HL Deb 10 March 1983 vol 440 cc327-38

3.26 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Mansfield) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 24th February be approved.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move, that the draft Parliamentary Constituencies (Scotland) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 24th February of this year be approved.

The draft order is designed to give effect without modification to the final recommendations contained in the Third Periodical Report of the Boundary Commission for Scotland. Article 2 of the order substitutes the 72 constituencies described in the schedule for the existing 71 constituencies in Scotland. The draft order was approved in another place on 3rd March and it has been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments who had no comments. If the draft order is approved by the House this afternoon, the Secretary of State will submit it to Her Majesty in Council to be made. Article 1(2) provides that the order will come into operation on the fourteenth day after the day on which it is made, but the new constituencies will not come into effect until the next general election.

When the commission began their review just over five years ago they were faced with a daunting task, partly because of the effects of the major reorganisation of local government in 1975, and partly because of shifts of population. The local government changes meant that eight of the existing constituencies crossed the new regional boundaries and many more crossed district boundaries. Given that the commission are required, so far as is practicable, to have regard to local authority boundaries, it was clear that major changes in constituency boundaries would have to be made. At the same time, population changes had resulted in wide disparities in the electorate of constituencies. When the commission began the review in February 1978 there were five constituencies with more than 70,000 electors and eight had fewer than 35,000 electors compared with the 1978 average of 53,649. The success of the commission in equalising constituencies is illustrated by the fact that there are unlikely to be any constituencies with an electorate more than 20 per cent. above the average and only a handful with more than 20 per cent. below the average, and these are mainly in the islands and scattered rural areas. I am sure that your Lordships will wish to join me in expressing thanks to the commission for their work and to the assistant commissioners who held the local inquiries into the commissions' proposals.

The original intention of the commission was that the number of constituencies in Scotland should remain at 71. However, as a result of the local inquiry held into their proposals for Glasgow, they were convinced that 11 seats should be allocated instead of 10. This decision was reached in the light of the evidence produced at the inquiry rather than because of a decision in principle that the number of seats in Scotland should be increased.

The commission resolved to avoid making recommendations for constituencies which would cross regional boundaries except in the most exceptional circumstances and their aim was, wherever possible, to recommend constituencies wholly within one district or comprising whole districts. Where this was not possible they decided to adhere to regional electoral divisions or, exceptionally, district wards. The effect of their recommendations is that 10 constituencies consist of a complete district, three consist of two complete districts, and more than 30 consist of one district only. Of the remainder more than a half consist of one district and part of another, the boundaries of the constituencies covering the islands areas remain unchanged. Only 11 constituencies consist of district wards.

It would have been impossible for the commission to please everyone, but I think it can be agreed that their recommendations are generally on the right lines, I therefore commend their final recommendations to your Lordships, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 24th February be approved.—(The Earl of Mansfield.)

3.30 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, we are grateful to the Minister of State for the information that he gave us. He did not seem to draw any lessons at all from the events in Scotland in relation to the redistribution of seats. I had hoped that he might have done so. Although there has not been the degree of complaint in Scotland that there has in England, it has not been without its complaints. It would be surprising if it was.

I too join him in my congratulations to Lord Ross. There was a certain measure of confusion about that, but the honourable Lord Ross is one of the Scottish judges who very ably became, I think it is, the assistant chairman. The chairman of the Boundaries Commissions in all the four areas is of course Mr. Speaker, and the man who took the task in Scotland was the judge appointed by the justiciary itself. Then of course there are two appointees by the Secretary of State for Scotland in agreement with the political parties.

They have done a first-class job. It is a difficult job. It is an invidious task that is thrown upon them. It was made even more complex by the fact that I think the last change of the rules was somewhere about 1958, but the greater part of those rules, or one of the insisting parts of those rules, was that they had to abide by, as far as they could, local government boundaries. But the local government boundaries were changed. They were changed comprehensively in the year 1972.

The result is that one of the other considerations which they had to bear in mind about the break-up of community of interest just went by the board right away. Familiar titles, familiar areas, have gone. There has been a lot of not only heart searching but seat searching in respect of the changes that have taken place. I am sorry for some of the people involved. I know their allegiance to particular areas, particular communities, and they have now discovered that by the whim of Parliament in 1972 it has to be changed because of rules that were drawn up in 1958.

We have always had a certain measure of flexibility in respect of the rules in Scotland. I remember that the old rules in respect of England were tight about crossing boundaries. It never was the same in Scotland. I hope that one of the lessons to be drawn from this is that it does not necessarily provide you with the best division, be it into 71 or 72, and to get the proper spread and equality of electorates if you are going to be tied rigidly to the basis of not crossing regional boundaries.

After all, remember what happened in 1972 with that Act of Parliament. It was not a Labour Government, it was a Conservative Government. It was a Conservative Government opposed by this House in respect of one of the major local authorities and local authority boundaries, that of Strathclyde. This contains within itself half the whole population of Scotland in one local authority area. They were going to do away with Fyfe. That was going to be swallowed up by the encroachment of Edinburgh and the Lothians in the one part, and the reduction from Tayside. Can your Lordships imagine what kind of task the parliamentary Boundary Commission would have, and what anguish there would have been, if they had had to abide by that kind of local authority boundary?

One aspect that troubles me about this matter is the extent to which Parliament comes into it. We have an order before us. We cannot amend it. It was not possible to amend it in the other place. Somebody tried, but it was out of order. Now what do we get down to? It is explicit in the report of Hansard of what the Scottish Minister said in another place that he relied entirely on the impartiality of the Boundary Commission, the wisdom of the Boundary Commission, and virtually said that the Secretary of State to whom it is sent, and who has the power of modification, was not going to exercise that power, and would never exercise that power. When the Secretary of State is not going to modify, and when Parliament cannot modify, that means we leave the whole power in the hands of the commission.

They are not all wise. In respect of Glasgow they changed their mind on the basis of a report from an assistant commissioner. I think everyone was quite pleased about it because there they added in a seat. Do not think that they added a seat to Glasgow, because Glasgow was going to lose three and they only lose two instead of three. But from their provisional proposals they added a seat to Glasgow. It made much more sense in respect of the constituencies that they were able then to create. We know the trouble there has been in the central constituency where the provisional decisions of the Boundary Commission were completely overturned by the assistant commissioner.

It becomes rather invidious if we are in the position that assistant commissioners can overturn the Boundary Commission; the Boundary Commission accepts that without modification; the Secretary of State refuses to exercise any power; and Parliament is not allowed to exercise any power. You are placing a considerable power in the hands of the Boundary Commission. To that extent they have to be even more careful than ever. They have the right, when they produce provisional electorates, for there to be an inquiry, and there were inquiries. If that is modified and they accept the modifications, there can possibly be another inquiry. When there are fairly sweeping changes from their provisional arrangements there ought to be a second inquiry if it is requested.

I question, too, the wisdom of the Secretary of State saying, "I am not going to change anything. It has come from them. It is not my right." I can understand his reluctance, but there are a lot of smaller things in respect of which he could make changes. I do not agree with the entire wisdom of the commission. They had to take into account the new local authority boundaries. They had to bear in mind the desirability of having equal numbers in respect of electorates, and particularly in relation to those that were neighbouring.

I cannot entirely justify the changes they made in the Highland area. I ask noble Lords who question the justification of Scotland having a lower electoral quota than England or Wales to please remember that if you take this particular Highland area—I think they call it Inverness now—it has an area the size of Cyprus. From the North-West to the South-West of this area there is a distance of 240 miles. It is quite a constituency. I do not think that Mr. Russell Johnston was all that pleased with the changes that were made in that respect. It took away a settled community, I think it was Skye, and put it in Ross and Cromarty, and left it with as big an area as possible and left him with a bigger electorate than he had before, and just as well scattered.

Take that constituency and the new Borders constituencies, which are relatively small. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that it is only a handful that are 20 per cent. above the quota, and another handful 20 per cent. below. That is a difference of about 40 per cent. To the extent that the rules that were laid down—which, to my mind, are a little out of date—make that possible, or make it difficult to get away from that, that is something that really has to be looked at again.

They took into account—they did not pay much attention to it, however, because by statute they are not entitled to take it into account—future population developments. According to statute, the electorate is taken as at a certain point, and the Secretary of State is told, "We are going to start at this date". I think that in England and Wales it was 1956, and in Scotland it was 1958. This is 1983, and there have been considerable population changes since that time—and they are still taking place. In other words, the electorates are out of date before we even start. The commission, although they consult, are not bound to take into account—in fact, they are hound not to do so—the information they get from the Registrar General of the most up-to-date electorates, some of which are changed very considerably.

I notice the changes that have been made in the Ayr constituency. That has been raised to 65.000 or 66,000, and it is still rising, while the neighbouring constituency is very much lower—and from that constituency they took a considerable chunk. Nobody was objecting to it; the Secretary of State was not objecting to taking Troon into his constituency. I reckon that will save his seat at the next election. And Mr. David Lambie will not be objecting to taking Troon out of a fairly good Labour seat. But looked at from the point of view of equity, I begin to wonder.

The argument was that the new town of Irvine was growing. It may have been growing in 1958, when they started out; but I wonder when they last consulted the Scottish Office about the development of Scotland's new towns? That applies to Livingston, Cumbernauld and East Kilbride, as well as to Irvine. The Government have practically stopped building in the new towns. Although they said that, in respect of the new towns, they took into account likely population changes—which they were not really entitled to do—I think they have been wrong about that. On the other hand, if one looks at the Grampian area, where there have been considerable population changes since 1958, one sees that they did not give the same weight to that.

All the faults are not those of the Boundary Commission: they are the faults contained in the rules. On the whole, they did a first-class job, considering the difficulties they faced. But I plead with the Secretary of State to exercise a little of his power. Would anyone object if the Secretary of State, having been given a reasonable case, made a decision in respect of the name of a constituency? For example, there is a constituency that has been called, since ever I can remember, South Ayrshire. We all remember Emrys Hughes and the First Lord High Commissioner of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, a commoner, a miner named James Brown, who came from South Ayrshire. What is it now to be called? I am surprised that even the ex-officio chairman did not give them a certain measure of whispered guidance in view of the fact that the Speaker, instead of calling the Member for South Ayrshire, will have to call the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley. We want to shorten our proceedings in Parliament, not lengthen them with constituency names like that.

We are told that they are the names of the districts. There is a district called Cumnock and Doon Valley and there is a district called Carrick. Actually, there is not a district called Carrick but a district called Kyle and Carrick. But where is Kyle? In fact, Kyle is Ayr. There was a man was born in Kyle", as Burns said. I had to get him into this speech. He never had a vote, but let us get him in. All the forebears of the bard came from Kyle. Had they been on the other side of the Doon, they might have been considered as coming from Carrick; but never mind that.

Why is the Secretary of State allowed to call his constituency Ayr when it is not Ayr? It is Troon, which was a burgh on its own; it is Prestwick, which was a burgh on its own; and parts of Ayr County. I do not object to it because I live there, but that is how it will be known. But is it fair to resort to an old name which is not realistic in these terms? Although the assistant commissioner who reported on the South Ayrshire constituency suggested that it could be called South Ayrshire, the Boundary Commission ruled that out. I suggest that when faced with a question like a name the Secretary of State should not be afraid to make a decision and make a change, even if it means changing his own one. After all, as he is going to get benefits from his own constituency as a result of the change made there, he should give the benefit to others as well.

There is another interesting one called Hillhead. Your Lordships know who the present temporary Member for Hillhead is. But Hillhead is not in Hillhead, and although two great new Labour wards have been moved in and other bits have been moved out, it is still called Hillhead. Partick is in what is now called Hillhead; Yoker and Hawick are in what is now called Hillhead; and Buchanan Street, in the very centre of Glasgow, is now in Hillhead. It is quite nonsensical to have a misleading name like that. That is why I say that in a matter like that the Secretary of State should have listened to voices and made up his own mind. Nobody would have called him gerrymandering if all that was involved was changing a name, if that is what he was afraid of.

The lessons that stick out from it all are that the rules that were applied in 1950 do not necessarily apply today; that they are not of the same help and are not of the same standing as they were in the older days, certainly in Scotland when we had the burghs and counties. I trust the Government will now pay some attention—I am sure this applies equally to England and Wales—to the old rules in the new situation.

3.47 p.m.

Lord Tanlaw

My Lords, we on these Benches are grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, for putting forward the Motion, and we shall not oppose it. We have a certain wry amusement as we listen to the two parties, Labour and Conservative, concentrating on the minutiae of the Boundary Commission and their work, determined not to look over their shoulders at the wider problem of electoral reform, which is the only way to produce some form of proper representation in this country. But I shall not dwell on that. My noble friend Lord Mayhew pointed out the anomalies and mentioned the problems that we on these Benches and certain others have in trying to get democracy into an outdated voting system.

I believe the electorate will be faced, after the work of the new Boundary Commission, with having to turn the existing electoral system on its head to get proportional representation, and I think that will be one of the major factors in the forthcoming by-election and the general election which will follow. We on these Benches are not in any way critical of the unbiased arithmetic of the Boundary Commission, and certainly we accept the drawing up of the new boundaries. To take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ross, my honourable friend Russell Johnston in Inverness is indeed concerned that his very large constituency should have been made even larger. It is 4,000 square miles.

The same can be said of the re-drawing of Galloway under the new constituency Galloway and Upper Nithsdale. Here, perhaps, the Boundary Commission are reverting to the more romantic description of Galloway, which was, From the glens of Glena to the Brig-end of Dumfries". which I always used to try to point out as being the constituency in the days when I stood as a candidate there. Another 9,500 voters have come into this constituency, which has probably increased the size of it to an area (which the Member must try to get round) of 2,500 square miles. My question to the noble Earl is whether or not the commission should have considered the factor of a Member representing not a number but an area in order to give the voters the proper representation they deserve. If I recall aright, in 1959 one needed 72 advertised meetings in a constituency the size of Galloway, compared with four public meetings in an urban constituency like, say, Dumfries.

Perhaps some adjustment could be made in terms of television coverage of those constituencies which have a very wide geographical area, from which Scotland—and maybe parts of Wales and some parts of Northern England—suffer, in order that the voters have a better chance of seeing their candidate and hearing the views represented. Although that was not in the terms of reference of the Boundary Commission, it is a factor from which candidates in large Scottish constituencies suffer. When you consider, if I recall correctly, that one travelled between 3,000 and 4,000 miles a week in a vehicle to cover those 72 meetings, I do not expect the situation has changed much today.

Today, when communications are so much better—visually, by television, and by radio—and with the talk-back one can get into programmes today, that may be one way of getting these larger constituencies nearer to their candidates and Members. I hope that that is a matter on which the noble Earl can perhaps give a view, even though it is possibly slightly outside the terms of the Motion. I will then not make a speech about proportional representation, which will be to the relief to the noble Earl and to those noble Lords who sit on the Labour Benches. Nevertheless, having made those points, I should be interested to hear what the noble Earl has to say.

3.51 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, we on these Benches would not oppose the proposals contained in the order. We believe that the Boundary Commission has an extremely difficult job, in the very nature of the geographical distribution in Scotland and the fact that there is a heavy concentration of population in the industrial centres stretching from Glasgow to Edinburgh. There are also large areas of rural population, which are so widely spread. Therefore when drawing up the new boundaries it is important that we should have some respect for the fairness and objectivity which has been the basis of the proposals in the order.

With regard to the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, in connection with the Secretary of State's intervention, I would say that it would be extremely difficult, and dangerous, if the Secretary of State, being a political animal and being personally involved in distribution, were to intervene in any substantial way. Of course I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Ross, has said with regard to names. That might be possible. But, as we know from the redistribution following local government reform, even names can be extremely contentious in Scotland. People have loyalties to names. So it is important that the Boundary Commission's recommendations should be seen to be above the political debate and, so far as possible, above controversy.

I am afraid that the references of the noble Lord, Lord Ross, to the Hillhead constituency bear no relationship to the current public opinion polls which are published in Scotland, following the Bermondsey by-election. I am quite sure that, despite the changes in his constituency, the Member for Hillhead will not be regarded as a temporary Member for Hillhead.

On behalf of those of us on the SDP Benches, I should like to say that we support the recommendations, and we congratulate the Boundary Commission, as well as thank it for discharging a very difficult task.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I should like to say just a few words on this matter and to add my congratulations to those extended to the Boundary Corn mission on the way in which it has dealt with this extremely complicated subject. I think that this is the third reorganisation of constituencies that I have known in Scotland during the many years in which I have been engaged in politics there. In Glasgow there were originally 15 constituencies; there are now to be 11. The one that I knew best—Kelvingrove—no longer exists; at any rate, not in name, though of course it exists in fact, because it is still there. But it is not listed as a constituency. A reduction to 11 constituencies from 15 is quite a big change. Of course the population has gone down enormously, and I am quite sure that the change is right.

Another change affects the area that I know very well, the Borders, where there are to be two constituencies instead of one. I think that this is a good thing. As I say, I know the area very well, and having studied the point rather carefully, I think that the new arrangement will work very well. I think that the Boundary Commission has done the right thing. It was becoming a vast area, and the population was very large. So I think it only right that it should be changed as it has been.

The job of the Boundary Commission is a very difficult one. People hate a change being made in the name of the constituency in which they vote; and, on the whole, they resist it. However, so far as I can see, this reorganisation has been well received, and I should like to add my congratulations to those that have already been extended by the noble Lords, Lord Ross of Marnock, and Lord Tanlaw.

Lord Glenkinglas

My Lords, I should like to add just a few words to the debate. First, I wish to express the hope that my noble friend will not follow the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, and get the Secretary of State involved in anything, except—I would agree—in the minor changes of names. I say that because the one thing of which people in the country can become only too well aware is any attempt by parties of either side to gerrymander the results of the Boundary Commission's independent report.

My other point relates to the size of constituencies. As some of your Lordships will know, my constituency was not exactly small. I can remember travelling down to support an honourable friend of mine who was fighting against the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, at the time. One of the areas involved was in New Galloway, a great burgh of that part of the world. I think that a penny rate raised about 13 shillings. I was warmly congratulated on having travelled such a long way to support our candidate. However the journey there from my home in my own constituency was much shorter than were most journeys that I undertook in my own constituency. It was also much easier to get there.

Nowadays travelling is much easier than it used to be. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, would care to refresh his memory since I do not believe that he was covering 3,000 miles every week—that would be 500 miles a day—getting around his constituency. I think that the noble Lord was in fact referring to his mileage during the whole election campaign—because my mileage figure was about that, too. In my constituency I had to travel by boats, aeroplanes, and everything else, because I had 17 islands as well as a little bit of mainland. But I do not believe that travelling makes life more difficult if one has the energy and the desire to keep in touch with one's constituents. I honestly believe that in my constituency I was more closely in touch with my constituents than are most Members in a city with 50,000 or 60,000 people. I do not think that within reason the question of size is necessarily a good ground for changing constituency names and other things too greatly.

Lord Tanlaw

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to put the record straight. He is quite correct. I made a slip of the tongue. The mileage to which I referred was undertaken during the course of the campaign.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, as a mere Englishwoman, I should like to support my noble friend on the Front Bench in his plea that names should be left as they are. So far as English constituencies are concerned, I think that I can console my noble friend by pointing out that people who come from the great city of Bristol will never talk about coming from Avon and Somerset; nor will people from Liverpool talk about coming from Merseyside. Fortunately, people will always survive the nonsense of the changing of names. I still find that in the old London boroughs I cannot use the new names, which are almost meaningless. Obviously there was an obsession with rivers, or in the case of the shires, with mountains. Long may the old, historical names remain the names by which people know the place in which they live.

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I should like to thank noble Lords who in the main have welcomed this order. To come straight to the various points which were raised, I think that one has to remember that the Boundary Commission had to set about its duties in accordance with a number of rules and, while it is true to say that possibly the Boundary Commissions for Scotland and for England and Wales have not always interpreted them in exactly the same way, I do not think that anyone has seriously suggested that there should be only one Boundary Commission. Nevertheless, equally, I do not think that we should lose sight of the fact that the rules were drawn up by Parliament with all-party agreement—although, in the next breath, I agree with the noble Lord who said that the rules are capable of a number of different interpretations and there seems in the experience of the present exercise to be a case for clarification. However, that and possible alterations will be for Parliament to decide on or before the time when the Boundary Commissions next embark on their general review.

I think it is right to say that the Government are paying careful attention to the views that have been expressed. There is one matter on which, for the record, I must reluctantly correct the noble Lord, Lord Ross. He put the enumeration date at 1958. It was 1978—a slip of the tongue, I know. Then the noble Lord, in effect, chided the Secretary of State for not modifying, in instances where he thought fit, recommendations which the Boundary Commission sought to make. I think that that point was covered to an extent by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and by my noble friend Lord Glenkinglas.

One has to realise that, in an exercise such as this, particularly where some people's parliamentary careers are going to be cut short, there is a very keen eye kept on everything that is done. If the Secretary of State was minded in effect to modify one constituency, he would inevitably be modifying at least two. The resulting chain effect could be quite severe in the effect which one decision had on the whole series of proposals. At the same time, the Secretary of State would be laying himself open to charges of political chicanery or, at the very least, bias. That is why it has been the normal practice for Secretaries of State to follow the recommendations of the Boundary Commission, who are responsible and, above all, impartial; and they are assisted in their inquiries by the assistant commissioners. So I think I do not find myself agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Ross, on that score.

Then we come to the difficult matter of the sizes and shapes of the constituencies. Even allowing that Scotland receives a benefit by virtue of the fact that there are large parts of the country which have either suffered depopulation or, in any event, have a small population, in those terms one gets constituencies of large size. Even my own (if I can bring the personal touch into it) is going to stretch from suburban Perth—imagine an inverted piece of cheese—to Kirriemuir, going north-east and then due west to Rannoch before coming down south-east to the north of Perth again. It is a colossal constituency with most means of communication going north to south rather than east to west.

A number of noble Lords took up the matter of nomenclature. It was the task of the Boundary Commission to reflect changes in local authority boundaries and nomenclature since 1975. It was for that reason that they abolished the word "shire" because we do not have them in the sense that we had the old county council. Coming to Lord Ross's neck of the woods, of course Troon is presently in Central Ayrshire and therefore, as Ayrshire no longer exists in the local government sense, it is entirely appropriate that it should be renamed. Incidentally, I think that the only Member who is cheering as loudly as he who is going to embrace Troon is the Member for the present Central Ayrshire constituency who is going to lose it. The reason is that it has, I think, the highest rateable value of any community in Scotland.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Subject to appeal, my Lords.

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, to some appeal. I personally do not see anything too bad about some of the new names. It may be that Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley does not exactly trip off the tongue but it will be found rather more romantic than some of those little towns if one visits them, and not too far away one gets Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale which three Members of your Lordships' House take as their titles or part of them. I think that it is something we shall learn to live with and possibly become quite affectionate towards before the next changes are made and the resulting complaints start up again. As I said at the beginning, I think that the Boundary Commission have done their best. Obviously, even to those who have suffered, so to speak, from the changes, they have been quite impartial and have made what some people used to describe as parliamentary chaos into a reasonable system of order. It is on that basis that I commend this order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.