HL Deb 17 November 1987 vol 490 cc149-52

7.38 p.m.

The Earl of Arran rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 9th July be approved [2nd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the draft order implements the recommendations made by the Parliamentary Boundary Commission for Wales in its report on 21 constituencies in South Wales. The draft order was laid before the House on 9th July. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has considered the order.

We are considering here tonight the recommendations arising from an interim review carried out by the Welsh Boundary Commission, which has the duty of keeping the distribution of seats in Wales under continuous review. The commission completed its last general review of Wales in 1983, and its next report covering the whole country is due between 1993 and 1998. In the intervening period, however, the work of the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales has led to changes being made in local authority boundaries so that they no longer coincide with constituency boundaries. The commission has been working to remove these anomalies, which can cause inconvenience and confusion to electors, local authorities and political organisations.

Articles 2 to 6 of the draft order substitute the constituencies in the schedule (which are those recommended by the commission) for those set out in the Parliamentary Constituencies (Wales) Order 1983. Article 1(3) enables the order to come into force when it is made by Her Majesty in council, although the new constituencies will not come into being until a general election is called. Any by-elections in the meantime will be held on the existing boundaries.

The order includes 21 constituencies in South Wales. The commission published its proposals in July 1986. Nine representations were made, four of which resulted in the holding of a public inquiry into the commission's proposals for Gower, Neath, Swansea East and Swansea West. The major issue considered by the assistant commissioner at the inquiry was whether the community ward of Trebanos should be placed with the rest of the community of Pontadawe in Neath, as the commission proposed, or remain in Gower. The assistant commissioner upheld the commission's recommendations, and these are before your Lordships' House tonight.

The Home Secretary has not received any representations about the recommendations in this report, which, with the exception of the proposals for Trebanos ward that were examined at the public inquiry, are the minimum necessary to realign the constituency and local authority boundaries. In most cases few electors are affected, ranging from none to 386. Four constituencies will have larger net movements of electors; Gower will lose 2,644 and Swansea West 1,493. Swansea East will gain 2,803 and Neath 940.

I invite your Lordships to approve this draft order for implementing the commission's proposals in full.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 9th July be approved [2nd Report from the Joint Committee]—(The Earl of Arran.)

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for his explanation of the terms of the draft Order in Council. It springs from the report of the Boundary Commission for Wales dated 8th May 1987.

As the Minister has explained, the local government Boundary Commission for Wales had already altered some local authority boundary in South Wales, with the result that they diverged from the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies. This order realigns the constituency boundaries with the altered local government boundaries. Some of the changes do not affect any electors because they relate to empty land. Indeed, most of the changes affect few electors, but one of the changes has caused disappointment and controversy and I should like to say a few words about it.

The Minister has anticipated that my area of concern is the Welsh speaking community of Trebanos in the Swansea valley. The Order in Council involves the transfer of approximately 1,200 electors in the community ward of Trebanos from the present constituency of Gower to the Neath parliamentary constituency. As I understand it, the majority of the residents of Trebanos do not like their transfer to Neath one bit. Apart from the Government's party, every political party objected to the proposed transfer. The borough council of Lliw opposed the transfer. The Member of Parliament for the Gower constituency lodged a petition objecting to the transfer signed by approximately 797 of the residents.

The good people of Trebanos base their objection on the grounds that Trebanos has a greater affinity of interest with the Gower constituency than with the Neath constituency. As the Minister has pointed out, the assistant commissioner held a local inquiry. He accepted as a fact that there was a substantial body of opinion in the ward in favour of remaining in the present Gower constituency. Nevertheless, he upheld the commission's proposal because he could attach only limited weight to the petitioners' preferences "expressed without reasons" (those are his words) as distinct from the rule for redistribution for parliamentary seats.

On reading the report one stumbles across the phrase "expressed without reasons". I am not sure of the significance that we should attach to those three words. Is it something that he mentioned in passing or does it have a significance? I should like to ask the Minister whether it is the case that the more grounds pleaded in the petition the greater the weight which will be attached to the preference. I do not know whether the Minister is in a position to answer that question this evening, but I am sure that his answer would be of interest to other petitioners in the future.

I have no other question and no comment to make on the proposals in the draft order. However, I should like to take the opportunity of expressing my appreciation of the Boundary Commission's policy of producing its reports in bilingual form. There is a strong demand in Wales that the Welsh language should be used far more extensively in public administration. It is to be hoped that other public authorities in Wales will follow the example set by the Commission and other authorities, and henceforth publish their annual reports and all public documents bilingually. The Welsh language version reads very well and I should like to pay tribute to the growing skills of the Welsh translators of legal and public documents.

With those few comments and that single question, we on this side of the House support the draft Order in Council.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I am grateful for the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. I agree that it is extremely useful and important that reports are published in both English and Welsh. That must be to the pleasure and use of both countries.

The noble Lord was both courteous and thoughtful enough to advise me earlier in the day of his question concerning the transfer of the Trebanos ward. I am able to say that in making recommendations the boundary commissions are bound by the rules for the redistribution of seats which are set out in Schedule 2 of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986. As the assistant commissioner made clear in his thorough report of the local inquiry, there was a limit to the weight that he could properly attach to people's preferences as distinct from the provisions laid down by Parliament. He concluded that Trebanos had stronger links with Pontadawe and that the whole of the community of Pontadawe should be included in one constituency, Neath. The transfer would also bring the electorates of Gower and Neath closer to the electoral quota for Wales and reduce the disparity between the two electorates.

The matter has received the full and careful consideration of the Boundary Commission for Wales and of a local inquiry. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has not received any representations about the recommendations in the report, which was laid before Parliament on 9th July this year.

In summary, the order represents part of the continuing process of ensuring that constituencies have boundaries that are clear and readily understood. With one exception, which was the subject of a public inquiry, these new boundaries are not innovative. They are all firmly based on existing local authority boundaries. I commend the order to your Lordships.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.25 p.m.

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

[The sitting was suspended from 7.50 to 8.25 p.m.]