HL Deb 09 November 1998 vol 594 cc546-80

(" .—(1) The Secretary of State shall review the impact of this Act on the functions, powers and composition of each House of Parliament and shall report thereon at such intervals as he considers appropriate.

(2) Any report under subsection (1) shall be laid before each House of Parliament.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I return to the subject of Scottish representation in both Houses of Parliament after devolution. Superficially what is different is that this time I have managed to bring forward a substantive amendment. For that I give thanks to the Public Bill Office and to the wisdom, or perhaps the desperation, of the staff.

The amendment places a duty on the Secretary of State to review the performance after devolution of MPs and Peers from Scotland. It is true that there will be less Scottish legislation processed by this Parliament. Paradoxically, it is also true that this United Kingdom Parliament will make laws for Scotland and will modify the Scots law within the context of reserved powers legislation. In view of the imminent changes to the membership of both Houses, I believe that a watching and reporting brief will be necessary and useful.

In another place it seems likely that the number of Scots MPs will be reduced to around 58. I believe that we can expect these MPs to be regular attenders. In this House the number of Scots attending will soon be drastically reduced by the anticipated peerage Bill. The number of life Peers domiciled in Scotland is around 40. For many reasons it cannot be envisaged that they will all attend the House regularly. I believe that insufficient Scots will be domiciled Peers who will attend regularly and scrutinise Scots legislation.

I do not defend the hereditary Peerage. But I wish to assert that Peers from Scotland have attended this House by statute since 1707. Articles 22 and 23 of the Union Acts laid down the statutory principle of Scottish representation in this House. The Union Acts were amended in 1963 by the removal of the restriction to 16 imposed on the Peerage of Scotland by the treaty. Curiously, the two historic subsidiary Acts which deal with elections to both Houses seem still to be on the statute book despite amendments in 1963.

I choose to make the same error as my historic predecessors in trying to regard the Act of Union as a part of a written constitution. Therefore the historic principle of Peers from Scotland being a statutorily guaranteed element in this House requires us to put in place a system of monitoring and remedy in view of the substantial and welcome changes that are being made at this time. I beg to move.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, the noble Earl makes an interesting point. But I do not know whether the amendment is the right way to confront it.

In his reply, can the Lord Advocate tell us what we shall and shall not be discussing in this House in relation to Scotland? Is there a boundary to what the House of Lords will be able to discuss? It is a matter of considerable concern in Scotland to those people who interest themselves in what is going on as regards the House of Lords. It will be interesting if the noble and learned Lord can give an answer. I do not think that we have had one during the passage of the Bill.

Lord Hardie

My Lords, perhaps I may deal with the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour. My noble friend Lord Sewel dealt with the issue in some detail on Report. I refer the noble Baroness to the proceedings in Hansard. I shall write to the noble Baroness to give her the column number in Hansard at which a detailed answer was given as to precisely which issues may be dealt with here.

I agree with the noble Baroness that the noble Earl's amendment is interesting. However, I regret that it is not one that the Government can accept. The amendment explores what effect devolution will have on both Houses of the Westminster Parliament. The issue is already being considered by the Procedure Committee of another place. That committee is conducting an inquiry into the procedural consequences of devolution. If I understand the noble Earl's amendment correctly, he is proposing that role for the Secretary of State.

The remit of the Procedure Committee is to consider what changes are necessary as a consequence of devolution legislation not just in respect of this Bill but the Government of Wales Act and the Northern Ireland Act, too. As I am sure your Lordships are aware, the committee is considering issues such as whether it is possible to lay down clear principles as to the House's relationship with the Scottish parliament and Welsh and Irish assemblies. Consideration is also being given to the future of the Scottish Select Committee and the Scottish Grand Committee. The Government hope shortly to submit their evidence to the Procedure Committee. They will address the consequences of devolution to the Scottish parliament, the Welsh assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The Government remain of the view that it is best to allow this Parliament to consider for itself the consequences of devolution. They do not believe that it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State to carry out such a review. Indeed, we should not look in isolation at the affect of any one piece of devolved legislation.

The point raised by the noble Earl in relation to the number of Scottish Peers working in this House is not a matter for this Bill, as I explained previously. The Bill makes no changes to the composition of procedures of your Lordships' House and I invite the noble Earl to withdraw the amendment.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

My Lords, I am pleased to hear that the Procedure Committee is examining the matter. It certainly needs to be examined and I look forward to reading its report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 86 [Scottish representation at Westminster]:

Viscount Dunrossil moved Amendment No. 34:

Page 40, line 29, at end insert—

("3B. A constituency which includes the Western Isles (na h-Eileanan an Iar) shall not include the whole or any part of a local government area other than the Western Isles.";").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, my purpose in bringing forward the amendment is certainly not to try to embarrass the Government; nor is it to impose yet further delay in the passage of this important Bill. It has already been argued about at some length and is now in its final stages.

I should declare interests—one official and one personal—which may help briefly to explain why I feel obliged to propose the amendment to safeguard the Western Isles parliamentary constituency. First, I live in North Uist in the Western Isles where I currently serve as Lord Lieutenant. I am therefore deeply concerned about the Western Isles' general well-being. Secondly, as the amendment refers exclusively to the parliamentary constituency of the Western Isles, perhaps I may add that my father contested the constituency in 1924. He was a Conservative, and therefore at the time had no hope of winning the seat. However, he was also a native Gaelic speaker as both of his parents and their parents came from North Uist. Therefore, unlike some other distinguished contestants of the seat, he did not lose his deposit. I may say that his English improved considerably over the years and he ended his political life in Westminster as Speaker of another place from 1951 to 1960.

What has disturbed many people in the Western Isles is the manner in which we seem collectively to have stumbled into a position where an amendment along the lines I have suggested becomes not only desirable but essential if the people of the Western Isles are not to feel deep misgivings and a mistrust of the political process that has brought us to this situation. I will not rehash the arguments as to who should be held responsible for what is essentially a misunderstanding. It is, after all, set out at great length as a description of assumptions, assurances and a lack of communication, in the Stornoway Gazette, which is available to all noble Lords, and it makes rather sad reading.

In essence, the parliamentary constituency of the Western Isles was set up in 1918. The unitary local authority covering the same area has been in existence since 1974. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, had a hand in that when he was Secretary of State for Scotland. Both are natural expressions of the life and distinct culture of the people of those islands and there has been no serious move to alter the arrangements since their inception, and none is apparently foreseen by the Government.

One feature of life in the Western Isles is our vulnerability to the effect of changing wind direction and strength. Every winter we experience winds of more than 100 miles an hour. That makes us wary of assuming that structures will be permanent unless great care is taken to protect them. The wind blowing one way today may not be the same next week. So it is with this Bill.

It will not have escaped the notice of those noble Lords who listened to this morning's shipping forecast that a severe storm, force 11, has been forecast for today for the Island of Lewis. It is a reminder from the forces of nature that our shelters and defences should be in good order and repair. It is also an allegorical warning of why we need the amendment.

The people of the Western Isles, while proud of their individual way of life and identity, are not that strange, nor are they hostile to their mainland neighbours. They simply do not want to be merged with them so closely that they will be taken over by the sheer force of numbers only. At this time of remembrance, it is appropriate to recall that the island's contribution to the Armed Forces and Merchant Navy in two world wars, as a proportion of its total population, was massive.

At the recent referendum on devolution, the islanders produced a strong "yes" vote, little knowing that a threat to the integrity of their parliamentary constituency could be the maverick result and that what was claimed to be progressive mindless legislation could thrust them backwards into the pre-1918 situation which they so disliked.

All along they have believed and trusted Government Ministers when they have been reassured by them that any threat to their constituency's existence was "inconceivable". But the wind has certainly changed and on 22nd October the noble Lord the Minister in charge of the Bill said, in effect, "I shall have to put a stop to this somehow". He also asked, and I paraphrase, "If we give the islanders this, where do we draw the line?". Lines, he implied, are difficult to draw.

This is where my explanatory amendment could help. It will be simple to "put a stop to all this", as the Minister wishes, with no bad feelings by an act of generosity and some display of positive and sympathetic statesmanship by accepting this small amendment. As to drawing the line, it is not that difficult. Having dealt with Orkney and Shetland, both with seats and voting populations smaller than ours, the line drawn is simple; straight down the Minches! I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, my friends in the Western Isles have asked me to say a few words about the amendment. As indicated by the noble Viscount, in the early 1970s, as Secretary of State for Scotland, I made the Western Isles as well as Orkney and Shetland, which are not involved in the amendment, separate local authorities in the reorganisation of local government in Scotland. A new entity was invented; namely, the island authority. Three island authorities came into existence. Before that, nearly 30 years ago, when I was in the Shadow Cabinet, I stated from the Opposition Front Bench in 1969, when we were considering the report of the Wheatley Royal Commission, that I favoured three island authorities. That was one of the changes that I made as Secretary of State to the proposals in the Wheatley Commission's report. I shall be sorry if that principle were now to be discarded.

I would understand if the Government were to say that they do not wish to have any apparent restriction on complete discretion in future to devise constituencies. I believe that I would be sympathetic to that if I were still on the government Front Bench. But since my decision in about 1971, both the residents and the councillors of the Western Isles have rejoiced in being an island authority. It was quite new to them and it has given them great pleasure. I continue to receive letters and messages of congratulation on having taken that decision. So in principle I support what is proposed although I realise that this Bill may not be the place in which to make such a change.

Viscount Thurso

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, I have extremely sympathetic views towards this amendment. I am very grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Dunrossil, for having brought it before your Lordships' House, not least because it gives me the opportunity to correct a small mistake in the Official Report, which occurred when we were discussing the question of the Western Isles on the first day of the Report stage in the debate which has been mentioned. It states at col. 1609 that it was my noble friend Lord Alderdice who stated, My Lords, it was my understanding at Committee stage that the Government accepted this amendment. Therefore, if the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, wishes it, we shall support him".—[Official Report, 22/10/98; col. 1609.] In fact, it was I who said that and not the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, who, I believe, was happily in Northern Ireland at that time. There is confusion with the facial hair: I believe that his is slightly prettier than mine.

In that debate on the first day of the Report stage we supported the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, in the Lobbies. That was on a somewhat different question from the one we are facing today. The amendment put forward at that point by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, regarded representation in the Scots parliament. In just the same way as this Bill has sought to give Orkney and Shetland two constituencies in the Scottish parliament, it was quite logical for us to support an amendment to give the Western Isles a constituency in the Scottish parliament.

However, we lost that vote. There is some consolation in that the amendments I moved, with the valued support of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, were carried in this House. They mean that the Scottish parliament will ultimately be responsible for looking at what the proper constituencies will be for the Scottish parliament in the future. Consequently, it will be in the hands of Scots to make the decisions in respect of the Scottish parliamentary constituency.

However, what we are discussing today as regards Clause 86 concerns representation at Westminster. It is my understanding that subsection (3) of that clause concerning Orkney and Shetland is required as a consequence. The introduction of Rule 3A is required as a consequence of having split Orkney and Shetland in the first place. Therefore, the principle involved here is that for the Scottish parliament there will be two constituencies, but in order to preserve the Westminster situation, this change is required to the rules. That is not quite the same thing and it cannot be applied to the Western Isles.

In other words, the creation of two constituencies for the Scottish parliament requires the changes to Clause 86 rather than the desire to pickle in aspic Orkney and Shetland as a constituency although, I believe, it has that effect. I fully support the sentiments which the noble Viscount has put forward. He referred to a Force 11 crossing the Western Isles. They come mostly from the West. In Caithness they tend to come from the North. They are just as strong, but a little colder. I have great sympathy for what the noble Viscount is putting forward, but I do not believe that this is the appropriate place for it. Therefore, I shall not be able to support him on this amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am happy to have my name associated with the noble Viscount, Lord Dunrossil. He explained to your Lordships his family connection with the Western Isles. Your Lordships will probably appreciate, therefore, that the noble Viscount's father was considerably more successful at persuading the people of the Western Isles to vote for his proposals than I was because he kept his deposit and I lost mine. However, as I said to your Lordships in Committee, that has not stopped me from having affection for the Western Isles and a regard for them. I managed to get them a new hospital about which they have been extremely kind ever since.

The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, has referred to earlier debates. There is a relationship between Clause 86 and Schedule 1 of the Bill. In fact, we divided on Schedule 1 when it was a matter for the Scottish parliament. That is now water under the bridge. In Clause 86 we refer to Scottish representation at Westminster. I moved a similar amendment to this one at Report stage. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon does most of the drafting of the amendments which we put down. He had not put the Gaelic name in brackets and that was about the only difference. I believe that was probably because neither the noble and learned Lord nor myself speak any Gaelic. The amendments are the same.

The Minister said that the reason we had to put down Orkney and the Shetland Isles in the way that it is done in Clause 86 was to tie it back, so to speak, to Schedule 1. I understood that. But it seems to me that that does not necessarily need to be the only reason. Clause 86 not only ties this matter back to Schedule 1, but tells the Boundary Commission for all time to come that a constituency which includes the Orkney and Shetland Isles, shall not include the whole or any part of a local government area other than the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands". While that may be necessary in order to tie it in with Schedule 1, it also secures the position of the Orkney and Shetland Islands as one constituency to the United Kingdom Parliament.

Therefore, having reflected on the matter, I agree with the noble Viscount that the Western Isles deserve protection. That is particularly important when one reads Clause 86(4), which tells us that the electoral quota in future in Scotland is to be raised from 54,000 to 69,000, which is the same as that in England at the moment.

When that happens the position of the Western Isles with only 22,000 electors will appear anomalous. I suggest to your Lordships, as I suggested before, that there is a danger that in achieving 69,000 a future Boundary Commission may well decide that the Western Isles could be tied up with some other parts of the Highland mainland or even the Isle of Skye. I believe that that would be the most obvious tie-up. That would be appropriate in order to increase the numbers from 22,000.

For the reasons which the noble Viscount clearly spelt out, and with which I agree, that would be unwise. Just because it has not happened in the past does not mean to say that it will not happen in the future. In the past the Boundary Commission was considering an electoral quota of 54,000, which is considerably different from one of 69,000. Therefore, in order to protect the position of the Western Isles, in future the Boundary Commission will have to increase the size of the other constituencies in Scotland by a considerable amount.

Although the reasons for this provision being in the Bill are mostly Scottish parliamentary reasons, the side effect is that it protects Orkney and Shetland for Westminster parliamentary reasons. That is a simple fact. Therefore, I believe that the parliamentary—that is, the House of Commons'—position on the Western Isles should also be protected. If it is not protected, I could easily make out a case some time in the future for praying in aid the very fact that it is not protected as being a reason why the Western Isles constituency could be added to in order to achieve for the whole of Scotland the 69,000 quota and the reduction to roughly 58 seats from 72. I have no hesitation in supporting the noble Viscount's Amendment No. 34.

6 p.m.

Lord Lang of Monkton

My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendment moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Dunrossil. Unlike my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, I have not been asked by my friends in the Western Isles to intervene, but my friends in the Western Isles have not asked me not to intervene. I am glad to do so because, like my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, I too was responsible for the reform of local government in Scotland and the redrawing of boundaries. Amending the Western Isles boundaries was considered at the time together with the possibility of Skye and one or two other islands being linked with it. My reaction to that was, "Give them a Minch and they'll take an isle". It is best to have nothing to do with it.

My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish makes the point extremely effectively as to how vulnerable the Western Isles might be in a Westminster parliamentary sense if and when the electoral quotas are changed in Scotland to create larger constituencies. The Government would greatly reassure people in the Western Isles and beyond that their future, in terms of parliamentary constituency representation, would be secure by accepting the amendment so ably moved by the noble Viscount.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, I start by making it clear that there is nothing in the Bill that threatens to disturb or change in any way the existence of the Western Isles as a separate local authority. That possibility was referred to by at least one noble Lord. That is not a possibility. That does not touch local government at all. The noble Lord, Lord Lang, was the last person to reorganise local government in Scotland and I believe that it can settle down for some considerable time before anybody else has a crack at it.

Amendment No. 34 offers the House yet another opportunity to express its views on whether the Bill should make special provision for a separate constituency for the Western Isles. I welcome the noble Viscount to this debate. It is not a new debate. It is something that we have discussed before on two occasions. On both those occasions the House, on Report and in Committee, was content with what the Bill said.

I understand that the council of the Western Isles has made representations on this point in the Bill. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has, I understand, seen members of the council this morning to explain the Government's position.

The noble Viscount argued extremely persuasively that the Western Isles is a distinct and separate geographical, cultural and social entity. I hope there is no one in the House who would argue against that. That is the case. He also recalls that the islands have had a separate parliamentary constituency for over 80 years. It has a robust knack of surviving as a separate parliamentary constituency, no matter how strongly the winds blow or from which direction.

I hope it will help if I make it quite clear that the Bill does not in any way change the well-established position of the Western Isles. For exactly the reasons adduced, the Boundary Commission is always likely to place considerable weight on the special nature of the islands, as it has for the past 80 years. In reviewing constituency boundaries the Boundary Commission must give effect to the statutory rules set out in Schedule 2 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986. Rule 6 already expressly provides that the commission may depart from the strict application of the rules concerning electoral quotas and the boundaries of local authority areas, if special geographical considerations, including in particular the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency, appear to them to render a departure desirable". I believe that should give enough confidence to the noble Viscount.

As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State explained to the council this morning, the Western Isles is the most obvious example of where that rule has applied. The long-standing position of the Western Isles is surely a demonstration that those rules can be relied upon to work effectively without any further addition. The Government believe as a matter of principle that they should not interfere with the independent working of the parliamentary Boundary Commission and therefore the Bill makes the minimum necessary changes to the rules.

I recognise that the council believes that it is unfair that the Western Isles has not had the same treatment in the Bill as Orkney and Shetland. However, I am afraid to say that that is based on a misunderstanding. There is no question of unfair treatment of the Western Isles, and I shall try to explain why.

The Bill simply does what it has to in order to ensure separate representation of Orkney and Shetland at Holyrood. Therefore it is important to make sure that there is no undermining of that change by adjustments to the Westminster constituencies, if adjustments to the Westminster constituencies would merge one of those areas with another area, such as Caithness. The problem has arisen simply because Orkney and Shetland do not already have their own separate Westminster constituencies. The Scottish Constitutional Convention argued strongly that they should have separate Scottish parliamentary constituencies for the Scottish parliament, and we accept that. To make that secure, we have had to ensure that in Westminster terms Orkney and Shetland are not added to another part of the mainland. Clearly, if that were the case, it would be impossible to have a separate Orkney constituency and a separate Shetland constituency.

Therefore, on the face of the Bill there must be provision for the existing constituency to be split for the purposes of the Scottish parliament. That issue simply does not arise in the case of the Western Isles, where it is a well-established, separate constituency.

Clause 86(3) ring-fences a Westminster position for Orkney and Shetland as a consequence of what is proposed for the Scottish parliament, or as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, termed it, a side issue. That is true. The principle that we have adopted in the Bill, which is about Scottish devolution and the arrangements for a Scottish parliament and the electoral arrangements for a Scottish parliament, is to introduce rules and changes that affect only Westminster parliamentary constituencies where there is a direct and a necessary reason to do that. That is because of the pledge to give separate representation for Orkney and Shetland, and it does not arise in respect of the Western Isles, which is a separate parliamentary constituency in any case.

I hope that I have been able to clear up what I believe is a misconception about unfairness. I hope that on Report I was able to explain to the House why it was necessary to have the provision for Shetland and the Orkney Islands and why that issue does not arise in relation to the Western Isles.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I understand the argument he is making, as I indicated I did in my original remarks. However, he seems to be avoiding the point that as a direct consequence of the next subsection, the electoral quotas in Scotland will increase from 54,000 to 69,000. That must have an impact on the boundaries drawn for the new Scottish consistencies. That may have an impact on the Western Isles.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, is very keen on quotas and, indeed, the equal size of constituencies, on which I am sure we shall hear from him later. But the point is that the difficulty about the Western Isles is already covered by Rule 6 of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986. That allows the commission to depart from the application of the rules on electoral quotas and the boundaries of local government areas if specific geographical considerations, including in particular the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency, appear to the commission to render a departure desirable.

I have confidence that in looking at its task in the future the Boundary Commission will be very much aware and seized of that rule.

Viscount Dunrossil

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving us such a detailed and well thought out reply. The problem which we have raised has exercised his mind considerably. However, I feel that we are faced with two misunderstandings. I believe that the misunderstanding may persist for a long time, eroding some of the confidence which the people of the Western Isles have; namely the misunderstanding that somehow or other they have missed a trick and that those wily people down south have tricked them once again.

That may not be rational politics but it is politics and it is psychology. We may share the Minister's confidence that we have a special case but it is quite clear from his considered remarks that he is giving away nothing in substance. Therefore, I should like to see whether we can still further reinforce our little building up in the north-west against the changing winds. Therefore, I wish to test the opinion of the House.

6.12 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 34) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 85; Not-Contents, 134.

Division No. 2
Ackner, L. Kitchener, E.
Ailesbury, M. Lang of Monkton, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Leigh, L.
Attlee, E. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Balfour, E. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Bethell, L. Lyell, L.
Blatch, B. McConnell, L.
Boardman, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Borthwick, L. Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Brentford, V. Mersey, V.
Campbell of Croy, L. Milverton, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Carnock, L. Moran, L.
Charteris of Amisfield, L. Mountevans, L.
Clark of Kempston, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Clyde, L. Newall, L.
Cochrane of Cults, L. Norrie, L.
Colwyn, L. Northesk, E.
Courtown, E. Park of Monmouth, B.
Dunrossil, V. [Teller.] Pender, L.
Eames, L. Perry of Walton, L.
Ellenborough, L. Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Elton, L. Rankeillour, L.
Fookes, B. Rees, L.
Forbes, L. Renton, L.
Geddes, L. Rotherwick, L.
Glentoran, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly. [Teller.]
Gray of Contin, L.
Greenway, L. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Harlech, L. Selkirk of Douglas, L.
Harmsworth, L. Shuttleworth, L.
Henley, L. Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Holderness, L. Skelmersdale, L.
HolmPatrick, L. Stair, E.
Hope of Craighead, L. Strange, B.
Hylton, L. Strathclyde, L.
Inchcape, E. Sudeley, L.
Jeffreys, L. Taylor of Warwick, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Vivian, L.
Kenilworth, L. Weatherill, L.
Kingsland, L. Wilson of Tillyorn, L.
Kinnoull, E. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Kintore, E. Wynford, L.
Acton, L. Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Addington, L. Carter, L. [Teller.]
Ahmed, L. Christopher, L.
Alli, L. Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Amos, B. Clement-Jones, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Clinton-Davis, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Bach, L. Craigavon, V.
Barnett, L. Crawley, B.
Bassam of Brighton, L. David, B.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Davies of Coity, L.
Berkeley, L. Davies of Oldham, L.
Blackstone, B. Dean of Beswick, L.
Blease, L. Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Borrie, L. Dixon, L.
Bragg, L. Dormand of Easington, L.
Burlison, L. Dubs, L.
Calverley, L. Evans of Parkside, L.
Evans of Watford, L. Mishcon, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L. Molloy, L.
Falkland, V. Monkswell, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Montague of Oxford, L.
Gallacher, L. Morris of Manchester, L.
Geraint, L. Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Gilbert, L. Northfield, L.
Goudie, B. Peston, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Pitkeathley, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Plant of Highfield, L.
Grenfell, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Hamwee, B. Puttnam, L.
Hardie, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Hardy of Wath, L. Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Razzall, L.
Harris of Haringey, L. Rea, L.
Haskel, L. Redesdale, L.
Hayman, B. Rendell of Babergh, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Richard, L.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Rogers of Riverside, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Russell, E.
Hoyle, L. Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L. Sawyer, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L. Scotland of Asthal, B.
Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.] Sefton of Garston, L.
Serota, B.
Islwlyn, L. Sewel, L.
Jacobs, L. Shepherd, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L. Shore of Stepney, L.
Simon, V.
Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Seal.] Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Jeger, B. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Judd, L. Thomas of Gresford, L.
Kilbracken, L. Thomas of Macclesfield, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Linklater of Butterstone, B. Thurso, V.
Lockwood, B. Tordoff, L.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L. Uddin, B.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.] Walker of Doncaster, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L. Warner, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L. Whitty, L.
McNair, L. Williams of Crosby, B.
Mallalieu, B. Williams of Elvel, L.
Mar and Kellie, E. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Mason of Barnsley, L. Winston, L.
Milner of Leeds, L. Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.21 p.m.

The Earl of Dartmouth moved Amendment No. 35:

Page 40, line 36, at end insert (", subject to any increase made under subsection (4A) below.

(4A) In applying rule 5 for the purposes referred to in subsection (4) above, the Boundary Commission for Scotland shall increase the electoral quota to take account of the fact that Scotland does, and England does not, have a devolved Parliament.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, we have just spent 40 minutes discussing the boundary of only one parliamentary constituency; namely, the Western Isles—I shall spare the House my rendition of its Gaelic name. That clearly entitles me to spend 640 times 40 minutes discussing Amendment No. 35 which addresses the boundaries and electoral quota for all the Westminster constituencies. I know that that is something to which your Lordships will look forward in three or four days' time; mercifully, my remarks will be brief.

I have every expectation that this amendment will be characterised as being somehow anti-Scottish. But nothing could be further from the truth. That is assuredly not the case. The amendment concerns fairness, equity and the continuing survival of the Union in anything like its present form.

On the 1997 electoral roll there were 3.9 million electors for Scotland and approximately 3.77 million for the area of Yorkshire and the Humber—the area for which I have the honour to stand for my party in the June Euro elections. In what I am about to say I do not represent the views of my party as a whole; indeed, I am speaking only for myself and for the electors of Yorkshire and the Humber for whom these are matters of deep concern.

In the 1997 general election the 3.9 million electors in Scotland elected 72 MPs; the 3.77 million electors of Yorkshire and the Humber—only 130,000 fewer people—elected only 56 MPs; that is to say, 16 or 28.5 per cent. fewer. That is extremely unfair and even more unfair in the context of the Scotland Bill as a whole.

To give credit where credit is due, I am glad to say that the Government accepted—albeit grudgingly and insufficiently—the principle behind this amendment. Indeed, there is one small genuflection towards fairness to the English regions in the Scotland Bill; that is, Clause 86 which lays down a parity of electoral quota between Scotland and England. However, that is nothing like sufficient to address the blatant unfairness towards the English regions at the heart of this Bill. What is significant is not what the Bill contains, but what it does not contain.

For example, in the rest of the Bill there is no hint of any reform of the Barnett formula whereby in the fiscal year ending 1996, for example, £871 per head of extra identifiable public expenditure was spent on the residents of Scotland. There is no attempt to reform regional selective assistance grants which induce companies to relocate. They go disproportionately to Scotland, despite the fact that Scotland is second only to the South-East as the richest region in the Union. And even in relation to the minor reform of the electoral quota which the Government conceded, the execution of this slight but urgent reform is not to have any effect until the general election after next. That point is being dealt with in a subsequent amendment.

I return to the central point of my amendment. Even if parity with the English quota proposed by Clause 86 was introduced tomorrow, it would be wholly insufficient. Mere parity with the English quota is not enough. The whole point of the Scotland Bill is that it creates a Scottish parliament with full powers; indeed, no less an authority than the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, a mere 55 minutes ago, pointed out that the Scottish parliament has primary legislative powers; that is, it is a real parliament. By comparison England and the English regions have only Westminster.

It is not sufficient therefore for the electoral quota for Scotland as laid down in Clause 86 to have parity with England. In logic and in equity the quota must be substantially less. Precisely how much less is something that the Boundary Commission can determine in the normal way on the basis of representations made to it, but with it being statutorily obliged to take fully into account the fact of a Scottish parliament in all its powers.

Amendment No. 35 has been carefully considered. It goes a long way to correcting the inequity—the self-evident and blatant unfairness towards the English and the English regions at the heart of this Bill—and in so doing will help to preserve the Union in something approaching its present form. I beg to move.

Lord Monson

My Lords, this is an interesting amendment. The Scottish parliament will have approximately the same powers as the Stormont parliament had between 1922 and 1972. As a quid pro quo for having been given so many devolved powers, during that period the Northern Irish were allowed only 70 per cent. of the representation at Westminster to which their numbers would otherwise have entitled them. On an equivalent basis, Scotland would therefore have only 39 or 40 seats at Westminster.

I believe that there are fairer ways of solving the West Lothian—or for that matter North Belfast—question and we will be touching on the former in a moment. However, this is an important matter which deserves to be raised.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I detect the sound of gunfire in this amendment and it is not for me to argue a case against my native land. But we are edging very near to the West Lothian question and the repercussions from the Bill which this amendment undoubtedly brings out.

For my part I cannot escape the logic of the case that has been made, particularly the reference to the fact that in the past the Boundary Commission looked at representation at Westminster in the light of the powers that had been devolved to Northern Ireland. All that I would say is that this will not go away. I believe that because of the powers that are not being devolved from the Westminster Parliament to the English regions, the Boundary Commission for Scotland will have to take into account the position there relative to that south of the Border and the quota of members thereof. Perhaps this is the unacceptable face of devolution so far as concerns Scottish representation at Westminster.

6.30 p.m.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

My Lords, the noble Earl's amendment runs headlong into the psychology of Scottish Unionism. He attacks two of its central bulwarks; namely, substantial representation at Westminster and economic advantage. That is the purpose of the treaty. He is very unwise to attack it.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, this amendment is of considerable significance as it relates to the representation of Scotland in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. I note that the noble Earl said that he was speaking for himself—although adding himself to the people of Yorkshire and Humberside—and that he was not speaking for his party.

However, the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, who is a former Minister, spoke in a way which although not endorsing the noble Earl, came close to indicating a degree of support for him. In those circumstances and because Scotland's future representation in the Parliament of the United Kingdom is such a major issue and of significance in Scotland, I should be pleased to give way to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, if he would like the opportunity to repudiate the argument put forward by his noble colleague. If he does not intervene, I shall take it that, as the Official Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, he does not want to repudiate the noble Earl's argument which I think will be utterly unacceptable to the people of Scotland. They have as much interest as any other citizens of the United Kingdom in issues such as foreign affairs, defence, macro-economic policy and social security—that is, in all the issues that are being reserved.

We have recognised that the present requirement placed upon the Boundary Commission, which results, I am happy to say, in a strict population over-representation in Scotland, is indefensible now that we are about to have a devolved parliament, and that a move towards parity is the way forward. However, the argument that Scottish citizens are somehow second-class citizens in the sense that they do not have a legitimate interest in all those matters that are being reserved and therefore should not be properly represented at Westminster is totally unacceptable to the Government. I had hoped that it would be totally unacceptable to the Official Opposition, but that is clearly not the case.

Perhaps I may deal now with Northern Ireland. The point was made that under earlier arrangements with Stormont, Northern Ireland had a 70 per cent. level of representation. It is well known that that was subsequently changed. I believe that Northern Ireland's representation is now at virtual parity with that of the rest of the United Kingdom. There has been no suggestion during the passage of the Northern Ireland Bill that somehow Northern Ireland's representation should be reduced in recognition of the fact that it will have devolved political institutions. Of course, the noble Earl's amendment does not relate to Northern Ireland but, again, I do not see why Scotland should be treated any differently from Northern Ireland. I consider this amendment to be grossly offensive. I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw it.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, in responding to his somewhat leaden-footed attack on the Opposition, may I ask him to explain exactly what he understands will be the effect of subsection (4) of Clause 86?

Lord Sewel

My Lords, as far as I understand it, Clause 86(4) gives expression to what I stated was the policy; namely, to remove the requirement that the Boundary Commission should apply a number for Scottish representation which would put it above the population quota for the rest of the United Kingdom. It is by that means that the number of Scottish MPs is reduced to parity.

The Earl of Dartmouth

My Lords, I should like briefly to respond to the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. He said that the great bulwarks of Unionism were disproportionate representation and additional funding, if I noted his second phrase correctly. He is, of course, correct, but the whole point is that it would appear that the people of Scotland do not want the Union; they want some accelerated form of home rule. My point was that they cannot similarly expect to have what goes with, or used to go with, the Union.

I should like to express my great disappointment at what the Minister said. He has a distinguished record, as I understand it, as an academic. As the possessor of no fewer than three degrees, I welcome being taught logic by a distinguished professor such as the Minister. He had two points. First, he found my arguments offensive. It is therefore a pity that he did not respond to them. Secondly, he said that the people of Scotland would find my arguments unacceptable. They are not here to respond to them.

The Minister referred to the question of Scottish MPs at Westminster. Perhaps I may respond briefly. After the next general election, there will still be 72 MPs representing Scottish constituencies at Westminster unless Amendment No. 35 is accepted by the Government. There will certainly be 58 MPs representing Scottish constituencies thereafter.

As I understand it—I am willing to be corrected—the new Scottish parliament will cover health, education, transport, the environment, economic development and agriculture. That is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but it is pretty much a majority of what constitutes parliamentary business in the House of Commons. It is also much more than a majority of what makes up the average MP's postbag. Those 72/58 Scottish MPs, who will be receiving a full salary, will be seriously under-employed. At best, they will spend a high proportion of their time twiddling their thumbs; at worst, they will interfere in purely English matters of health, education, transport and agriculture which in logic and in equity should be none of their concern.

That hideous anomaly, coupled with Scotland's tremendous fiscal privileges, which the Scotland Bill leaves untouched, will almost inevitably create a deep antipathy between Scotland and the English regions. Just because it is not there now, does not mean that it will not be there in a very strong form in short order. The only possibility of ameliorating that and at the same time saving the Union would have been for the Government to accept the amendment—and to do so gracefully.

I should have liked the amendment to be pressed to a Division, but unfortunately I have been unable to attract the support of my noble friends on this occasion. This will not be the last that the Government will hear of this matter, but, for now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 36:

Page 40, line 36, at end insert—

("( ) At the beginning of rule 5 there is inserted "Subject to rule 5A below,".

( ) After rule 5 there is inserted—

"5A. No more than one tenth of the parliamentary constituencies in Scotland, excluding those formed by rule 3A, shall have an electorate more than 10 per cent. greater or smaller than the electoral quota.'"').

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we turn to an issue which I have addressed on a number of occasions when, frankly, I have had pretty unsatisfactory answers from the Government. Perhaps I may deal with these points for a last time to see whether I can achieve a better answer from the Government today.

The position at present is that Scotland has 72 parliamentary constituencies with an electoral quota of some 54,000. However, there are some amazing variations within that figure. As my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser or Carmyllie pointed out a few minutes ago, the situation will change when the Bill is enacted in that Clause 86(4) will come into play and the electoral quota in Scotland will actually go to the same number as the electoral quota in England.

I understand from a Parliamentary Answer in another place recently that the latter will take the Scottish quota to something like 69,000. I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm that; indeed, I suppose it is probably about 69,500 but let us call it 69,000. That is up from 54,000. In my view, the result will be that the number of Scottish seats will be reduced to about 58. Again, I should like the Government's view on what they think their own legislation means. In other words, am I right in thinking that the electoral quota will go to 69,000 odd and that the consequence of that will be that the number of Scottish seats would go down to 58?

In my view, if such a dramatic change will be undertaken by the next Boundary Commission, we ought to address the problem which I have drawn to the attention of the noble Lords on a number of occasions; namely, that the Boundary Commission has been singularly bad at actually achieving the electoral quota for the majority of seats in Scotland. One of the consequences of the seats being badly out of kilter, not just in Scotland but also in England and Wales, is that the "distortions", as they are called, of the first-past-the-post system relative to the number of people who vote are actually increased. It is simply but mathematically true that if the seats were closer to the electoral quota then the results of general elections in the number of seats gained by first-past-the-post would be closer to the proportionality of votes gained around the country—not exactly, but certainly closer.

Getting closer to electoral parity is important, given all the other points that we discussed earlier about Orkney and Shetland and the Western Isles having special consideration and, therefore, very small numbers. Indeed, one accepts that, and I absolutely agree. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, was kind enough to read out Rule 6 to the House; in fact, he read it out twice. He clearly said that if specific geographical considerations apply the Boundary Commission should reduce the number.

With an electoral quota of 69,000, and if the Boundary Commission behaves the way that it has done in the past, my worry is that the disparity in seats in Scotland will actually increase. It is not Orkney and Shetland, the Western Isles, or Caithness and Sutherland that I worry about; it is urban seats. I have to use the existing situation as an example because that is all we have. But if noble Lords were to project it forward, they would recognise the problem I pose and the one which I am attempting to resolve by way of my amendment.

Let us take the current quota of 54,000. All the seats in the city of Edinburgh amount to more that 60,000 votes; in fact, it has an average of about 62,000. All the seats in the city of Glasgow amount to under 60,000; indeed, some are under 50,000. Their average is 51,000. Therefore, all the seats in the city of Glasgow are actually under the electoral quota. I wonder whether specific geographical considerations apply to the seats in the constituencies in Glasgow—seats which, without any trouble, one could easily walk across when taking a brisk Sunday afternoon stroll. There is no logic at all in that position. As I said, those seats have an average of 51,000. Hamilton South, which I suspect one could walk across in half a Sunday afternoon, has 47,000 electors. Yet, at the other extreme, Carrick, Cumnok and the Doon Valley, which is a very large geographical constituency in Strathclyde as it was, has 66,500 electors. Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber, which stretches from the North Sea across Scotland to the Atlantic, has 66,500. There are a number of further examples that I could give to the House, but I believe that those I have given illustrate my point.

It has always been said by the defenders of disparity, "The reason is that we want to give small numbers to the big rural seats". In actual fact, they have not done so. Indeed, from my memory, Dumfries has 62,000 odd whereas Inverness West and Skye—I believe that there is a word in between the two that I have forgotten—is actually pretty close to the average. However, it still ought to be under the average, because it stretches, again, from the North Sea to the Moray Firth and all the way across to the Atlantic Ocean.

If noble Lords were to study Scottish parliamentary seats they would be as puzzled as I am about how the Boundary Commissions have decided which seats should be heavily under quota and which should be over quota. Indeed, they are not just under or over quota by a little; they are over and under by a considerable number. When this goes up to 69,000 as it will do, and quite rightly—I think that the Government are right because I believe that it addresses the West Lothian question in part and I agree with them in that respect‹—I believe it will become more important that some tie, so to speak, or some other rule is imposed on the Boundary Commission in order to say, "You really must do better in getting close to the 69,000".

If we exclude the constituency of Orkney and Shetland—and, frankly, I should like to have excluded the Western Isles as well, but we were not allowed to do so earlier—I suggest that only 10 per cent of seats, which in Scottish terms would be about six seats, should be outside 10 per cent on either side of 69,000. That means that almost all the seats in Scotland would have to hit a range of 62,000 to 76,000. If that were imposed on the Boundary Commission I believe that one would actually see it address the ridiculous situation in West Central Scotland.

I have a mild suspicion as to why it is always West Central Scotland—in other words, constituencies like Glasgow and Lanarkshire; indeed, all over the place—which are well under the average population size. Alternatively, on the east coast, the city of Edinburgh, which has not always been dominated by the Labour party, actually has averages of 62,000. In fact, Edinburgh would not need to change to just catch my limit, although one or two of the seats would need to go up a little.

My point is that I do not believe the Boundary Commission has done a very good job in the past of hitting close to the target of the electoral quota. It has shown a scatter which defies logic in that some of the smaller seats, apart from the very special ones, have been the smallest geographically; that is to say, the smallest in number and the smallest geographically: in other words, the tightest seats with absolutely no defence under Rule 6, which the Minister read out to the House. It seems to me that we ought to tie the Boundary Commission in a little tighter, especially when it comes to re-dividing Scotland into 58 seats with an electoral quota of 69,000.

I hope that noble Lords and the Government agree with me. Frankly, at this late stage I hope that even if the Government will not accept my amendment they will signal from the Dispatch Box that the Boundary Commission, which looks at the issue again under Clause 86, will actually take into account in a better manner than its predecessors the need to get most constituencies pretty close to the electoral quota. My noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie pointed out that, with Lady Cosgrove as the chairman of the Boundary Commission, I should be quite optimistic that that would happen. However, just in case, perhaps I may suggest to the Government that if they require anyone to give the commission a lesson on such matters I would not even look for a fee in order to do so. I do not know whether it would advantage the Conservative Party, but I know that it would advantage the first-past-the-post system and make it fairer. That is important. I believe that governments of all parties—and I include my own when I suggested it from the Back Benches opposite in the early 1990s—have walked away from the issue.

When the Government act sensibly by reducing the number of Scottish members to 58 to give parity with England so that after devolution England and Scotland will be on all fours as regards representation, I hope that they will also address the important issue of ensuring that the Boundary Commission has a better hit record on the electoral quota than its predecessors have had. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

My Lords, this amendment brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, sets out to try to sort out the serious problem of under-sized parliamentary constituencies in the Glasgow area which just happen to be held by the Labour Party. At the same time we have to consider the special problems of representation on the remote island groups and in sparsely populated areas of the mainland. It comes as no surprise that the noble Lord has brought forward an arithmetic formula in his amendment. I suspect that he may have it generally right, but if a formula is less generous than is ultimately desired for rural and remote areas it will not be of assistance to the Boundary Commission for Scotland. It will be found to be perhaps too prescriptive. I cannot support the amendment but at the same time believe that it constitutes good general advice and encouragement to the Boundary Commissioners.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I hope that those on the Front Bench opposite will listen closely to what my noble friend has said about this matter. We return to a point which I believe I raised earlier in the course of this Bill in your Lordships' House. I do not think it is any good just expecting the parliamentary Boundary Commission to deal with this matter without also considering the local government Boundary Commission for Scotland which constructs the building blocks for the parliamentary constituencies. In the early 1990s I considered these various constituencies. At every turn we were told that the building blocks for a parliamentary constituency—whether it is Glasgow, Hamilton or wherever—were the local government wards, districts or whatever one likes to call them. In trying to deal with this particularly difficult matter I suggest that the Government ask the parliamentary Boundary Commission in Scotland to seek the right answer. But one will only get that if one gets the size of the wards or districts correct as designated by the local government Boundary Commission for Scotland.

Lord Hardie

My Lords, this amendment would provide that 90 per cent. of the Westminster constituencies for Scotland would have to be within 10 per cent. of the electoral quota, leaving aside Orkney and Shetland. Noble Lords will appreciate that setting constituency boundaries is not an exact science. I respectfully suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that it is a mistake to seek to apply mathematical certainty to this exercise by the commission. As the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, said, such an approach is too prescriptive.

Before I discuss the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, I should confirm that the calculations for the future will obviously depend on the population at the time. However, our present estimate based on the present population is 60,000 to 69,500 as the electoral quota. Applying that quota to present figures would produce somewhere between 58 and 59 seats, as the noble Lord has said. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden. Of course the commission needs to deal with building blocks. From memory—if I am wrong in this, I shall write to the noble Lord to correct the matter—I believe that at the previous commission the electoral division was a regional division, whereas there is now a desire to move to smaller building blocks. That may have the effect of achieving the object—or at least go some way towards this—which the noble Lord seeks.

As I understand it, at the next review there will be more flexible divisions available in the sense that local government divisions as opposed to regional wards will be used. If this new approach of using local government divisions had been available at the time of the previous report of the commission, the commission may have been able to contemplate using four as opposed to three divisions in Glasgow. The noble Lord made a good point in identifying that the problem for the commission has been the unit that it has had to apply in drawing up a constituency. That may explain some of the discrepancies in numbers that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has highlighted.

However, I am concerned at the suggestion, or implication, by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that somehow some political influence has been brought to bear. There was clearly a heavy innuendo to that effect. I regret that not because of the implication as regards the Labour Party but more particularly from the point of view of the Boundary Commission for Scotland. It is an independent body chaired by a judge which comprises independent members who take evidence and apply the rules to the best of their ability independently of political influence. The noble Lord and his party in Scotland, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats had the opportunity to appear before public inquiries and make representations and to suggest that a constituency should be larger or smaller. At the end of the day the impartial commission has reached a decision. If there was any suggested or implied criticism as regards the impartiality of the Boundary Commission for Scotland I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw it.

The current rules quite properly allow the Boundary Commission to take other factors into account apart from electoral quota. I could see the point of the noble Lord's amendment if one was simply confined to the world of mathematicians, but there is more to the construction of electoral boundaries than simply mathematical formulae. One has to look into the special geographical considerations, including the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency. I shall discuss Glasgow in a minute. One must take into account the boundaries of local government areas and local ties. These amendments would largely prevent the Scottish Boundary Commission—but not its counterparts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland—from taking these factors into account. They would require the commission to concentrate solely on the mathematical formulae in 90 per cent. of the constituencies. We think that that would be wrong and unfair.

We are not prepared to tie the hands of the Boundary Commission for Scotland in this way. We think it is important that this independent and impartial tribunal under the chairmanship of a judge—a senator of the College of Justice—should be allowed to consider all the factors, including of course the electoral quota, and reach its own decisions and make its own recommendations to the Secretary of State and to lay the report before Parliament. At the next review the commission will of course apply the same quota as in England and we shall have to await the outcome of its deliberations.

During the debate today and on previous occasions the noble Lord has made much of his concerns—I am sure they are impartial concerns and are not influenced in any way by party political issues—about the relative sizes of constituencies in Glasgow compared with other urban areas, particularly Edinburgh.

I think the noble Lord has already been referred to the fourth periodical report of the Boundary Commission for the detailed reasoning of the commission as to why that happened. Part of it is the explanation I have given to the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden. The Boundary Commission report made clear what exactly it took into account in its proposals for each constituency. I think the noble Lord will find that it showed many factors that the commission quite properly took into account.

The reasons for making its recommendations cannot be summed up in a few words. The reviews are considered and thorough. So far as concerns constituencies in Glasgow, the noble Lord asked why they were so small. With respect to the noble Lord, I think he is wrong in trying to look at just part of the Boundary Commission's review instead of looking at what was proposed for Glasgow as a whole. You cannot simply take little pockets of the report which might suit your own aims or objectives: you have to look at the report as a whole.

At the time of the last review the number of seats in Glasgow was reduced from 11 to 10. That was the factor that the commission had to take into account. It was done to reflect the reduction in the number of electors in Glasgow. The commission then quite properly considered the best way of achieving that. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, one looked at that stage at regional electoral divisions. Glasgow had 30 such divisions which had been brought into operation following a local government Boundary Commission's second statutory review. As I have explained since then, the building block has gone down to local electoral divisions.

The commission considered various implications for dividing those electoral divisions. For example, it considered combining some of them within the city with constituencies outside the city, but it concluded that that would not be appropriate. Nor did it think that the number of constituencies should be reduced below 10. The commission concluded that the best way of achieving 10 constituencies would be to create them from three electoral divisions—that is, 30 divided by 10. It recognised that this would result in some seats being smaller than the electoral quota, but the reduction in the number of seats meant that there would be significant changes to some of the boundaries and that some electors would be joined with areas with which they had no previous ties.

Noble Lords will recall that earlier I said that one of the factors that the commission had to take into account was that of local ties. So it properly considered that and decided that it would not be appropriate to split those constituencies in that way. The commission strove, as it is obliged to do, to keep disruption to a minimum. In short, what I am trying to explain—and I do not know if I am doing it terribly well—is that the commission goes through a very thorough exercise. It takes into account electoral quotas which it tries to achieve. But it also has to take into account other factors. The anomalies that the noble Lord outlined in relation to Glasgow have been explained by the fact of reducing the number to 10 seats, so Glasgow is losing one seat. At that time the commission was obliged to create constituencies out of electoral divisions which were really too large. That is a situation which will not occur again, and with that explanation I would invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

7 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, we have had an interesting short debate and, if I may say so to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate, he has explained the position well. I am not entirely satisfied that he has succeeded in justifying it, and there is a difference between the two. However, first, may I say that I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, for his support in principle. I fully accept that perhaps I have been over-prescriptive in saying one-tenth. There were other ways of doing it, but as I did not think the Government would accept any amendment that I drafted I did not think it was worth burning too much midnight oil. Indeed, I think that your Lordships will see that I was fully justified.

My noble friend Lord Sanderson quite rightly identified local government building blocks. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate has pretty well prayed that in aid as the justification for the imbalances that I have highlighted. Indeed my noble friend Lord Sanderson is right. The trouble has been the primacy given to local government boundaries and that has seemed to be an immovable object. Indeed in the constituencies of Ayr and Carrick, Cumnock and the Doon Valley, that is what led to this large geographical constituency having 66,500 electors and the nearby pocket constituency—perhaps I might describe it in that way, without being disparaging but giving purely a description of its size in comparison—of Ayr being in the lower fifties. That would have been a simple way of doing it, but it would have meant splitting a regional government division, and they simply were not prepared to do it. That may be the effect of the legislation, in which case my view is that the legislation is clearly wrong. That is an opinion I have held for a long time. I would be quite happy if none of the things had primacy over the others, but I would actually prefer the numeracy to take primacy.

Your Lordships and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate might have thought I was attempting to say that every constituency bar one-tenth would actually hit 69,000 next time round. But I was not doing that. I was actually saying that they should hit somewhere between 62,000 and 76,000. That is a fairly wide target even for a Boundary Commission to manage to hit: not difficult at all. I have listened to the explanation in the case of Glasgow, but in that case even nine seats would have meant an electoral quota lower than that for the City of Edinburgh. There was no justification for leaving Glasgow with 10 seats, none at all.

The idea that by leaving them at 10, and not taking them to nine, communities were somehow held together and nobody disputed them is really, if I may say so to the noble and learned Lord, an indication that the noble and learned Lord lives in Edinburgh and not in Glasgow because at least one of the seats straddles the River Clyde, with one part on the north side and one part on the south. There is no greater divide in Glasgow than between the north and south of the River Clyde. You could do anything you liked on the north side and anything you liked on the south side, and the idea that you could actually join people from the one side of the river to the other side and say they have a community of interests is simply nonsense.

I am afraid that it was more to do with the 30 building blocks and it started there. We have 30. Nine into 30 does not go but, my goodness! 10 into 30 does, and if as a consequence Glasgow was totally over-represented—I speak as someone who lives in Glasgow and I am not very happy with my representation: that would not surprise your Lordships—there is no reason for Glasgow being so totally over-represented. We could go on and on with this, but I shall not do so. I am just disappointed that the noble and learned Lord does not see that my argument about the Boundary Commission has nothing to do with the lack of impartiality. It has more to do with the lack of numeracy than impartiality. However, I very much hope—one must clutch at straws in these matters—that the point made by the noble and learned Lord about the next Boundary Commission starting off with much smaller building blocks will mean that after the next parliamentary Boundary Commission in Scotland these enormous anomalies which have no justification will be removed and constituencies in Scotland, with the exception of the very obvious ones that deservedly are very small, are much nearer to the electoral quota and that the 58 Members of Parliament, bar a few, represent roughly the same number of electors each. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 37 not moved.]

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 38:

Page 40, line 38, at end insert—

("(6) The Boundary Commission for Scotland shall submit a report under section 3(1) of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 no later than twelve months after the first ordinary general election of the Parliament.

(7) The Secretary of State shall make an order giving effect to the report mentioned in subsection (6) within three months of its submission.

(8) An order under subsection (7) shall not be made unless a draft of it has been laid before Parliament and approved by resolution of each House.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is 20 years since Mr. Tam Dalyell commendably drew the attention of Parliament and the public to what is termed the West Lothian question. During all this time the West Lothian question has remained unanswered. Now, with devolution finally become a reality in a few months' time, the unanswered West Lothian question is set to become the West Lothian outrage. I use the word "outrage" because, while English MPs will no longer be able to exert power over Scotland's internal affairs, Scottish MPs will remain able to exert power—possibly critical power, if there is a hung Parliament—over England's internal affairs.

This amendment is identical in every respect to that tabled on Report by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and his colleagues on the Conservative Front Bench which was not moved owing to the extreme lateness of the hour. I have no doubt that the Conservatives are as enthusiastic about this amendment today as they were a week ago. It is a milder amendment, a compromise version, of one which I moved in Committee, when it was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Ellenborough, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. In fact it received widespread support from various quarters of the Committee, in particular from the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. I expect this amendment to attract even greater support since it represents a compromise and meets the Government half-way, or more than half-way. It extends the period that the Boundary Commission will have to produce its report from three months to 12 months after the election of the first Scottish parliament.

Of course the amendment would not in itself obliterate the West Lothian outrage. However, it would make it somewhat less outrageous, in that the disproportionate power of Scottish MPs over England's internal affairs would be reduced before the next general election rather than being prolonged until the subsequent general election, which might not take place until the year 2007.

I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, is facing more stimulating challenges on the continent of Africa today than those presented by the final stages of the Bill before us. As the noble Lord said on 6th October, a change such as the one suggested is not an answer to the West Lothian question, but it would be an alleviation of the problem. The noble Lord went on to say: I do not know where the idea came from that it"— that is, the proposal to reduce Scottish representation to English levels— should be delayed until after the next election. I believe that that would provoke a lot of reaction among English, Welsh and Northern Irish Members, and with some justification. I believe that that reduction should take place within the life of this Parliament so that at the next election the boundaries are based on the revised and reduced numbers".—[Official Report, 6/10/98; col. 356.] The noble Lord was speaking officially for the Liberal Democrats, but also unofficially, I suspect, for noble Lords of all parties and none. I beg to move.

Lord Ellenborough

My Lords, I strongly support the amendment. The whole question of the number of Scots MPs, in respect of both the Edinburgh parliament and that at Westminster, is beginning to resemble a game of musical chairs. It is an absolute shambles and is all too typical of the incoherent approach of this Government, which is to legislate now and contemplate later. The Government just will not face up to the English dimension and accept that devolution will not work unless it is seen to be fair to the English. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has conducted the proceedings on this Bill in a very friendly and pleasant manner. However, it seems extraordinary that he cannot bring himself to mention the words the dreaded "E" words, "England" and "the English". Perhaps his spin-doctors have included a stipulation in his brief that such words are never to be mentioned. I have been present for most of the proceedings on the Bill, and never once have I heard England or the English mentioned by the noble Lord.

This amendment is a most important one. It should have the support of all unionists of any shade of opinion in Scotland—not merely of Conservatives, who are presently rather thin on the ground in Scotland, but of Labour and Liberal Democrat unionists. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, reminded us of the comments made on this matter in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood.

The Government do not seem to recognise that setting up a new, full-blown parliament with tax-raising powers in a large part of the United Kingdom—that is to say, Scotland, consisting of nearly 10 per cent. of the population and not far short of 40 per cent. of the land area—is of such monumental importance that it necessitates immediate and urgent action to address the gross over-representation of Scots MPs.

As was pointed out, the Government's intention is to allow that situation to continue for some eight years after the Scots parliament is established, which would take us to around 2007. Even that timetable could easily be kicked into the long grass if, as a result of a referendum some time in the next Parliament, there were to be far-reaching changes to the voting system for another place.

This is all quite unacceptable. The Government may get away with it until the end of this Parliament, but after the next general election the representation of English constituencies could be very different from what it is now. It does not need a very large swing for there to be a Conservative majority in the English constituencies after the next general election. Stranger things have happened. Then we are in the potential nightmare scenario whereby decisions could be imposed on the English by way of Scots MPs.

At present, the Westminster parliament is fully sovereign and responsibilities are spread equally throughout the UK. But after devolution English MPs will have substantially fewer powers and England will be diminished while the sovereignty of Scotland will be enhanced. Scotland will have her own parliament, substantial over-representation at Westminster and a higher proportion of spending and privileges at the expense of England. That will have huge implications for the rest of the UK; and once vast amounts and areas of legislation and administration are removed from the direct responsibility of Westminster, we are in a totally different situation and in reality no longer a unitary state.

As a result, the Government cannot continue sheltering behind the usual alleged administrative difficulties and sleepy timetable of the Boundary Commission, which is unacceptable. In Committee we heard much about a redoubtable lady, Lady Cosgrove, who is chairman of the Boundary Commission for Scotland and who, we were assured by my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, could accomplish the task within a very short space of time. It is utterly ridiculous that this far-reaching Bill can be put through in one Session of Parliament, yet the boundaries of some 72 constituencies cannot be altered for many years. Resolute and urgent action is needed so that we all know where we are before the next Westminster election. As I have said, a speedy and relatively small reduction in Scots MPs will not solve the West Lothian problem in itself, but it will at least alleviate it and, most important, the Government will be seen by the English not to be totally unaware of the problem.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, when I hear expressions such as "the West Lothian outrage" being used by Members of this House, it strikes me that the speaker has forgotten what has fuelled the call for devolution in both Wales and Scotland. It is the Westminster question—that is to say that, over the centuries, English Members of Parliament have run the internal affairs of both Scotland and Wales. One example that comes to mind is the imposition of the poll tax in Scotland by a government who were barely represented there.

There is talk of over-representation in Scotland and in Wales. If there had been an enormous economic advantage that one could see from the over-representation; if Glasgow, the most prosperous city in the whole of the United Kingdom, or if the Highlands and Islands were the most prosperous part of Scotland, in those circumstances—

The Earl of Dartmouth

My Lords, if the noble Lord will permit me, there is an economic advantage. Under the Barnett formula, each Scottish resident receives an extra £871 per year or 23.5 per cent. in expenditure.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, the statistics for Scotland are not in my head, but I can say that in Wales Wrexham and Flintshire are the most prosperous areas with the highest per capita income; that is, 10 per cent. below the average per capita income for England as a whole. I am sure that the same applies in Scotland and therefore the over- representation that is talked about has not resulted in economic prosperity.

I approve of the way in which the Government have approached the matter, and I speak as one whose wife was born in and who comes from West Lothian. The West Lothian question is mentioned far too often. The true causes that have fuelled the devolution debate in this country are not understood by the people who use that expression.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, the noble Lord's information about Scotland is not correct. The figures relating to prosperity in Scotland do not match those for Wales, as he described it. However, perhaps that is another point.

I do not know what my noble friend on the Front Bench will say, but I believe that it is increasingly recognised in Scotland that there is a degree of unfairness in the representation at Westminster. There was a good deal of concern about how things would work out for Scotland because, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate said—or perhaps it was the noble Lord, Lord Sewel—when it comes to voting about social security, for example, the whole membership of the Westminster Parliament will need to be involved because the Bill will also involve Scotland. How the Government or the Boundary Commission will sort it out I do not know.

We must bear in mind that the mystique about the length of time the Boundary Commission is bound to take to come to its conclusions is invented by politicians. The Boundary Commission simply has to calculate a number of sums. If it incorporated my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish on its strength, it would do it quite quickly. He has everything at his finger tips and I dare say the commission has also. There is something in the amendment because it could all happen quicker than the Government seem to think is required. I do not believe that the people of Scotland will mind it. They believe it is fair, they know that the Boundary Commission is fair, they understand it. They are interested in having the Scots parliament and, in fairness, at Westminster. That is because a great deal of Scottish business will still be decided at Westminster and they understand that clearly. There is a lot to be said for the amendment. We shall see what happens to it in this House and whether people support it, but let us not discard it.

The Earl of Dartmouth

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, is singularly ill informed about Scotland and it is the Scotland Bill that we are discussing. Just for the record, I mentioned in my earlier remarks on Amendment No. 35 as a question of fact that Scotland is per capita the second most prosperous region in the United Kingdom, after the South East. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, might bear that in mind, should the subject ever be discussed again when he is in the Chamber.

I wish briefly to address my remarks to the amendment put down by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. It was a Labour Prime Minister, the late Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, who, like me, had roots in the Huddersfield area, who coined the term: "A week is a long time in politics". By that token, the seven or eight years' delay which is expected for bringing in Clause 86 must represent a kind of double eternity.

Earlier, on Amendment No. 35 in my name, the Minister characterised my suggested changes to the quota as being offensive. However, the principle of change in the quota has already been agreed by the Government. To give credit where credit is due, it is a gracious concession to English priorities and English sensibilities. But that gracious concession of principle has a great deal taken away from it if the execution is delayed for the time proposed. That is, something akin to seven or eight years. It will not be executed until the parliament after next.

In closing, in support of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, I should say that if there is sufficient good will to change the quotas, there should and must be sufficient good will to change the quotas in a timely fashion.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I start by trying to outline what we are agreed about on all sides of the House. As outlined in Clause 86(4) which we have already discussed, it is that the electoral quota in Scotland, as a result of devolution, ought to rise to the same as the electoral quota in England. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate kindly confirmed, it would mean that the electoral quota in Scotland would rise to 59,500 and the number of seats would decrease to about 58.

The reason the Government have come forward with the suggestion, and the reason I agree with them, is that the position after devolution will be markedly different from that pertaining at present. I do not wish to enter another argument, we have had plenty on the Welsh Bill with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. Up to now we have had a unitary parliament. One part of the country has been like every other part, with Members from one part involved in the business of every other part. The argument put forward sounds like the argument we heard in the mid-1980s and 1990s that the Tories have no mandate to govern Scotland. It is an entirely nationalist argument put forward by people who think the country should be divided because even if there were devolution and a Conservative Government in the United Kingdom many matters would be governed by the Conservative majority in the United Kingdom. I wonder whether the noble Lord would then say that the Government had no mandate to govern Scotland or Wales. It is a dangerous trail for noble Lords to go down unless they wish to sign up for either the Welsh National Party or the Scottish National Party. Otherwise, they should not use that argument.

After devolution, the position will be different. Many important legislative matters will be devolved to the Scottish parliament, much more than to the Welsh assembly. The Government have rightly recognised that that was an inevitable consequence on the number of MPs represented in the other place who come from Scotland. They have agreed with that. I agree with them entirely and with subsection (4).

My disagreement with the Government and agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Monson, in his amendment is that we should not wait until the next ordinary decision or review of the Boundary Commission. That would have been fine if nothing else had changed. But something will change dramatically next May. After next May there will be a Scottish parliament up and running.

It seems to me that if subsection (4) is to come into play in five years' time, there is no argument against it coming into play almost as quickly as it can after the May elections. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, is not here. My understanding at the times when we have debated it in the past is that he and I agree entirely on it. I think I am right in saying that he believes that, as an immediate consequence of what happens next May, the number of Scottish seats should go down to 58.

Ministers will tell us that it takes the Boundary Commission much longer than 12 months. It need not. It could be done much more quickly. The commission could start now and be ready next May to put out its proposals. It could be that at the next general election for the UK the situation which the Government agree should pertain in the election after that would pertain from the next election on. It seems to me that if it is right for the future, it has to be right for the immediate future. I therefore support the amendment. A similar amendment was tabled in my name at an earlier stage but we were rather late in the evening to come to it and I thought that it should be discussed at a better time.

I cannot understand how the Government can say, "Yes, we are going to do this, but not yet". I cannot remember which saint had an expression about that, but one of them certainly had an expression about sin. The Government should not get into sin on this matter. If it is right that it should be done, it is best done as quickly as possible after the Scottish parliament comes into being. I am happy to support the amendment.

7.30 p.m.

Viscount Thurso

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, referred to my noble friend Lord Steel, who is not in his place today for reasons to which the noble Lord has referred on previous occasions. It is absolutely true that my noble friend Lord Steel supports the thrust of the amendment and believes that we should move to 58 Members, or whatever the number will be, as soon as possible after the Scottish parliament has been created. However, one point has come up today on the Boundary Commission to which I should like briefly to refer. It comes very much from the previous amendment brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, on the percentage numbers. The point I wish to raise is the need for rules for the Boundary Commission to follow in order to achieve the result which I think noble Lords on all sides of the House would like to see achieved.

I am reminded of a saying in computing. It is GIGO—garbage in, garbage out. Therefore, if the rules governing the Boundary Commission are such that it is not permitted to come to the right result, it will never get there. The one element that is missing before such time as we can come to the right result is definitely the need to review the rules in respect of, particularly, the rural constituencies in Scotland. I can give one small example. The commission has just reviewed the local government wards and has plucked the village of Reay and its surrounding area out of Caithness, where it has been since time immemorial, and stuck it in Sutherland. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, will have a flood of correspondence on his desk in that regard. That happened because the Boundary Commission could not take account of the local circumstances but had to obey the particular rules.

Perhaps I may make one other point. The noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, had a spirited go at my noble friend. At one point I was slightly reminded of the ant climbing up the tail of the elephant, but I will go no further on that. The noble Earl is wrong in one regard. One point about Scotland is that there are large regional variations. If, as I do, you come from an area such as Caithness, you will know that the per capita income is considerably lower than in most other parts of the United Kingdom. Unemployment is considerably higher and the prospects for the future are not particularly good. Therefore, in many of the rural areas of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, the noble Earl's point is simply not true.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, when the Minister replies on this important issue, can he say whether the local government building blocks are in place for the parliamentary Boundary Commission to consider this matter expeditiously or otherwise?

Lord Sewel

My Lords, perhaps I may immediately answer that question. I am afraid I do not know. I shall get in touch with the noble Lord at the earliest opportunity.

Perhaps I may deal with the point about England and the English, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ellenborough. As someone who was born in Hackney and was brought up in Bradford in Yorkshire, I am quite happy to mention England and the English. It is just that I happened to have to go to Scotland to find employment at the time, which is the reverse of the normal case.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, for narrowing down the area of debate and the area of difference between us. Perhaps I should not need to, but I think I must remind some noble Lords who contributed to the debate that the Government accept the case for reducing the representation of Scotland in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. That seemed to be the main theme of some of the speeches in the debate. The point has been accepted by the Government and has found expression in the Bill. What we are dealing with is the speed at which the Boundary Commission should progress its next report.

Some noble Lords have been critical of the way the Boundary Commission goes about its work and about the outcome of the Boundary Commission's deliberations. I just wonder what would be the reaction of some noble Lords if the Boundary Commission, having done a rush job, came up with a conclusion which they did not like. I really wonder what the response of some Members of your Lordships' House would be if that circumstance came about.

Why are we adopting the timetable that we propose to adopt? It is basically as simple as this. The Boundary Commission needs a proper amount of time to do the job. I put it to noble Lords that because of the reduction in the number of seats in Scotland for the Parliament of the United Kingdom which will come about following the next review, that review is likely to be more difficult than previous reviews. The Boundary Commission must quite rightly provide opportunities for public hearings and must take evidence. I should have thought that people would very much wish to make representations to the Boundary Commission—I am sure that the political parties would wish to make representations to the Boundary Commission—considering that such a major change in the political geography of Scotland is envisaged. I do not think that ought to be done on the basis of, "Put the program in the computer and see what comes out". That is not satisfactory and would be rejected.

Under the present procedures a Boundary Commission review normally takes three to four years to complete. There are good reasons for that and I would not wish to bump the Boundary Commission into coming out with a half-considered or ill-considered set of proposals. But given the three to four-year period that is required, if the Boundary Commission started work tomorrow it could not produce a report in time for changes to be made and implemented before the next Westminster general election, which must be held by May 2002. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, asked about the reason for delay. I do not think it is a delay, but I would rather get it right than get it done quickly.

The argument is simply that the amendment, which requires the Boundary Commission to report some 12 months after the first ordinary election, is impracticable. It is impossible to deliver with anything like the due consideration, thought, scrutiny and inquiry which the Boundary Commission properly brings to its task. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he tell me when it is envisaged that the next Boundary Commission will start its work and when it is envisaged that it will report? May we have an absolute guarantee that it will report for the new constituencies to be in place before the election after the next one?

Lord Sewel

My Lords, I shall reply to that question but, first, I may be able to deal with an earlier question which I answered with a "Don't know". I am told that the Local Government Boundary Commission is currently concluding its review of the Scottish local authority wards. That review and its conclusions will be available to the Parliamentary Boundary Commission in carrying out its next review. The answer is that it is not absolutely in place. If the Parliamentary Boundary Commission were to begin now those new building blocks would not be available to it, but by the time it came to consider the matter in normal course they would be. I believe that that is another powerful argument for sticking to the original timetable.

I return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. The timetable is driven by the fact that the Boundary Commission should report not less than eight or more than 12 years from the date of its last report. The commission submitted its last report in December 1994 and its next mandatory report is due to be submitted between December 2002 and December 2006.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ellenborough, the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, and the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, for their powerful and well-argued support. As for the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, he appeared to be singing from a totally different hymn sheet from that of most of his noble friends—certainly his Scottish ones. However valid his criticisms may be of how things worked in Scotland and Wales in the past, I am sure he agrees that two wrongs cannot possibly make a right.

The Government argue that the Boundary Commission will need much more time than the time provided by this amendment. However, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, with his great mathematical expertise, has argued convincingly that that need not be so. Perhaps I may again quote the words of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood: there is no reason why the Boundary Commission could not start now and finish well before the three-year deadline".—[Official Report, 6/10/98; col. 360.] I wonder whether the Government realise that there is a danger that cynical people will suspect that they are trying to postpone the reduction in the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster until after the next general election for reasons of party political advantage. I am surprised that New Labour wants to run such a risk to its good reputation. The Conservatives have supported this amendment and at Committee stage most of the Liberal Democrats were strongly in favour of the principle of a much more radical amendment. Therefore, I feel that I must test the opinion of the House.

7.42 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 38) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 47; Not-Contents, 114.

Division No. 3
Ackner, L. Forbes, L.
Anelay of St. Johns, B. Grantley, L.
Attlee, E. Gray of Contin, L.
Byford, B. Harlech, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Inchcape, E.
Carnock, L. Inglewood, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Jenkins of Roding, L.
Coleraine, L. Kingsland, L.
Courtown, E. Kintore, E.
Dartmouth, E. Lang of Monkton, L.
Ellenborough, L. [Teller.] Leigh, L.
Elton, L. Lyell, L.
Fookes, B. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Mackay of Drumadoon, L. Ryder of Wensum, L.
Mancroft, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Mayhew of Twysden, L. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Monson, L. [Teller.] Selkirk of Douglas, L.
Mountevans, L. Sharples, B.
Mowbray and Stourton, L. Stair, E.
Strange, B.
Norton, L. Strathclyde, L.
Perry of Walton, L. Torrington, V.
Rawlings, B. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Renton, L. Wynford, L.
Acton, L. Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Addington, L. Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Ahmed, L.
Alli, L. Islwyn, L.
Amos, B. Janner of Braunstone, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Ashley of Stoke, L.
Bach, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Barnett, L. Judd, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Kilbracken, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Berkeley, L. Linklater of Butterstone, B.
Blackstone, B. Lockwood, B.
Blease, L. Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Bragg, L. Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
Burlison, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.] Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
Christopher, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. McNair, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Mallalieu, B.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Mar and Kellie, E.
Crawley, B. Milner of Leeds, L.
David, B. Monkswell, L.
Davies of Coity, L. Montague of Oxford, L.
Davies of Oldham, L. Morris of Manchester, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Northfield, L.
Desai, L. Pitkeathley, B.
Dixon, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Dubs, L. Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Evans of Parkside, L. Rendell of Babergh, B.
Evans of Watford, L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L. Russell, E.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Fitt, L. Sawyer, L.
Gallacher, L. Scotland of Asthal, B.
Sefton of Garston, L.
Geraint, L. Sewel, L.
Gilbert, L. Shepherd, L.
Goudie, B. Simon, V.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Grenfell, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Hacking, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Hardie, L. Thomas of Gresford, L.
Hardy of Wath, L. Thomas of Macclesfield, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Thurso, V.
Harris of Haringey, L. Tomlinson, L.
Hayman, B. Tordoff, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Uddin, B.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L. Walker of Doncaster, L.
Hollick, L. Warner, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Hope of Craighead, L. Whitty, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Hoyle, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L. Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

7.50 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy moved Amendment No. 39:

Before Clause 91, insert the following new clause—