HL Deb 27 March 1995 vol 562 cc1430-5

4.40 p.m.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Rodger of Earlsferry) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th February be approved [11th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I begin by thanking the Boundary Commission for Wales for completing on time its difficult, complex and demanding task. Since the report was completed and submitted to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary the commission's Deputy Chairman, Mr. Justice Pill, has been promoted to the Court of Appeal. This means that under the terms of the Act he will no longer be able to serve as deputy chairman. I am sure that your Lordships will wish to join with me in paying tribute to the contribution he has made during his period in office.

The order is intended to give effect without modification to the final recommendations for new parliamentary constituencies contained in the fourth periodical report of the Boundary Commission for Wales. Article 2 of the order substitutes the 40 constituencies described in the schedule for the present 38 constituencies in Wales. The draft order has already been approved in another place and, if it is approved by your Lordships today, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will submit it to Her Majesty in Council to be made. The order will come into operation on the fourteenth day after the day on which it is made but will not affect the existing boundaries until the first general election held thereafter.

The four parliamentary boundary commissions are constituted under the first schedule to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986. Under the 1986 Act, they were required to carry out a general review of parliamentary constituency boundaries not less than 10 or more than 15 years from the date of the submission of their last report. In 1992, Parliament decided to increase the frequency of general reviews and the Boundary Commission Act 1992 provides that a general review should be carried out not less than eight or more than 12 years after the submission of the previous report.

The Boundary Commission for Scotland has also submitted its report, which will be debated by your Lordships as the next item of business. The Boundary Commission for England has not yet submitted its report to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and I understand that it is unlikely to do so before April. Nor has the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland yet submitted its report.

The Boundary Commission for Wales began the present review on 9th November 1993 and completed its work in December 1994. The process by which the commission arrived at its recommendations is governed by a set of rules for the redistribution of seats. Those rules are set out in Schedule 2 to the 1986 Act. The rules give the commission a wide discretion in fulfilling its statutory obligations while taking account of local ties, administrative boundaries and geographical considerations.

Inevitably, in any area considered by the commission there are a range of possible options for the drawing of parliamentary constituency boundaries. Often a compromise has to be found. Local opinion may be strongly divided, even on occasions along party political lines. During the review the commission held local inquiries in every county except Mid-Glamorgan, where only one objection to its provisional recommendations was received. Your Lordships will appreciate therefore that there has been a great deal of public consultation before the formulation of the commission's final recommendations and one has only to read the report to appreciate the care which it has taken in conducting the review.

I turn now to the recommendations. The two substantive changes to emerge from the report are the recommendations that there should be additional seats in Clwyd and Dyfed. These recommendations have arisen from the calculation of a theoretical entitlement of seats for each county. This theoretical entitlement is the electorate of the county at the enumeration date, divided by the electoral quota for Wales as a whole. In Clwyd that theoretical entitlement was 5.55 seats and in Dyfed it was 4.74 seats. These figures were rounded up to the nearest whole number, six and five respectively.

The commission looked very hard at alternative options that would have avoided an increase in the number of Welsh seats. One way of avoiding an increase might have been to adopt schemes which straddled county boundaries and the commission gave careful considerations to such possibilities. However, it rejected them upon an application of Rules 6 and 7 together with Rule 4. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that Rule 4, in its application to Wales, requires that so far as is practicable county boundaries should not be crossed. Rule 5 permits a departure from the "strict application of Rule 4" in the two circumstances there specified but these do not allow the commission complete freedom to depart from Rule 4 to achieve electoral equality.

In that respect, there is an important difference between the rules as they apply to England and to Wales on the one hand and to Scotland on the other. In its application to Scotland, Rule 4 merely required that regard be had to the boundaries of local authority areas. That provided the Boundary Commission for Scotland with a good deal more freedom in drawing up constituencies.

The additional seats in Clwyd and Dyfed have necessitated substantial boundary changes in those counties. Elsewhere in Wales, the commission has recommended no change to the boundaries of 27 constituencies. Apart from the changes in Clwyd and Dyfed, therefore, the only changes recommended by the commission are to two constituencies in South Glamorgan to reflect a small change in local government ward boundaries. The commission has also recommended that the name of one constituency in Powys should be changed. Modest though these changes may be, they caused considerable local debate. The issues were fully aired at local inquiries following which the commission decided to recommend the adoption of its final recommendations.

The commission considers that, once the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 comes into force, it may be appropriate in parts of Wales to hold interim reviews to consider possible realignments of the constituency boundaries it is now recommending. However, following consultations, it has said that it does not expect this to be appropriate before the next general election.

As I said, it is clear that the commission has approached the tasks given to it by Parliament with meticulous care and attention. That was recognised in the debate on the report in another place. Such conduct is only what we would have expected from a totally impartial body of this kind. I therefore have no hesitation in commending the commission's final recommendations to your Lordships.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th February be approved [11th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Rodger of Earlsferry.)

4.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate for clearly setting out the details of the order. Indeed, it was helpful because in many cases he was able to use exactly the same words as his colleagues in the Commons. Therefore, I was able to read his speech before he actually made it.

We on these Benches accept the way in which the boundary commissions have been set up. We also accept the way in which the determination of constituency boundaries has been separated from government and, largely, from Parliament. Clearly, the approval of the orders is almost a formality. It is right that the commissions should be so independent and that the Government should have recommended to Parliament that the orders be accepted without modification. We certainly shall not oppose them.

However, I must point out that the orders before the House are somewhat fragile. The considerations of the boundary commission have taken place at the same time as the reorganisation of local government in Wales. As a result, Rules 4 and 5, referred to by the noble and learned Lord—which prohibit, except in exceptional circumstances, the crossing of county boundaries in setting parliamentary boundaries—refer to county boundaries which, in a very short time, will no longer exist. Therefore, we have new boundaries set for a certain number of counties in Wales—Clwyd and Dyfed are the two that I have in mind—which have been distorted to some extent by existing county boundaries which will no longer exist. That has perhaps resulted in one more seat in North Wales than might otherwise have been justified by the numbers. I can see that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, will not be pleased with that conclusion, but that is certainly the effect of this peculiar, fragile, and short-lived boundary commission report which is before the House.

Of course, it is welcome that 27 of the seats will not be changed in any way. I do not suppose that anyone will worry about the change of the name from Montgomery to Montgomeryshire. But, even so, it seems strange that we must have such boundary commissions with that degree of formality when we all know that there will have to be interim reviews very soon. With that very minor caveat, we welcome the order.

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, I have two brief questions rather than comments to put. I will not follow the noble Lord down the route of the number of constituencies in the north because, obviously, one of them—the smallest—would be the constituency I previously represented in another place. I would not want my title in this place to be affected by a change in constituency name.

The first question that I should like to ask refers to the nature and scope of the interim review which may follow. It would be most helpful to the House if the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate could indicate what scope and limitation there will be on the nature of that particular review and how things might have been different. The noble and learned Lord drew attention to the different situation in Scotland. It would be helpful if he could explain a little more fully the situation in Wales.

My second point relates to a direct interest of mine; namely, the promotion of the Welsh language. Where there are two names in regular usage, I believe that from now on the boundary commission should use both the Welsh language and the English language form whenever it designates the name of a place.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, I have a brief intervention to make. I have no quarrel with the recommendations in the order. However, I believe that I detect one or two slight spelling mistakes in place names. On page 6, under the section relating to the tiny constituency of Pontypridd, "Rhydeflen" and "Rhydfelen" are both mentioned in line 6. Of course, one of those must be wrong. I suspect it is the first one. It should be Rhydfelen. Further, halfway down the same page under the heading "Cardiff Central", I believe that the name "Adamsdown" should be Adamstown; in other words it should be spelt with "t" and not a "d". Then, a little further on, under the heading "The Vale of Glamorgan", "Gibbonsdown" should read Gibbonstown. I just hope that the correct spelling will be incorporated and that those mistakes—if they are mistakes—will not be set in concrete.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

My Lords, one learns something every day in this House. If I may say so, my noble friend made points that I shall certainly draw to the attention of those who are responsible for setting the exact names to ensure that, when the order is made, it is made in the appropriate fashion.

I turn now to the points raised. Interim reviews and the new local government Act were mentioned. As I am sure noble Lords will recall, even when the new local government Act comes into force for Wales, the counties are preserved for the purposes of parliamentary constituencies and also for the purposes of Lords Lieutenant. The counties are not exactly the same as those which exist now, but the changes are relatively small. Therefore, although the commission could not take account of the new set up, the changes that are likely to be required by virtue of the new preserved counties will not be very large.

As regards the timing of the review, I must stress that that is a matter for the commission. As I indicated, the commission has already said that it does not envisage having such a review before the next general election. As to the scope of the review, that is also a matter for the commission. It is really up to the commission to decide what it wishes to do. Nonetheless, for the reasons I have given, it is not expected that the changes to be made will be substantial. They may be of significance to certain local populations, and so on, but I do not believe that they will be substantial.

I noted the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, as I am sure did other noble Lords. The noble Lord is no doubt aware that much was done during the carrying out of the review by way of ensuring that people who wished to make their representations in the Welsh language had every opportunity to do so. Indeed, that is a further sign of the Government's commitment to ensure that such procedures are correct. With those observations, and sharing those made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, about the need for, and the commendable independence of, such a review, I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.