England, the House will not grow. I concede that in some areas in the south the number of electors warrants an increased number of Members of Parliament to represent them. That is fair, as some seats are over-sized.

I cannot foresee a solution to the Isle of Wight problem, as it is illogical to tack part of Hampshire on to it. We shall have to wait for the island to become more popular. I think that it will happen and 'ere long it will reach a population that entitles it to two seats. I hope that the Minister will then decide to take an interim step to create two seats on the island, rather than waiting for another parliamentary boundary review.

I hope that the Home Secretary will be able to say that he understands the argument with regard to London and that, because of the increasing disparity likely to occur between London seats and those in the rest of the country, the time has come to cross London borough boundaries. We are merely asking for London to be treated in the same way as any county. Once that is accepted, the argument is over. This is not a party political matter, as it will be for the commission to decide which boundaries to cross and not for us to decide or even to suggest, and I do not do so today.

If London boundaries are to be considered as a single skin and are to be crossed, it will require a simple amendment to paragraph 4(1)(a)(ii) of the schedule. I suggest that the following wording should be added, save as is where necessary to achieve parity with the rest of England I am trying to be as succinct as possible and I hope that I have been as fair and non-partisan as I can be. I leave the matter squarely in the Home Secretary's paws. If he wants fairness in the commission and in the Bill, he must treat London the same as the rest of the country.

Dame Angela Rumbold (Mitcham and Morden)

I listened with great care to the speech of the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham). I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will reject the amendment, because it is important for London constituencies to be considered in conjunction with the rest of the parliamentary seats in England, Wales and Scotland before the end of 1994. It would be unparalleled and unfortunate if they were not.

As a London Member, I have great interest in these matters, as do many of my Conservative colleagues. The hon. Member for St. Helens, South said that London constituencies are over-sized and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) pointed out —and received an answer—that London is over-represented in Parliament. That is inescapable. However, the means to overcome that problem must not depend on waiting for some supposed change in local government boundaries or local government reorganisation, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) suggested.

As far as I am aware, Sir John Banham's commission is merely considering the possibility of changes to the structures of counties and districts. It is possible that some unitary authorities will be created. In any event, I understand that that does not necessarily apply to London boroughs, since they are unitary authorities and have been for some years. I did not read anything in the Conservative party manifesto during the run-up to the last election to suggest that there will be any other change in local government boundaries or local government in London.

If we are to acquire the right amount of parliamentary representation equitably, within present Greater London boundaries, without over-reaching the county boundaries —apart from any marginal changes that may be suggested by the local government boundary commission—it seems right that the boundary commission might decide to cross boundaries; or the commission might decide to link two slender boroughs, which do not warrant two Members of Parliament each, to create three constituencies.

Let us consider the smallest constituencies. I do not know which ones will be chosen, but from the written answer in column 7 in Hansard of 22 June to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) I see that the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea has an electorate of 84,700. That seems to be close to the number necessary for one parliamentary seat. If it is linked with one of the boroughs close by—I know not which—it may be possible to find a rationale for those two small boroughs to have three seats rather than four. It is along those lines that I urge the Minister to consider whether the boundary commission should or should not transgress borough boundaries in order to make common sense and rationality out of what many people see as the unsatisfactory position in London.

Like some of my hon. Friends, I will regret the passing of some of the seats in London. Traditionally, some helped to give the Conservative party, rather than the Labour party, a majority in London. However, having considered the position in London, I accept that it is manifestly unfair that some constituencies are made up of many electors while others are not.

I also seek some reassurance from my colleagues on the Front Bench that they are not considering any reorganisation that will create a superstructure for the government of London. I warn them, straightaway, that I should be opposed root and branch to that.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

In some ways, I feel that we have been here before—both yesterday and on Second Reading. I wish to respond to some of the issues which have been raised today.

The consensus between the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) and those Conservative Members who have contributed to the debate was heartening. The hon. Gentleman hit the nail on the head. Happily, the Isle of Wight, which is the great exception to the rule, is acceptable as a constituency to those who live there. They did not respond to the provisional recommendation that the Isle of Wight should have two constituencies. Therefore, they seem to be content to be under-represented at the moment, no doubt in the sure and certain knowledge that the Isle of Wight will have two constituencies in due course.

I take issue with a point made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling). He seemed to suggest that a road that had one borough on one side and another borough on the other would inevitably create anomalies, but that one could somehow do something about that. It is inevitable that there will always be areas in which the border between urban authorities is a road and not something more significant, such as a river, railway line or canal. If that were not so, we would have enormous local authorities. For example, the local authority for London would cover not only Greater London, but large parts of the surrounding non-metropolitan counties. The city of Glasgow would have to include all its suburbs, too, because it is a continuous built-up mass.

Mr. Darling

I can save the hon. Gentleman some time. That was not my argument. I agree with the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), who pointed out that some of the boundaries are odd and that there is no rhyme or reason for them. However, there is no way around the problem. According to the boundaries proposed by the last boundary commission review, my constituency is circumscribed because the residents parking scheme for Edinburgh stretches into one part of it, but not into another. That may be an anomaly, but I do not know what can be done about it. I accept that that is so.

Mr. Jones

We have common ground on yet another point, which is excellent.

The problem in London has become more acute in recent years because of the stair-stepping effect. When the number of seats in a London borough was reduced from five to four or from four to three, the problem was less difficult to overcome. In an extreme case, in which a London borough was theoretically entitled to 4.5 seats but actually had four, the average constituency size would be only 12 per cent. above the national average. If the number of seats in a borough were reduced from four to three, the maximum discrepancy in constituency size would be 17 per cent. If the number of seats in a borough were reduced from three to two seats, the discrepancy would be 25 per cent. If the reduction were from two seats to one, it would be 50 per cent. It is because of the stair-stepping effect that the proposed constituencies for London must cross borough boundaries.

4.45 pm

The precedent has been set in the metropolitan districts and it works perfectly well. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), who is no longer present, argued that it would be desirable if parliamentary boundaries and local authorities were contiguous units. That is simply not possible. In the non-metropolitan counties, it is quite common for Members to represent parts of more than one district authority. For example, in my neighbouring constituency, my right hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) represents part of the Three Rivers district council, the whole of the borough of Watford and part of the city of St. Albans. Such boundaries are set to ensure that there is the right number of electors in each non-metropolitan district.

Until now, the only anomaly has been London. The logic of the figures, which show that the electorate in London has declined over a long period, means that, for reasons of fairness, that nettle has to be grasped by the boundary commission. Otherwise, we will have an increasing number of Members of Parliament in the House of Commons and the areas outside London, whose population is growing, will be treated unfairly.

Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)

I support the amendment.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

The hon. Gentleman has not been present for the debate so how does he know?

Mr. Livingstone

I can read the amendment, but I doubt if the arguments of Conservative Members would have swayed me very much, given the appalling and, I think, corrupt approach of the boundary commission to London over the years.

I have never had the slightest doubt that the boundary commission shows a small and significant bias in favour of the Conservative party. That is manifest because, whenever a boundary review is completed, one always finds such a bias. We saw that in 1950 and 1951 when it was much easier to elect Conservative Members of Parliament than Labour Members of Parliament. In 1951, the Labour Government were defeated, although they had won more votes than the Conservative party, because the boundaries had been drawn in a subtle way to benefit the Conservatives.

Mr. Peter Bottomley


Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford)


Mr. Livingstone

I shall not give way until I have made my argument.

The same thing has happened with each significant boundary review. After each of them, there has been a small bias in favour of the Conservative party.

Mr. Burns


Mr. Livingstone

I shall give way once I have completed my argument. I advise hon. Members not to object to my argument until they have heard it.

After the votes are counted at each election, psephologists have demonstrated that were the Labour and Conservative parties to receive an equal number of votes, the Conservatives would usually enjoy an advantage of 10 to 20 in the number of seats won. That advantage tends to be eroded during the lifetime of the boundaries as population change takes place, but every parliamentary boundary review has had an in-built bias towards the Tory party.

I had the misfortune to attend one of the reviews in London during the last round. It was for the constituency of Hampstead and Highgate and was an absolute travesty, showing great prejudice. The constituency had been bitterly fought over, and it once returned a Labour Member of Parliament. We saw in that boundary review a complete ignoring of natural communities in order to preserve a seat for the Conservative party. In the long term, it did not work, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms. Jackson) demonstrates that fact. In Camden, before the review came into operation in 1983, we had three constituencies which, it was proposed, should become two. The choice before the boundary commission concerned what part of the old St. Pancras, North seat should be included in Hampstead.

There were two proposals, one from the local Conservative party, arguing that Highgate should be included. That proposal overlooked the fact that no road joined the Highgate ward in St. Pancras, North with the Camden constituency. Unless one trekked over the heath —quite a trek—one had to go out of the Highgate ward, through Haringey and back into Camden to find a road that would convey one from one side of the constituency to the other. It was absolute nonsense.

The alternative, put forward by the Labour party, was that the two wards of Gospel Oak and Grafton, which abutted the South End ward—it was one natural community but was divided for years—should be included. That would have made a clear and concise boundary created by a railway line. There could have been no doubt on the part of anyone listening to the hearing on that boundary review that the obvious and sensible natural community would be achieved by the creation of a Hampstead seat which included Gospel Oak and Grafton. Highgate was included for no reason other than the fact that Gospel Oak and Grafton were safe Labour wards, whereas Highgate ward normally returned a Conservative.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

I read the report on that occasion. The boundary commission made it clear that it thought that there was merit in bringing together the two sides of Hampstead heath, which would have meant the least disruption to existing constituencies, that always being one of the commission's principles. There seems to be a clear communality of interest between those who look to the heath from one side and those who look from the other. For the hon. Gentleman to suggest that the commission acted out of political motivation is a travesty of justice and, even with his standards, he should know better than to suggest that.

Mr. Livingstone

To define a constituency by being on opposite sides of an open space, one of the largest open spaces in London, seems to be a wonderfully new concept. That does not apply anywhere else in London. But it made all the difference to a seat that Labour would have been more likely to win.

Mr. Burns

The hon. Gentleman sauntered in half way through the debate and then made outrageous allegations about the boundary commission. I fear that, because he was so late coming in, he missed the tabloid press reporters in the Press Gallery.

The hon. Gentleman alleged that, following a boundary commission review, there will be at the next general election an inbuilt bias of 10 to 20 seats in favour of the Conservative party. Does he have any positive proof to back up his allegation? How does he reconcile it with the fact that, prior to the February 1974 election, the press having made that allegation, as press cuttings—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Member's intervention is becoming very long. Interventions must be brief.

Mr. Livingstone

February 1974 was not the natural next election. Those boundaries should have come into operation at the 1970 general election, but we remember why the then Labour Government decided to put off the alterations, by which time the natural bias of which I spoke had started to erode. If those boundaries had operated in the 1970 election—[interruption] I refer Conservative Members to the analysis made by The Economist and published as a separate booklet in late July 1970. That made it clear that that inbuilt bias was there at that stage.

There would have been a Conservative Government in February 1974 but for the split with the Ulster Unionists. That allowed Labour to win more seats because in every previous election the 11 Ulster Unionist seats would have been counted with the Conservative seats.

Mr. Bermingham

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a major problem has been the fact that, in every redistribution since 1951, there has been a growing disparity in the average size of London seats compared with seats in the country as a whole? That has given a flavour of there being a Conservative bias. The bias has appeared to benefit the Conservative party simply because London has too many seats. Further, the hon. Gentleman must remember—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I draw the attention of the hon. Member and the Committee to the fact that we are discussing London boroughs in the year 2000, not what the situation is now or in the past.

Mr. Bermingham

On a point of order, Mr. Lofthousc. How on earth can we discuss the future without referring to the present and the past? The future is built on the present and the past.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I urge hon. Members to have a good try.

Mr. Livingstone

My worry is that the boundary commission is planning to take the same corrupt approach to boundaries in London—[Interruption.]—in the coming redistribution—

Mr. Peter Bottomley

On a point of order, Mr. Lofthouse. Is it in order for an hon. Member to suggest that the boundary commissioners are corrupt?

The First Deputy Chairman

That is a matter for the hon. Member concerned to decide.

Mr. Bottomley

It is disgraceful.

Mr. Livingstone

Not at all. I have a lot more evidence about the corruption of the boundary commission, and it is what one would expect. I am not saying that it is blatant. Corruption in Britain is usually rather subtle. I am referring to a small bias, with a decision here or there, carefully moved the Conservative party's way, and I have drawn attention to what happened in Hampstead—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I suggest that the hon. Member return to the subject of the amendment.

Mr. Livingstone

I return to the specific point of London and the borough boundaries. We have seen already the approach of the boundary commission. In 1993, London should have lost four more seats than it actually lost, the point that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) made, for too many seats have been given to London. Some people in London greeted that as a sign of generosity on the part of the boundary commission. When one examines which four boroughs were the beneficiaries of the extra four seats, one discovers that they maintained four Conservative seats in London.

Mr. Bowis

Including Newham.

Mr. Livingstone

No, not Newham. The four boroughs that were allowed to keep an extra seat—which, if the formula had been applied accurately, they would not—were Bromley, Barnet, Bexley and Greenwich, with the result that in each borough the Conservatives retained a seat that they would otherwise have lost. If that is not biased, I do not know what is, and it has started again. A local government boundary review is being carried out in London and it is expected that the changes to be made will provide the basis for the parliamentary boundary commission's findings—the point made in the amendment.

Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)

As the hon. Gentleman's objective is to win seats, may I put it to him that he would be more effective if, instead of traducing the boundary commission, he seduced the electorate? That has been his great failing so far.

Mr. Livingstone

I have no intention of seducing anybody in the Chamber. A series of boundary reviews of the boroughs is occurring, and the parliamentary boundary commission faces a problem. If it reduces the London seats to exactly the number that the area should have in relation to its population, the majority of seats lost would be Conservative seats. Many Tory boroughs which, unjustifiably, held on to their seats at the last redistribution—[Interruption.] The majority of seats to be lost in London will be Conservative seats.

The parliamentary boundary commission has started to change borough boundaries to try to reduce that impact. Brent is a borough from which, with the best will in the world, my party would have trouble dislodging the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson). Equally, it would not be easy for the Conservative party to win either of the other two Labour seats in Brent. Although the boundary commission's attitude is to reduce Brent to two seats, the population figures do not justify that. Unless the boundary of the borough is changed, Brent will continue to have three parliamentary seats: two Labour and one Conservative. So the parliamentary boundary commission has approached—informally, of course—the local govern-ment boundary commission and asked it to reduce the population of Brent sufficiently so that it will lose a parliamentary seat. That is what I call corruption.

I received an anonymous telephone call from a worker inside the local government boundary commission tipping me off about the fact that the commission had been asked to reduce the size of Brent to two parliamentary seats. When that redistribution takes place, the Brent, North seat would remain Conservative and Labour would lose one of the other two seats. Thus, the bias of the boundary commission is revealed once again.

5 pm

The boundary commission set about its task by suddenly publishing a proposal to remove the safest Labour ward from my constituency and move it to Westminster, North. That act was not received enthusiastically by the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), as the ward concerned has about 5 per cent. Conservative voters. There was a huge public outcry. Tenants did not want to be moved around at the whim of the local government and parliamentary boundary commissions and the commissions were forced to back down. However, they did not do so all the way but allowed the bulk of the estate to remain in Brent, shaving off bits of Brent all around—a small part from Brent, North; more from Brent, South; and some more from Brent, East. It is a wonder to behold because they have taken just enough to bring us below the point where we qualify for three seats. That is corruption.

A remarkable coincidence is that, in a borough where nobody has been arguing to change the borough boundary, the commission has changed virtually the entire borough boundary to try to reduce the population to the magic figure where we no longer qualify for three seats. It is down to within about 150 votes of it.

Mr. Bowis

The hon. Gentleman seems to be putting over his persecution complex, but little else. If what he says were true, why on earth would he want to support an amendment that delays changing the parliamentary boundaries until the local government boundary commission has brought in its new proposals?

Mr. Livingstone

I am telling the House what has happened and what I have seen with my own eyes when those normally Conservative barristers conduct the reviews. Sadly, that is part of the problem. I realise that not every barrister is a Conservative—some of my best friends are barristers—but on any law of averages, if we rely on lawyers to conduct matters, we shall rely on people with no sympathy for the Labour party. The attack on Brent is bad. I oppose it not just on the ground that it will damage the Labour and Tory parties but because it is bad to sit down and ask, "How do we draw up the boundaries in London to benefit the Conservative party?", which is clearly what has been happening for years. We should ask how best we can benefit the people of London.

If we reduce Brent to two very large seats, we shall create seats with enormous numbers of problems to be represented by just two Members of Parliament. Each year, I handle some 4,000 constituency problems and my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) does exactly the same. If we fuse the bulk of those two seats together, we shall create a seat which it is almost impossible for one Member to serve, unless the House of Commons gives those Labour Members who represent hard-pressed inner-city areas extra parliamentary support and research facilities.

Mr. Tony Banks

I am glad that my hon. Friend has mentioned that point because I raised precisely the same one yesterday on a previous amendment. If the boundary commissioners can take into account the geography of constituencies in rural areas and decide not to apply the quota, why cannot there be similar criteria for urban seats, such as those which my hon. Friend and I represent? As I said yesterday, with 42,000 constituents in my borough, I have two or three times the weight of problems of Tory Members in rural areas with 90,000 constituents. No acknowledgement is made of that in this place. Perhaps the boundary commissioner should be allowed to recognise it.

Mr. Livingstone

Clearly, boundary commissioners cannot advise Parliament about the services and support provided to Members, but they should take account of the fact that, when they carve up boundaries, they create an intolerable concentration of problems in a small number of seats that are far too large. If, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said, we are in a position to make special exemptions for seats that cover large areas with a distant and spread population, why cannot we do the same in areas of London with massive concentrations of social problems? It shows that the boundary commission does not give a damn about the service provided to constituents caused by concentrating problems in a small number of parliamentary seats.

I hope that the amendment will be successful because I have not the slightest doubt that, were we not under the pressure of a parliamentary boundary review, the local government boundary commission would not have started fiddling with virtually every yard of the boundary of the borough of Brent, moving people backwards and forwards to remove one seat from Brent.

Another option was suggested. Westminster council, which is not normally a fan of mine—I do not normally agree with those people and consider them little better than grave robbers—came up with a proposal for the boundary commission to move a part of Westminster, North into my constituency. That was just waved aside because it would have made it impossible to get rid of one of the seats in Brent.

Let us not continue to pretend that this is an academic exercise. It is about a biased parliamentary boundary commission. Its bias is not overwhelming but is just enough to make the difference in a tight election. It is using that bias against the people of Brent and intervening for political reasons, ignoring natural communities and the vast burden of problems that exist in those areas. As a result, it is giving them far too few Members of Parliament. I was tipped off about that by someone working for the local government boundary commission, who said that a request had been received from the parliamentary boundary commission to reduce the size of Brent. That has been done to within 150 votes. The four additional Tory seats that were retained in London last time were not justified on the basis of population. They were given not to the areas with the greatest number of social problems but to areas on the periphery with nothing like that scale of problem.

Given the blatant fiddle which I have witnessed to prevent Hampstead becoming a much more winnable seat for Labour and creating an artificial constituency on two sides of Hampstead heath, and now the perverse fiddle of the boundaries of Brent, the time has come to do away with the parliamentary boundary commission. It would be much more honest if the House debated the matter, recognising that we are discussing the pursuit of power by a party that makes certain that the people conducting those reviews are largely its friends. They are people whom Conservative Members have met and with whom they have practised law decade after decade, and they are doing the business for the Tory party.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

I have no intention of supporting the amendment because it simply tries to put off decisions further. Nor do I propose to follow the example of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), who seems to be playing a rent-a-quote tendency by maligning the boundary commissioners.

I wish to raise a subject that I raised on Second Reading with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. It must be considered on the basis of the totality of London and the outer London boundary. The issue was raised by the local government commissioners in their overview which was produced in the middle of May. I forget the number of the document. but I am sure that the Ministers will know it.

The local government commissioners stressed the point that the Greater London boundary is now out of date and has been overtaken by the development of communities around the outskirts of London. The borough of Kingston, which I represent, is one such example. Kingston has spread from the township of Kingston, over the Greater London boundary into Surrey, and now the community of Kingston, with Long Ditton, Thames Ditton, Hinchley Wood and Claygate—all four form part of the borough of Elmbridge—are cohesive parts of the community that surrounds Kingston.

In the light of that development, three years ago the officers of Kingston council presented the local government boundary commission with facts and statistics to show the way in which development had taken place and the boundary had been overtaken. The local government boundary commissioners have accepted the points raised. In their overview they stated that, although they believed that they were not empowered to make considerable changes in their recommendations to the Secretary of State for the Environment, the points raised should be considered in the near future.

When will the boundary commission take into consideration the development which has created a community that now spreads over what we knew as the Greater London boundary before the Greater London council was abolished? There is no question but that that has also happened in other districts around the periphery of London, and it must surely be taken into account, or there will be confusion. As I have a constituency which touches on that district, I should be told what sort of steer can be given to the boundary commission. Should it consider those matters now, or should we continue in confusion for a number of years? I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate he will state that the parliamentary boundary commission will look seriously at the views expressed in the recent report of the local government boundary commission.

5.15 pm
Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich)

Any hon. Member who represents a London constituency—I am fortunate enough to have represented two London constituencies —will be well aware of the anomalies and problems and the need for a thorough review of the London boundaries. The facts are clear. We are conscious of the extent to which the majority of London constituencies fall below the numerical quota. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) rightly said, the caseload of most London Members is substantially greater than that of hon. Members for other parts of the country, which compensates for the smaller populations.

We are conscious that the boundaries in London are often a historic feature, inherited over a long period, and do not always follow a logical pattern—they are there because they are there. When I first reviewed the constituency boundary and considered the western edge of Greenwich and its boundary with Lewisham, East and Deptford, I found it difficult to understand the logic. I was advised by someone who was in a better position than Ito know the facts that the boundary was decided in the 1860s. I hesitate to use the word "gerrymandered" as the seat was then represented by William Ewart Gladstone, who I am sure would have regarded that as improper. However, I am assured that the boundary was adjusted in the interests of the Liberals at that time. It is a curious boundary, and there is no question about the need for a review and an adjustment. The boundary commission has been taking that entirely proper approach to the western boundary of the Greenwich parliamentary constituency and the Greenwich boroughs.

I and other London Members are concerned at the risk inherent in the ad hoc approach taken to the redefinition of London boundaries. That is evidenced in the way in which the possibility of constituencies crossing borough boundaries is not being debated from first principles. Discussion is not centring on what is right in terms of the relationship between the parliamentary constituency and the borough boundary—there is a strong argument for making a link between the two and preventing parliamentary constituencies from crossing borough boundaries.

The case is clear, but it is not being argued on its merits. It is being considered purely in terms of how to cope with boroughs such as Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham where the populations are falling drastically. Ad hoc decisions are being taken to try to avoid either creating a single constituency which represents about 100,000 people or, at the other extreme, maintaining two constituencies of only about 50,000 people. The issue of constituencies crossing borough boundaries is being considered, not from first principles, but on an ad hoc basis in an attempt to cobble together the best solution out of the current unsatisfactory framework.

Having looked at the report of the local government boundary commission I feel more worried about our proceeding within a tight timetable in which decisions will be prompted by the need for quick decisions rather than by the need to take a broad, strategic view of the appropriate boundaries for London as a whole, and the relationship between those borough boundaries and constituency boundaries. Let us consider how we would approach the problem if we were starting from first principles.

As the local government boundary commission stressed in its report, one would consider the boundaries of outer London and the limits of the metropolitan district. One would start—as it did—by identifying the existing problems. The present boundaries were defined long before the definition of current usages and other development patterns were clear. The report states: Many of the boundaries pre-date the establishment of London in its present form, and were not amended to follow modern features when the Greater London Council was created. More recent years have seen the construction of the M25 and associated development on the edge of London. Those developments were not taken into account when the boundaries were drawn up.

It is hardly surprising that the report, published just a month ago, should end with a clear steer. It recognises that more radical action is needed than the commission has been able to recommend because of its limited remit. That is true not just in south-east London, about which I am concerned, but, as the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) highlighted, the same applies in south-west London. Those boundaries, and the definition of London boroughs and their surrounding districts, needs a more strategic review than was possible given the remit of the local government boundary commission.

Having considered the total exterior London boundary, I shall consider the boundaries of individual boroughs, where similar considerations apply. The report of the boundary commission makes it clear that there are wide variations and anomalies in the size of boroughs, which range from 118,000 to 258,000 residents in inner London and from 136,000 to 318,000 in outer London.

The report makes the following important point: There seems to be no clear rationale for the present number and size of the existing boroughs. The present arrangements for London government seem to be a compromise between two types of authority—on the one hand the boroughs are not truly strategic, while on the other hand they seem too large to represent local community loyalties given that there has been no provision for parishes in Greater London. Many of us working in inner-London areas know the strong sense of attachment that people still feel to their local communities and the sense of loss deriving from the fact that the local government boundaries introduced in the 1960s no longer allowed them the same sense of proximity and contact with their local authority. I frequently encounter people who feel that since the larger London borough of Greenwich was brought into existence, embracing Woolwich and Eltham, those in the former metropolitan area of Greenwich find the town hall now located in Woolwich more remote and do not enjoy the same degree of contact with it.

The boundary commission clearly hints that, despite its remit, it would have liked to deal with the issue more broadly and strategically and to consider the right local authority size, role and functions. Those difficult issues are not being properly considered, but they should be.

I am interested in the factors which relate to the boundaries of the borough of Greenwich. An important recommendation in the provisional boundary commission report suggests that the community of Thamesmead should be united with the borough, on the principle that communities should not generally be divided across boundaries. The recommendation makes a great deal of sense, but for a variety of reasons there was some local opposition to it. I suspect that there is a great deal of conservatism among electorates and a reluctance to move from one borough to another which can easily be stirred up by people who do not want boundaries to be rationalised. I hope that the logic of the recommendation will be reinforced when the boundary commission report finally appears. The whole of Thamesmead should be brought inside the borough boundary—a sensible arrangement.

Mr. David Evennett (Erith and Crayford)

As the Member whose borough covers Thamesmead, may I point out that the hon. Gentleman is overlooking the voice of the people? Conservative Members believe in what the people want, not in what looks good on a map or in what the bureaucrats may think is a good idea—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Newham, West (Mr. Banks) is always vocal on these issues, but we are not discussing his part of London.

The people of Thamesmead made their voice clear in a referendum: they do not want to be part of Greenwich. I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman does not believe in listening to them.

Mr. Raynsford

On the contrary, listening to the people is an important exercise, but one should not be misled into thinking that a view held at one time is final or decisive. Electorates change their minds; temporary factors may influence their decisions. That is why these issues should be dealt with in broad strategic terms, not in an ad hoc way. The poll tax, for instance, may at a given moment influence people to express a preference in a certain direction, but far more fundamental issues are at stake.

If the recommendation is confirmed and Thamesmead is united with Greenwich, that will influence the size of the borough and hence the number of constituencies. Other factors not relevant to the amendment also come into play —the extent to which the register is accurate, for example. There is a great deal of evidence that it is not. Future development proposals are germane to my constituency as well. The proposals for the development of the Greenwich peninsula are stalled because of the hiatus over the Jubilee line—a hiatus for which Conservative Members have a considerable responsibility. The key point is the need to avoid a rushed decision leading to ad hoc conclusions and unsatisfactory short-term answers. There should be a much broader long-term review of boundaries.

All the factors that I have mentioned suggest the case for a more rational and strategic approach than is likely to be adopted if the process is rushed. The amendment would allow the boundary commission to act on wider considerations, to take a broader view and to bear in mind long-term aspects. There is thus a great deal of merit in it. I ask the Committee to support it.

Mr. Tony Banks

As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) said, amendment No. 8 is a probing amendment designed to elicit from the Government their intentions in respect of London. I have heard hon. Members mutter from sedentary positions that there is no intention to change borough boundaries or the local government structure of London, but that view is not universally held in the Conservative party or in the Government—nor will it hold for the foreseeable future.

During the general election campaign, Ministers made a number of statements about the future local government structure of London. The then chairman of the Conservative party, Governor Chris Patten as we must now call him, said that there would be something in the Conservative manifesto on the subject. He hinted as much in an interview carried by the Evening Standard.

Then there was a proposal by the President of the Board of Trade—I believe he wants to be called El Cid to the effect that he was in favour of directly elected mayors for London. There have been proposals to set up a new London forum made up of appointed business men —I stress the word "men". Lady Shirley Porter has suggested a Minister for London and a look at the question of London's boroughs. Clearly, a great deal is going on in the Conservative party.

The state of flux in London is brought about by the uncertainty arising from the abolition of the Greater London council. It is hardly surprising that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central should move an amendment suggesting that the boundary commis-sioners take that state of flux into account. We want to get it right this time.

Conservative Members say that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and I have an axe to grind about the GLC, and we certainly have—we were both on it when it was abolished. But I believe in the old political dictum, "Don't get mad, get even," and that is what we intend to do—eventually. Unfortunately, we shall have to wait another four years before doing so.

The Confederation of British Industry, the London chamber of commerce, the London advisory planning committee arid anyone else who takes a logical, disinterested and dispassionate look at London and the way it is governed—I exclude the political hacks on the Conservative Benches—

Mr. Wilshire

Come off it.

Mr. Banks

We all know why the GLC was abolished: it was because that mad fool, that loony half-mad cretin, the former Prime Minister—I trust that I am not being unparliamentary in thus describing her —decided to abolish it. That was no way to deal with London.

Tomorrow morning I shall be on my way to Vilnius in Lithuania because I have been asked by the Council of Europe to look into whether that country is a fit and proper country to join the democratic family of nations in the Council of Europe. One of the problems put to me concerned the Lithuanian Government's disbanding of the Polish and Russian councils in the country. Apparently that is a threat to democarcy. It is easy for us to say that something should not have been done, but we have a Government—

5.30 pm
The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Member's remarks are interesting, but he should relate them more closely to the amendment.

Mr. Banks

I was about to do so when you intervened, Mr. Lofthouse. I was not setting out my itinerary merely for the sake of it. I was about to contend that what has happened in London with the abolition of the GLC is no worse and no better than what the Lithuanian Government have done. Indeed, that Government had excuses for what they did. After all, their country has only recently emerged from 50 years of Soviet domination. I see much similarity between the totalitarianism and the Stalinism that existed in the Soviet Union and that which was perpetrated on the United Kingdom by Mrs. Thatcher, or Lady Barking, as I understand she is to be called, when she takes up her new position in the other place.

Uncertainty has been created in London by the abolition of the GLC, and that is not surprising. You might have guessed, Mr. Lofthouse, that I am biased.

Dame Angela Rumbold


Mr. Banks

I admit to a certain tinge of bias when it comes to the GLC. Certain views have been expressed, however, by various bodies and if I am biased so are they. For example, in report No. 627 the boundary commission expressed several concerns about the structure of local government when setting out its conclusions. The commission stated: The pattern of administration covering any one part of the capital is now so complicated, with many joint arrangements and functions taken on by both local government and non-local government bodies, that it is difficult to see how accountability could be improved without a fundamental reappraisal of the role of the borough in London's government. Has the Minister paid any attention to that which is stated in the commission's report? Are the Government taking no account of the views that the commission expresses? If the Government are not listening to the views of electoral commissioners, are they similarly not listening to what is said by the local government boundary commission? These are things that we need to know. The commissioners need to know because they do not want to waste their time producing reports that the Government trash.

The hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) represents an even smaller electorate than mine—so if I go, so does he. Many would say that the House of Commons would be well rid of us both. The hon. Gentleman said that there is confusion about what is London and what is the Greater London area, and that is precisely what the commission has said. There is uncertainty.

We should not be considering these issues in a piecemeal, party-political, partisan way. The way in which Mrs. Thatcher scrapped the GLC was undemocratic. I take as an example the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), who I know is a big man in terms of his heart and his conscience. If he were strictly honest with us, as he is from time to time, he would admit that Mrs. Thatcher's approach was not the way to deal with London's local government structure.

It was possible to present a case—my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East did so—for the abolition of the GLC. I disagreed violently with my hon. Friend at the time and the issue remains a bone of contention between us. Similarly, arguments could be advanced now for changing borough boundaries and the strategic government of London, but they should be presented only after calculated consideration by the parties following the findings of a Royal Commission, for example. Instead, Mrs. Thatcher wrote on the back of an envelope, "Scrap the GLC." She did so because she happened not to like my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East, myself, other members of the GLC and what the GLC was doing. That is not the way treat local government structures.

If Conservative Members were truly democratic—I doubt whether there is any more than a thin veneer of democracy within the Conservative party—I believe that they would agree with me, but Conservative Members will go along with democracy so long as it serves their interests. As soon as it appears to go against those interests, democracy goes out of the window.

Mr. Bowis

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene to show the Committee my big heart and to say how much we shall miss him when his constituency disappears. Does he understand, however, that the measure that we are discussing has nothing to do with the reform of London's local government but everything to do with boundary proposals? We can return another day to consider boundary changes in London. Of course, I do not want to spoil the hon. Gentleman's speech.

The First Deputy Chairman

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) for trying to do my job, but I am capable of doing it myself.

Mr. Banks

Thank you, Mr. Lofthouse. I am capable of looking after myself, but I welcome what you say. I am speaking to the amendment, which seeks to make it clear that the commission may delay submitting its report to the Secretary of State until it is notified of the boundaries in London which are to be in operation until 12 June of the year 2000. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central said, it is a probing amendment. I have probed the hon. Member for Battersea—metaphorically, not literally, as he well knows—and he has been found wanting.

We are talking about London boundaries, and I do not really mind if borough boundaries are crossed. I accept that that might be necessary. I do not like the idea, but many of my hon. Friends say that if borough boundaries are crossed outside London there is no reason why they cannot be crossed inside the capital. I would not like it to happen in the context of trying to fix parliamentary constituencies. In other words, I would wish there to be more discussion. The crossing of boundaries causes confusion and I would not want to represent a community which straddled a borough boundary. The crossing of boundaries takes away the community element that we like to have in the relationship between Members and their constituents.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

I tend to agree with what the hon. Gentleman has just said. It might be interesting to know whether the hon. Gentleman agrees with the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) —I apologise for stemming his torrent of words—that the commissioners are "corrupt". If he agrees with that assertion, can it be backed with some evidence?

Mr. Banks

I did not make the assertion. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East is capable of looking after himself and substantiating his allegations. I know that he felt strongly about the matter and believed what he said to be true. If an hon. Member feels something to be true, he has the privilege of being able to speak his mind without fear or favour.

It is not necessary to believe in fifth-form conspiracy theories when we consider the role of the commissioners, but I believe that they very much share the Government's outlook. I would think that they are all part of the club. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East has said, conspiracy and corruption within our society is subtle. We do not have the open corruption that is to be found in other countries. Those who are involved here are far more subtle than that. The British ruling class has had so many generations of manipulating our society that it does not have to do it in an open and obvious way. Instead, it uses subtlety. Members of that class share the same value system. They went to the same schools, they are in the same chambers, and they are members of the same lodges. They go to the same clubs.

Mr. Livingstone

They go to bed with one another.

Mr. Banks

As my hon. Friend says, they go to bed with one another.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

On a point of order, Mr. Lofthouse. I thought that the chairman of the boundary commission was the Speaker of the day of this honourable House. Surely it is not possible to accuse the commission of being corrupt in any way without making the same accusation against its chairman. It is about time Labour Members stopped slurring past Speakers and the present Speaker.

The First Deputy Chairman

The hon. Member for Newham, North West (Mr. Banks) has been treating the Committee to one of his humorous performances. If that has resulted in any stain on Madam Speaker, I am sure that he would wish to withdraw.

Mr. Livingstone

On a point of order, Mr. Lofthouse. I referred mainly to the barristers who conduct the inquiry. I cast no aspersion on Madam Speaker.

Mr. Banks

I, too, was referring to the barristers, Mr. Lofthouse. Let us get that clear.

Mr. Porter

Further to the points of order, Mr. Lofthouse. If it is clear that Members of the House of Commons have gone insane, is there a method by which they can be stopped from speaking?

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I shall leave the hon. Gentleman to decide that.

Mr. Banks

I can assist the hon. Gentleman. We were talking about Madam Speaker, and under the mental health legislation the Speaker has the right to section any Member. Conservative Members should contemplate that carefully before making any further speeches.

Let me pick up a point made by the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) before he disappeared out of the Chamber after being unable to obtain any reaction to his last denunciation of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East. No doubt he went to the Library to discover the role of Madam Speaker. But her position on the boundary commission is purely nominal; it is not a working position.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman has gone far enough and I hope that he will now address his remarks to the amendment.

Mr. Banks

Of course—I was just trying to give a rudimentary lesson in constitutional theory to the hon. Member for Eltham.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Is there not some truth in the suggestion of semi-secret proposals? Does my hon. Friend recall that, not long ago in this very Chamber, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), now the President of the Board of Trade, asked why we needed London boroughs? Is my hon. Friend aware that many people in London are not aware that under section 14(3)(d) and (e) of the Local Government Act 1992, which was supposed not to apply to London, the commission can recommend the abolition of a London borough and the distribution of its area among other London boroughs"? I am sure that most London borough councillors are not aware of that. Certainly some Members of Parliament are not. That reinforces the case for some form of delay as set out in the amendment unless and until that matter has been addressed and concluded.

Mr. Banks

I agree with my hon. Friend. That is all part of the uncertainty argument that I put earlier. When Nicholas Ridley was Secretary of State for the Environment, he made it clear that he felt that boroughs should simply have an annual meeting with councillors getting together—in his words—over a good lunch, in order to decide which particular contracts were to be allocated to which particular—

Mr. Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West)


Mr. Banks

That was the unwritten part of what he was saying.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) emphasises the uncertainty that exists in London. As the parliamentary boundary commissioners are paying some heed to boundaries for the local government boroughs, it is obvious that they need to know in some detail what Government thinking is. I hope that eventually the Minister will give us an honest and open account of the current thinking within the Department of the Environment and the Home Office on the future structure of local government in London.

I am not talking about now. The Minister can no doubt say that at the moment the Government have no plans to make any changes. I want to know what long-term thinking—assuming that that is not too much to expect from Cabinet deliberations—there is on local government structures. I cannot believe that nothing is happening. There have been too many representations from too many bodies to which the Conservative party pays heed to the effect that something needs to be done about London if it is to play its part as one of the major European capital cities and to retain its position as the financial centre of Europe, and that it must have some sort of direction, coherence and identity. The Corporation of the City of London is saying that, as are the commercial and business interests within the square mile.

It is not only Labour Members who need to know; it is not only the boundary commissioners looking at parliamentary constituencies who need to know; it is also the local government boundary commission. Everyone wants to know. It is therefore incumbent upon the Government to tell us.

Clarification of the Government's plan is particularly important as the local government boundary commission under Sir John Banham, which is due to take over from the present commission, has been given explicit power to make radical changes to the pattern of London boroughs. Section 14(3) of the Local Government Act 1992 allows the new commission to recommend the following changes:

  1. "(d) the constitution of a new London borough by the amalgamation of two or more London boroughs or by the aggregation of parts of London boroughs or by the separation of part of a London borough;
  2. (e) the abolition of a London borough and the distribution of its area among other London boroughs."
That is explosive stuff—not my speech I hasten to add, but what I have just read out is explosive stuff. When the people of London get to know that there is the possibility of boroughs and boundaries disappearing and amalgamations taking place, they will want to know what part they are to play in those deliberations. The Minister owes it to the House to say what sort of democratic processes will be brought into play so that communities can discuss with which part of London or community they want to maintain links, or whether they want to go somewhere else.

5.45 pm

What we have long missed in London is a proper discussion about London's local government. We do not want decisions made by Ministers on the run, as it were, or by Prime Ministers who take a particular dislike to figures or bodies, or by Conservatives who cannot now retreat from the face of Thatcherism because to do so would be like spitting on the previous Prime Minister's grave. They have done much stamping and spitting on her grave up to now, but I do not think that they want to go any further.

The people of London deserve something better than their local government structure being left to decisions made on the back of an envelope in the Cabinet from time to time, with various statements being made ex cathedra by Ministers and those who are now governor of Hong Kong or who have gone on to different positions in the Cabinet. London deserves to know. At least the amendment gives the Minister an opportunity to start the great debate on London that we want. I hope that he will show himself ready and able to meet the challenge. Go on!

Mr. Peter Lloyd

I was so diverted by the rehearsal of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) for his visit to Vilnius that I did not notice that no other hon. Member had risen.

I shall start with the hon. Gentleman because he finished on a rousing note. I shall not tell him the "Lloyd" plan for the future of London, but in a few moments I shall come to the Government's plans for the future of London.

The hon. Gentleman read from the Local Government Act 1992 the powers that the Local Government Commission will have to recommend the amalgamation and division of London boroughs. It certainly does have that power to recommend, just as I believe the local government boundary commission which it supersedes had.

But local government boundary commissions make their reports at intervals of 10 to 15 years, so the next report of the Local Government Commission after the one that is currently under way will probably not come forward until well into the next century.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) put most of his questions in a form that related to whether the Government had a secret agenda to change the structure of London's local government in the foreseeable future. Most of his complaints, however, seemed to relate to the rule in schedule 2 of the 1986 Act which precludes the crossing of borough boundaries by the parliamentary commission except in exceptional circumstances.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government have no such agenda. It is a matter for the Department of the Environment rather than for me, but in summary I can say that the Government have no plans to review the general structure of local government in London. They have no desire whatever to inflict another layer of bureaucracy on London which would create, not solve, problems. They have set up a special Cabinet sub-committee. That relates to some of the references made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West to plans for the future and various suggestions. The sub-committee is chaired by the Secretary of State for the Environment and has been set up to co-ordinate Government policy in London.

It intends to establish a private sector London forum to promote London as a world centre of business, tourism, and culture. None of those changes and developments affects London local government structure or boundaries.

Mr. Tony Banks

What opportunities will Londoners and their representatives, such as local councils and the London Boroughs Association, have to discuss the future shape of the London forum? That is an important development, and many of us would like to be involved in the forum's creation and in selecting its members.

Mr. Lloyd

That question should be addressed to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, but I am sure that he will take on board all good ideas—even those submitted by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West. However, that has nothing to do with London local government structure or boundaries, which is the subject matter of the Bill and of amendment No. 8 in particular.

Mr. Darling

Is it not ironic that the Cabinet has established a special committee, but that matters affecting many other parts of the country will be considered by local councils? That is typical of the Government's approach to London and of their fear of its electorate. If there is to be no change, why did the 1986 Act allow the local government boundary commission to examine the constitution of new London boroughs and amalgamations, and so on?

If the Government do not intend to do anything about London, why as recently as earlier this year did they seek to amend the 1986 Act, which specifically enjoins the commission to consider such aspects—and presumably it would have the contemplation that Sir John Banham might recommend changes?

Mr. Lloyd

He might do so, but those powers to recommend exist in previous legislation. As I told the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, another local government boundary commission review is not due this decade. Commissions make their reviews at intervals. We are in the middle of a review now. A review under the terms of the new legislation—not dissimilar to the 1986 Act—is not expected until into the next century.

London boroughs and their boundaries are not due to be considered in the foreseeable future. In the normal scheme of things, that will be done 10 or 15 years after the current commission has reported.

Mr. Bermingham

I am well aware of the local government review proposals and of the action that Sir John Banham intends to take. Is it already in mind to change the shape of London boroughs at some future time? If so, that surely adds weight to the suggestion that I made to the Home Secretary earlier today with regard to the 1986 Act—that the parliamentary boundary commissioners should be allowed to cross London borough boundaries to ensure parity with the rest of England.

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman concentrated on that point for most of his speech, and it was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central. I appreciate the force of the argument. It is open to the boundary commission to cross London borough boundaries if, in the commission's judgment, an unreasonable and unaccept-able disparity in the size of a constituency's population would otherwise exist. In the same way that the commission can cross London boundaries, it can cross other base line boundaries in the rest of the United Kingdom.

It is for the commission to decide whether the disparities have become so great that it must cross boroughs. It is for the commission, not the Government, to interpret its responsibilities under the schedule in question.

I and the Government would be loath to alter the boundary commission's rules at this stage. I hold out no hope that I would think it practicable and right to do so. I shall, however, discuss with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department the points made in the debate. I emphasise that at this stage I do not consider that change would be practicable. Nevertheless, we will turn our minds to the comments that have been made and to the possibilities before Report stage and Third Reading.

Mr. Bermingham

Does not the Minister appreciate that at the heart of the 1983 case was the ruling by the appellate committee in the House of Lords that it could not interfere with a statutory base? The position has worsened—as the Minister knows from the experiences that other Conservative Members recounted this afternoon. If the review is to be just and not to he seen as partisan, the rules for London ought to be the same as for the rest of the country.

Mr. Lloyd

In the rest of the country, there are always boundaries over which the commission may not trespass other than in exceptional circumstances. There are different boundaries for different reasons in different parts of the country. It may be that the hon. Gentleman is right and that the position has deteriorated in respect of London. It may be more difficult to devise constituencies of roughly equal size or of acceptably similar size—in which case, it will be for the boundary commission to reach its own conclusions under the rules in the 1986 Act, on which it is entirely for the commission to reach its own judgment.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

My hon. Friend's earlier remarks will have provided some comfort to hon. Members in all parts of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) spoke of a skin or envelope around one or possibly two constituencies. That is very different from the situation in most English counties, whose boundaries contain at least four constituencies—except in the Isle of Wight. The figure can be as many as 14, but the lower limit is what matters. I invite my hon. Friend the Minister to return at a later stage to say whether he believes that the proposition made in the amendment that was not called today, that "excessive disparity" can mean 10,000 extra votes, and should certainly apply in the case of 20,000 votes, is one that the boundary commissioners might be expected to share. If the commissioners do not consider a disparity of 20,000 votes excessive, we ought to change the primary legislation.

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend puts his finger on one of the difficulties confronting the commission when he refers to the envelopes in other parts of the country that contain a varying number of constituencies. In other parts of the country, that number is very small compared with the huge number in the whole of Greater London. If we abandon the instruction contained in schedule 2 to the 1986 legislation, we shall create enormous difficulties for the commission. I am not sure that the suggestion—and as this was made in an amendment that was not called, I shall not dwell on it—that the boundary commission should be given some instruction as to an excessive disparity would answer the case.

Even if such an amendment were made, the Bill would still contain the requirement that the commission is obliged to give precedence to the borough boundary—even though the numbers were unequal. Substantial problems would still exist. I am not sure that my hon. Friend's suggestion represents an effective remedy.

Having considered that point, I believe that it would be extremely difficult to introduce an acceptable change. I understand the arguments advanced by hon. Members on both sides of the House—albeit not unanimously, because the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) argued the other way. However, there is sufficient force of argument for me and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department to want to reconsider the issues. Nevertheless, I would be misleading the House if I were to lead hon. Members to believe that I envisaged a solution. I want to consider the arguments again.

Mr. Bermingham

The problem is not so great. In the shire counties, 10, 12 or 14 seats can bring us closer to the norm. I believe—the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) will correct me if I am wrong—that merely allowing one seat to cross the boundary between certain south London boroughs would remove all the disparity, allowing us to reach the required norm of 69,000 very quickly. The boundary commission knows where those boroughs are. The difficulty has been dealt with elsewhere in the country, and it can be dealt with very simply in London.

6 pm

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman's proposed solution would tend to leave matters as they are. If it is so simple to achieve a rough uniformity in that part of London, it can reasonably be left to the boundary commission to regard the opportunity as an exceptional one of which it would be right to take advantage. However, what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central said about the grouping of boroughs in parts of London underlined the complexity of what he proposes. There are 84 constituencies in Greater London, and I suspect that, if the boundary commission is to manage them effectively, they will have to be grouped. We are well down the track with the boundary commission review, and I do not think that it would be right or practicable to change the rules at this stage, given the complicated adjustments that that would require.

The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) is no longer in his place—

Mr. Tony Banks

My hon. Friend has gone to check the Hansard report. Apparently, he said something that has caused concern.

Mr. Lloyd

In that case, I shall read Hansard with interest tomorrow. According to the rules, the meaning of what an hon. Member has said must appear in the record, even if the grammar has been tidied up.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Brent, East cast such fantastical aspersions on the objectivity and non-partisanship of the boundary commissions, but I shall not dwell on the matter, except to say that the hon. Gentleman did not seem to carry either side of the House with him, and to add that, at the last general election, it took some 71,000 voters to elect a Conservative Member and some 61,000 to elect a Labour Member. If the boundary commission was indeed biased in favour of the Conservative party, it did an extremely poor job.

My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) asked whether we would examine the boundaries of Greater London and the county of Surrey. I must disappoint my hon. Friend, and tell him that we do not intend to do so in the foreseeable future—probably not during this century. That issue is tied up with the whole question of the distribution of seats in London.

We have said very little about amendment No. 8 itself. The amendment would enable the parliamentary boundary commission for England to delay its report for London until it knows what the London borough boundaries will be on 12 June 2000. I hoped that an Opposition Member would explain the significance of that date. Perhaps it is a printer's error for 1 June; if not, however, its significance escapes me—and it seems to have escaped the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central as well.

I note that the amendment uses the words "may delay". Presumably the commission would be able to produce its report without knowing the boundaries if it felt that that was the right course. As we established yesterday, however, the 1986 Act requires the commission to produce reports that relate to all the parts of the United Kingdom for which they are responsible. That would prevent the English commission from presenting a report that left out London. The Bill, on the other hand, requires the commissions to produce their reports by the end of 1994.

The amendment manages to contradict parts of the 1986 Act as well as the central feature of the Bill. If accepted, it would produce internal contradictions in the legislation. I realise that it is a probing amendment, but I believe that Opposition Members intend to divide the House, so I shall explain why I do not think it should go on to the statute book. There is a good practical reason —albeit a technical one—for my view.

As I have said, I can give some comfort to Opposition Members. The local government boundary commission for England will produce its recommendations for the London and metropolitan boroughs in the autumn; there will thus be adequate time for the House to approve them by statutory instrument, so that they are effective by 1 April 1994. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central wisely refrained from moving amendment No. 6, there will also be adequate time for the boundary commission for England to take the revised London borough boundaries fully into account; indeed, it will be obliged to do so before submitting its final report.

Although the amendment is not acceptable, what it ostensibly seeks to achieve will almost certainly happen, because the London boroughs will not be due for another boundary review for 10 to 15 years. That will take us well into the next century, far beyond the magic and unexplained date of 12 June 2000.

Mr. Dowd

I support the amendment. I have not been reassured by anything that the Minister has said, principally because for many years the Tory stewardship of London's affairs has served Londoners very badly, especially inner Londoners.

My hon. Friends the Members for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) produced their traditional sterling defence of the Greater London council. Some of us, however, regarded its creation with little more than equanimity. It was created by a Conservative party that had given up hope of ever securing a majority on the even earlier and much more lamented London county council. I did not take a very active part in the debate that took place across London at the time, because I was at the council's tender mercies in one of its schools. The fact remains, however, that the traditions of the LCC and its successor are now denied to the people of London.

The amendment holds that it is not a good idea to allow for a wholesale review of the governance of London that does not include at its heart a review of the provision for that governance. The date of 12 June seems reasonable, although I am not sure why it is there; I would support 11 June or 19 June—particularly 11 June, which is my girlfriend's birthday and would have some sentimental value, if nothing else. The point is, however, that we need more reassurance than the Government have given about the form of government that London can expect.

The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) said that he was prepared to debate the matter some other time. Let us debate it first, and then return to parliamentary boundaries. Opposition Members consider it imperative for us to know what the people of London can look forward to before deciding that their parliamentary representation adequately reflects their needs and aspirations.

Mr. Tony Banks

I am sorry to interrupt, but my hon. Friend has mentioned the governance of London. Did he observe the ghost of Christmas past sidling into the Chamber and seating himself on the Front Bench, in the form of the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker)?

Mr. Dowd

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I sincerely hope that it is not the ghost of Christmas to come, otherwise we are all in for a pretty lean time.

The primary function of the Greater London council was as a redistributive tax mechanism. The Government chose to abolish that, and once they had done so the council's value to Londoners, principally to inner Londoners, was zero, because the problems of inner London are not the same as the problems of outer London: the problems of Surbiton are not the problems of Deptford. Simply to hoick them into a job-lot for the convenience of the Conservative party was a totally inadequate reason for the existence of the GLC once its redistributive mechanism had been lost.

Mr. Tracey

The hon. Gentleman makes one of the strong points that the Conservative party has made consistently in the past decade—that the interests of the people of Surbiton were not the same as the interests of the people of Deptford. Therefore, the Greater London council was superfluous, irrelevant and a costly nonsense, which is why we got rid of it.

Mr. Dowd

The Conservative party got rid of the GLC when it ceased to serve its purpose.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

On a point of order, Dame Janet. Will you confirm that we are still dealing with amendment No. 8, my copy of which may be printed differently from the hon. Gentleman's, but which seems to refer to the boundaries of London boroughs, not to the future or past of the Greater London council or a greater London authority?

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dame Janet Fookes)

It is fair to say that the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dowd) has been going rather wide of the amendment. I try to give reasonable latitude to hon. Members, but I hope that the hon. Member will take that point on board.

Mr. Dowd

I apologise if I have stretched parliamentary convention to its limits, and perhaps beyond it. I am learning rapidly.

I hope that you, Dame Janet, will forgive Labour Members if they express grave misgivings about the proposed Banham commission. I shall not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East word for word, lest I have to leap out to the Hansard office every few moments.

Mr. Tony Banks

Given the allegations that have been made, my hon. Friend can call me an old cynic if he likes, but when the chairman of the Local Government Commission is the ex-director general of the CBI—an organisation that is well known as the lickspittle of the Government—it is not surprising that we think that there is some stitch-up going on.

Mr. Dowd

As I said, I am learning fast in this place. I have just learnt not to let my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West sit behind me, because that is what I have written down here.

Before Sir John Banham was director general of the CBI, and before he was knighted, he was in charge of the Audit Commission. Where do hon. Members imagine the current director general of the Audit Commission will go when the director general of the CBI retires?

Mr. Banks

Give us a clue.

Mr. Dowd

I shall happily give way if anybody wants to answer. Howard Davies of the Audit Commission will occupy the seat that will be vacated by Sir John Banham.

Mr. Banks

It is a disgrace.

The Second Deputy Chairman

Order. The only disgrace is the way in which Members are intervening from sedentary positions. I suggest that everybody sit more quietly and that we permit the hon. Member to resume his speech, but strictly according to the amendment under consideration.

Mr. Dowd

The Banham commission is a central part of the Bill, certainly of future provisions for boundaries.

Mr. Winnick

As the amendment refers to the report of the boundary commission, is it not essential that we should have full confidence in the impartiality of the boundary commissioners? If there is a feeling that, as my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dowd), for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) have pointed out, we cannot have confidence in the impartiality of the commissioners, that is disturbing indeed. I do not know whether corruption has occurred, but in the past 13 years the Conservative Government have been keen to place their own people in positions of authority. If boundary commissioners are sympathetic to the Tory cause, our confidence in their impartiality is undermined. The Home Secretary had to reassure us that all is well with the Bill. Like my hon. Friends, I am rather disturbed by everything—

The Second Deputy Chairman

Not for the first time, I remind hon. Members that interventions should be short. That was far from short.

6.15 pm
Mr. Dowd

I shall explain why some of us are so suspicious about the powers that have been granted to the Banham commission. Dulwich Conservative association, whose most illustrious member is Lady Barking, has called for the creation of a borough comprising the southern part of the London borough of Lambeth, the southern part of the London borough of Southwark and two wards forming the western part of the London borough of Lewisham. Such a creation had never occurred to anybody in the history of south London. Such an artifice would have so little in common with the people and communities that it covered that it would defy logic, except in one respect: it would create a Conservative-held stronghold in an area that is currently denied to it. Labour Members are deeply alarmed about the Banham commission having powers to create such monstrosities.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

This is becoming a slightly schoolboy debate, with Labour Members attacking the impartiality of the commissioners. We know that the vast majority of sensible members of the Labour party, as opposed to a few left-wing Labour Members from London, do not agree. The Banham commission is not the subject matter of the Bill. We are dealing with the parliamentary boundary commission, which nobody can traduce. The purpose of the amendment, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State has just made clear, would be to delay the English boundary review until the year 2000. That delay cannot be defended on any high moral ground by the Labour party. It is seeking to go back on its acceptance of the Bill, and the principles behind it, on Second Reading. It is disgraceful that it has moved an amendment that is a thinly veiled disguise for an attempt to delay the Bill and has tried to occupy the high moral ground by making unjustified attacks on the impartiality of public servants who give up their time for the boundary commission.

Mr. Livingstone

On a point of order, Dame Janet. We have now seen the disturbing face of prejudice, bias and corruption, which confirms what I said earlier. May I appeal to you to suspend the sitting until members of the boundary commission can be brought here to give detailed answers to the points of corruption that we have raised?

The Second Deputy Chairman

The answer is no.

Mr. Dowd

Conservative Members will be delighted to know that I have almost finished.

Mr. Gorst

Will the hon. Gentleman kindly help us by saying exactly what would give him confidence in the boundary commission? Would it help if, for example, the commission were to bend the arrangements slightly in one or two constituencies to enable Labour to secure seats that it does not already have? What else would give Labour confidence? It would help us enormously to know precisely what it had in mind.

Mr. Dowd

In response to that intervention, one thing that would reassure me would be for John Banham to have absolutely nothing to do with parliamentary constituency boundaries in the future.

As I said, the people of London have been singularly ill-served by Tory stewardship in the past. The bigotry of the Thatcher years was merely its zenith, not its origin. Until we have a damn sight more reassurance than is forthcoming at the moment, hon. Members representing London constituencies in particular will not stand by and let people in inner London be so ill-served in the future.

Mr. Spearing

The Minister conceded that there was something different about London, and I gathered from his brief speech that he is opposing the amendment because of the timing. What he said about the date was reinforced by the Home Secretary, but I think that the Minister will agree that there is a reason for delaying the review—not necessarily for the time mentioned in the amendment.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

indicated dissent.

Mr. Spearing

The Minister shakes his head, but let us test that. Once the boundary commission has presented its recommendations to the Home Secretary this autumn, is not the plan to lay the necessary statutory instruments in 1993? I think that that is the timetable.

Mr. Lloyd

indicated assent.

Mr. Spearing

The Minister nods. That means that around this time next year there will be some debate on the merits of the statutory instruments, whatever they may be. It is clear from the scope given to the boundary commission, which I quoted in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and which he also quoted in his concluding remarks, that it is at least conceivable—I hope that the Minister will respond briefly—that he intends to publish the recommendations before he decides which to accept.

The timing is important. Until the recommendations are published, until the statutory instrument is laid or until the Minister states that he does not intend to lay one, it is conceivable that any London borough—I presume that the power is not merely for one but for any number to be abolished—which feels that it might be up for dissolution will feel any degree of security. That is how I understand it, and I should be grateful if the Minister would confirm that that is the timetable. If it is, I suggest that any degree of certainty for local government administration and the distribution of seats is at risk. Therefore, uncertainty precedes the delay that we are advocating.

Mr. Lloyd

Any recommendations of any commission must cause uncertainty before they are known, because no one knows what they suggest. The boundary commission will report to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in the near future. He will introduce orders to put into effect the recommendations as they stand or with modifications, or he may decide not to introduce orders, but that will be made known to the House and it will be for the House to decide whether a statutory instrument should be put into effect. The timetable will be such that there will be time for the parliamentary boundary commission to have regard to the recommendations in the proposals which it must make to the Home Secretary at the end of 1994. That is clear and logical.

I hope that it satisfies the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) because there is no other way to proceed if we are to achieve what Labour Members apparently want—no change to the parliamentary boundaries in London until we have the borough boundaries in place as they are likely to be for the next decade. That will be the case because the review of local government boundaries will be carried out by the present local government boundary commission, and the new one that is taking over is not due to report until the normal interval has elapsed, which should take us well into the next century.

Mr. Spearing

I think that the Minister has confirmed almost precisely what I was saying. My concern is not only with the linkage of parliamentary seats and the future of local government in London but with the uncertainty that must arise between now and when the Minister or the Home Secretary chooses to reveal his intentions about any such recommendations. That reinforces the case for some delay.

This debate has been partly a London debate, but the two Ministers do not represent London constituencies. I make no complaint about that, but they should realise that in London the link between the function of a Member of Parliament and the function of local government is, I suspect, rather more intimate than in other parts of the country, not least because the functions—[Interruption.] The Home Secretary should not laugh.

The functions of the Greater London council were not those advertised by the former Government in their propaganda. The GLC was fundamental to the services of London and if its duties are not taken on by the borough councils, they must be taken on by hon. Members. Therefore, the number of issues with which London Members have to deal day after day, in telephone message after telephone message and green card after green card, in relatively small constituencies but in highly complex urban areas are of a different character and calibre from those facing many hon. Members from other parts of the country. That is especially true in comparison with those representing cities such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham which have different local government set-ups to which they can refer.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I have listened to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), whose views I usually respect. My expression was one of exasperation because he has not accepted the clear explanation that account will be taken of London local government boundaries when the parliamentary boundary commission reports. The hon. Gentleman may have been misled by some of the earlier debate. He does not belong to the loony left in London, although the debate has largely been dominated by the loony left which has attacked members of the Banham commission, which is not involved in the process, and has taken the opportunity to attack people who are not in the House to defend themselves.

The local government commission sitting in London is almost due to report. That commission, which is not the one chaired by Sir John Banham, will report to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in the very near future. He will no doubt make proposals to the House in the light of its recommendations. That will be in time for the parliamentary boundary commission, which we are now considering, to take into account the new boundaries when it undertakes its review which we believe should end by December 1994. When the—

The Second Deputy Chairman

Order. Interventions should be short, even those from Secretaries of State.

Mr. Clarke

I apologise, Dame Janet, but I hope that what I said was clear. The hon. Gentleman's argument was beside the point. The amendment would delay the whole shooting match until the year 2000.

Mr. Spearing

The Home Secretary's need to enlighten the Committee—I am grateful to him—underlines my point. There is a degree of uncertainty in the matter which should not exist. I agree with the Home Secretary that there is a sequence in the report of the local government boundary commission, the laying of orders and the final recommendations of the parliamentary boundary commission.

My point concerns the opportunity that the House will have to discuss and to consider those recommendations. Despite my request, the Minister has not said when that opportunity will be. I suggest—I think that the Minister agrees—that boundaries could be changed in London by the laying of a single statutory instrument. I do not know whether it will be a negative or an affirmative instrument. Even if it is an affirmative instrument, the local government map of London could be changed by a maximum of one and a half hours of debate.

6.30 pm

The extent to which the Conservative party wipes away the importance of local government can be illustrated by the statutory instrument which set up the London Docklands development corporation. Half of its area is in my constituency, but I was not even able to speak on that instrument. I suggest to Ministers that they take a little more care in their concern for the operation of local government and for the work of their hon. Friends in Greater London than they have done previously.

Mr. Tony Banks

My point relates to something that the Home Secretary said in his intervention. Does my hon. Friend share my sense of annoyance about the Home Secretary's reaction when we criticise someone such as Sir John Banham, formerly director general of the Confederation of British Industry? If a Labour Government had put a former general secretary of the Trades Union Congress in charge of a boundary commission, the accusations from Conservative Members would be legion. It is a bit much for the Home Secretary to say that we are crying foul when he knows damn well that if we put up one of our stooges in place of one of the Government's stooges, he would say precisely what I have been saying.

Mr. Spearing

My hon. Friend knows well that commissions which look at matters objectively carry the confidence of all parties. From what I have heard of the debate this evening, that does not appear to be the case in this instance.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

The underlying point is that the amendment includes the word "delay", and the delay concerns the bringing in of fairer constituencies. The electorates of the three Newham Members added together come to roughly the same as the electorate of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and the electorate of my hon. Friend the Minister. Looked at in that way, the Labour party is arguing for unfair constituencies and unfair voting.

Mr. Spearing

My case does not necessarily concern the dates. The amendment is a probing amendment. I seek greater care and, therefore, a longer time scale, which could be called delay, for considering these important matters.

I will explain why boundaries in London are important by reference to the Minister's speech. The Minister told us that the Conservative party made clear in its election manifesto that there was to be a Cabinet committee which, in effect, would take over responsibility for the co-ordination of public affairs in London. Previously, that co-ordination was the responsibility of the Greater London council. In relation to the east Thames corridor or the organisation of docklands, there may be a recommendation from the boundary commission for significant changes. All sorts of rumours have been going round about that. It will be necessary to take a far longer period in which to consider the consequences.

So far, the Government have not shown any sensitivity when dealing with strategic affairs in London. If they had, we should not have the debacle of Canary Wharf, the debacle of the docklands light railway or what is likely to be a further debacle—the mess over the docklands-Thames corridor and the planning for the high-speed link to the channel. That may appear to be a long way from local government, but it is not in view of its consequences for London. I support the element of delay and the element of reconsideration which are the main parts of the amendment.

Mr. Darling

This has been a useful debate even though, at times, it has strayed rather more widely from the terms of the amendment than I might have anticipated.

As I and some of my hon. Friends have said, the amendment is essentially a probing amendment. Given the narrow nature of the long title of the Bill, it was possible only to table such an amendment if we were to remain in order. The purpose of the amendment was to draw the Government on what they planned to do about the structure of local government in London over the next few years, which has some significance for the parliamentary boundary commission.

The Home Secretary is right in saying that the date of 12 June 2000 is arbitrary. In fact, the date was 1 June when the amendment left my desk; it seems to have been transcribed as 12 June by the time it appeared on the amendment paper. As the date was arbitrary, I saw no need to table a further amendment or to do something to get it back to 1 June.

The hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) referred to delay. There is no intention to delay the report of the boundary commission until the year 2000, which would be absurd. Equally, it would be absurd to hold back the boundary commission for England just because there might be problems in London. That was not the point, as I think the Minister, the Home Secretary and those advising them—although they will have advised Ministers to answer the points in detail—will have grasped. They understand that the object of the exercise was to try to ascertain from the Government what they planned to do with regard to local government in London.

Interestingly, Conservative Members as well as Opposition Members raised questions about the future government of London. The hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey), who is not in his place, clearly has territorial ambitions as he represents the smallest constituency in London, if not in England. He asked where London would end in the next few years, and whether it would extend or whether the area covered by the London boroughs would decrease.

Under the terms of schedule 4 to the 1986 Act, it is clearly intended by Parliament that the boundary commission must have substantial regard to the London boroughs. Our argument is that if the pattern of the London boroughs is to change over the next eight to 10 years, we should know so that the boundary commission can have regard to those changes. I say that for all the reasons given by hon. Members of all parties. I am glad that the Minister appears to be nodding; at last he has grasped the point.

Other useful points were raised. I emphasise one point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), who seems to be off checking Hansard again. He drew our attention to the fact that from the terms of the parliamentary answer given by the Home Secretary today to the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), who has also gone, the quota entitlement for Brent would be 2.4, although, as I said earlier, 18,000 people were missing from the register between 1987 and 1992. If the boundary commission wants to reach the correct allocation of seats, it should have regard to the actual number of people in Brent rather than merely to those on the register, if the register is inaccurate.

Other hon. Members have drawn attention time and again to the point that there are problems in London because we believe that the Government intend to change the pattern of local government there. I and my hon. Friends referred to the report by the local government boundary commission which has drawn attention to substantial difficulties in drawing boundaries in London. It has drawn attention to the role and functions of local government in London, and to the mixed pattern of administration between Government and non-Government bodies.

Given the powers of the local government boundary commission, the report is extremely strong stuff. It asks the Government to have regard to the formidable difficulties in London. In an intervention in an earlier debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) drew attention to paras (d) and (e) of section 14(3) of the Local Government Act 1992, which make it clear that the Local Government Commission—the body chaired by Sir John Banham, as opposed to the local government boundary commission—has the power to examine the constitution of London boroughs.

If the Government intended the Local Government Commission to examine the constitution of London boroughs, they must have contemplated that the boroughs would be changed. If changes are made to the boroughs, changes will be made to the boundaries. The local government boundary commission might wish to have regard to all those matters when compiling the report which it will lay before Parliament some time after the end of 1994.

I said that the amendment was a probing amendment, and so it is, to a substantial degree. It was never intended to be a perfectly drafted amendment suitable for inclusion in the Bill. It was not the intention to table a wrecking amendment. Indeed, a wrecking amendment probably would not have been in order. But, as the Government have failed to give any satisfactory answer on what they plan for London, even though the Secretary of State and the Minister are here to answer on behalf of the Government—whether the answer is from the Home Office or any other Department is irrelevant—I regret that the Opposition feel that we should press the matter to a Division. Accordingly, I invite the Committee to support the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:-

The Committee divided: Ayes 248, Noes 302.

Division No. 40] [6.40 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Adams, Mrs Irene Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Ainger, Nick Corston, Ms Jean
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Cousins, Jim
Allen, Graham Cryer, Bob
Anderson. Donald (Swansea E) Cummings. John
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Cunliffe, Lawrence
Armstrong, Hilary Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Cunningham, Dr John (C'p'l'nd)
Ashton, Joe Darling, Alistair
Austin-Walker, John Davidson, Ian
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Davies. Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Barnes, Harry Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Battle, John Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Bayley, Hugh Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Beckett, Margaret Denham, John
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Dewar, Donald
Bell, Stuart Dixon, Don
Bennett. Andrew F. Dowd, Jim
Benton, Joe Dunnachie. Jimmy
Bermingham, Gerald Dunwoody. Mrs Gwyneth
Blair, Tony Eagle, Ms Angela
Blunkett, David Eastham, Ken
Boateng, Paul Enright, Derek
Boyce, Jimmy Etherington, William
Boyes, Roland Evans, John (St Helens N)
Bradley, Keith Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Bray, Dr Jeremy Fatchett, Derek
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Fisher, Mark
Burden, Richard Flynn, Paul
Byers, Stephen Foster, Derek (B'p Auckland)
Caborn, Richard Foster, Donald (Bath)
Callaghan, Jim Foulkes, George
Campbell. Ms Anne (C'bridge) Fraser, John
Campbell, Ronald (Blyth V) Fyfe, Maria
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Galbraith, Sam
Canavan, Dennis Gapes, Michael
Cann, James Garrett, John
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) George, Bruce
Chisholm, Malcolm Gerrard, Neil
Clapham. Michael Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Godman, Dr Norman A.
Clelland, David Godsiff, Roger
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Golding, Mrs Llin
Coffey, Ms Ann Gordon, Mildred
Cohen, Harry Graham, Thomas
Connarty, Michael Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Mullin, Chris
Grocott, Bruce Murphy, Paul
Gunnell, John Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Hain, Peter O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Hall. Mike O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Hanson, David O'Hara, Edward
Hardy, Peter Olner, William
Harman, Ms Harriet Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Henderson, Doug Patchett, Terry
Heppell, John Pendry, Tom
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Pickthall, Colin
Hinchliffe, David Pike, Peter L.
Hoey, Kate Pope. Greg
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Home Robertson, John Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Hoon, Geoff Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Primarolo, Dawn
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Purchase, Ken
Hoyle, Doug Quin, Ms Joyce
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Radice, Giles
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Randall, Stuart
Hutton, John Raynsford, Nick
Illsley, Eric Redmond, Martin
Ingram, Adam Reid, Dr John
Jackson, Ms Glenda (H'stead) Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Jackson, Ms Helen (Shef'ld, H) Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Jamieson, David Roche, Ms Barbara
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Rogers, Allan
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Rooker, Jeff
Jones, Ms Lynne (B'ham S 0) Rooney, Terry
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Ross. Ernie (Dundee W)
Jowell, Ms Tessa Rowlands, Ted
Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C & S) Ruddock, Joan
Kennedy, Ms Jane (L'p'l Br'g'n) Salmond, Alex
Khabra, Piara Sedgemore, Brian
Kilfoyle, Peter Sheerman, Barry
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Kirkwood, Archy Short, Clare
Leighton, Ron Simpson, Alan
Lewis, Terry Skinner, Dennis
Livingstone, Ken Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Loyden, Eddie Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
Lynne, Ms Liz Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McAllion, John Soley, Clive
McCartney, Ian Spearing, Nigel
Macdonald, Calum Spellar, John
McFall, John Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
McKelvey, William Steinberg, Gerry
Mackinlay, Andrew Stevenson, George
McLeish, Henry Stott, Roger
Maclennan, Robert Strang, Gavin
McMaster, Gordon Straw, Jack
McWilliam, John Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Madden, Max Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Mahon, Alice Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Mandelson, Peter Tipping, Paddy
Marek, Dr John Turner, Dennis
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Tyler, Paul
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Vaz, Keith
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Martlew, Eric Wallace, James
Maxton, John Walley, Joan
Meacher, Michael Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Meale, Alan Watson, Mike
Michael, Alun Wicks, Malcolm
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (SW'n W)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute) Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Milburn, Alan Wilson, Brian
Miller, Andrew Winnick, David
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Worthington, Tony
Morgan, Rhodri Wray, Jimmy
Morley, Elliot Wright, Tony
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Tellers for the Ayes:
Mowlam, Marjorie Mr. Thomas McAvoy and
Mudie, George Mr. Robert N. Wareing.
Adley, Robert Eggar, Tim
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Elletson, Harold
Alexander, Richard Emery, Sir Peter
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Amess, David Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Ancram, Michael Evennett, David
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Faber, David
Ashby, David Fabricant, Michael
Aspinwall, Jack Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Fenner, Dame Peggy
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Fishburn, John Dudley
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Forman, Nigel
Baldry, Tony Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Forth, Eric
Bates, Michael Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Batiste, Spencer Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Bellingham, Henry Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Bendall, Vivian Freeman, Roger
Beresford, Sir Paul French, Douglas
Biffen, Rt Hon John Gale, Roger
Blackburn, Dr John G. Gallie, Phil
Body, Sir Richard Gardiner, Sir George
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Booth, Hartley Garnier, Edward
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Gill, Christopher
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Gillen, Ms Cheryl
Bowis, John Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Brandreth, Gyles Gorst, John
Brazier, Julian Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW)
Bright, Graham Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Browning, Mrs. Angela Grylls, Sir Michael
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Budgen, Nicholas Hague, William
Burns, Simon Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie
Burt, Alistair Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Butcher, John Hampson, Dr Keith
Butterfill, John Hannam, Sir John
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Hargreaves, Andrew
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Harris, David
Carrington, Matthew Haselhurst, Alan
Carttiss, Michael Hawkins, Nicholas
Cash, William Hawksley, Warren
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hayes, Jerry
Chaplin, Mrs Judith Heald, Oliver
Churchill, Mr Heathcoat-Amory, David
Clappison, James Hendry, Charles
Clark, Dr Michael (Rockford) Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif) Hicks, Robert
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Coe, Sebastian Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Congdon, David Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Conway, Derek Horam, John
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Hordern, Sir Peter
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Cormack, Patrick Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Couchman, James Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Cran, James Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Hunter, Andrew
Davis, David (Boothferry) Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Day, Stephen Jack, Michael
Deva, Nirj Joseph Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Devlin, Tim Jenkin, Bernard
Dickens, Geoffrey Jessel, Toby
Dicks, Terry Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dorrell, Stephen Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Jones, Robert B. (W H'f'rdshire)
Dover, Den Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Duncan, Alan Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Duncan-Smith, Iain Key, Robert
Dunn, Bob Kilfedder, Sir James
Durant, Sir Anthony King, Rt Hon Tom
Kirkhope, Timothy Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Knapman, Roger Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Sackville, Tom
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Knox, David Shaw, David (Dover)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Legg, Barry Shersby, Michael
Leigh, Edward Sims, Roger
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lidington, David Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lightbown, David Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Soames, Nicholas
Lord, Michael Spencer, Sir Derek
Luff, Peter Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
MacKay, Andrew Spink, Dr Robert
Maclean, David Spring, Richard
McLoughlin, Patrick Sproat, Iain
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Madel, David Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Maitland, Lady Olga Steen, Anthony
Malone, Gerald Stephen, Michael
Mans, Keith Stern, Michael
Marland, Paul Streeter, Gary
Marlow, Tony Sumberg, David
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Sweeney, Walter
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Sykes, John
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Mellor, Rt Hon David Taylor, Rt Hon D. (Strangford)
Merchant, Piers Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Milligan, Stephen Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Mills, Iain Temple-Morris, Peter
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Thomason, Roy
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Monro, Sir Hector Thurnham, Peter
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Townend, John (Bridlington)
Moss, Malcolm Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Needham, Richard Tracey, Richard
Nelson, Anthony Trend, Michael
Neubert, Sir Michael Trimble, David
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Trotter, Neville
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Twinn, Dr Ian
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Norris, Steve Viggers, Peter
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Oppenheim, Phillip Walden, George
Ottaway, Richard Waller, Gary
Page, Richard Ward, John
Paice, James Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Patnick, Irvine Waterson, Nigel
Patten, Rt Hon John Watts, John
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Wells, Bowen
Pawsey, James Wheeler, Sir John
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Whitney, Ray
Pickles, Eric Whittingdale, John
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Widdecombe, Ann
Porter, David (Waveney) Wiggin, Jerry
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Wilkinson, John
Powell, William (Corby) Willetts, David
Rathbone, Tim Wilshire, David
Redwood, John Wolfson, Mark
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Wood, Timothy
Richards, Rod Yeo, Tim
Robathan, Andrew Young, Sir George (Acton)
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Tellers for the Noes:
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Mr. Sydney Chapman and
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Mr. Tim Boswell.

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

I beg to move amendment No. 15, in page 2, line 44, at end add— `(4) In Schedule 2, rule 4(c), of the 1986 Act, for the word "ward" there shall be substituted the words "district electoral area".'. After what we have listened to for the past couple of hours, it is interesting to arrive at the debate on this amendment. We have heard about the inviolability of London borough boundaries and about the difficulties that arise from sticking to borough and county boundaries in any revision of parliamentary boundaries in England and Wales—[Interruption.]

The Second Deputy Chairman

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but there is too much noise and I find it difficult to hear him speak.

Mr. Trimble

Thank you, Dame Janet. I used my comments on the previous debate partly as a throat-clearing exercise, because I had expected Members to make some hubbub when dispersing.

The idea for the amendment occurred to me after listening to, and reflecting on, the speech by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on Second Reading. He dealt with the difficulties encountered in Birmingham, which comprises about one dozen constituencies, each based on three or four wards. As I recollect, two were based on four wards and the remainder on three. The hon. Member said that each Birmingham ward contained about 19,000 electors, so that the size of constituencies increases in steps of 19,000.

The rules in the schedule to the Act direct attention to county boundaries in England and Wales and to London borough boundaries, and the basic building blocks for parliamentary boundaries in England and Wales are wards, which are also the basic electoral units.

The reason why I tabled the amendment, and why I hope that it will commend itself to the House, is that the situation in Northern Ireland is anomalous. The rules in the schedule apply, not to county, borough or district boundaries, but to ward boundaries. That is anomalous in itself, but it is even more so in Northern Ireland, where wards have no electoral significance.

Let me explain some of the background. Until local government reorganisation in Northern Ireland, local authorities operated on a basis comparable to that in England and Wales. Authorities—whether counties, county boroughs or boroughs—were divided into multi-Member wards, electing three Members of Parliament, on roughly the same basis as those in England and Wales. During the reorganisation it was proposed that the three-Member wards should be replaced by smaller single-Member wards. The reasoning behind that suggestion had much to commend it. Unfortunately, in 1973 a form of proportional representation was

Introduced—a single transferable vote—which required multi-Member wards, and so the proposed single-Member wards were grouped together for electoral purposes into what were called district electoral areas, which remain the basis unit for electoral purposes in Northern Ireland.

Under the' regulations now in force, a district electoral area must consist of five, six or seven wards. The wards notionally exist; we have ward boundaries and the electoral register is prepared on a ward basis. However, for electoral purposes the ward is not significant. The district electoral area is the significant element for electoral purposes. That is the area in which the vote takes place and on which the count operates. Obviously, party structure and organisation is, or should be, related to the district electoral area, of which the ward is just a sub-division and is of significance only to the structure of the electoral register.

7 pm

The spirit behind the rules in the schedule to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 is that local government units should be the basic building blocks for parliamentary boundaries. That is sensible. There are horrendous problems if parliamentary boundaries march across the basic electoral unit. That does not happen in England and Wales because the parliamentary boundaries are drawn up on ward boundaries and they are largely confined within counties and county boroughs. That is not the position in Northern Ireland.

I shall pursue the analogy between Belfast and Birmingham. In the city of Belfast there are 200,000 voters, which is significantly fewer than the three-quarters of a million in Birmingham. The 200,000 voters in Belfast are divided among nine district electoral areas. That gives each district electoral area a number of voters that is not much different from the figure of 19,000 in Birmingham. The hon. Member for Perry Barr pointed out that in Birmingham the constituencies are made up of three or four wards. Those wards are analogous in size to the district electoral areas in Belfast.

How are the four constituencies of Belfast divided? Belfast, South and Belfast, West each contain two entire district electoral areas and part of a third. Therefore, part of the boundary of each constituency runs across the middle of a district electoral area. Belfast, North contains one complete district electoral area only and two that are divided. The situation is worse in Belfast, East, which contains parts of three district electoral areas. That constituency does not contain a single complete district electoral area and the parliamentary constituency operates on boundaries that are quite different from those of local government. It cuts across not only district electoral areas, but the city boundary to take in parts of Castlereagh.

A similar pattern exists in other Northern Ireland constituencies. The problem is not quite so acute outside Belfast because smaller councils and, consequently, smaller district electoral areas exist. The parliamentary boundaries correspond entirely to those of local government in just two of the constituencies in Northern Ireland. By local government boundaries, I am referring to the basic electoral units in Northern Ireland—the district electoral areas. In 15 of the 17 seats, the district electoral areas are split. In fact, 13 district electoral areas are split and two of them are split three ways. The parliamentary boundaries in Northern Ireland cut across district council and county areas.

In England and Wales, regard must be given to county boundaries or, in London, to borough boundaries. The amendment does not suggest that regard should be given to district or city council boundaries in Northern Ireland. For the past couple of hours, I have listened to London Members who have spoken about such boundaries at great length. However, I am merely asking that, in Northern Ireland, the constituencies should relate to the basic unit used in local government elections. At present, that is not the case and it causes problems to my party and, I understand, to other political parties in Northern Ireland. I have not consulted other parties about the amendment, so one should not read into my comments a claim that other political parties endorse it. I should be surprised, however, if they were opposed to it.

Would making district electoral areas the basic unit for parliamentary boundaries in Northern Ireland cause any problems? I think not. In Northern Ireland there are nearly 100 district electoral areas and there would be no great difficulty in matching parliamentary boundaries to those areas. For example, there are nine district electoral areas in Belfast and, traditionally, Belfast has always had four constituencies. That does not create any problems because the basic units would simply go beyond the city council boundary and into the suburbs. In fact, the Belfast city boundary is artificially restricted because of the jealousy of the Stormont Government towards Belfast city council, but that is not relevant to the debate. The adjoining councils of Castlereagh, Newtownabbey and Lisburn are in all respects extensions of Belfast and there would be no problem in including district electoral areas from those councils to reach the appropriate figure to create a constituency. That could be done without creating any great disparity in numbers.

If there are difficulties, we should remember that rule 4 in the schedule is prefaced by the phrase "So far as practicable". Therefore, the regard to be given to ward boundaries, as stated in the present wording of the schedule, or to district electoral boundaries, as the amendment would suggest, is not absolute. It can be overridden so far as that is practicable. In fact, in Northern Ireland, that qualifying phrase has been invoked by the boundary commission to divide eleven wards. Therefore, the ward unit, which has no significance for electoral purposes, has been divided in eleven cases—10 are in Belfast and the other is in Newry. That is indefensible.

Another factor makes this an appropriate time to make the change. In Northern Ireland, we are concluding the revision of local government wards. The next stage in that process will be the appointment of a commissioner to draw together the wards into district electoral areas. In the normal course of events, we would expect that appointment to be made fairly soon. I am not sure of the exact date and do not know whether the Northern Ireland Office has made an announcement, but we could expect the process to be completed by the beginning of next year.

That revision must he made soon because we need to know the district electoral areas before the local government elections next May. Would hon. Members from England tolerate it if, 11 months before elections, they did not know the boundaries on which those elections would be fought? In Northern Ireland, the elections will be fought, not on ward boundaries, but on district electoral area boundaries. I refer to the current revision because if it is thought that there would be any difficulty in switching from ward to district electoral area boundaries in the revision of parliamentary boundaries, which will take place shortly, that can be taken into account now when drawing up the new district electoral areas.

Therefore, I see no difficulty in adopting the amendment, which should be regarded as technical because it brings the legislation into line with the adoption of proportional representation. I suspect that the reference to wards in the Bill has been carried forward from earlier legislation when we did not have proportional representa-tion in Northern Ireland. Many of us would love to get rid of it, but, for the purposes of the amendment, we accept its existence and argue that one should operate, as the spirt of the schedule suggests, on the relevant local government boundaries. The relevant local government boundary in Northern Ireland is not a ward boundary, but a district electoral area boundary. Therefore, it is logical to base parliamentary boundaries on those district electoral area boundaries.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

I am interested that a Unionist Member should seek further to entrench an arrangement which springs from the unique single transferable voting system in Northern Ireland. Perhaps matters and opinions have moved on in Northern Ireland more speedily than I would have predicted when I was able to take a closer interest in matters in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Trimble

I do not want the Minister to misunderstand the situation. It is similar to the temporary nature of direct rule. We have to live with the present situation, which causes significant inconvenience in terms of fighting elections, party structure and organisation, and so on. We are not debating our fundamental objection to proportional representation. As for its removal, it would be easy to change back by way of a consequential amendment.

Mr. Lloyd

I have always known that there is nothing so permanent as the strictly temporary.

The amendment would substitute, as the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) said, district electoral areas for wards as the basic and generally indivisible building blocks for constituencies in Northern Ireland. I followed his argument that there would be considerable convenience from the point of view of political organisations in Northern Ireland if those district electoral areas were never divided between constituencies, as I believe about 30 are at present. The hon. Gentleman did not mention a figure and I understand that he does not dispute my figure of 30, which is a sizeable number, and I appreciate the inconvenience.

If I understand the situation correctly, in many cases difficulty has arisen because the last reviews were conducted in an unhelpful order. New constituencies were constructed by the Parliamentary Boundary Commission in 1982. That was followed by the work of the local government boundaries commissioner, who constructed new wards, some of which crossed the new parliamentary boundaries. Then the district electoral areas were formed, as the 1984 order required, by linking between five and seven wards together.

On this occasion, the sequence is the other way round. The local government boundaries commissioner, as the hon. Member for Upper Bann said, presented on 15 June recommendations for local government boundaries. Should the Secretary of State accept them, with or without modification, they will be incorporated in an order. Recommendations will then follow for the revision, as necessary, of the district electoral areas. Thus, unlike last time, before it reports the parliamentary boundary commission will be able to consider the new local government ward and DEA boundaries before making its recommendations to the Secretary of State.

It is for the boundary commission to decide whether a parliamentary constituency boundary should cross a DEA boundary. I would expect some, perhaps even most, of the difficulties that the hon. Member for Upper Bann outlined to disappear because the parliamentary boundary commission must have regard to local links and other such factors.

As the hon. Gentleman heard in the last debate to which he referred, I am, for a vast variety of practical reasons, reluctant to change rules for the parliamentary commissioner. There is also a great deal of convenience if the building block remains the ward, as it is sufficiently small to make it extremely unlikely that it will need to be sub-divided.

If the basic block were to be the larger DEA of five to seven wards, rule 5 of schedule 2 to the 1986 Act could bite, as in practice it does not bite under the present arrangements because the DEAs are much larger. That would oblige the commissioner to divide a DEA between constitu-encies if not to do so would, in the commissioner's judgment, produce unacceptable disparities in constituency size.

7.15 pm
Mr. Trimble

If that is the Minister's argument for retaining wards in Northern Ireland, why will he not apply the logic of that argument in England and Wales, where they operate with much larger units?

Mr. Lloyd

We are retaining wards not as building blocks that may never be split. In fact, they are not split, and the hon. Gentleman will find, if he looks at the reorganisation of constituencies, that wards are units that are put together with other wards from other local authorities to form constituencies that cross local authority boundaries. So in practice they usually are the building blocks. To move to the DEA as the building block would not rule out there being a division of the DEA if those other factors demanded it.

I also pointed out that the divisions that Northern Ireland had experienced in the last decade or so stemmed from the order in which the last reviews were taken. The boundary commission must pay some regard to local authority boundaries and links. But in constructing local authority wards—and, in Northern Ireland, DEAs—the local government commissioner need not have regard for constituency boundaries.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I understood the Minister's argument to rest on wards not being divided. Some of our wards are divided even to make a DEA, and that is confusing not only for electoral workers but for constituents who believe that they live in a part of the city represented by one Member of Parliament but discover that, when they wish to raise an issue, they must make representations to a different Member of Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) has succeeded in teasing out the issues here at Westminster so that guidance may be given to those who are now drawing up the boundaries.

Mr. Lloyd

That is right, and the present unsatisfactory and inconvenient state of affairs exists because, as I said, the boundary commission did its work before the local government boundaries commissioner had done his work. The parliamentary boundary commission must have regard to those factors, but the local government boundaries commissioner need not have regard to parliamentary boundaries. Hence the problem of wards being divided between constituencies. It was the order in which things were done. That is being remedied this time round.

It is up to the boundary commission to decide what it reports, and it will have the opportunity of knowing what the local authority boundaries are. The ward boundaries and DEAs will be known when it produces its proposals for the Secretary of State's consideration. It did not have that advantage on the last occasion. In the new order in which matters will be tackled on this occasion lies the solution, if not to all then at least to a considerable number of the problems that have been outlined.

I cannot say that all the problems will be solved because it is not for me to determine what the boundary commission will recommend. But knowing that that commission will operate with common sense—it is obliged to look at the existing boundaries and take them properly into account—it is likely that the cutting in two of wards will not be a feature of the new arrangement that it recommends.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

Surely it is unreasonable totally to ignore the existence of DEAs in Northern Ireland. They must be mentioned somewhere so that the parties and others concerned with the issue in Northern Ireland can point the commissioner to a particular boundary to which he must give cognisance, even if he need not follow it rigidly.

The present situation is a nonsense and the DEAs are totally ignored by the commissioner in drawing up boundaries. That should not happen. It is a matter of common sense that if we are to apply various boundaries in the United Kingdom generally, the same should apply to all of the United Kingdom. When we talk about boroughs in London, we should also talk about DEAs in Northern Ireland. If the commissioner finds it convenient on some occasions to split DEAs, well and good, but he should have to take notice of their existence.

Mr. Lloyd

The boundary commission is required to take notice of links. It is not specifically required to take notice of DEAs and, in the rest of the United Kingdom, for example in England, it is not required to take notice of district council boundaries. Yet much political activity is based, certainly in local government terms, on the district council area.

I understand the complaint about the present position. The boundary commission will be able to deal with it under schedule 2 of the 1986 Act, which makes it clear that it must have regard to those links. Ultimately, however, it must make up its mind, in the light of that schedule, given the need to have constituencies of reasonably equal size.

I cannot provide hon. Gentlemen with a remedy to the problems that they envisage. By accepting the amendment, I would not necessarily be doing so because, ultimately, it is the boundary commission's judgment. Many, if not all, of the problems that the hon. Gentlemen have outlined will be dealt with by the sequence of the reviews of local government, DEAs and parliamentary constituency boundaries. Furthermore, I do not believe that if the change urged on me by the hon. Gentleman were put in place, it would of itself have the beneficial effect that he seeks.

Mr. Trimble

The Minister has made much about the commissioner's duty to have regard to local ties. He suggested that, thereby, a regard to DEAs could be smuggled in. But paragraph 7(b) of the schedule refers to local ties that would be broken by such alterations. That is, alterations consequent on rule 4, which is splitting wards. It does not involve having regard to the DEAs, which are larger units than wards.

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman could refer to several parts of the schedule. For instance, section 7 says: It shall not be the duty of a boundary commission to aim at giving full effect in all circumstances to the above rules but they should take account, so far as they reasonably can, of the inconveniences attendant on alterations of constituency, other than alterations made for the purpose of rule 4, and any local ties which would be broken by such alterations". So the ties would already have been established by the adjustment, if an adjustment is to be made, of the boundaries of the DEAs. They would exist by the time the boundary commission considered its proposals for parliamentary constituency boundaries.

I shall not satisfy the hon. Gentleman in this debate. He has not convinced me that his amendment would produce the effect that he desires. As I said before, I am loath to introduce changes to the rules under which boundary commissions operate when reviews in various parts of the United Kingdom have gone so far down the track. However, the hon. Gentleman can pin considerable hope on the order in which the reviews will be undertaken and the fact that this time the parliamentary boundary commission for Northern Ireland will take into account the arrangements being made for local government and DEAs.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I understand the Minister's point in response to my hon. Friend, when he admitted that he had not convinced him. Will he rely on the common sense of the commissioners? I was taught by professors that common sense is the most uncommon of all the senses. I wonder whether we can rest revision on such a statement or whether the Minister will support his colleagues and restore the single member constituency. We would then be the same as the rest of the United Kingdom and would not have all those problems.

Mr. Lloyd

That lies outside my power under the Bill. The commissioners have taken a considerable battering this afternoon but the hon. Gentleman's assault was more delicate and feline than the others that we have heard. We can rely on the common sense of the Ministers and must do so because they understand the existing rules and must put forward their recommendations. This time they will put them forward for Northern Ireland with the knowledge of what has been proposed for local government in Northern Ireland. That was not the case when the present boundaries were drawn up.

Mr. Trimble

I am not convinced by what the Minister has said, but we do not intend to press the amendment to a Division. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 4 and 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, with amendments.

As amended, to be considered tomorrow.

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