On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I rise to ask for your guidance on the next business listed on the Order Paper—the draft Parliamentary Constituencies (Wales) Order 1983, which was laid by the Home Secretary before the House on 7 February. If you will be good enough to allow me to develop my point of order, I will point out that the Home Secretary lays the draft Order in Council under section 3 of the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949.
A draft order may be of two kinds. If no modifications are proposed to the Boundary Commission report, it is simply a draft order giving effect to the recommendations of the Boundary Commission. On the other hand, if there are modifications to the recommendations then, additionally, the Home Secretary must lay before Parliament a statement of the reasons for the modifications. I understand that there is no such statement laid here. Indeed, the order's explanatory note states:
This Order gives effect without modification to the recommendations contained in the report of the Boundary Commission".
Unhappily, that is not the end of the matter. If, as appears on the face of it, the Home Secretary, by his inaction in not laying an additional statement before Parliament because he does not believe that he is introducing modifications to the recommendations of the Boundary Commission, is wrong; if he has misconceived the position; and if there is a modification, he has not done his duty to Parliament. He has not laid before it the statement that is required in accordance with the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949. Section 3(3) of that Act states:
Where any such draft gives effect to any such recommendations with modifications, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament together with the draft a statement of the reasons for the modifications.
As the Home Secretary has not laid the required statement before Parliament, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, must be satisfied before proceeding with the order that the preliminaries have been met. If the Home Secretary has not done his duty, it would be quite wrong and contrary to statute for us to discuss the order.
I shall draw attention immediately to the factual basis for my concern. There is at the very least ambiguity about the status of one ward in the borough of Neath, in the county of west Glamorgan. The same ambiguity applies to the borough of Brecknock in the county of Powys. Page 5 of the draft order refers to Neath—presently the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman)—to the borough of Lliw Valley wards Nos. 4, 7 and 8, and to the borough of Neath wards Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5 and 7 to 16. I want to know exactly what ward No. 11 comprises. If it is the old ward No. 11 that existed before 1 January 1983, it refers to, and is part of, a constituency that falls short of a county boundary—west Glamorgan. By 21 January the county boundaries had been changed as a result of the Neath (Communities) Order 1982 which was laid before the House not by the Home Secretary, but, in accordance with form, by the Secretary of State for Wales. The effect of the order, which was made on 3 December 1982, was to subtract a piece of west Glamorgan and place it in ward No. 13 in the borough of Brecknock. It adds a piece of Powys to ward No. 11 of the borough of Neath in west Glamorgan.
I am sure that the House is well aware that a boundary commission may cross a county boundary only by reason of rule 5 of the second schedule to the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949, which states:
The electorate of any constituency shall be as near the electoral quota as is practicable having regard to the foregoing rules; and a Boundary Commission may depart from the strict application of the last foregoing rule if it appears to them that a departure is desirable to avoid an excessive disparity between the electorate of any constituency and the electoral quota
That is the nub of the provision—to remove excessive disparity between electorates.
Those conditions do not exist in the area to which I refer, and neither has it been argued at any time that the exception should come into force. There is an addition to one county and a subtraction from another, and the provisions would cancel out one another to some extent. Therefore, no one in his senses could argue the excess disparity rule.
I leave that particular limb and turn to the alternative limb. If it is—
With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I do not often trouble the House with a point of order. I feel that I should be allowed to develop my point, which I shall do as briefly as possible. At the outset of my remarks, I spelt out the basic point that I seek to argue. It is my duty to draw your attention to the basis upon which I make my submission—otherwise, it would have little effect.
If it is to be a new ward, rather than ward 11 that has existed since 1 January, the Home Secretary is modifying the Boundary Commission's proposals. In those circumstances, he must follow the 1949 Act and make a statement on his reasons for the modification. You asked me to come to my point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Home Secretary has not made that statement, and we are troubled about that.
Article 2 of the draft order purports to define constituencies
as they existed on 21st January 1983, except where otherwise stated.
That obviously kills ward 11. As I have said, ward 11 has been modified by the Neath order. The Secretary of State for Wales did that on 3 December, and it came into effect on 1 January 1983. We know, therefore, the definition of the Secretary of State for Wales of ward 11 since 1 January 1983. However, we cannot be sure of the Home Secretary's definition as expressed in the draft order.
In either case, whether the two Secretaries of State are of the same mind or not, there is need for a new order to be submitted either, first, by way of modifying this order, or, secondly, by making a statement of the reasons for the modifications.
The Boundary Commission for Wales, in recommending proposed new constituencies on the basis of how the wards stood on 21 January 1983, should have taken account of the changes in the Powys-west Glamorgan boundary resulting from the Neath order. One reason why they should have done so is that it affects the way that the Home Secretary appoints a returning officer. If an election occurs after the coming into effect of the draft order, as I am sure that it will, it appears that the Home Secretary will have to take account of the Neath order as regards such an appointment.
How is the returning officer appointed? The Boundary Commission purported to ignore the existence of the Neath order; and there are two operational days in that order. The first is 1 January 1983 and the second is 1 April 1983. Article 41 (a) Local Government Area Changes Regulations 1976 says:
The following are purposes for which the order shall come into operation on such day earlier than the appointed day as may be specified therein (a) the application of sections 39 and 40 of the Local Government Act 1982.
The Neath order, for the purposes of section 40 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, came into effect on 1 January 1983. That section refers to the appointment of returning officers, of which there are two sorts. The first, under section 41 (a) in the case of a constituency that is coterminous with, or wholly contained in a county, is the sheriff of the county. In another case, under section 41 (c), in the case of any other constituency, it is such sheriff or chairman of a district council as may be designated in an order made by the Secretary of State.
While it is not clear from the Home Secretary's order when he regards the Neath order coming into effect, there is a clear inference from the Boundary Commission that the Neath order has not come into effect. I have a letter from the secretary of the Boundary Commission—
Order. The right hon. and learned Member is adducing an argument, but I should like him to put his point of order to the Chair. He has now been on his feet for 10 minutes, and I have been listening very carefully, but I wish to get to the point of order.
The last thing that I wish to do is to offend the Chair. I am almost coming to the conclusion of my point of order, which I stated at the beginning. I hope that what I have said in addition has been merely by way of providing a factual basis for the point of order, as to whether there should be a statement laid before Parliament in support showing whether it is an order that has been modified or not.
The matter of how the Secretary of State for the Home Department would appoint a returning officer for parliamentary purposes is of the utmost importance. I was about to say, and this goes to the very heart of the matter, that the Boundary Commission has ignored the existence of what took place by way of the order introduced by the Secretary of State for Wales in December, which comes into effect on 1 January.
Mr. G. P. Barnes in his letter to me on 31 January this year says:
The Neath (Communities) Order 1982 was made on 3 December 1982 and comes into operation on 1 April 1983.
That is a clear demonstration, and puts it beyond peradventure, of when the commission thinks that the Neath order came into effect.
The Boundary Commission seems to have misunderstood the effect of the Local Government Area Changes Regulations 1976 and ignored what is stated in the Neath order as regards the date that it comes into effect on 1 January 1983. Given that the officers of the Boundary Commission for Wales believe that the order does not come into effect until 1 April, how can the Home Secretary appoint an appropriate returning officer under the appropriate part of the statute? When there is no crossing of a county boundary, the returning officer is the sheriff. When there are no coterminous boundaries, the returning officer is the sheriff or the chairman of a district council as designated by order.
Bearing in mind the anxiety that I have expressed and the need for the Home Secretary to clear the preliminaries before it is in order for him to introduce the order and for us to debate it, I submit that it appears that there is more than one difficulty in being satisfied that the order is in proper form. In any event, the Home Secretary should not move the order now. He should return with a fresh order, having satisfied himself that it meets the real fears that I have expressed.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you showed some impatience with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), I wish to advance two short arguments in support of his submission. First, I ask you to consider the matter carefully. Although it seems to be a purely Welsh matter, it is one that may be duplicated in the English and Scottish orders that will come before the House in due course. Clarification now can only be to the advantage of the House.
Secondly, my right hon. and learned Friend referred to a letter dated 31 January 1983 from the Boundary Commission for Wales, although the exact date of it is open to some doubt. However, it refers to a letter that my right hon. and learned Friend wrote to the commission on 18 January. It cannot be said that he has taken the Government or the commission by surprise. He gave the commission plenty of notice of his request and it chose to ignore him, to the extent that he wrote to it on 18 January and it made the order on 21 January. The order was completed on 24 January.
If my right hon. and learned Friend's arguments are right, we are left in the following position: if the commission did not take into account the Neath order, it has crossed county boundaries to an extent to which it is not entitled by reason of its statutory powers under rule 5. If it took account of the order, despite what it said in the clear terms set out in its letter, the Home Secretary has a duty to the House to say that he is modifying the commission's proposals. In either case we are entitled to question the present position and to ask you to give it careful consideration.
I support the submission put to you so cogently, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) and congratulate him on his diligence and on the degree of research that he has undertaken. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) said, the issue is not limited to Wales. It is of wider application throughout all the constituencies of Great Britain. It is an issue that appears at first sight to be technical, but it is fundamental to our constitution.
Obviously, there is no statement attached to the order of the reasons for the modification or whether account has been taken of the Neath order. The Home Secretary has a statutory duty to make such a statement if the order includes some modification of the recommendations of the Boundary Commission for Wales. Similarly, rule 5 is clear about the limited circumstances in which the county boundaries can be crossed.
On any reading of the order, there are no disparities in this case. There must be if the crossing of county boundaries can be justified. Therefore, in either event, the order as currently drafted is defective and I call upon you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as have my colleagues, to ensure that the constitution in this case is upheld and that the order is returned so that the Government can put their house in order and present the order in its proper form.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not a member of the legal profession, but I should, nevertheless, like to draw your attention to the fact that I am given to understand that the secretary of the Boundary Commission for Wales is supposed to be independent of the Home Office, yet he is now sitting in the civil servants' Box.
My other point of order is that I tabled an amendment to the draft order. I was advised that I was able to table an amendment, but then I was given to understand that the amendment could not be called because the order is not amendable. It is ludicrous that we are faced with an order that deals with 36 constituencies in Wales and my constituency of Ogmore, and I can submit an amendment to amend an order that cannot be amended.
I submit that I, my colleagues and some Conservative Members agree with 35 of the recommendations for constituencies in Wales, but that in regard to one constituency we should like to object to and amend the order. Therefore, I ask you to consider the matter, because I feel that it is ludicrous and crazy for us to be able to submit an amendment to the order but cannot be called because the order is not amendable.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is this not actually a point of order for the House? If my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary publishes modifications to the Boundary Commission's report, he is obliged to publish a statement of reasons with it. What Opposition Members have been raising as a point of order is that, in their submission, the Boundary Commission has not complied with its own rules. That is not a point of order for the House. At the most, it is a matter for adjudication in the courts because the Boundary Commission is bound by the rules of legislation. In my respectful submission, it is an entirely bogus point of order.
Order. Other right hon. and hon. Members who have raised points of order have been heard in silence. The hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) has an equal right to be heard.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall conclude my point of order. With great respect to the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), it is no good his claiming that I do not understand the point that he has made. If there is any misunderstanding, it is entirely as a result of the way in which he expounded the matter, not as a result of my powers of comprehension.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Despite what the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) has said, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) has raised an important point about the validity of the order that the Government are introducing today. It is not a point of limited application. The order has far-reaching effects with regard to the ultimate legality, as my right hon. and learned Friend said, of the appointment of returning officers. If the Draft Parliamentary Constituencies (Wales) Order 1983 takes account of the Neath (Communities) Order, and if my right hon. and learned Friend has accurately described the territorial effects of that order, it is clear that that order makes a substantial modification of the Boundary Commission's recommendations. The Home Secretary is clearly required to state his reasons for that modification. Equally clearly, the Home Secretary has not stated his reasons for that modification.
If the Draft Parliamentary Constituencies (Wales) Order does not take account of the Neath order, it includes two new constituencies—Neath, and Brecon and Radnor. It is clear that those constituencies cross the country boundaries as amended by the Neath order.
As my right hon. and learned Friend said, in amending community boundaries in Neath that order also alters the county boundary in two places. Under the statutory rules, which are clear, for constituency redistribution, the Boundary Commission cannot recommend constituencies crossing county borders unless such crossing is necessary to avoid excessive disparities between electorates. It is not suggested in this case that there are such excessive disparities in the west Glamorgan-Brecon area.
In either of the two cases that I have described, the Draft Parliamentary Constituencies (Wales) Order 1983 should be withdrawn and modified either to include a reason for the modification or to take account of the Neath order. That is what the Government should do tonight. My right hon. and learned Friend has clearly shown that there is a risk that the order may turn out to be invalid.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On the assumption that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) could be right on his point of order and that the Secretary of State has failed to fulfil his statutory duties but it is ruled that the order can be moved and it is passed by the House, can I be given some guidance? What recourse have my constituents, who would be affected? Secondly, what certainty is there that the order will be valid?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Having listened to what my right hon. and hon. Friends and Conservative Members have said, and without knowing in advance the point that was to be made, one thing that has particularly struck me is that at this stage, at any rate before we hear what, if any, reply comes from the Government Front Bench, the House must be in doubt as to the boundary that is intended for the two constituencies that are affected by the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris). That in itself is something that Parliament cannot accept. If Parliament is asked to debate and subsequently to approve an order without knowing what the effect of that order is, that is something that Parliament ought not to be asked to do. Furthermore, the electorate cannot be asked to accept a provision that Parliament has passed into law without knowing what the effect of that provision may be. Therefore, I support what my right hon. and learned Friend has said.
I am grateful to the right hon and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) for giving me notice that he intended to raise that point of order, as it enabled me to look into the matter very carefully. I have to inform him and other right hon. and hon. Members who have tried to help me with their points of order, however, that, although what they have said is perfectly valid as grounds of argument in the debate on the motion, it does not give me any reason to withhold from consideration of the House a motion whose terms are entirely in order and relate to an order that has been properly laid and which has been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, so I think that we must now move on.
It is a related point concerning the validity of the order. As I understand your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have said that the points are well founded but that, nevertheless, the order will proceed. What is then the answer to the point about the uncertain status of the constituency boundaries that will result and to the very important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman) about the problems relating to his own constituency and indeed to the returning officers involved?
I understood that that was so. Whether it was or not, however, perhaps the Home Secretary or someone on the Treasury Bench will give us the Government's explanation of how this has arisen. With respect, I do not see how we can possibly go ahead until we have heard from the Government on this, before there is any possibility of the order being moved.
On another point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that this one is relatively simple. It relates to the spelling of names in the draft order.
On page 4 of the order, in the definition of the proposed Vale of Glamorgan constituency, reference is made in the penultimate line to a ward called "Peterson-super-Ely". In the corresponding recommendation on page 95 of the report of the Boundary Commission for Wales, however, the definition of the Vale of Glamorgan constituency includes a ward called "Peterston-super-Ely". There is therefore a difference between the spelling in the report and that in the order.
The point is very simple. The spelling in the order is either correct or incorrect. If it is correct, it represents a modification of what is included in the report of the Boundary Commission. The Home Secretary should therefore have tabled his reasons for that modification. However, if the spelling in the draft order is incorrect it should be corrected. The Home Secretary should go away and return to the House later with a corrected order.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to you for your tolerance and patience when I moved my first point of order. You told me that my arguments were well-founded, for which I am grateful. I shall, in future as in the past, prefer to take guidance from you rather than from the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) who described my point of order as bogus, which I regard as an insult.
Having regard to the fact that it is well founded and that the order is properly laid, should it not be incumbent upon the Home Secretary, before the order is introduced, and now that it has been challenged—I have no recollection in my perhaps too long time in the House of such a challenge being made and of the Home Secretary sitting dumb in his seat—to assist you and the House on whether he is satisfied that the text of the explanatory memorandum on these regulations is valid now having regard to my "well-founded" observations. The same point is made by my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) about modifications. How can a matter which, on the face of the record, is different to what is in the Boundary Commission's recommendation, not be a modification?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether it would help the House— [Interruption.] I believe that the House requires some help and certainly the Home Secretary does. Plainly, as the Home Secretary cannot deal with this matter, the best solution might be for the House to adjourn.
I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.
I hope that you will accept the motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It will enable the Home Secretary to consult, I should hope among others, the Attorney-General. The Home Secretary tells us, and I believe him, that he was unaware of the points that have been raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall). It is a complicated point. It seems to me, therefore, that it would be correct to allow sufficient time for the matter to be considered properly and for the Home Secretary to return to the Dispatch Box and give a proper, authoritative reply. There can be nothing worse than for this matter, which has been lucidly put, to be misunderstood and for an order such as this to be moved and for the Home Secretary to have to come to the House to withdraw it and apologise. I know that he would not wish to do that.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that I can help the House with the two points that have been raised. The substantive point of order raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) was based upon the Neath (Communities) Order. He founded his point on the fact that there was at least, as he put it, ambiguity about the relevant boundaries upon the fact that the Neath order had been made. He will know that the Neath order takes effect in April this year, and the order with which the House is concerned tonight deals with that matter.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary must give reasons if he proposes to modify any recommendation of the Boundary Commission. The draft order is not accompanied by any statement of reasons because it gives effect only to the recommendations of the Boundary Commission. The House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949 requires that, if the draft order is only to give effect of the recommendations of the Boundary Commission, no reasons must be provided. That is exactly the position here. The commission's recommendations for Neath are based upon the present wards and boundaries, as is the draft order. No modifications have been made. If a constituency boundary were subsequently to cross a county boundary because a community order coming into effect later—in this case in April—changes the boundary, there is provision in the Act for the commission to deal with it in an interim order. However, it has no bearing upon the question with which the House is concerned—whether the effect of the order is to give exact effect to the recommendations of the Boundary Commission, which it is.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister is arguing that the Neath order comes into effect on 1 April 1983. If he is wrong and the Neath order comes into effect not on 1 April 1983 but on 1 January 1983, would he reconsider what he has just said? Paragraph 4(1) (a) of the Local Government Area Changes Regulations 1976 states:
The application of section 39 and 40 of the Local Government Act 1972.
That may relate to 1 January 1983. That parent Act sets out the matter in exactly the same way. That is the difficulty that we have. I should be very grateful, now that the hon. and learned Gentleman has nailed his colours to the mast about 1 April 1983, if he will tell us what will happen if he is wrong. What if the date is 1 January 1983? Do not those regulations then come into effect?
My duty to the House is to set out what I understand the position to be and not to engage in speculation about what it might otherwise be. I have tried to explain that the wards about which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is talking do not yet exist. The draft order gives effect to the commission's recommendations without modification, because the constituencies are based upon wards and not upon communities. The recommendations of the Boundary Commission are not based upon wards that do not yet exist.
I think that we have exhausted points of order. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]
The points of order now being raised are not matters for the Chair. This is a matter of argument between the two sides of the House. The only points of order that I can deal with are those raised on matters that are the responsibility of the Chair. I have already ruled that in my judgment the motion is perfectly valid. The order has been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the House should now proceed with it.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can I draw your attention to Standing Order 121? The administration of Standing Orders is a matter for your attention. Under Standing Order 121, there has to be an explanation if a statutory instrument is not laid properly before the House. That is not in question at the moment. There has to be an explanation as to
why such copies have not been so laid before the instrument camc into operation, Mr. Speaker shall thereupon lay such communication upon the Table of the House.
It is accepted by both sides of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there is an omission so far as a statement of
reasons is concerned for this order. You accepted my right hon. and learned Friend's outline of the deficiency in the statement of reasons so far as this order was concerned.
Under Standing Order 121, if that statement of reason is a valid requirement under the legislation as outlined by my right hon. and learned Friend, and this question has not been raised in the House before, surely that statement of reason should be treated as part of the statutory instrument. As it has not been laid, there should be an explanation as to why it has not. The statement should be laid by yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on the Table of the House in order for both sides of the House to consider that statement. This is an important point. It might arise on future similar orders. As a statement of reason applies in this narrow area, it would be fair and equitable for you to rule that such a statement of reason should come under Standing Order 121 so that it is laid on the Table by your direction and submitted beforehand by the Government. That would require the Government to submit a reason why their statement of reason had not been tabled along with the statutory instrument so that the matter could be considered by the House.
That is something you would need to consider at your leisure rather than rush into a hasty decision on hasty advice from the Clerk. On that point, the House could be adjourned for proper consideration of the matter. I hope that you see in your wisdom that Standing Order No. 121 should apply to this statement of reason as a supplement to a statutory instrument, which is clearly set out as being subject to that standing order.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, it appears that a statement of reason is required. The statement of reason should be treated as a statutory instrument. I made the point at the beginning of my submission that this statutory instrument has been properly laid. Standing Order No. 121 clearly does not apply to the instrument itself, but it should apply to any statement of reason that accompanies the statutory instrument, otherwise there is no opportunity for a statement of reason to be considered. Standing Order No. 121 specifically allows for reasons where an instrument is not properly tabled to give the House an opportunity to examine it. That is why Mr. Speaker has the power to lay such communications on the Table.
Where a statement of reason, which is inextricably linked to the statutory instrument, is deficient, surely Standing Order No. 121 should apply as much to the statement as to the instrument. The instrument has been properly laid, but the statement of reason has not. I therefore ask you to treat the statement as coming under Standing Order No. 121, to ask the Minister for such a statement, and to require it to be laid on the Table of the House so that it can vbe properly considered.
Neither the hon. Gentleman nor his Committee asked for any such communication. They passed the order as valid. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is on a good point at all.
With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is a long time since I heard anyone in the Chair say that he would take no more points of order. It goes back to 1962, when there was uproar in the House when that point was made. I respectfully suggest that that does not assist our real concern that the proprieties are observed by the Home Office when it brings legislation or orders before the House.
I repeat that I still require guidance on this fundamental point. Having regard to what the Minister of State said a moment ago—that he relies on the fact that the Neath (Communities) Order comes into effect on 1 April 1983—how does he reconcile that with what is contained in article 2(1) of the order, which states that it comes into effect on 1 January 1983? We still have not had an adequate explanation on that point.
Several Opposition Members—not primarily from the Benches below the Gangway, but Privy Councillors and other of my right hon. Friends, many of them in the legal profession—have advanced arguments about the verification or otherwise of the date of operation of the Neath (Communities) Order. You have said that you have considered the matter raised by my right hon. and learned Friend at your leisure as you had been given prior notice. Since you made that ruling, there has been an altercation between the Minister of State and one of my right hon. Friends about whether it was 1 January or 1 April.
In his response to the point of order, the hon. and learned Gentleman said that it was a matter of speculation. Those were his words, not ours. I suggest that this is a very sensitive matter for all hon. Members, including yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This matter should be considered properly by Mr. Speaker when he returns. I am concerned to know what all the hurry is about. Is it a matter of a day? Or a couple of days? What is the frantic hurry? Why cannot the Home Secretary and his Ministers explain precisely whether the date is 1 January or 1 April?
There is speculation. There is doubt. There is ambiguity. All arose, Mr. Deputy Speaker, after you had made your original ruling. I am not suggesting that your original ruling was in doubt. The speculation arose because of the ambiguous answer by the Minister of State. In view of that, we should adjourn to allow the matter to be dealt with. It would be possilbe for Mr. Speaker to inform the House of his findings tomorrow.
I repeat that the matter has been considered by the Statutory Instruments Committee and found to be in order. I have given my ruling. I find the motion in order. So far as the Chair is concerned, no further points of order can arise on that. What is now at issue is argument across the Chamber. The Minister of State has not had an opportunity to deploy his argument.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is purely a matter for the Chair. Since you made your ruling, there has been considerable controversy. There are some unanswered questions. The Home Secretary has said that he did not know about the points that have been raised. I accept what he says 100 per cent., unreservedly. In the light of this, is it not sensible that we adjourn for a short time while— [Interruption] I am trying to help. Hon. Members can continue this as long as they like. Is it not sensible that we adjourn to obtain an answer to the points that have been made? They have not yet been answered. I accept that they may not be a matter for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but they are a matter for the House. The House should know. It would be the worst thing in the world if an order that subsequently turned out to be defective was moved on this occasion. I suggest a short adjournment to find out the answer to the points that have been raised. This should not take long. If there is any difficulty, it may be possible for the Attorney-General to be summoned to give his ruling.
A short adjournment might help the House to resolve what is a difficult matter. This is not a passing point of order. It is an important, and, I would hasten to say, fundamental matter for the whole House to consider. In the light of that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will you accept such a motion now?
At this juncture, I would not accept such a motion. The debate has run for not much more than six or seven minutes. The hon. and learned Gentleman should now be allowed to proceed with the arguments that he has not yet had the opportunity to put.
Order. The right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) said that the points being put to me were not matters for the Chair. I have given my ruling. The Statutory Instruments Committee has passed the order. As far as the Chair is concerned, the motion is in order and I think that we should get on with it.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have twice said that the Statutory Instruments Committee has approved both orders. That Committee is charged with the duty to consider whether each of the orders is in order in relation to the law under which the instrument is made. The point that has been raised in the House tonight is not on whether the orders are correct but on the relationship of the two orders to each other. It surely was not the duty of the Statutory Instruments Committee to consider the relationship of the two orders to each other.
As a member of that Committee, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), I do not think we could be expected to take each order and test it against every other order that is laid before the House, as opposed to testing it against the powers in the statute under which it is being made. Therefore, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for you to rest your case on the fact that we approved it is unfair to the Committee, because the Committee had only to test whether the two orders themselves were in order, as opposed to the question that has been raised tonight, which is the relationship between the two orders and the date on which they come into operation.
If the House is genuinely concerned with the question that has been put, I hope that it will allow me to answer the point raised by the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin). I think he conceded that if I was correct in saying that for all material purposes the Neath (Communities) Order comes into force on 1 April 1983, his point fell.
The right hon. Gentleman then questioned whether that was the case. I can tell him, as appears from the face of the order, which is Statutory Instrument No. 1751, that for the purposes described in article 2(1) of the order it comes into force on 1 January 1983, and for all other purposes it comes into force on 1 April 1983. Therefore, we need to examine the purposes embraced in article 2(1). They are these: preparatory matters only; preparation of register of electors; constitutions of community meetings; appointments of officers; the incurring of expenditure; valuation lists and other such matters. The things that come into operation on 1 April 1983 are changes to the communities and the county boundary. I therefore repeat that the Boundary Commission's recommendations are based on existing boundaries, and the draft order before us relates to those boundaries. If there is a subsequent change by virtue of an order that comes into effect on 1 April 1983, it can be dealt with by means of an interim order, for which the Act makes provision.
The Boundary Commission for Wales—
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I raise this point of order because the Minister rose to give an explanation. Having given an explanation, he should not go on to deal with the order. Why is there such undue haste? We are discussing the parliamentary boundaries for Wales. The people of Wales will want the House to conduct itself properly. The Chairman of the Statutory Instruments Committee has virtually said that information has come to light in points of order tonight of which the Committee was unaware in reaching its decision.
The Home Secretary is a fair man in such matters, and my only point for him to consider—through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—is why the issue cannot be clarified before the order is discussed. The Minister has already given two differing opinions. He is not fully conversant with the situation. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) has suggested, we should adjourn the House, as that would be fair.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker: On what basis did the Minister rise to his feet? We understood that he rose on a point of order— [Interruption.] He did not move the order. We understood that he rose on a point of order, and that was the basis on which he tried to answer the point. Will you rule whether the Minister rose to his feet on a point of order, or whether he started to move the order?
Order. I called the Minister to move the order some 15 minutes ago— [Interruption.] Since then, other points of orders have arisen. The Minister is now in the process of moving the order and of giving his explanation. — [Interruption.] The House must be fair. Varied and complicated points of order have been put to the Minister—not to me. I called the Minister to move the order and give his explanation. He is in the process of doing so.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Let it be put on the record that the Home Secretary, from a sedentary position, said "Kick him out"—[HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful".] That is dishonourable. The Home Secretary owes the House an apology. He is supposed to represent law and order. While the right hon. Gentleman is contemplating his responsibilities and whether he will acknowledge those words, I must tell you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am amazed to find that you originally called the Minister to move the order. We raised a series of points of order and the Minister was positively invited by you to give an explanation to the House. Under what heading, other than a point of order, could he give such an explanation?
There is no point of order. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) is indulging in argument. If the hon. Gentleman does not now resume his seat, I shall have to order him to leave the Chamber.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the Minister is trying to give part of a speech intending to move the draft order, would you be kind enough to tell the House at what time you asked for the order to be moved, because I fear that none of us on the Opposition Benches heard that? Perhaps you could inform the House whether this is part of the debate on the order and, if so, at what time the order was moved?
The right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin), who is much more experienced in length of parliamentary service than I am, knows that there can be no amendments to orders of this kind.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I ask for your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker, which is needed as, when I am putting points of order to you, I do so on behalf of the House, and do not wish to be interrupted while I am doing so. As you, perfectly rightly, told my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) that his amendment had not been selected, and I understand the reasons why, should it not to have been done at the beginning before the Minister was called to move the order? Then everything would have been in order.
Order. I am not prepared to accept any more points of order. We are already debating— [Interruption.] Order. The House is not showing itself in a very good light. We are debating the order and we must proceed in a proper parliamentary fashion.
—of this review and the detailed explanation of the final recommendations in the report. I should also like to record our thanks to the assistant commissioners for the careful and conscientious way in which the commission approached its task.
It has sought to apply the statutory requirements of the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Acts 1949 and 1958, and the rules made thereunder, so as to take account wherever possible for local preferences. It would be impossible, of course, to reconcile these conflicting demands in every case, but we believe that the commission has, nevertheless, been remarkably successful in that difficult task.
I turn now to the recommendations themselves—
—in Wales to 38, two more than at present, and alter most of the existing constituencies to varying degrees. Only the present Anglesey, Caernarvon and Montgomery constituencies will remain unchanged in area. There will also be a reduction in the number of borough constituencies from 10 to six and a corresponding increase—
—and a corresponding increase in county constituencies from 26 to 32.
Changes of this radical nature were essentially forced on the commission by the changes to the pattern of local government which had taken place since the last general review, and by movements in the electorate.
When the commission began its review, nine of the existing constituencies crossed the new county boundaries; now the number is 12 in consequence of recent orders made on the recommendation—
—of the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales. In other words, one third of the present constituencies in Wales cross county boundaries now. Inevitably if that situation was to be rectified major changes had to take place. But at the same time population shifts in Wales have resulted in wide disparities between the electorates of different constituencies. On top of other considerations we had under the rules also to take geographical considerations into account.
|Division No. 70]||[11.40 pm|
|Anderson, Donald||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Davidson, Arthur|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)|
|Cant, R. B.||Dixon, Donald|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Dubs, Alfred|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)||Ennals, Rt Hon David|
|Cowans, Harry||Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)|
|Cryer, Bob||Evans, John (Newton)|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Rowlands, Ted|
|Haynes, Frank||Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|John, Brynmor||Skinner, Dennis|
|Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)||Snape, Peter|
|Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Wardell, Gareth|
|McWilliam, John||White, Frank R.|
|Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Williams, Rt Hon A. (S'sea W)|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Morton, George||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Parry, Robert||Mr. Dennis Canavan and|
|Pavitt, Laurie||Mr. Andrew F. Bennett.|
|Alexander, Richard||Lester, Jim (Beeston)|
|Ancram, Michael||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Banks, Robert||McCrindle, Robert|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Beith, A. J.||Major, John|
|Benyon, Thomas (A'don)||Marlow, Antony|
|Best, Keith||Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Mayhew, Patrick|
|Blackburn, John||Mellor, David|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Bright, Graham||Moate, Roger|
|Brinton, Tim||Morgan, Geraint|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Mudd, David|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'n)||Murphy, Christopher|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Neale, Gerrard|
|Buck, Antony||Needham, Richard|
|Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Neubert, Michael|
|Chapman, Sydney||Newton, Tony|
|Churchill, W. S.||Normanton, Tom|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Osborn, John|
|Cope, John||Page, Richard (SW Herts)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Penhaligon, David|
|Dover, Denshore||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Dunn, Robert (Dartford)||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Durant, Tony||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)||Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R.|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Sandelson, Neville|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Fairgrieve, Sir Russell||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Sims, Roger|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Smith, Sir Dudley|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Fox, Marcus||Speller, Tony|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)|
|Goodhew, Sir Victor||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Squire, Robin|
|Gow, Ian||Stainton, Keith|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Grist, Ian||Stevens, Martin|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Stewart, A. (E Renfrewshire)|
|Hamilton, Hon A.||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Hawksley, Warren||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Heddle, John||Thompson, Donald|
|Henderson, Barry||Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)|
|Home Robertson, John||Viggers, Peter|
|Hooson, Tom||Waddington, David|
|Howells, Geraint||Wakeham, John|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Wells, Bowen|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Wheeler, John|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Knight, Mrs Jill||Wilkinson, John|
|Lang, Ian||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Wolfson, Mark||Mr. Anthony Berry and|
|Mr. Carol Mather,|
|Tellers for the Noes:|
I am most grateful to you, Mr. Deputy speaker. I genuinely want to help the House on this.
First, I think that it is beyond contradiction that the start of the debate by the Minister was somewhat obscure and difficult to follow. Therefore, I suggest that either you start the debate again as the Minister has been gabbling and it has been difficult to follow his arguments, and re-time the debate on that basis, which would be fair and allow everyone to listen properly to the debate, or that you express now your intention to exercise your power under Standing Order No. 3 to state that because of the importance of the subject you will allow the debate to run for longer than the hour and a half. It would be helpful to the House if you would make it clear now that you intend to do just that.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell)— [Interruption.] If Government Members listened they might hear the point of order. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore has been removed from the Chamber purely for exercising his democratic right to speak on behalf of his constituents. Will you rescind that order and allow my hon. Friend to return to the debate so that he can exercise his democratic right on behalf of his constituents?
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows exactly why the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) was ordered to leave the Chamber; it was not for putting any arguments on behalf of his constituents, because at that moment he had not been called upon to speak. That question did not arise.
—equal representation with the need to preserve local ties and take account of the difficult terrain in parts of Wales. Such a task calls for a high degree of judgment, integrity and impartiality, which is why the Commission, under the ex officio chairmanship of Mr. Speaker, is led by a High Court judge and comprises other members acceptable to all the major parties. It would therefore be inappropriate for any Home Secretary to modify a Boundary Commission's recommendations unless there were wholly exceptional grounds for so doing.
The Commission originally set about reducing the present disparities—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I realise that it has become the practice, under this Government, for Ministers to gabble through ministerial briefs, but it is difficult for those of us who are interested in Welsh affairs— [Laughter.]—to follow the gist of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech if he persists in pointing his nose at the Dispatch Box and gabbling the words at his present rate of knots. Could you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as the guardian of the rights of the House, kindly instruct the Minister, as I said earlier amid ribald laughter, that those of us who are interested in hearing the full debate about Welsh matters should be properly allowed to do so? The Minister for once should carry out his duties properly.
The hon. Member is on to a very good point. It was difficult to hear exactly what the Minister was saying because of the noise in the Chamber. If other right hon. and hon. Members take account of what the hon. Member has just said, we shall all be much better off.
—the same number as at present—one of which crossed the county boundary between Powys and Gwent and another of which divided the town of Bangor—by including—
Following consideration of the representations received and the assistant commissioners' reports, it decided that one extra seat should, in effect, be allocated to Gwynedd and Powys respectively, because of special geographical considerations and, in the case of Powys, because the crossing of the county boundary was strongly opposed. The report contains other examples of the flexibility—
That is a hypothetical question. Under Standing Order No. 3, if, in my judgment, sufficient time has not been allowed for this debate, I shall certainly consider extending it. If it will help the House and enable us to continue, I say now that, at the end of one and a half hours, I shall give very careful consideration to an extension under Standing Order No. 3.
Lastly, I mention the objective of securing evenness in the distribution of the electorate. If one compares appendix C, the current position, with appendix G, the commission's recommendations, it is clear that the commission has here again been remarkably successful. Only five of the 38 recommended constituencies, as compared with the present 21, have an electorate which varies—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have no doubt that this debate tonight will, in some respects, create history. Will it he the first time that Hansard has been unable to follow any part of the Minister's speech because it has been delivered so terribly, so quickly and is so difficult to catch and understand?
In all the circumstances, my right hon. Friend has accordingly concluded that there are no grounds to justify modifications to the final recommendations, which I believe the House can confidently accept.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for putting the Question, because most of us were unaware that the motion had been moved.
I must say at the outset that we Welsh Members of Parliament are extremely grateful for the tremendous support that we have received this evening. I have never known so many people to be present for a debate on Welsh affairs.
It is clear from the early exchanges challenging the validity of the order that there is still considerable doubt about whether the order should be made in its present form. It is true that the Government, if they are so disposed, can push through the order with their majority, but it is equally true that we have had no adequate explanation in answer to the points raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) and many of my hon. Friends. We heard a small portion of the Minister's speech, but the little bit that was understandable provided no explanation.
If the order is found to be defective, we shall have done no service either to the House of Commons or to the Welsh constituencies that are affected by it. Any Government in their right senses would have taken away the order, and we should not have been subjected to the offensive comments by the Home Secretary about my right hon. and learned Friend.
The order is supposedly based on the preliminary recommendations of the Boundary Commission, which were published in June 1981, but the final proposals that we are discussing are so far removed from the original proposals that they must cast serious doubts on the value of the original proposals and the procedures by which they were drawn up.
The original proposals appear to have been drawn up purely as a mathematical exercise with the aid of a flat map, as though all the valleys, mountains and communities in Wales did not exist. One could take many examples to illustrate that point. I had intended to cite south Glamorgan, but for other reasons I shall not do so this evening. However, if one wished to find an example of how badly the first proposals were drawn up, one could not think of anything worse than the suggestion that Aberfan should be taken out of the Merthyr Tydfil constituency.
How could anybody in his right senses believe that Aberfan should not be part of Merthyr? That shows what little thought went into those original proposals. Flow anyone claiming to have any knowledge of Wales could make such a proposal defies belief.
The commission in its early days seemed to be totally unaware of the strength of community feeling in Wales. Once the communities were alerted to the problem, they were so incensed at the original proposals that they soon took up arms at the local inquiries. At those local inquiries, political parties of all persuasions played honourable roles, not least my own party. Frequently, opposing political parties supported the same proposals.
Throughout Wales, theatre clubs, rugby clubs, allotment associations and various groups of people were associated in their objections to the original proposals at the local inquiries.
The changes between the original proposals and the revised proposals that we are now discussing show the value of public participation and involvement in this exercise. At the same time, grave doubts were cast on the competence of those who drew up these bird-brained proposals for the Commission.
Despite some successes by local communities following the local inquiries, other changes proposed in the order we are debating tonight deal a heavy blow to many existing communities throughout Wales.
Tonight's order proposes to transfer north Pembrokeshire to Ceredigion, despite the fact that all the organisations present at the local inquiry, with the exception of the Pembrokeshire Conservative association, outrightly condemned the proposal. Even that association, at the inquiry, requested the commissioner to amend its written evidence to read:
alter the words 'accept the recommendations' to 'does not accept the recommendation'.
Nevertheless, the views of the local inquiry were ignored and that transfer is to take place. These proposals play ducks and drakes with historical communities and destroy existing communities. There are numerous examples of this. Ebbw Vale and Abertillery are to be merged into one constituency, Rhymney is to be split from Tredegar to Ebbw Vale, and Porterdown and the upper Swansea valley are to be transferred from Gower to Neath. One could repeat this throughout Wales. Hirwaun, Cefn and Brynmawr are being transferred from Brecon-Radnor, and the old industrial areas of Wrexham are now being detached from Wrexham. One could find many examples, including the fact that the historic borough of Newport is now to be divided.
Not only was there nonsense in the case of Aberfan and Merthyr being transferred to another constituency, but the commission never produced a shred of evidence at any inquiry to justify its proposal. Is that not in itself a most curious proposition? It never came forward with any justification for the proposal at any time.
I agree with my hon. Friend. I was not satisfied, and I do not think the House ought to be satisfied, in view of the initial proposals, with the guidelines and instructions given to the commission. I think the House would do a service to itself and to our people if we tried to ensure that in any future boundary redistribution the problem that Aberfan illustrates should never arise again.
Apart from those areas which still feel strongly, two particular areas are concerned, one of which I have to mention because my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) has had to leave the Chamber. The Commission insisted and still insists in these proposals on an east-west division of the Bridgend and Ogmore constituency, despite the fact that the local inquiry put overwhelming weight on, and opinion expressed to that inquiry was in favour of, a north-south split.
The commission accepted the counter-proposals for Cardiff almost in total, but still insisted, without any adequate explanation, that Radyr and St. Fagan's should be placed in Cardiff, West rather than in Cardiff, North.
We started off with 18 constituencies in Wales below the electoral quota. After all this redistribution, we end up with 24 constituencies below the electoral quota, five of them more than 15 per cent. below. One wonders whether the whole exercise was worthwhile.
Despite what has happened this evening and the fact that the debate will be extremely curtailed—hence my remarks will be similarly curtailed—I do not believe that a one-and-a-half hour debate is sufficient to discuss the full implications of this order. What has happened tonight is clear evidence of that. There is dissatisfaction with the orders, which are extremely complex. That was illustrated by the various points of order that were raised.
Had this debate lasted more than one and a half hours, some of those points could possibly have been dealt with then. However, one and a half hours is not sufficient to give full weight to the points behind the recommendations.
The House must look extremely foolish outside, when our procedures allow us to table amendments but do not allow us to vote on them or to discuss them. I refer not only
to the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore, who, had he been present, would have spent some time on his amendment, but to the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer). The hon. Gentleman and I do not agree on many political issues, but we agree on other things. His amendment
regrets the Boundary Commission's proposals for the County of Clwyd wantonly and unnecessarily destroy three of the existing four county constituencies".
Those are pretty strong words. The hon. Gentleman rightly felt so strongly about this issue that he tabled that amendment, yet such are our procedures that it cannot be discussed or voted on. That makes a mockery of placing amendments on the Order Paper. In truth, these amendments are not worth the paper they are written on. That is not good either for boundary redistribution or for Parliament.
The commission's proposals should not be regarded as quite as sacrosanct as we seem to regard them, particularly in view of the extensive differences between the first proposals and tonight's order. If the commission was so sure that its first proposals were reasonable, why is only one Welsh constituency now subject to its original proposals? I hasten to add that it is my own constituency, so I am relatively unbiased.
If the commission's first proposals were changed so drastically to suit political parties of all persuasions and hon. Members in all parts of the House, it does not say much for the way in which they were drawn up. The House would be well advised to look at this again. It should consider how the commission is set up, as well as the guidelines that we give it.
The House and certainly the Government, who have responsibility, should urgently re-examine the constitution of the Boundary Commission, the guidelines under which it operates and our procedures for dealing with this report. Until that is done, there will be constant repetition, I fear, of what took place tonight and we shall not achieve boundary proposals that are acceptable to the people of Wales or to the House.
I have a great deal of sympathy with what the right hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) has said, although I dissociate myself from the earlier efforts by the Opposition to cheat the hangman's noose at the last moment.
I have some hard things to say about the boundary commissioners. Had it been possible for an amendment to be called, I should certainly have voted for it. I believe that the boundary commissioners in Wales had a comparatively easy task compared with that which faced the boundary commissioners in England. There are no rotten boroughs in Wales. There are no deserted city centres. All that the Boundary Commission had to do was to tidy up to take account of recent shifts in population.
It is not unfair to say that in every county where they could make a mess of it the boundary commissioners did so, and that whenever a sensible solution stared them in the face they chose a silly one. In every county, except one, local indignation forced them dramatically to revise their proposals. The one exception is the county of Clwyd, which has the fastest growing population in Wales, and which clearly needs a fifth seat. The fifth seat could easily have been brought into existence by carving a piece off each of the existing four seats, while leaving the heartland of those four seats intact.
I can take my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Denbigh (Mr. Morgan) and the hon. Members for Flint, East (Mr. Jones) and for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) to some point between Mold and Wrexham where none of us could be certain of the constituency. All four constituencies meet at that point. It could have been the centre for a newly carved out constituency that would have left all the existing constituencies intact. It was the obvious solution. The Conservative associations in Clwyd put up a carefully worked-out proposal on these lines. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Denbigh defended the proposals brilliantly before the commission at the inquiry. The Conservative proposals met all the criteria put forward by the commission. They were much closer to the electoral quota than the commission's own proposals. They were also similar, to a startling degree, to proposals put forward by the Labour-controlled Wrexham Maelor district council.
Faced with these perfectly reasonable proposals, the commission listened—we thought attentively—to what we had to say. I thought that the oratory of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Denbigh had convinced the commissioners. What is their answer? The report states:
The only alternative solution for Clwyd as a whole which remain for consideration are the Wrexham Maelor/Clwyd Conservative proposals. On balance I consider the Clwyd Conservative proposals slightly the better of the two because they involve no division of Rhuddlan borough and because they achieve electorates closer to the average than Wrexham Maelor's proposals and indeed than the Commission's own proposals.
One would conclude therefore that the commission had accepted our case. The report goes on:
Had the matter been a simple choice on the merits"—
one would have thought, heaven knows, that the commission was in the business of making simple choices on the merits—
I would have on the whole preferred the Conservative counter proposals to the Commission's proposals because whilst both plans have their merits and their disadvantages I feel that the Conservative counter proposals have the balance of advantage especially in the Wrexham and Rhuddlan areas, two of the County's most populous regions.
The Conservative counter proposals were supported by three of the six districts, resisted by the other three and were either not supported or were actively resisted by Liberals, Labour Party, Social Democratic Party and Plaid Cymru.
The final and astonishing conclusion is:
I see no sufficient reason to suggest any change in the name or the outline of any of the proposed constituencies.
In other words, because the Liberal party, the Social Democratic party and two out of four of the Labour parties in Clwyd saw electoral advantage in the commission's proposals, the commission decided that a bad solution was preferable to a good one.
There is a further slap in the face from these faceless men. Since 1552, in the reign of Edward VI, representatives from the constituencies of Flint and Denbigh have sat in the House. Indeed, they were here when the hon. Member for Calais took his seat below the Gangway. He was the last, I believe. Now the commission has abolished these 400-year-old names and replaced them with the supremely forgettable Clwyd North West and South West.
I remind the House that the Speaker is a representative of the noble city of Cardiff. I wonder how many hon. Members can say whether it is north, south, east, west or mid-Cardiff that he represents. I have to look it up.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman says, "Good Lord." He frequently refers to me as the hon. Member for Flint, East.
The damage has been done. We Conservatives in Clwyd dared not risk the expense of legal proceedings against the commission, although I am sure we would have won. The new seats will come into being. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be relected as candidates and eventually elected should devote all our efforts to getting to know the new constituencies, welding the new associations into one and forging anew the close personal and political bonds that bind an MP to his party workers and to the wider circle of his electors.
I shall not vote against the motion, because of the importance of safeguarding the independence of the Boundary Commission—even this inept and insensitive commission which has done its work so badly.
May I assure the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) that it would be the last thing in the world I would do to confuse him with my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones)? I was surprised at his confession that he was not aware that the Speaker is the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West. There it is. We live and learn in the course of these debates.
I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's concern and his strictures and the strictures of my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East against the Boundary Commission. There was a feeling in some parts of Wales that the commission had adopted the flat map approach. In defence of the Commission, its proposals for West Glamorgan received tremendous approval in all but one part of the county. The record should be put straight; while there was dissatisfaction in many parts of Wales with the commission because its approach was so unrealistic, certainly in west Glamorgan that was not the position.
I agree with my hon. Friend that the time limit of one and a half hours for discussion of such a subject and the fact that we are not allowed to table amendments are two matters worthy of serious consideration. When in due course the proposals of the Boundary Commission for England are to be debated, again only one and a half hours will be allowed to deal with a greater number of constituencies. It is intolerable when one considers the time span of the Commission and realises that its recommendations will remain in force for the best part of 50 years.
If the Home Secretary and the Minister of State had been more ready to respond to the points made earlier and if they had not sat there dumb in their seats, much of the difficulty would have been avoided. Opposition Members were very concerned about what was happening and about the total lack of response from the Government. They should have been there to assist us with our representations. When the Home Secretary reads the record of events in the morning, he will no doubt regret what I think he said to me.
The order will be debated, and presumably carried tonight. If the Government find, on mature reflection, that there is any validity in our points—which we made as best we could, and without the panopoly of the law, which is there to assist the Government—he will have opportunity to consult. I did not seek to make any bogus point, as the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) implied. A Parliamentary Private Secretary to a Minister at the Welsh Office does not usually speak, but I can only assume that he was speaking on behalf of the Welsh Office. I am sure that it is a matter of regret that he also used the word "bogus" about a point that I made to the best of my ability.
If, on mature reflection, there is any matter that causes concern to the Home Office, the Home Secretary will have an opportunity to consult. I ask him to consider what has been said carefully. After all, he is the custodian of law and order and he must ensure that right is done. If, contrary to our expectations, it is found that there was no fault in the preparation of the order, and that there was no need for an accompanying statement, so be it. The Home Office has an opportunity to examine what has been said, and to have discussions with the Attorney-General. Sometimes Departments do not sufficiently use the Law Officers' Office. I wonder whether the Home Office has consulted the Attorney-General at all.
I hope that the Secretary of State will give us an assurance that if, on mature reflection, he decides that a point is valid, he will consult with the Law Officers before the matter is introduced in the other place. That is the minimum that we can ask, and I hope that it will engender a positive response. We have had assurances from the Minister that article (2)(i) of the Neath (Communities) Order does not apply on 1 January. When that is coupled with regulation 4(1) (a) of the Local Government Area Changes Regulations 1976 and the type of returning officer who should be appointed, it gives rise to concern. I do not seek to make a bogus point. I hope that the Government will confirm that the Attorney-General will be consulted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) raised a point about the spelling of Peterston-super-Ely. That place is familiar to all hon. Members from South Wales. It is not spelt "Peterson". Whether or not there is any validity in my hon. Friend's point about a modification, I can assure the Secretary of State that it is not spelt "Peterson". It has never been Peterson. The name goes back to Norman times. It is Peterston-super-Ely—Peter abound the river Ely. Peterson refers to nothing. I ask for an assurance on that point, and ask that the Attorney-General be consulted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) placed an amendment on the Order Paper. I added my name to his amendment. Given the nature of our proceedings, it cannot be either debated or voted upon. Obviously, I can refer to it in my speech. I cannot anticipate what speech my hon. Friend might have made had he remained in the Chamber. He has very real concern, on behalf of his constituents, that the wrong decision was taken in dividing that constituency from east to west rather than from north to south. I was not present at the hearing, but I made my representations in writing to the assistant commissioner. A whole host—the overwhelming majority—of the representations were to that effect.
I hope that the House will understand why my hon. Friend feels so passionately about the matter. Had he been here, he would have made that point with much greater force than I. The feeling remains in the area that a mistake has been made.
I suggest that the Minister goes away—despite his refusal to support the move to adjourn the House—and considers the points made and, in due course, give the assurance that Parliament has not had tonight.
I shall make only a brief contribution to the debate, and comment on one or two points made by the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), the right hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) and the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer).
I cannot help saying that our behaviour this evening has been a poor advertisement for Members of Parliament. Many people cannot help suspecting that the real trouble with the report is that the cookie has crumbled the wrong way. If it had crumbled the other way, it might have been more readily accepted by the Opposition. That is probably so shallow as to be obvious.
The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon said that the one and a half hours allocated to the debate were not sufficient. A debate on the report, talking about individual wards, should not take place in the Chamber in the first instance. Each Welsh Member—the same will apply when the English proposals are debated—has a direct, personal vested interest. It would have been better to have considered the whole process whereby the Boundary Commission was asked to perform the impossible—that being to introduce a system of representation. That simply cannot be done under the present system. I can cite any number of instances where representation does not take place, and cannot do so, under our system.
For example, any person living in Tonypandy who wishes to vote Conservative knows before he does so that he is wasting his vote. Similarly, any member of the Labour party who happens to live in Colwyn bay will also waste his vote when contributing to the election of a Member of Parliament. He may make a demonstration, but he is wasting his vote. We will not have a Conservative Member in the Rhondda valley for a long time, and I suspect that we will not have a Labour Member in Colwyn Bay. There are many other examples.
The other example of an individual not having the right to representation is that twice since the war, a party that has had fewer votes than the other party has formed the Government. That is saying that the voter is irrelevant and one can do without the voter or even the election. That is an obvious point that wants making.
The right hon. Member for Rhondda spoke about the incompetence—or words to that effect—of the commission. He used harsh words, and I am sure that when he goes home tonight, he will—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will agree that this is a matter for your discretion—I think that you said so earlier—and I hope that you will use it. There has been insufficient time for debate this evening, and I therefore hope that you will accept a motion to adjourn the debate.
I shall be brief. The right hon. Member for Rhondda spoke about the need to have natural communities and criticised the commission for failing to couple Abefan and Methyr Tydfil, and so on. It is clear that to be an hon. Member for Cardiff, North, or Cardiff North-West or South, is not to be in a natural boundary—
It being one and a half hours afer the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER. being of opinion that because of the importance of the subject matter of the motion the time for debate had not been adequate, interrupted the business, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business), and the debate stood adjourned till this day.