HL Deb 30 October 1985 vol 467 cc1586-9

12.40 p.m.

Viscount Davidson rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 5th March be approved. [15th Report from the Joint Committee.]

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Parliamentary Constituencies (England) (Miscellaneous Changes) Order 1985, which was laid before this House on 5th March, be approved. This order will implement in full the final recommendations contained in the report of the Boundary Commission for England on its 1984 interim review. Articles 2 to 12 replace the 23 parliamentary constituencies concerned with those described in the schedule. Article 1(3) provides for the order to come into operation 14 days after it is made and for the new boundaries to take effect at the next general election. The draft order has already been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and was approved in another place on 23rd October. If it is approved by your Lordships today, it will be submitted to Her Majesty in Council to be made.

Reviews of this kind are held at the discretion of each parliamentary boundary commission between the general reviews of parliamentary constituencies which have to be completed every 10 to 15 years. They therefore tend to occur at fairly infrequent intervals. The English commission's last interim review, which resulted in no change to the boundaries of the constituencies reviewed, was completed in 1975. It then embarked upon its mandatory interim reviews of all the parliamentary and European parliamentary constituencies, which were completed in 1983 and 1984 respectively.

The need for this interim review arises from a number of changes which have been made to local government boundaries since the making of the Parliamentary Constituencies (England) Order 1983. Most of these alterations were quite small but had resulted in the divergence of some county district and district ward boundaries from the constituency boundaries. The commission accordingly decided to review the boundaries of 23 constituencies in 10 counties as the first step in a programme to reduce the number of anomalies which had occurred since March 1983.

The scope of such reviews is for each parliamentary boundary commission to decide and the English commission, quite sensibly, decided to disturb the existing pattern of constituencies as little as possible by provisionally recommending the realignment of the constituency boundary with the new local government boundary in each area. It will therefore come as no surprise to your Lordships to hear that only three objections were made to the commission during its review and that it decided to confirm its original proposals as its final recommendations.

The number of electors in each area who will be affected by the implementation of these recommendations is comparatively small. Fewer than 500 electors are involved in every area except Wiltshire, where 1,240 will be affected by the proposed alteration to the boundary between the Swindon and Devizes constituencies. However, the only representations about that proposal supported the commission's recommendations, which would reduce the disparity between the 1984 electorates of those constituencies by 2,364.

Further evidence of the uncontentious nature of these proposals can be adduced from the fact that the former Home Secretary received only two representations about them, both of which had been considered during the review, and that no further representations have been received since the draft order was laid. I therefore commend the draft order giving effect to the commission's recommendations to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 5th March be approved. [15th Report from the Joint Committee.]—(Viscount Davidson.)

Lord Underhill

My Lords, perhaps I may first congratulate the noble Viscount on his appointment to the Government Front Bench and, I believe, on introducing his first item of legislation on behalf of the Government. From these Benches, we say that if everything he introduces is as sensible and as innocuous as this order, we shall get on fine.

The noble Viscount said that some of the changes affect very few electors, while in others no electors at all are involved, because they deal merely with areas. I shall not refer to the debate in another place, nor to the speech which I made on 7th March 1983 on the occasion of the last periodic review and which I checked this morning. I mention that because there are a number of important questions on the rules and procedures of the boundary commission which need serious consideration. For instance, on looking at the boundary commission's report, to which the noble Viscount referred, we find that four of these 23 constituencies have over 80,000 electors and one has over 84,000.I know that electorates are not the only things that matter, though they are rather important. There are also such matters as community of interest and so on. Some of these were dealt with in the debate in the other place and I referred to them, and to a number of other desirable changes, when I spoke in 1983.

The next periodic review must be in 1993 or 1998—I do not know whether I shall be interested in it then—and it took seven years from the time when the commission first started its review to produce its final report in 1983. There were factors of local government changes which intervened, and who is to say that there will not be more local government changes before the next periodic review of the commission? Therefore it is rather important that any review should take place fairly quickly.

I note that the Minister in the other place seemed to give a definite assurance that there will be a review of the commission's rules and procedures, and he hoped that this might be undertaken by the Select Committee on Home Affairs. But he said that if that were not possible, consideration would need to be given to alternative ways of carrying out this review. I do not know whether the noble Viscount can give an assurance that any alternative method—if there is one—of carrying out this review will be brought before both Houses for debate before it is considered. I say that because, though noble Lords do not vote in parliamentary elections, we are very concerned with who our rulers are and also we have power to vote in European elections. I do not know whether the noble Viscount can give me that assurance, which is rather important. Otherwise we welcome this order.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for his kind welcome for this order and also for his very kind words of welcome to me on my first appearance at this Dispatch Box. I am extremely fortunate to have been given a maiden speech which was a model of a maiden speech, in that it was short and uncontroversial. I cannot promise that that will be repeated very often, though I shall do my best.

In answer to the noble Lord's question, as he is aware this is essentially a matter for another place and I can only repeat the assurance which my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State gave during the debate last week in another place. We are aware of the discrepancies and the Government are looking into the matters that he spoke about.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Lord Denham

My Lords, I beg to move that this House do now adjourn during pleasure until we reassemble for the Royal Commission at 2.30 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.