HL Deb 03 March 1977 vol 380 cc733-6

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what the justification is in present circumstances for the under-representation of England and Northern Ireland and the over-representation of Scotland and Wales in the number of Parliamentary constituencies at Westminster.


My Lords, the present framework of representation of Scotland and Wales in another place dates, with minor modifications, from 1918. The position was reviewed by the Speaker's Conference of 1944 which recommended that there should be no reduction in Scottish or Welsh representation. The Government do not consider that the present arrangements need to be further reviewed at the present time. I am sure that your Lordships would agree that the question of the representation of Northern Ireland is a separate matter which must be considered in the light of the special needs and problems of that part of the United Kingdom.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer; but does he not appreciate that the Speaker's Conference of 1944 took place a long time ago and that the considerations relevant at that time are hardly relevant now? May I ask whether it is not a rather unsatisfactory state of affairs that the average size of the electorate per seat in England is 64,900; in Wales, 56,100; and, in Scotland, only 52,200? I appreciate that Northern Ireland is a special case. On consideration, would not the noble Lord agree that there is nothing to justify these considerable discrepancies in the number of Parliamentary seats allocated to the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom? Is it not time to make a decision to restore a more equitable distribution?


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, may I intervene to ask whether this is a proper subject to be discussed by your Lordships? It seems to me that this is a matter for the House of Commons and not for this House.


My Lords, I am not in a position to say whether or not this is a proper subject for this House. I have been given certain information on this matter, and unless I am out of order, I will continue. The noble Lord has said that the position is very different today from what it was in 1944. This is not so because of the 1939 registers in force in 1944; leaving out the university seats, the electorate per constituency in England was 23 per cent, higher than that in Scotland and 16 per cent. higher than that in Wales. The comparable figures for 1975 were much the same: 24 per cent. and 16 per cent., as against 23 per cent. and 16 per cent.


My Lords, if there are to be inquiries into this important matter, will my noble friend find out whether there is any reason, or even excuse, for the gross over-representation of the Tory Party in this Chamber?


My Lords, is it not clear that, if anything in the way of extensive devolution is put on to the Statute Book, one condition of that situation would obviously be a reconsideration of the balance or representation in Parliament of the different countries?


My Lords, so far as the Scottish and Welsh Bills are concerned—and the noble Lord is talking about devolution—I understand that a review of representation in another place undoubtedly would be necessary.


My Lords, if the Government accept that there is an injustice to Northern Ireland in under-representation, can the noble Lord give us an assurance that this matter will be urgently dealt with?—because this under-representation has existed for five years since the abolition of devolution. This is a matter of great concern.


My Lords, I can give no undertaking that this matter will be considered soon. I can only say that this is a matter which is constantly in the mind of the Government; but at the moment they do not feel that it is necessary to make any move in regard to this question.


My Lords, does not the injustice consist of the progressive depopulation of Scotland and Wales?


My Lords, if there is any injustice at all, it is that England should have far greater representation than she has at the present moment.