HL Deb 20 October 1992 vol 539 cc644-56

3.28 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Ferrers.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Local government boundaries to be taken into account in reports]:

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 1: Page 3, line 5, leave out ("and").

The noble Lord said: I appreciate that there is important business to follow the consideration of the Committee stage of the Bill, but Members of the Committee will appreciate that although we have no vote in parliamentary elections we are keenly interested in the franchise by which Members of the other House are elected because we are affected by the result. In moving Amendment No.1, which is a paving amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No.2.

On Second Reading I expressed concern at the proposals in the Bill relating to Wales. I refer to Clause 3(3) (b) on page 3 of the Bill. Although three months have elapsed since Second Reading it may be advisable if I read out that particular provision. The amendment proposes leaving out lines 6 to 11: (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". The Bill proposes that a commission may make recommendations based upon local government boundaries which are prospective only at the time of publication of the commission's report. The new subsection (8) to be added to Section 3 of the 1986 Act states that a boundary change shall be regarded as prospective if the change is specified in an Act—not a Bill—although it has not yet come into operation. That is a reasonable proposal because in those circumstances Parliament would have approved the actual boundary change. But the proposal in the Bill regarding Wales is totally different. There is an assumption that a Bill on local government boundaries which has had a Second Reading only in the Commons is certain to become law. It assumes that the Bill may not be altered in subsequent changes in the Commons and completely ignores what may transpire when the Bill comes before your Lordships' House and proceeds through its various stages.

Very strong words were used about this proposal by Members in the other place. It was suggested that the proposal was presumptuous in terms of the procedure of the House, that it was insulting to both Houses to assume they would not make the slightest change to any boundaries during those stages, and that it was an arrogant procedure. In reply to criticisms which I made during the Second Reading debate the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, pointed out that there was a difference between the provisional recommendations of a commission and its final report. I recognised that. The noble Earl said: There is no question of the final report being based upon boundaries not already framed in legislation. The Second Reading will not be conclusive".—[Official Report,16/7/92; col.339.] That reaffirmed what the Minister, Mr. Peter Lloyd, had said during the Committee stage in the other place: Only the boundaries that are legislated for in the Bill when it has become an Act can be used as a basis for its final recommendations to the Secretary of State".—[Official Report, Commons,22/6/92; col.96.] Mr. Peter Lloyd had also said: Of course, there is an element of risk. If the Bill does not go through the House or become an Act by 1st June 1994, the boundary commission for Wales would have to revise its proposals to accommodate them to the boundaries then in force rather than to those that are intended".—[col.82.] There is no reason whatever why the Boundary Commission for Wales should not proceed on the basis of the electorate as it is at the moment. If there should be a local government Act which makes changes there could be an interim review. That seems to be a sensible procedure, whereas it is an arrogant assumption that there can be no possible change made in the other place or in your Lordships' House when it considers the local government reform Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

Is my noble friend on the Front Bench able to tell me whether there is any precedent for the provision whereby a Bill, having been given its Second Reading in another place, shall be treated as prospective? It seems to me unusual that the mere passing of a Bill at Second Reading should automatically give that status to a provision. It may well be that there are precedents for it, and I should be very grateful if my noble friend could tell me what they were.

Baroness Hamwee

This amendment provides an opportunity for that question to be answered and perhaps the Minister has a reply at the front of his mind, which indeed he may. I should not like to assume that he does not have such information at his fingertips. I support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. As he rightly said, the procedures of this House and of another place are jealously guarded, not for the benefit of those who take part in them but as a matter of democracy. There should be no assumption as to the outcome of prospective legislation. I too find the clause a difficult one, assuming that the outcome will be as it was thought to be at the relatively early stage of Second Reading in the other place.

A balance has to be struck between the convenience of those who take part in elections both as members of political parties and of the electorate, and the right size of the right boundaries of a constituency. But one aspect which must prejudice democracy—perhaps in a little way but enough to be important—is uncertainty. It is helpful to the democratic process for boundaries to be known in time for the democratic process to work within the prospective boundaries. It seems to me that if this clause remains part of the Bill it may to some extent jeopardise that certainty, and the working of the community and the political process within a constituency as it is likely to be, given that the outcome may be quite short up against an election.

Earl Ferrers

This question has been discussed before, not only in this House but in another place. I realise that it has caused a certain amount of concern and possibly confusion. However, I shall endeavour to put the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, at ease with his worries.

First, this particular provision in the Bill is intended to be helpful. Except in the case of Wales, the Bill provides that the next final reports of the commissions shall be based on the boundaries which are specified in Schedule 2 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 and which will be in operation on 1st June 1994. The provisional recommendations which precede the final reports can be based on those boundaries which, although they have been included in legislation passed by Parliament, will not be in operation when the provisional recommendations are published.

The situation is complicated by the fact that plans for the reorganisation of local government in Wales are well advanced, and there is an imminent possibility of a Welsh local government reform Bill. If that were to come about such a Bill might well include a redrawing of some county boundaries in Wales. Were the same time constraints to be used for Wales as are used for the rest of the United Kingdom there would be hardly any chance of the new county boundaries forming the base for the next general review in Wales. There would he a very real likelihood that the proposals for Wales would be out of date the moment they were published. That would be a pity. In order to minimise the possibility of having to repeat the review of Wales almost as soon as it is finished the Bill includes a special provision for Wales that will allow county boundaries which are not yet in operation to be included in the final report. So in order to form the basis of the final recommendations for Wales, any new county boundaries will have to have been passed by Parliament by 1st June 1994, although they need not be in operation by that date. The provisional recommendations, which can precede final recommendations by quite some time, must be based on existing county boundaries or any new county boundaries which may be contained in a Bill which has had its Second Reading in another place when the provisional recommendations are published.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asks why we cannot act on the present county boundaries. Obviously it would be absurd to insist that the provisional recommendations for Wales should be based on legislation which is about to be changed. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who, as always, has the knack of asking awkward questions, asked whether there was such a precedent. If there is such a precedent I am not aware of it, but I have no doubt that were there such a precedent it would be a very good one.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said at Second Reading and again today that it would be dangerous to assume that a Bill would remain unaltered between its Second Reading in another place and its final approval by Parliament. He is absolutely right. There is no suggestion that there would not be any alteration. The noble Lord said that it was arrogant to assume that there would be no such alteration. We do not make that assumption. He said, in what I thought fairly strong language, that it was insulting to Parliament to assume that there would be no change to the Bill before the legislation was put to it. Such an assumption would be dangerous and quite wrong. The Government make no such assumption.

If the provisional recommendations are published on the basis of a Bill which has had its Second Reading in another place and if the Bill is subsequently altered, then new provisional recommendations will have to be published in line with the way in which the Bill has been altered. I assure the noble Lord that there can be no question of final recommendations—final recommendations are the important ones—being submitted to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary based on anything other than county boundaries which have been approved by Parliament as a whole.

That is very important. There must be no affront to Parliament nor any question of unconstitutional procedure. I do not believe that there is. As I suggested in the first place, we are trying to be helpful and allow the boundary commissions to address their minds to what appears to be the likely outcome as opposed to a series of boundaries which almost certainly will be changed. In that spirit I ask the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, to understand that this legislation is designed to be helpful both to the electorate and the boundary commissions and to enable new results to emerge which will benefit the electorate.

Lord Underhill

I am grateful to the noble Earl for further elaborating on this matter beyond his remarks at Second Reading. He has been quite helpful. I would however like to make one point. The noble Earl said that this would be helpful. To whom will it be helpful? We must be careful that a pistol is not held at the head of Parliament to demand that if it does not agree with the local government commission the business may have to be delayed and come up again. That is the problem.

We want the boundary commissions to look at the situation properly and fairly. That can only be done by withdrawing this provision of the Bill and seeing what happens. If there has to be a change, it can be dealt with by an interim review. There is provision in the boundary commission arrangements for the commission to undertake an interim review. If that were the position, I am sure that Parliament would readily agree to speedy action being taken.

I am tempted to divide the Committee. This is a matter of constitutional importance. However, I shall read carefully what the noble Earl said to see whether or not we need return to it. It is a vital question of the procedure of the boundary commission and of the constitutional procedure of Parliament. It is not merely a question of an affront to this House. It is a matter I shall have to examine carefully. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No.2 not moved.]

3.45 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy moved Amendment No.3:

Page 3, line 11, at end insert: ("() Where a Boundary Commission has to decide between ameliorating disparity in the sizes of electorates in constituencies and taking into account local government boundaries, due weight should be given to the former consideration.").

The noble Lord said: I note that Amendment No.4, in the name of my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, which immediately follows, deals very largely with the same point. If he and the Committee agree, in view of the important debate which will follow, I suggest that it might be convenient for both amendments to be considered together. I understand that my noble friend agrees.

I do not regard my amendment as more than a probing amendment. I do not expect my wording to become enshrined in statute. But it will have served its purpose if it indicates the point which I shall now elaborate.

In the Second Reading debate on 16th July my noble friend Lord Ferrers stated that one of the main purposes of the Bill was to even out disparities in numbers between constituencies. He gave examples from within England of a constituency with 101,000 electors (the Isle of Wight) and another constituency with only 42,000 electors. He spoke of differences in size of constituency electorates which, jolt the principle of parliamentary democracy".—(Official Report,16/7/92; col.321.] He said that the purpose of the Bill was to produce boundaries which would not be very out of date when a general election is held. As he knows, I agree with all the main purposes of the Bill.

I pointed out at Second Reading that, resulting from the Act of Union in 1707, there have to be at least 71 constituencies in Scotland. That means that the average electorate in Scotland must be less than the average in England. In other words, the electoral quota is less in Scotland. We do not seek to change that. If ever that were to happen, it would have to be accompanied by general constitutional changes of another kind.

Within that limitation, much could be done to reduce disparities. The boundary commissions have several criteria to apply which are prescribed by legislation. They perform their tasks admirably to achieve proposals in accordance with Parliament's guidance. But have we in Parliament conveyed to the commissions the degree of weight to be attached to each of those criteria? In particular how important are local government boundaries? That is one of the criteria which ought to be taken into account. Parts of the United Kingdom are mountainous, sparsely populated and much indented by arms of the sea, channels and sea lochs. One would expect that they would have smaller electorates, and that boundaries would limit the geographical size of areas so as to make them more manageable. But that is not the case at present.

Let me give some examples from northern Scotland. One enormous area—the constituency of Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber—has an electorate of 70,000. Another large constituency in northern Scotland—Gordon—has an electorate of 80,000. Argyll in the west, which is a very large and difficult constituency to move about in because of the sea lochs, has an electorate of nearly 50,000. Banff and Buchan has an electorate of 64,000. In contrast eight constituencies in Glasgow, which are very small in area by comparison, have electorates of less than 50,000. One has 36,000 and another 41,000.

It seems that the main reason for such disparities is the apparent requirement to follow local government boundaries. I ask whether that is what Parliament intended. In Scotland the commission is required "to have regard to" local government boundaries. That criterion appears to have been given priority over, or a higher priority than, levelling out the sizes of electorates. An electorate of 80,000 in a large area of northern Scotland contrasts with an electorate of 36,000 in a small, compact area of Glasgow. One would have expected them to be the other way round if there were to be any differential at all because of the difficulties associated with areas of enormous size in northern Scotland. If that is not a jolt to the principle of parliamentary democracy, to use my noble friend's words, I shall be surprised.

Should so much importance be ascribed to the criterion of local government boundaries? A vote in Provan in Glasgow is worth more than two votes in Banff and Buchan in northern Scotland although its area is about 100 times less in size. Rule 4, Schedule 2, in the 1986 Act states that, regard shall be had to the boundaries of local authority areas". In winding up our debate on 16th July, the Minister of State pointed out that rule 5 states that a commission, may depart from the strict application of rule 4 if it appears … desirable to avoid excessive disparity". It is the conflict between those two criteria with which I deal in the amendment. At present the wording makes the task difficult for the commissions. To me "having regard" means taking into account but not being obliged to comply. However, rule 5 refers to the "strict application". It therefore appears that local government boundaries are to be given more importance than other criteria. Is that what Parliament intended?

The commissions have discretion in considering all criteria, as my noble friend Lord Ferrers reminded us. The question is how much weight they believe they have to give to any one of the criteria. In Scotland the boundaries of district councils have not been regarded as sacrosanct. However, the boundaries of regional councils appear to have prevailed. There are no counties in Scotland. The nearest equivalent is a regional council. That seems to be the main cause of the huge and unexpected disparities.

Last week the Secretary of State for Scotland published a consultation document, Reorganisation of Local Government in Scotland, proposing a single tier instead of district and regional councils. That makes it all the more important if possible to indicate to the commissions how much weight should be given to local government boundaries although new authorities in Scotland are not expected to be in place for at least four to five years. What is the significance of coinciding with local government boundaries? There is convenience: we can all see that it is convenient for the authorities and others. But I have yet to hear of any serious reason why electoral boundaries should coincide with local government boundaries. Where they do not do so in Scotland—I refer to some of the district council boundaries—I have not heard of any problems arising.

I felt constrained to raise the subject because as a Secretary of State for four years I had responsibilities in that field. I believe that the boundary commissions will welcome further guidance from Parliament. If they require more guidance because the present schedule to the Act is not helpful enough—perhaps I should accept some of the blame for its present state having had responsibilities for the previous legislation—should we not try to give guidance to them?

The immediate matter for our consideration is whether we in Parliament intended such wide disparities to arise not through immense geographical differences or sparse population in some areas but simply to coincide with local government boundaries. The opposite to that which one would have expected has been the result.

My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish proposes an amendment to the relevant schedule to the 1986 Act. He is making a valiant effort to give the commissions some guidance in the Bill. I believe that most people in Parliament will consider that necessary. I shall listen with care and great interest to what he says. I beg to move the amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak at this stage to Amendment No.4 which stands in my name. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy seeks to attack the same problem. Although my noble friend openly admitted that his was a probing amendment, I have attempted to phrase my amendment in such a way that it could be added comfortably to the Bill and to the 1986 Act.

At Second Reading I spoke about the need in a first-past-the-post system to have parliamentary constituences as nearly equal as possible. Unfortunately I am not able to propose the far-reaching amendments that I should like since the Long Title of the Bill restrains me from that ambition. The Long Title informs me that I can only deal with, membership of the Boundary Commissions, the timing of their reports and the local government boundaries of which account is to be taken in their reports". Local government boundaries are the main factors which cause the considerable distortions in constituency size in Scotland. Even in 1983, the first election fought under the last boundary commission's rules, two out of the three largest electoral seats in Scotland were rural. That seems an odd way to seek to be fair to rural areas. The smallest seats in Scotland were largely in urban areas in the central belt. That initial imbalance, although not huge in 1983, grew until at the last election, of the 10 largest constituencies in Scotland six were rural. Of the 10 smallest, half were urban. If one excludes the three special cases of Orkney and Shetland, Caithness and Sutherland and the Western Isles which fall under rule 6 of the 1986 Act, of the smallest 10, eight were urban; and six were in Glasgow, which must be the most over-represented part not only of Scotland but of the whole United Kingdom.

Aside from some poor arithmetic and poorer population projections by the boundary commission in the early I980s, the principal reason for the imbalance was the commission's absolute determination not to cross the boundaries of regional councils. That led the commission to create, for example, the constituency of Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber. It not only has the largest geographical constituency in the country; it now has the second largest population. It also led to the constituencies in the adjacent region of Grampian being rather large by Scottish standards.

There was a simple solution to the problem, as there will be for the next boundary commission. It was to give both Highland and Grampian an extra half seat. That would have involved crossing a regional boundary. The commission was implacably opposed to crossing regional boundaries despite the fact that it was not opposed to giving extra seats to Scotland. For some reason which no one has been able to explain to me, it gave an extra seat to the city of Glasgow. The reason for that and similar mistakes by the commission in other parts of Scotland was that it read rule 4 as being more important than rule 5.

In his reply to me in the Second Reading debate the Minister stated: I hope that that gives both my noble friends the indication that rule 5"— it is the electoral quotas rule— permits the boundary commission not to stick rigidly to local or regional boundaries where it thinks fit".—[Official Report,16/7/92; col.338.] I welcome that assurance. However, I also know from my experience that people follow the words in Acts of Parliament and not the interpretation by Ministers at the Dispatch Box. My amendment is designed to make sure that the words are taken by the boundary commission to mean what I believe Parliament intended them to mean.

It is doubly important that the Government accept my amendment because, as my noble friend said, there is considerable uncertainty as to what the boundaries in Scotland will be by the next general election. We know that regions will not exist. Therefore, it seems important that we should signal in the words of the Act that local government boundaries should not be given precedence over the need to have reasonably equal electorates.

My amendment takes account of the rigid view which the boundary commission took on the last occasion and ensures that the present boundary commission will be forced to change that view. It weakens the words of the original Act which state: regard shall be had to the boundaries of local authority areas to "consideration shall be given". Also, it states quite clearly that when that consideration is given, it should have regard to rule 5, which is the rule about quotas. Thus, my amendment states clearly that the need for the electorate to be as near the quota as is practical is more important than local authority boundaries. I hope that the Minister and Members of the Committee will accept the validity of the arguments which have been put by my noble friend Lord Campbell and myself and find some way to signal to the boundary commission that the need to achieve reasonably equal electoral quotas is paramount in the making up of single Member constituencies in a first-past-the-post system.

4 p.m.

Lord Underhill

I find some difficulty in supporting either of the amendments put forward. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, raises a question of semantics: the difference between "consideration shall be given" and "have regard to". Perhaps somebody will tell me exactly what is the difference.

However, it is more important to consider what the Minister of State, Mr. Peter Lloyd, said in the other place. He said: The commissions must have regard to the balance of population, social and geographical considerations and the significance of county and, particularly, London borough boundaries".—[Official Report, Commons,15/6/92; col.741.] That is an extremely wide statement. The point I make in dealing with both the amendments, but particularly that in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, is that the commissions have a great deal of flexibility. Schedule 2 (7) of the 1986 Act states: they shall take account, so far as they reasonably can … of any local ties which would be broken by such alterations". I believe that everyone will agree that it is desirable that electorates should be as equal as they possibly can. That is the whole purpose of the boundary commissions' proposals. Heaven knows, we struggled long enough to get constituencies of a fair size. Therefore, I support the proposal that, as far as possible, we should have constituencies with equal electorates.

However, one important point arises. Do we wish to break local community ties? It is clear from the schedule to the 1986 Act, which I read, that so far as they reasonably can the commissions should take into account any local ties which may be broken by such alterations. The community interest is extremely important. There is flexibility in the present procedure and it would be dangerous to move away from that flexibility so that the commissions must follow certain lines, because when certain proposals are considered local ties are as important as the areas of local authorities.

I do not complain about the fact that my amendment was taken out of order but there was a matter which I wished to raise when speaking to it and I shall do so now. There is a difference between electorates and the total eligible population. At present the commissions are not allowed to take that into consideration.

I should like to hear what the noble Earl says about the points I have raised. I believe that the question of local community ties is extremely important. That flexibility should not be taken away from the boundary commissions.

Lord Monson

Although I saw it for the first time only 20 minutes ago, I warmly support the amendment moved so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. I am sure that Amendment No.4 is equally meritorious although I have not had an opportunity to look at the 1986 Act.

The whole point of having a boundary commission is to ensure fairness and to ensure that the vote of every elector in this country counts for just as much as the vote of any other elector. Compared to that requirement the considerations of local government boundaries, whether based on sentimentality or convenience, must count for relatively little.

Baroness Hamwee

I too have some difficulty with both of these amendments. On Second Reading I mentioned the words "proportional representation". Today I shall do no more than that but we have had a splendid example of the problems of our electoral system. This Bill does not set out to cure that but I too have difficulties in balancing the question of local ties against numbers. I hope that when the Minister replies he can assist the Committee not just as regards the interpretation of the words "give consideration to" and "have regard to" but also where the words "due weight" come in that spectrum.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for making a splendid case for three additional Members of my party and the examples that he chose as constituencies. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to accept the amendment.

Earl Ferrers

Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that her difficulty in understanding this modest little Bill will be nothing compared with the difficulty which all Members of the Committee would have in understanding any Bill which produced a form of proportional representation.

Baroness Hamwee

I did not say that I have difficulty in understanding the Bill. I indicated that the arguments are difficult to balance.

Earl Ferrers

In that case, the noble Baroness underlines the point even more when she says that she finds the arguments difficult. I find the arguments on proportional representation infinitely more difficult to understand than the arguments raised by this Bill. However, I shall leave that to one side as I know the noble Baroness raised the matter only as a red herring.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish for speaking to his amendment at the same time as discussing Amendment No.3. The amendments address similar matters. They both seek to alter the rules for the redistribution of seats as set out in Schedule 2 of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986.

The amendments intend to emphasise that the goal of equalising electorates should take precedence over that of not crossing local government boundaries. The difference between the two amendments is that the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy refers to the whole of the United Kingdom whereas that in the name of my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish refers only to Scotland.

I am glad that my noble friend Lord Campbell said that his is a probing amendment because, as presently drafted, his amendment would have no effect. That is because in order to have effect a paragraph would need to be added to the rules for the redistribution of seats in Schedule 2 of the 1986 Act. My noble friend Lord Mackay foresaw that and tabled his amendment to do exactly that. The difficulty with that amendment, were it to be accepted, is that the Scottish rules would then be different from the remainder of the rules for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I should like to make it clear and reassure my noble friends—and I understand their anxieties on this matter—that rule 5 of Schedule 2 of the 1986 Act clearly states that any local government boundaries can be crossed in order to avoid excessive disparities between electorates. That is particularly true in Scotland where, as my noble friend Lord Campell of Croy said, the commissions are required only to have regard to the boundaries of local authorities. Therefore, they are not bound to be bound by the boundaries. They can cross them.

The commissions therefore are already entitled to recommend the crossing of local government boundaries in the interests of electoral equality. My noble friends Lord Mackay and Lord Campbell both said that they had difficulty in deciding which provisions of the Act should be given the greater weight. That is precisely the reason they are so drafted—to enable the boundary commissions to have such flexibility as they require in order to make their own judgments. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, that the boundary commissions have a considerable amount of flexibility. Parliament will need to think carefully before putting them into too much of a straitjacket.

There is another difficulty; that is, that the English and Scottish commissions are already part way through their reviews and the English commission has published proposals using the rules as they stand at present. A change in the rules at this stage would mean either that they would be unable to achieve consistency, which would be unfair, or they would have to begin their review again. That would make it virtually impossible to meet the 31st December 1994 deadline imposed by the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Campbell referred to the Glasgow constituencies. Their current size has nothing to do with local authority boundaries; it has everything to do with the electorate having shrunk since 1978 when the previous review began. I know that both my noble friends are anxious about the matter. I believe it was my noble friend Lord Mackay who asked how we could make a signal to the boundary commissions. I am sure that the boundary commissions will read and take note of what my noble friends said. But if there were to be a change, the right time for it would be before the beginning of the next general reviews, which will not be until the turn of the century.

The sole purpose of the Bill is to speed up the reviews and not to alter the rules by which they operate. Were they to be altered, it would be desirable for there to be wide consultation between all parties and the rules should be considered in their totality as opposed to just one facet of them. My noble friends have a point in the substance of their amendments. As my honourable friend the Minister of State said in another place, both he and the Home Secretary believe that several suggestions have been made, some during our debates, which must be considered jointly and collectively before the next round of changes.

I hope, therefore, that on reflection my noble friends will consider that the best course is as I suggested—for those ideas and others to be considered in the wider context before the next review rather than to incorporate them in the Bill at this juncture.

Lord Campbell of Croy

I am grateful to all those who have taken part in this short debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. I am completely in favour of flexibility between the criteria, and I understand the problems of London. It is not local government boundaries that are responsible for small constituencies; it is however local government boundaries that cause the enormous size of rural and Highland constituencies which one would normally have thought should be smaller because of the difficulty of their management.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, raised the question of local community ties. That is one of the criteria but is easily looked after in the huge constituencies about which I spoke. A vast number of local communities are included and any local community considerations would only involve around 200 people on the edges of the constituency. They arc much more important in the smaller constituencies. I accept that that is one of the criteria, though it is not one that causes much difficulty for the commissions in northern Scotland.

The situation still exists where a constituency in the north of Scotland contains 80,000 electors. It includes the foothills of the Cairngorms and all kinds of other geographical problems. Yet a constituency in a small urban area of Glasgow contains only 36,000 electors. That means more than two votes there are the equivalent of one vote in northern Scotland.

I realise the difficulties of making changes. All one can do is to try and indicate guidance to the commissions when they are operating in some of the large rural areas. I hope that the commissions will consider all the criteria and that they will be guided in the emphasis that they give to the question of local government boundaries and to what was said in the debate. I wish the commissions well in their difficult job, which they perform extremely well. As my noble friend suggested, I hope that they will read the debate. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

[Amendment No.4 not moved.]

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.