Orders of the Day — Boundary Commissions Bill

– in the House of Commons at 4:26 pm on 15th June 1992.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department 4:33 pm, 15th June 1992

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The purpose of the Bill is to facilitate the work of the parliamentary boundary commissioners so that their reports can be presented in good time. The issue, as we all appreciate, is whether the next general election is likely to be fought on up-to-date boundaries or on boundaries that are nearly 20 years out of date. The Bill makes no changes in the rules for boundary revision that we adopt in our democracy because it is generally acknowledged that those rules work well. It gives effect to a timetable that hon. Members on both sides have been expecting the boundary commissions to follow for some time. The only arguments for opposition to the Bill will be arguments in favour of delay and of fighting a general election on out-of-date figures on population distribution. I trust that such arguments will not be advanced too strongly.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will, but I want to make some progress before I do so.

The essential background to the Bill is as follows. Since the current boundaries were drawn up, population changes have caused wide disparities in constituency electorates. Perhaps I may remind the House of how wide those disparities are. In England the figures range from just over 42,000 to more than 100,000. There are similar, although not quite as marked, disparities in the other parts of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland has a span of 24,000 electors between the largest and smallest constituencies. The gaps between largest and smallest for Wales and Scotland are 41,000 and 55,000 respectively.

Obviously in Wales and Scotland geographical features combine to mean that some constituencies can legitimately remain smaller, but most of the disparities, including many that have developed in recent years, are simply the result of today's mobility of population which the previous statutory timetable did not recognise. The disparities in the numbers of voters in each constituency are unacceptable and they can increase extremely rapidly.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson, Shadow Spokesperson

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way so early and I understand the point that he is making—but it is not just a matter of numbers. They may be the concern of the boundary commissions, but it is also a fact that in constituencies such as mine, where the electorate is down to 46,855—[HON. MEMBERS: "Bye bye!"] I can assure Conservative Members that it will not be "Bye bye" to me. The problems generated by those 46,000 people, however, are considerably greater than those of the 90,000 constituents in a Tory, rural, affluent area. Surely there ought to be some consideration of that.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I would not attempt to deny that the borough of Newham suffers from a wide range of social problems which impose a considerable burden on the constituency work of its Members of Parliament. But it is a novel proposition to say that in deprived parts of the country a vote should be given twice the weight of that in another English constituency because of the workload imposed on the Member of Parliament or the problems faced by constituents. That proposition has never been taken into account before, and I am sure that the House will not want to introduce it in this Bill.

But for the proposals in the Bill there would be a serious risk of an election in 1996—a perfectly feasible date to contemplate—being fought on electoral figures that would be 20 years out of date. By that time the disparities that I have just described will have grown even greater. The Bill therefore sets a statutory deadline of 31 December 1994 for the completion of each of the four commissions' next reviews.

So as to ensure that these deadlines are achievable, the Bill also includes provision for the payments of commissioners. It sets out clearly the local government boundaries of which account must be taken in their reports. These two provisions are linked closely to the first provision, and between them they represent almost the entirety of what the House will be voting on this evening. I have no doubt that our debate will range a little more widely than that, but the Bill is a very narrow measure, mainly designed to make sure that the boundary review takes place within the reasonable time that we always expected.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

Many of us will take the view that the contents of the Bill are not as surprising as the manner of its introduction. As Madam Speaker is the chairman of the four commissions, did the right hon. and learned Gentleman inform her, before introducing and publishing the Bill, of the Government's intentions—and what reply did he receive?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Madam Speaker, like her predecessors in office, is indeed chairman of the commissions and, like her predecessors, she will take no active part in their work. Below her is a High Court judge in each of the four countries. He is an active commissioner sitting with two other commissioners appointed by the Government after consultation, usually with—among others—the Opposition parties. I am sure that the role of the Speaker of the House is to ensure that if there ever were—there never has been—an allegation of impropriety in the conduct of the commission, the Speaker might become active. The Speakership has not been active hitherto, and it is not contemplated that it will be so as a result of the Bill. As a matter of courtesy, I informed Madam Speaker about the introduction of the Bill. She noted that and thanked me for my courtesy. Beyond that she has taken no part whatever in the drawing up of the legislation.

I do not agree with the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) that there is anything surprising about the introduction of the Bill. It has appeared in the House so quickly after being mentioned in the Queen's Speech because of the timetable which sets a statutory deadline of 31 December 1994. The Bill must be enacted reasonably quickly to make sure that no practical reasons get in the way of that deadline.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe , Broxbourne

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that there is widespread dissatisfaction in England and Wales about the over-representation of Wales and Scotland? People feel that it is undemocratic. What action would he need to take to ensure that the same basis for representation applied to Scotland and Wales as applies to the rest of the United Kingdom?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Primary legislation would be required to change the legislation setting out the number of seats available to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. We have decided not to do that because the disparity about which my hon. Friend complains has been in our system for a long time, although it may have widened a little in recent years. As we all know, from time to time, there is lively debate about the constitutional position of Scotland, in particular, and, to a certain extent, that of Wales. The Government's view is that a proposal that solely determined the number of seats in Scotland and Wales would not be helpful to the debate.

That underlines my argument that the Bill, which in a sense is a modest constitutional measure to be debated on the Floor of the House, where it should achieve as wide a consensus as possible, is restricted to what is necessary to achieve the timetable. We have deliberately eschewed the suggestion to enter upon larger issues. The number of seats allocated to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is a wider issue and should not be taken as part of the legislation.

I emphasise the extent to which the Bill leaves untouched the mechanisms of the boundary commissions. Some reports have suggested that we are gerrymandering or doing something like that. Such things are said in the heat of the moment, but that is a preposterous suggestion, because the Bill goes out of its way to leave the rules and the mechanism untouched, precisely because I am not aware of any serious complaint about the impartiality and fairness of what is done at the moment.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield

The issue of gerrymandering could have been resolved at the outset if the Minister had followed historical precedent and called inter-party talks before producing the Bill. Why did that not happen either at a Speaker's Conference or in some other forum to enure that the Bill could be supported by all parties and that there would be no suggestion of gerrymandering?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

If the Bill's time scale is to remain practical, we must enter quickly on the legislation. I clearly recollect politicians of all parties speaking and writing articles in the expectation that the timetable that I am describing would be realised. We are merely making sure that the statutory deadline matches the expectations of most hon. Members. If we had suggested changing the rules or the distribution of seats, or anything of that kind, we would probably have required the historical precedent of a Speaker's Conference. Unless something surprising arises in the debate, an argument, if there is one, about the statutory deadline of 31 December 1994 is hardly the red meat of constitutional debate that would justify a Speaker's Conference.

Several Hon. Members:

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I shall give way once more and then I should like to make more progress.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

First, will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the boundary commissions are impartial? Secondly, will he resist any accusations that are made by Labour Members about gerrymandering? I remember that in 1969 the then Labour Government refused to implement the recommendations of the commissioners because they felt that they would lose up to 30 seats if they did so.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. I have never heard it seriously suggested that the work of the boundary commissions is anything other than impartial. Our system must be the envy of many of the major democracies of the western world. It is implemented by a High Court judge and I do not think that there can be any claim of partiality.

This is the fourth revision since the system started, as I shall briefly describe. The two reports that were made during periods of Labour Governments gave rise to considerable controversy. In 1969 the then Home Secretary, now Lord Callaghan, went to considerable lengths to avoid implementing the boundary changes before the 1970 general election. My position is slightly ambiguous, because, had it not been for Lord Callaghan's gerrymandering on that occasion, I probably would not have been elected to the House in 1970. I had been selected to fight a constituency that was next door to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) which was due to be redistributed out of sight following implementation of the report. Lord Callaghan was so anxious to see my right hon. Friend and myself in the House that he delayed the process and I was elected to this place to represent a constituency that was subsequently redistributed.

When we last had a review nobody claimed that it was anything other than impartial. We behaved perfectly properly in our response to it and we propose to do so again. It helps no one to claim that reviews are not impartial.

Several Hon. Members:

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I shall explain how we have reached the present position and then I shall give way.

Over nearly 50 years we have had four reports from boundary commissions. They are required periodically to produce reports on all the constituencies in their respective parts of the United Kingdom. This will continue to be the case. In addition, the commissions are able to conduct interim reviews should they consider that the need to alter constituency boundaries is so pressing that they cannot wait until the next general review. This option, too, will continue to be open to the commissions.

On reaching conclusions in any given area, each commission publishes its proposed changes with its reasons for arriving at those conclusions. It then waits for a statutory period of at least one month for representations to be made. If objections are raised by a body of 100 or more electors or by an interested authority, the commissioners are obliged to hold an inquiry in the area concerned. They may choose to hold an inquiry even if these conditions are not met. I have never heard it suggested that such inquiries are anything other than full and fair. Detailed reasons are given for whichever course of action the commission eventually decides to follow.

The procedures via which the boundary commissioners arrive at their conclusions are an essential part of our democratic system. There is no compelling need for any changes in the rules which I have outlined and no changes are proposed in the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) has underlined, the boundary commissions are an invaluable part of our constitution and one which the Government have every intention of maintaining.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien , Normanton

How does the Home Secretary align his immediate remarks with the information that was sent to Members in the newsletter from the boundary commissioners? The commissioners wrote: It is too early to estimate when the report will be completed but it is unlikely to be before mid-1995. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that the procedures of consultation, a public inquiry and everything else will be carried out and the date is to be brought forward 12 months, how can what he is saying and what the commissioners have said be reconciled?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The date will be brought forward six months before the estimate to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. Before the Bill was introduced no one was quite sure when the process would be completed. The modest extra resources that the Bill will enable us to put into the exercise of providing remuneration for the commissioners will enable them to speed up their work. The Bill provides clarity about the impact of any local government changes on the revisions and provides a cut-off date after which local government changes will not be taken into account. That, too, will enable the commissioners to meet the statutory deadline of 31 December 1994. If, by any chance, they slip beyond the statutory deadline, that will not invalidate the conclusions. I believe that, following the Bill's enactment, the statutory deadline will be hit.

Timing is the only issue. Looking back over the process, as I have briefly done, the only drawback that has caused controversy in modern times is the time that has elapsed between each review. The disparities between the sizes of electorates have become intolerable. A vote in Kensington is now worth twice as much as a vote in Peterborough. There is no logical reason for that, but it is not an isolated example. The constituency of Eastleigh has more than 91,000 electors on the 1991 register; it had only 70,000 on the 1976 register. Similarly, during that time my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's constituency electorate has risen from 65,000 to 91,000; Hampshire, East has risen from 67,000 to 91,000; The Wrekin from 65,000 to 91,000; and Swindon fromn 68,000 to 90,000. I could go on.

Such dramatic increases have been matched by similar decreases in electorates compared with the time when constituencies were given their individual Members. Chelsea had an electorate of 63,000 in 1976; that is now down to 42,000. Indeed, the smallest constituency is, surprisingly, Surbiton. Such swings in population of almost a third of the electorate in some constituencies over a 15-year period show that the current time scale is too protracted for today's mobility of population.

The House has made several efforts to get the interval between reporting times right. In the 1950s, a reporting time period of between three and seven years was found to be too short. There was considerable controversy about the haste of the report in the early 1950s. We subsequently found that a reporting period of between 10 and 15 years is too long for the 1990s. For those reasons, the Bill proposes a time scale of between eight and 12 years between general reports of the boundary commissions. By that means, we should avoid some of the past difficulties.

In 1939, constituencies ranged in size from 15,000 to 150,000 electors. That was recognised as unsatisfactory, so four permanent boundary commissions were set up in 1944, one for each component part of the United Kingdom. The brief of those commissions was to produce comprehensive proposals for the redistribution of parliamentary constituencies every three to seven years. There was an initial report in 1947 and the commissions reported again in 1954 on a periodic review that had lasted little over 18 months. That caused controversy, so the time scale in which they had to report was extended by legislation in 1958 to between 10 and 15 years. That framework for review, consolidated by the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, is largely that which remains with us today. However, for the reasons that I have given, the procedure is thought to span too long a time.

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the problems is that the quota year is not the year in which the report is presented? There is already a built-in obsolescence in the electorates. Should not the time scale run from the year of quota rather than the year of the report? That would ensure that that problem was minimised.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The quota year must be set before the process starts and it must be adhered to throughout the general review as it continues or it would be unfair to those countries dealt with in the early stages compared with those dealt with in the later stages. The quota year is 1991, which the English Boundary Commission is using. As it has already produced its proposals for a number of counties, it would not be practicable to change the quota year. The timetable for review should be based on the gap between general reviews, which is what we are proposing, rather than on a new timetable starting from a quota year.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire

The quota year is 1991, but there is a shortfall of 1.88 million electors in the estimated relevant population of people entitled to be on the voting register. Although some of those are overseas visitors, there is still a shortfall of 1.5 million electors in England, Scotland and Wales—but not in Northern Ireland. Therefore, it would be sensible to get the electoral register correct and then to move quickly into the quota figure and the reviews.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

We go to considerable lengths to make sure that people register. We have compulsory registration, which we back up with expenditure, advertisement and effort to get people on to the register. We achieve about 95 per cent. registration, which is a little lower than the historic level. The discrepancy has widened a little, but that pre-dates the community charge. We have achieved considerable success in getting people on to the register. The Government will continue their efforts to make sure that registration is maintained at a high level.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

Does it not appear that some local authorities have been over-successful, in that it appears that at the last election there were about 11,000 dual entries in some constituencies? I do not know what one can do about that.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The rules are clear. It is for the electoral registration officer in each area to make sure that the job is carried out satisfactorily. We hear complaints from time to time about dual registration—about people who have not been removed from the electoral register because it is assumed that they are still in the constituency, despite the fact that they have not sent in the form. One hears allegations that universities send in lists of everybody who is supposedly in residence, including people who are not British citizens. By and large, however, despite all the anecdotal complaints that one receives from individual constituencies, I think that our registration process is better than that achieved in most parliamentary democracies, if not all. We achieve a success rate of about 95 per cent.

I intend to describe what the Bill aims to deal with. The number of interventions shows that the Government have been modest about what they have chosen to do. We have given the Bill a very narrow compass. It contains three main provisions, designed to put the position over the time scale to rights. Clause 1 provides that commissioners can be paid for their services. It has to amend schedule 1 to the 1986 Act to do so. At present, members of each commission give their services free of charge. However, assistant commissioners are paid for the work that they do in holding local inquiries where these are warranted and in preparing reports of the inquiries for the commission to consider.

That is an anomaly nowadays. Each commission employs eminent people from the legal profession and public administration to undertake its work. It is only fair that the reward of such people should recognise, as far as possible, the skills that they bring to the task.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

Is not one of the reasons for the delays, particularly as the commission undertakes the reviews, the fact that the Lord Chancellor allows the judge the chance to work as a commissioner only every six weeks? That is probably because his work is unpaid. Is there any provision in the Bill that would allow the Lord Chancellor to be more reasonable about allowing a senior High Court judge time off to get on with the work of being a commissioner?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Lord Chancellors are always reluctant to release High Court judges from their duties for excessive periods. However, before the Bill was produced I consulted the Lord Chancellor. He knows what the statutory timetable is. He will therefore have to ensure that the commission's work is not delayed. The hon. Gentleman is right, however. One of the biggest reasons for delay is that the commission tends to meet only once every six weeks to continue its work. The High Court judge will not be paid over and above his High Court salary, but remuneration of the other commissioners will make it fair and reasonable to expect more frequent meetings to be held, if necessary.

Clause 2 refers specifically to the timing of the general reviews of constituencies that the commissions are periodically required to undertake. It has no bearing—this is an important point—on the interim reviews that may be undertaken at any stage, where the need arises. Clause 2 states that the next reviews of all four commissions are required to be submitted by 31 December 1994. On the present time scale, the report of the Northern Ireland commission would be due, under the statutory limit, in 1997. Those in England, Scotland and Wales would be due in early 1998. I have already made it clear why we cannot wait for those ultimate statutory deadlines and that they have to be changed.

The new deadlines will set an achievable and practicable target. The English commission started its general review in February of last year. The Scottish commission started its review in February of this year. Both commissions should be able to complete their reviews in time, given adequate resources. The remaining two commissions have yet to start their reviews, but they are confronted with smaller tasks. Furthermore, there is a provision in the Bill, which I have already mentioned, that failure to submit a report on time will not serve to invalidate the report subsequently submitted. That takes any undue pressure off the commissions and ensures that their democratic procedures will not be circumvented to abide by these deadlines, if it is unavoidable that their reviews come in late. It also provides a safeguard in the event of delay because of unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances. As I have said, in addition to the deadline for the next review, the length of time between subsequent reviews will be reduced to between eight and 12 years.

Clause 3 clearly sets out the local government boundaries that the commissions should take into account when completing their general reviews. The extent to which they are required to consider local government boundaries will remain as set out in the 1986 Act. Clause 3 simply specifies the latest date by which the commissioners can reasonably be expected to take account of changes in local government boundaries. It is necessary to include that provision because, as we know, local government boundary changes are in the offing in all parts of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mr Richard Tracey Mr Richard Tracey , Surbiton

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) who represents, the smallest English constituency.

Photo of Mr Richard Tracey Mr Richard Tracey , Surbiton

My right hon. and learned Friend may be out of date, because I think that Kensington fell below my numbers in the general election.

What will be the position on the London boundaries, especially the Greater London boundaries, as Greater London no longer exists since the abolition of the Greater London council? My right hon. and learned Friend is no doubt aware that the Local Government Boundary Commission has recently carried out a review, which will ultimately lead to a report by the commission, which says that, in many places, the Greater London boundaries are wholly unreal. There is a suggestion that a commission charged with more responsibilities than the Local Government Boundary Commission should correct that. Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell us something about the approach of the parliamentary review to that point?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend's point concerns the extent to which the parliamentary boundary commissioners might cross local government boundaries if some of the local government boundaries are, in my hon. Friend's view, no longer appropriate. The rules will remain unchanged by the Bill. The rules enjoin the commissioners to have regard to county council boundaries and to borough boundaries in metropolitan areas, but that is not absolute. The rules permit the commissioners to cross either borough or county boundaries where it is reasonable for them to do so to avoid unacceptable discrepancies in the size of the constituency or to enable them to get constituencies closer to the electoral quota. I appreciate that that may be an issue in London this time, but it will be a matter for the boundary commission.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

Will the Home Secretary explain how the Scottish Boundary Commission will operate in relation to clause 3? As far as we are aware, the Government intend to publish a White Paper on the future structure of local government in Scotland in September. There is no intention to introduce legislation in this Session, so there will be no legislation to reform local government in Scotland before October 1993. The Bill to introduce the new structures would hardly have passed through both Houses before the boundary commission's final date for putting its boundaries into place. How on earth is the Scottish Boundary Commission going to operate when it does not know what plans the Government have for the future structure of local government in Scotland?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman is right. We do not yet know the legislative timetable for any local government reorganisation in Scotland, although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has already announced his intention to have some reorganisation, and everyone expects some reorganisation in local government there.

If we are to keep to a sensible timetable for parliamentary constituencies, there must be a deadline before which it is reasonable to expect the parliamentary commissioners to take account of changes to be made and after which it is not, unless one is to have interminable delay waiting for an evolving process of local government change.

The timing of the Scottish legislation is not within my gift; it is all yet to be decided. My right hon. Friend will introduce his proposals in due course. The Bill makes clear what will happen in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland if local government changes take place.

For example, for the forthcoming review which is to be completed by 31 December 1994, the latest date by which changes in local government boundaries would have to take effect to feature in the final report would be 1 June 1994. We have made a provision for the sake of the Boundary Commission for Wales which provides that, for the forthcoming review only, that commission should take account of any boundary changes that are included in an Act of Parliament passed by 1 June 1994 even if those boundaries are not operative by that date.

The effect of clause 3 is to make it abundantly clear to each commission which boundaries are to be taken into account for each review. Interim reviews can still be conducted if it is felt that a local government boundary change becoming operative subsequent to a boundary commission report has such significance that it warrants alteration of parliamentary constituencies before the next general election.

The purpose of the special provision for the Welsh commission is to allow for the strong possibility of a Welsh local government reform Bill. Were such a Bill to be passed by Parliament before 1 June 1994, the need for interim reviews would be reduced by the fact that the new boundaries had been incorporated in the previous general review. Wales is more advanced than Scotland because it has already produced a Green Paper. People are already aware of the general shape of reform in Wales.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Scotland may proceed more slowly than any other part of the United Kingdom on the present timetable in respect of local government change.

In addition, as I have already said, the possibility remains for all four commissions to conduct interim reviews on any section of their part of the United Kingdom, whenever the need arises.

This simple and modest Bill is designed to keep the work of the four boundary commissions in the United Kingdom to the expected timetable. The current disparities in constituencies are intolerable and a similarly undesirable situation could arise in future. Therefore, the Government propose that the forthcoming reviews are kept to time and that the time scale for subsequent reviews is tightened. In order to make that feasible, the Government have proposed that funds should be made available for the payment of commissioners and have set out clearly the framework of local government boundaries on which the commissioners should base their work.

That is the full extent of the Bill. It is a rather mechanical Bill for what I have described as a constitutional measure. No changes are proposed for the successful mechanism by which the commissions reach their conclusions. All recommendations and their reasons will continue to be made fully available to the public and time will continue to be set aside for local inquiries if so warranted.

I believe that the United Kingdom is fortunate to have a system that works so well and to have commissioners who succeed in keeping themselves free from political controversy. It is only unfortunate that the current timetable for reviews has proved not to match the present-day movement of population. That is the only inadequacy that the Bill seeks to address.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook 5:06 pm, 15th June 1992

At the beginning of his speech, the Home Secretary described the measure as a constitutional Bill of sorts. I suppose that it is the only item of constitutional reform that the Government will initiate during the life of this Parliament. A Prime Minister who believes in a classless society has no proposals to make about an elected second Chamber. A Government who proclaim that they are concerned about democracy will continue to misuse the royal prerogative to avoid decisions in Parliament. There will be no consideration of electoral systems, not even the almost obligatory consideration of how we elect our Members to the European Parliament. There will be no examination of what I believe to be the justified demands of Scotland and Wales for devolved government.

The item of constitutional reform that I most regret that we shall not debate is the issue of parliamentary or Government patronage. I should have welcomed hearing the Secretary of State tell the House what special virtues led the Government to nominate Lord Waddington as Governor of Bermuda. Was it his intellect, his diplomacy or his well-established affection for the people of the Caribbean?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

That is about as credible an analysis as it is possible for the Minister to provide.

In the absence of a debate on genuine constitutional matters, we must make the best of what we have. It has been widely suggested that the Government have introduced the Bill in the squalid hope of party gain. I must tell the Home Secretary that, as a general rule, I find that proposition attractive. However, I believe that that proposition does not apply with its usual force to this particular and peculiar piece of individual legislation. I believe that in practice there is very little for the Government to gain from the Bill in terms of party advantage.

Clause 2, which creates suspicion, provides that each of the boundary commissions for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must report by 31 December 1994. Under present legislation, the English, Scottish and Welsh commissions are not required to report until 1998; the Northern Ireland commission is not obliged to make its submission until October 1997. Therefore, the argument runs, a Bill which requires a report almost four years earlier than is now obligatory is intended to change the boundaries to the Government's advantage before the next general election.

I am sceptical about that analysis, for a number of reasons. First, under present legislation, although the boundary commission is not required to report until 1998, it is empowered to report as early as 1993. I am one of those people whom the Home Secretary quoted who have never doubted for a moment that, with the present Government in power, the boundary commission would report at an early date, and that even without the Bill its revised proposals would be in place in time for the next general election. That is the conclusion that we should come to on the evidence.

The boundary commission announced that its general review had begun in January last year, and it has already made a number of provisional recommendations for 17 English counties. I repeat that the idea that without the Bill we shall fight the next general election on the present boundaries seems to me to be simply a mistake in judgment. One way or another, the boundaries will be revised before we next go to the polls.

There is a second reason why commentators have predicted that the Bill is politically motivated. They, mostly commentators outside the House, have judged that the result of a boundary commission's work would in some way benefit the Government. In fact, I do not believe that it is possible to come to any sensible conclusion about what the pattern of constituencies will be. That is because the pattern will be determined area by area, not for the country as a whole, and the eventual outcome will result from initial proposals, appeals and then revisions of initial proposals. Therefore, I say with the due humility and trepidation necessary in anyone who corrects and contradicts Mr. Jeremy Paxman that the conclusion that "Newsnight" came to on Friday does not bear very much real examination.

The Government may obtain some advantage from the Bill, but no one can be certain of that. I make my position absolutely clear. For my part, since I believe that we are to have a general review before polling day, I much prefer the new boundaries to be established well before the general election rather than immediately before it. Having already allowed party politics to intrude into the debate, I hope that I may be forgiven for putting the matter in this way: as a member of a party which expects to win a large number of marginal seats at the next election, I believe that we have everything to gain from knowing the boundaries of those marginal seats as early and as quickly as possible.

One of the reasons why the Government's motives have been suspect is because the Bill was presented, as the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) suggested, not only without consultation with the chairman of the boundary commission but without the usual—indeed, until now, invariable—consultation with the other parties. The previous major change in the rules governing the boundary commission was introduced in 1958 with a speech in which the then Home Secretary, Mr. R. A. Butler, said: The Government naturally thought it right in this matter of constitutional importance to discuss the proposals we had in mind with the other parties. The present Home Secretary, in one of the more' disingenuous passages of his speech, seemed to suggest that a change in the period over which the revisions were made did not justify consultation among the parties or, indeed, with the chairman of the Boundary Commission. However, the 1958 revision— about which, I repeat, Mr. R. A. Butler said: The Government naturally thought it right in this matter of constitutional importance to discuss the proposals we had in mind with the other parties"— was exactly this sort of review. It was a review of the period over which the boundary commission should revise the boundaries. Because of the new arrogance of the Tory party, such consultations have not taken place in the past 13 years on any of the matters which are appropriate for consultation between the parties in ademocracy.

I must say to the Home Secretary—[Interruption.] I hope that I can catch his attention for a moment. I was hoping that the Home Secretary might play some continued part in the debate. It is interesting that, before I had to call for the Home Secretary's attention, I was dealing with the new arrogance of the more junior members of the Tory party. I was saying that by their refusal to consult the Opposition parties on matters of constitutional importance, the Government damage themselves, damage democracy in Britain and damage the status of politics, which is diminished by such attitudes.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield

Is not the Government's position even more dangerous when the Select Committee unanimously recommended that no change should be made in the time scale for the reporting of the boundary commission? The Government have rejected not merely consultation with the parties which make up the House, but the advice of the House in its last report on the matter.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

As my hon. Friend will understand, I support that view in this sense. While the changes should be acceptable and should not be opposed, the manner in which they have been introduced into the House is not intolerable—we have no choice but to tolerate it—but it is an improper way of conducting government. I hope that the Government will mend their ways in the years that lie ahead.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for the fact that I was distracted by a Hansard note. As he commented on our arrogance, I hope that at this late stage in his Front-Bench career he will not slip into the pomposity and self-importance of some of the senior members of the Labour Front-Bench team. I hope that he will confirm that it is clear from what he just said that if we had spent some time consulting on the timetable of which I have spoken, he would have agreed with it. As far as I can tell, it is a matter of no controversy, and any consultation would have been superfluous on a Bill in which we seek to sustain the momentum of the review and not to slow it down.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

The suggestion that I have only just slipped into the habits of pomposity and arrogance is one of the kindest that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has ever made. That aside, his point is really my point. There would have been agreement between the two Front Bench teams. With some qualifications, which I shall advance in a moment, we should have said that the measure was a sensible revision of the constitution. I repeat, however—pompous or not, and arrogant certainly not—that when constitutional reform is contemplated in the House there is a good case for allowing the major parties to discuss it. Not only the Government and the official Opposition but the minority parties have an interest and should have been consulted.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

As my right hon. Friend has stated, there is general acceptance among Opposition Members, as there is bound to be, of the need for boundary changes. No one would seriously argue against that. However, should we not suspect the Government's motives, bearing in mind that the Bill was trailed almost immediately after the Government were elected to office on a greatly reduced overall majority? In the last Parliament, overseas voters who had had absolutely no connection with the United Kingdom for many years were given a vote. That was obviously sharply politically motivated. In view of all those factors, and bearing in mind what my right hon. Friend said about the lack of consultation with the Opposition, why should we not be worried about what the Government seek? They seek 10 to 20 extra seats in time for the next election.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I can only answer my hon. Friend in this way. If the Government seek 10 to 20 extra seats, first, the Bill will not produce that result and, secondly, they could have obtained that result in a different way, even without passing the Bill, by ensuring that the boundary commission reported immediately before the general election. That was certainly within the power of the Home Secretary.

I made it clear that if the Government had chosen to discuss with the Opposition parties the intervals at which the boundary commission should report, there might well have been agreement between us. Clause 2 of the Bill proposes to reduce the interval from between 10 and 15 years to between eight and 12 years, but there are no precise rules by which we can determine the proper period for revision. By nature, such matters are judged by rule of thumb—by guess and estimation. It is necessary to avoid too frequent disruption, but it is also essential to ensure that, within each of the nations which make up the United Kingdom, the constituencies approximate to the same size and, in consequence, each vote has approximately the same weight and value.

I do not believe that this is a matter of constituency burdens; I do not believe that it is a question of the work done by the individual Member of Parliament. Some Members of Parliament, owing to the nature of their constituencies, will have to do more work than others. The important criterion for constituency size is the weight of the vote. I was delighted to hear the Home Secretary endorse the view that that cannot be equal among all the nations of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland, for instance, inevitably contains constituencies that are appreciably larger than those in Scotland.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

But not larger than those in England.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

Of course not. The hon. Gentleman is simply extending the point that I have made, and I am pleased to have his support. We have always accepted that constituencies should be of different sizes in Ireland and Scotland, England and Scotland, and Wales and Northern Ireland. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] For reasons endorsed by the Home Secretary—because of the different problems of representation of the three nations of the United Kingdom. Hon. Members must pursue their prejudices with their own Home Secretary, who said explicitly that the rule should continue. That is certainly our view, but it is also our view that within each nation constituencies should be of approximately the same size.

Photo of David Evennett David Evennett , Erith and Crayford

The right hon. Gentleman regards it as obvious that there should be differences. Will he explain the reasons for that?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

The geography of the constituencies is the obvious example. I represent a constituency two and a half miles long and one mile broad. That does not pose the problems for democracy that representing constituencies such as Western Isles poses for my hon. Friends.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I do not intend to give way as often as the Home Secretary as I want to make progress on what both he and I regard as a comparatively modest Bill. Conservative Members who want to argue their prejudices against Scotland must do so with their own Home Secretary, whose views on these matters are identical to mine.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

Will my right hon. Friend allow me to put our prejudice the other way around? The problems of rural deprivation are hardly ever raised in the House because the burden of representing a large constituency prevents Conservative Members from representing their constituents properly. Otherwise, they would not be so quiet about the matter.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

We plumb deep waters. I propose to continue my remarks about the Bill, which—dare I say— deals with a rather narrower point.

The population is now more mobile, and shifts more quickly, than in 1958. I am therefore prepared to believe that the review period ought to be reduced. Ideally, I should like a fixed review period of 12 years but, as I have said, there are no absolute rules to govern and guide us. The eight to 12 years period recommended by the Government is near enough to being right to make outright opposition inappropriate, if not to justify support. It has the special advantage of having been specifically recommended by the deputy chairman of the English boundary commission, who suggested it when he gave evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs.

When all the processes—provisional recommendations, public consultation and final proposals—are completed, the review period will always span two general elections, and will usually span three. If we are to maintain our present electoral system—as I believe that we should, for reasons which, despite temptation, I shall not go into this afternoon—it is essential that each elector realises that his or her vote is of approximately the same value and weight as any other vote in the nation in which the vote is cast.

Clause 1 of the Bill deals with the remuneration of members of the commission. That, of course, is necessary, and we support it. I should make it clear to the Home Secretary, however—I have touched on this before—that we expect the commissioners and those who work for them to be appointed in the normal, non-party political way. We also expect the practice of consultation about such matters to be reintroduced. That should, and will, happen. The Government, no less than the Opposition, have everything to gain from a visible demonstration of the commission's impartiality, and we shall expect the Home Secretary to do everything in his power to ensure that that is the case.

Finally, our principal and substantial reservation relates to clause 3, which deals with the boundary commission's work in relation to local government boundaries and contains at least one provision that we shall attempt to amend in Committee. The clause deals with the rules by which the commission's deliberations are guided. Rule 4 of the guidance note stipulates that counties and London boroughs are convenient units within which to conduct reviews. Rule 5 allows those boundaries to be ignored if, by respecting them, the commission would be forced to create constituencies with electorates which show what the rules describe as an excessive disparity from the normal numbers.

If clause 3(1), lines 30 and 31, are passed into law, the commission will be allowed to take into account boundaries which the Local Government Commission is no more than contemplating. For the boundary commission to base its work on what might be, but is not yet, a county or borough boundary will lead to much confusion. It also places the Local Government Commission in a wholly invidious position. In effect, the Local Government Commission would do its work in the knowledge that what it decided would, at least in part, determine constituency boundaries at the next general election. That is not Sir John Banham's proper role. Nor do I believe that it is one that he wants to occupy. The role would be dangerous for the Local Government Commission and for the boundary commission itself.

The size of the constituencies is at least to some degree determined by the size of the electorate. I hold the view that there are too many constituencies. That is a wholly personal view. I accept that it is not a popular one among Members who have spent years fighting to get here, have just arrived and, naturally, assume that if there were a reduction, they would be among those Members to fall by the wayside. If we are to retain a total of 651 Members, it is important that the commission should pay proper regard to the serious democratic problem of under-representation.

For a variety of reasons, despite the changes that have made late registration possible, electoral roles demonstrate an increasing failure of voters to register. The Home Secretary rather brushed aside a deficit of about 5 per cent., but 5 per cent. makes a substantial contribution to the result in most constituencies—although not in mine, I am happy to say, where it would have to be 10 times greater to affect the result which brought me here. In most constituencies 5 per cent. one way or the other on the electorate is the difference between success and failure for individual Members of Parliament. Indeed, 5 per cent. determines the Government of the country. In any event, all the evidence is that because of double registration the real shortfall is more like 7 or 8 per cent. than 5 per cent. The problem is particularly acute in the inner cities and on urban estates.

The boundary commission has a duty to take account of that effect when drawing up its recommendations. That is particularly important in the light of the certainty that massive registration campaigns will be held between now and the next general election—in effect, changing the size of some constituencies by 5 per cent. or more.

Those more or less technical observations having been made, I conclude as I began: I do not believe that my right hon. and hon. Friends should oppose the Bill. If it gives the Government any advantage—and that is by no means certain—they would obtain that advantage in another way which is less convenient to all the political parties fighting the next general election. Therefore, I am perfectly prepared to see the Bill receive its Second Reading. We shall look with great interest at the point to which I referred under clause 3. If clause 3 is not amended to avoid that strange complication of the Local Government Commission influencing the decision of the boundary commission, we shall have to reconsider the matter carefully on Third Reading.

Photo of Mr John Wheeler Mr John Wheeler , Westminster North 5:28 pm, 15th June 1992

I am glad to have this opportunity to make some brief remarks in support of the Bill. I shall touch upon some of the points made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). I agree with him that we should control the growth in the number of hon. Members in the House, and I shall refer to that later.

The question of parliamentary boundaries is extremely sensitive, first, because it directly impacts upon local traditions and allegiancies and, secondly, because it hangs the sword of Damocles over the heads of individual Members. As has been said, the Select Committee on Home Affairs considered the issue of the redistribution of seats in 1986–87. I shall base some of my remarks on that detailed inquiry.

Under our first-past-the-post system, it is essential to maintain the principle of parliamentary democracy by a regular review of the shifts in constituency populations. If the balance of seats in the House is to reflect the opinion of the country as a whole, the fact that constituency sizes vary from 101,784 electors to 23,073 must be a matter of concern. The principal point of the Bill is to require the boundary commissions to complete their work before the end of 1994 so that the general election in 1997 takes place on the basis of a more equitable distribution of seats. If there are any delays, it would be nearly 20 years since an impartial review of this issue.

The Select Committee's report was designed to stabilise the growth in the number of seats in the House. I take up what the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said about that. In this century, the number of seats has increased from 603 in the period from 1918 to 1935 to 651 in this Parliament. It is undesirable that the commissions should allow any further increase.

There are also considerable disparities in average electorates between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are obvious political difficulties in altering those disparities. They owe as much to the origin of the United Kingdom as to boundary commission rules. Rule 1 requires that Scotland shall have no fewer than 71 seats, and Wales no fewer than 35. But that leads to Scotland and Wales being over-represented, with average electors for each Member of Parliament being 54,171 and 58,382 respectively, as against nearly 70,000 for England.

I contend that it is inconsistent with the existence of the Union of the United Kingdom and our system of parliamentary democracy that the votes of electors in two of the constituent parts should, as a matter of course, carry greater weight than those of the electors in the remaining parts—England and Northern Ireland. That is the position under existing law and, as far as I can judge, that disparity is likely to continue. Therefore, I urge my right hon. and learned Friend to give careful consideration to that, because most people in the different parts of the United Kingdom are of mixed descent and I can see no validity for such disparities to continue.

Those differences cannot be justified be geographical considerations. As a matter of common sense, relatively isolated areas, such as Orkney, the Shetlands and the Western Isles, can be over-represented, but the exception cannot apply, in this age of modern communications, to the whole of Wales and Scotland. There is no moral justification why a vote cast in a Welsh constituency should be worth more than one cast in England or Northern Ireland or why a vote cast in Glasgow should be worth more than one cast in Manchester.

It is sometimes suggested that Scottish over-representation has as its basis the Act of Union 1707, when Scotland was allocated 45 Members in the enlarged Westminster Parliament. Incidentally, 45 is probably what the representation should be today, but it was agreed at a time when England and Wales had 513 Members of Parliament. That over-representation in Scotland cannot be justified on any basis and seriously distorts our system of parliamentary democracy.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

If my hon. Friend wants to take a purely political view, may I remind him that, in the 14 elections that have taken place since 1945, the Labour party has had a majority in England on only three occasions, including 1945?

Photo of Mr John Wheeler Mr John Wheeler , Westminster North

My hon. Friend makes a valid political point, but I have based my case on the value of votes in each constituency of the four parts of the United Kingdom. This issue should be considered on that basis.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South

If the hon. Gentleman's argument is logical, does he agree that the distribution in London, with London boroughs, which leads to some 40,000 voters in Twickenham and more than 100,000 in Hornsey and Wood Green, is equally obnoxious?

Photo of Mr John Wheeler Mr John Wheeler , Westminster North

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I was about to come to that point.

I also wish to mention clause 3 of the Government's narrowly defined Bill. If we are to achieve a better balance in the number of electors in each constituency, the commissioners will have to disregard local government boundaries. I think that that is the hon. Gentleman's point. It has been the practice not to cross boundaries of London boroughs and that has resulted in a less complicated relationship for London Members of Parliament, particularly as London has a single-tier system of local government, which serves it particularly well.

However, the time has come to adjust that policy. When doing so, the commission should have regard to making a London constituency as socially cohesive an entity as possible, with a similar consistency of population, social and economic status, as well as housing ownership. Nothing is worse than a constituency in an urban environment made up of populations of different social characteristics, one of which is in conflict with the other. Subject to that proviso, the question of the London borough boundaries as envisaged in clause 3 must be revisited.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I may have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. Is he saying that, by and large, the building blocks for constituencies should be socially and economically homogenous and should not contain the variety of experience and life that exists in this country? Is he saying that we should not have constituencies with extreme wealth at one end and deprivation and poverty at the other, so that the Member of Parliament representing the area can speak with one voice for the whole of his constituency, as demanded by our single-Member constituency arrangement?

Photo of Mr John Wheeler Mr John Wheeler , Westminster North

I am glad to have given way to the hon. Gentleman as I know that he takes an informed interest in this matter. He seems to have misunderstood the message that I sought to convey. In any urban constituency there is bound to be a great variety of life, with many differences between the citizens. The point that I was making was that a boundary commission, in establishing its urban and inner-city boundaries, should seek to do as much as it can to ensure the cohesiveness of constituencies and to ensure that the Member of Parliament is best able to represent the people who live in it. That is subtly different from what the hon. Gentleman was saying.

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West

I am a little mystified about what my hon. Friend described as cohesiveness. Surely as much geographical compactness as possible is the best criteria to follow. I wondered why he did not follow up the point made by the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), who suggested that Twickenham has an electorate of 40,000 when it is substantially more than that, and that Hornsey and Wood Green has a constituency of 100,000 when it is substantially less. Is not accuracy vital in this matter?

Photo of Mr John Wheeler Mr John Wheeler , Westminster North

Of course accuracy is vital when one establishes constituencies. If there is to be a change in the methodology of establishing London constituencies, the House has to consider the injustices that arise in the method used for establishing the constituencies in Scotland and Wales, which is the point to which I referred earlier.

I commend the introduction of the Bill and its narrow objective. I have touched on some of the issues that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency and which I believe to be essential for parliamentary democracy. I welcome the Government's initiative in introducing the Bill.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South 5:40 pm, 15th June 1992

I missed the London boroughs by one—I meant those of Hackney and of Kingston upon Thames. The figures published in the review in 1983 in The Times show the vast differences not only in the London area but in different parts of the county.

I have to declare an interest in this matter, because I was involved in the legal case in 1983 and I still practise as a barrister. The 1983 case, which went almost to the House of Lords, was that the boundary commission, which had begun its deliberations in the mid-1970s, had got it wrong because it used counties as skins and divided the constituencies into them, rounding up or rounding down depending on how it felt.

There was also a series of anomalies in the 1983 results that affect what happens in clause 3. Clause 3 makes matters far worse than they were in 1983 because, to put it bluntly, the situation is wide open to manipulation by anybody who knows what he is doing.

The object of the exercise must be, as the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) said, parity of value. We both served on the Select Committee on Home Affairs in 1986, and he knows my views on this matter as well as I know his. My view is that Scotland and Wales have particular problems. I voiced it in Committee then, and I stand by it today.

The hon. Gentleman may also recall the furore that broke out in 1986 when the threat was that the number of Scottish seats would be reduced from 72. It is obvious that, with areas such as the Orkneys, the Western Isles and the great empty spaces of central Scotland, it is necessary to have smaller electorates because there are physical limits to what a Member of Parliament can do.

Looking at some of these proposals, I wonder what the commission is up to this time. In the redistribution in Leicestershire, it has created a seat which appears to have no boundary and which is 50 miles long. That is ridiculous. The seats in Leicestershire can be redistributed, and I am certain that the agents of the Conservative party will be looking at that and briefing counsel to appear at the appropriate inquiry.

When one looks at clause 3, one has to ask: what is meant by "local government boundary"? Which boundaries are we talking about? Are we talking about the existing district and country boundaries or about the metropolitan boundaries? Are we on the rolling review programme that is getting rid of the metropolitan county of Avon? Are we talking about the proposed new county boundaries? That would create an enormous problem.

The city of Bristol might, for instance, be put in a new county rather than the Avon metropolitan district area on which the old boundaries were based. The constituencies might be redistributed so as to annex various rural areas which always alter the nature and quality of parliamentary seats—and which party has a better chance of winning them? That is not likely to happen in Birmingham, except on the borders—but what will become of Birmingham as a city? Will it go to Warwickshire or with part of Staffordshire? if the local government boundaries are taken to be the new county boundaries, that will dramatically affect the redistribution—but the Bill tells us nothing about that. No definition is offered.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said, lines 30 and 31 take on a whole new meaning. In Lancashire, Merseyside metropolitan county council is gone, replaced by five metropolitan districts. One of them, across the water in the Wirral, may return to Cheshire. What will happen to the others? Will they go back to Lancashire? Will the boundary commission keep Lancashire as redrawn, taking in part of Cumbria; or will the local government authorities of Sefton, St. Helens and Liverpool remain the relevant entities?

The Home Secretary will be well aware—he is a man who knows about these matters—that the split as between rural and urban areas can alter voting patterns in an area. Some examples thrown up in 1983 were disgraceful. On a whim, the boundary commission kept Cambridge as a single constituency but divided Oxford in two, annexing rural areas to it. We all know the result: three Conservative seats in 1983. Now the Oxford seats are divided one apiece between the parties.

Colchester offers another classic example. The town is an entity but, by dividing it in half and attaching parts of it to rural areas, north and south, two Conservative seats are created. One thinks of the divisions of Swindon, Reading and Plymouth. These matters can be arranged in all sorts of ways that do not serve democracy.

The hon. Member for Westminster, North made a telling point—that we should at least try to attain some cohesion. I have attended enough inquiries over the years to have heard the commission say more often than I care to remember that it has to bear in mind a community of interest. What on earth is meant by that? I can understand that a town or a part of a city has a community of interest; I can understand that a rural area may have one. But how is a community of interest to be maintained in Colchester if the town is divided in half? The same applies to Oxford. This a gerrymanderer's charter.

Along with other right hon. and hon. Members, as a lawyer I fought the last commission's hearings before the inspectors. We all know how it is done: people get together with the vicar and the local historical society and various other interest groups and parade witnesses who sound rather appealing and convincing. The commissioner, who has probably come from chambers in London to a place whose whereabouts he did not even know before he was given a map, listens judicially. Many commissioners are honest and honourable men, but if the numbers can be made to seem right, the desired decision can be obtained. I appeared at the Sheffield, St. Helens, West Yorkshire, Doncaster and Leicester inquiries, and I know that this can be done, but it does not really give us an honest result.

Photo of Mr John Carlisle Mr John Carlisle , Luton North

I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. I represent a town which was split in 1974 and again in 1983. Chunks of the rural area—that is the phrase the hon. Gentleman used—were added to my constituency purely on the basis of the numbers game. The hon. Gentleman forgets that the number of people in inner-urban and inner-city areas tends to diminish. My town was shedding people from its centre and had to take in rural areas. If it is any comfort to the hon. Gentleman, I can tell him that, under the new proposals, I shall lose 20,000 of my rural constituents, which will make my constituency a marginal seat again. However, I won it in 1979 with a majority of 246, and I have no fears about winning it again.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South

The hon. Gentleman makes my case. A community of interest must be defined, and we must try to make a seat reflect its area. No doubt the Home Secretary will be advised on how the inquiry will be conducted. That is perfectly proper, but he and many other hon. Members know exactly how such inquiries are conducted. The boundary commission is not consistent. As the Americans have proved, the tolerance in an electoral district is about 1 per cent. All the seats in Northamptonshire are Conservative, although there is a considerable Labour vote there. All seats but one in Liverpool are Labour, but there is a considerable Conservative vote in that area. Neither case can be justified.

If the Bill had been drawn a little wider, it would have provided an ideal opportunity for an electoral result that represented the votes cast. That cannot be obtained if the skin is drawn too tightly. The hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) knows that, shortly after the 1983 election, I asked the commissioner at a meeting in Oxford whether the county councils were the right skin. The Commission's proposals for Leicestershire and Devon stick to the county council areas. Will the use of the term "local government area" result in a dog's dinner at the end of the redistribution?

I understand that, although some metropolitan districts will return to the shires but will remain local authorities, the Government will allow the commission to take the greater area. That will mean that Lancashire may contain parts of Cumbria and certainly its seats. That is at least four metropolitan districts. If the area is taken in its entirety, constituencies will cross metropolitan districts. There is a precedent for that, because Tynebridge crosses the river and is within two metropolitan districts. In the 1983 case, the Court of Appeal said that that was an exception. When we said that that could have been done in London to make the distribution of the seats more even, we were told that it could not be done.

There is a risk that different sets of rules will apply. If London retains its borough boundaries for seats, the rounding-up and rounding-down effect will apply. That will mean that 2.6 seats will become three seats. But a rounding down occurred in London in 1983, from 2.49 seats to two seats. That led to two large seats and three small ones in adjacent boroughs, and that cannot be right or fair. If an area has a larger skin than a shire county or a London borough, a seat that is more equal than others in numbers of constituents will be created.

I am extremely worried about the size of electoral rolls in particular areas. I understand that the commissioners will use the 1991 return, and as we all know that is horrendously wrong. There are those who are not on the register—for various reasons, some people have failed to register. During the general election—I am sure that all hon. Members experienced this—we heard it said, "I am not on the register. What can I do about it?" If people are not on the register in April 1992, they will not be on it if we return to the October 1991 count.

I ask the Government to say that the boundary commissions should be told that they should take into account the known registration errors. In its own way, that will affect the size of parliamentary seats, their number and how they are distributed. In an urban area, for example, there may be 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. non-registration. That means that, when the register is brought up to date, the extra 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. will take the seat well outside the tolerance levels, as it were, before the other parts of the process even begin.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire

There is a set of figures that could be used to correct the under-registration of 1991, which was supplied to me in written answers on 6 and 11 February. The figures show the electoral registration in England and Wales, and are accompanied by comparative estimates of populations. The figures show that there is a shortfall in each district. Such figures are also available for Scotland on the basis of parliamentary constituencies, and in each constituency there is a shortfall: in one constituency it is about 5,000. The figures are slightly excessive because they include some overseas visitors, but in general they point more to those who should be on the register than to those who were actually on it.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He has underlined the point that I was trying to stress. If the real number of electors is 5,000 more than the number which is shown on the electoral returns, the seat may still be within the guideline of 67,000 or 68,000. That means that it would not be necessary to alter the boundaries of the seat. On the other hand, the real figure may take the number of electors way above the constituency norm, and it may be necessary to move a ward from that seat into an adjacent seat.

I understand the political implications of these matters, but if we are to start on the basis of fairness and equality of numbers, which should be the commissions' primary concern, we must do the proper ground work and get it right, which means having electoral registers that are up to date and reflect the true electorate in particular areas. If the commissions begin their deliberations with inaccurate registers, that will be a recipe for disaster. As I have said, until someone defines for me what is meant by "local government boundary", I shall not rest easy in my bed.

Photo of Mr Rod Richards Mr Rod Richards , Clwyd North West 5:59 pm, 15th June 1992

I am grateful for the opportunity to deliver my maiden speech. In keeping with the tradition of the House, I shall commence by paying tribute to my predecessor, Sir Anthony Meyer, a tribute which I am sure will be fully endorsed by my constituents.

Sir Anthony first entered the House after the 1964 general election as the Member for Eton and Slough. When he made his maiden speech on 10 November 1964 he spoke of his predecessor, Mr. Fenner Brockway, in a manner which uncannily is a fitting tribute to Sir Anthony himself following his retirement from the House about 28 years later. He said: I know that Mr. Brockway was not always an uncontroversial figure, but I assure hon. Members that in Eton and Slough he was widely loved, loved not only for the way in which he spent himself for his constituents but also because, over and above being a great constituency Member, he was a citizen of the world, not always a very orderly citizen and sometimes perhaps rather unwise, but always conscious of his duty to humanity at large and to suffering humanity in particular." [Official Report, 10 November 1964; Vol. 701, c. 889.] Sir Anthony's sense of duty to suffering humanity was never more apparent than during the floods that devastated Towyn and Kinmel Bay two years ago, when thousands of people were driven from their homes by the raging sea. Sir Anthony and Lady Barbadee were in the sea physically helping to rescue the many elderly and disabled people who live in that area, as well as helping the very young. Sir Anthony's commitment to the well-being of those unfortunate people in the aftermath of the flood was no less equally total. As a constituency member, Sir Anthony Meyer was a model example.

Having mentioned the disaster that befell many of my constituents, I wish to place on record my admiration for the local authorities, the police, the rescue services, the voluntary organisations, the Welsh Office and its agencies, British Rail and the many individuals who have contributed to restoring the devastated area and to returning life to normality for the residents of Towyn and Kinmel Bay.

Clwyd, North-West is a small coastal constituency which stretches from Rhyl in the east through Abergele to Colwyn Bay and to Rhos-on-Sea and beyond. Although those popular tourist centres are the mainstay of the local economy, the small cathedral city of St. Asaph and Rhuddlan, with its Norman castle, are also key attractions for visitors.

It is worth noting that a significantly higher proportion of the people of Clwyd, North-West are of pensionable age—some 28 per cent., compared with an average of about 18 per cent. in the remainder of Wales. It goes without saying that people get wiser as they get older, which helps to explain why Clwyd, North-West is the safest Conservative seat in Wales—and in the context of this speech, long may it stay that way.

During the 1980s, the people of the county of Clwyd took full advantage of the opportunities presented by Conservative policies and they are now well placed to build on those opportunities during this decade. The decline of traditional industries and their trade unions in north-east Wales has been matched by the flowering of new industries with new technologies and new ideas. It has been a transformation, which has also been seen elsewhere in Wales. Economic benefits have no boundaries and, unlike the Labour party, we recognise the industrial revolution for what it is—a continuous process of change, innovation, new technology and the adaptiveness of working people. In the national health service, the people of Clwyd are poised to benefit from the groundwork of the 1980s. Many general practitioner practices are already fund holders and Glan Clwyd district general hospital has already applied to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales for NHS trust status. In education, the constituency's schools are already reaping the benefits of the local management of schools and there are strong signs that some will apply for grant-maintained status.

I said earlier that my predecessor, Sir Anthony Meyer, first entered the House in 1964 as the Member for Eton and Slough. He lost the seat in 1966, but returned to the House in 1970 as the Member for Flint, West. In 1983, the boundary commission recommended that the coastal wards of the Colwyn borough, previously within the Denbigh county constituency, together with the boroughs of Rhuddlan and Rhyl—previously part of West Flintshire—should be included in the new constituency of Clwyd, North-West. Those proposals left the constituency with a 1981 electorate of slightly more than 61,500. The separation of Rhyl from nearby Prestatyn was regarded as less than satisfactory, but the commissioners argued that to have included Prestatyn within Clwyd, North-West would have led to an imbalance in the electorates of the remaining Clwyd seats. The position in 1992 is that Clwyd, North-West has an electorate of 67,350, about 9,000 more than the electoral quota.

As the House is aware, on 3 March my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales announced proposals for fundamental changes to Welsh local government that will have a bearing on the report of the Boundary Commission for Wales. My right hon. Friend's proposal was to replace the present eight county councils and 37 district councils with 23 unitary authorities, which will be responsible for almost all local government services. I want to say how much I welcome my right hon. Friend's bold and imaginative initiative, following the constructive and positive approach of Welsh local authority associations. I want also to say how welcome is the extended period of consultation that my right hon. Friend has given to local authorities in this matter. The removal of one tier of local authority bureaucracy, unclear responsibility and anaemic accountability will be welcomed throughout the land.

Equally welcome is my right hon. Friend's rejection of demands by the opposition parties for an Assembly in Wales. On the one hand, the Welsh nationalists would have an Assembly to be used as a stepping stone to full independence. On the other, the Labour party—cynically—would have an assembly to be a talking shop for their new army of redundant councillors. The Liberal democrat is the usual muddle in the middle.

The people of Wales are no more persuaded by those demands, transparently motivated by political self-interest, than they were in 1979 when similar proposals by the then Labour Government were overwhelmingly rejected in a referendum.

The full extent of the great reforms of the 1980s relating to trade unions, education and health will, I believe, become more and more apparent during the 1990s. They are already in place, so time will tell. The reform of local government will have equally profound and beneficial consequences towards the end of the century and beyond. Getting local bureaucracy off the backs of the people will be justly rewarded by a grateful electorate.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland 6:08 pm, 15th June 1992

It is both a privilege and a genuine pleasure to follow the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards). He paid felicitous tributes to his predecessor, Sir Anthony Meyer, who is well remembered in this House and whose independence was always admired. His will indeed be a hard act for the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West to follow. Controversy of a party nature was not introduced into his maiden speech, and he has left the House in no doubt that he is likely to be less rebellious and to give less anxiety to the Patronage Secretary than did his predecessor. That in no way vitiates what was an admirable speech. The hon. Gentleman described in graphic terms some of the problems and achievements of those who live in his very beautiful constituency. I hope that he will have many opportunities to grace these debates and to bring his own angle of vision to bear upon them.

The Second Reading of the Bill follows hard on the heels of the general election. General elections throw up much evidence of what is wrong with our electoral system. That upon which the Bill focuses is perhaps less in the minds of many members of the public than other features of the recent election, which they might reasonably look to Parliament to legislate on while the memory is fresh. Many will regard the decline in the number of those on the electoral register as a matter not to be passed over as lightly as the Home Secretary passed over it in his speech. When he dealt with that question, he showed a complacency that bordered on the partisan. I hope that the Government will not sit back and just accept the under-registration of the electorate which so distorts the ultimate outcome.

During the recent election, many other matters of administration gave rise to comment upon which we might have expected there to be legislation, or at least some clarification. For example, there is confusion about the polling card. I found that many of my electors believed that it was necessary to carry the card with them to the polling station in order to cast their vote. At least an active campaign—if not legislation—to make clear the purpose of the polling card is necessary, if that confusion is to be avoided.

Matters that affect the postal vote might be regarded as having at least as high a priority as the matters contained in the Bill. The Home Secretary spoke of the greater mobility of the British public. That affects people and their place of residence not just when it comes to the work of the boundary commissions, but from day to day, from week to week, from month to month. It should be much easier to obtain a postal vote. Legislation may be required to ensure that application forms for postal votes are easily obtainable within just a few days of the announcement of a general election. Like the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), I did not expect the Government to introduce a fundamental constitutional Bill. Most certainly the Bill is not that. I did not think that they would address the easiest way to deal with the disparity in the value of a vote.

The example given by the Home Secretary was that the vote of a voter in Peterborough was half the value of a vote in Kensington. I do not expect the Home Secretary to address that question by introducing a system of proportional representation. That would be a fundamental reform. However, I regret the fact that the Home Secretary has not even considered entering into discussions with other political parties about the issue. I believe that at a stroke it would eliminate most of the problems that the Bill is designed to correct. We should not have what is becoming an increasingly unsatisfactory system of boundary determination which, however this House tinkers with it from time to time, will continue to produce distortions.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire

Proportional representation advocates the principle of one person, one vote, one value. The problem is that not everybody has one vote. Before we consider the question of one person, one vote, one value, would it not be logical to get the electoral register right? Even under proportional representation, the electoral register can result in distortion. PR could lead to distorted results in a referendum. If, for example, the Danes had had a different electoral register, the result could have been different.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

The hon. Gentleman knows that that was my first point: that there is a serious deficiency in the electoral register and that the Government ought to introduce proposals to deal with it.

To return to the wider question of electoral reform, however much we tinker with the present system there will continue to be great disparities. For over a quarter of a century I have represented a constituency with a third as many electors as those in some of the larger constituencies. I am naturally extremely conscious of that discrepancy, although I have no doubt that under any system of election there will be difficulties over the problems caused by sparsity of population, such as those that prevail in the highlands and islands of Scotland.

My constituency extends over some 2,800 square miles, with not the best of communications. The hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, spoke of the desirability of equalisation and of modern communications overcoming these problems. He ought to travel around some of the remoter parts of the British isles before he comes up with pronunciamentos such as that.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

I endorse entirely what the hon. Gentleman says, particularly about geographical disparity. Does he join me in welcoming the fact that when this matter was raised at the last Scottish Question Time the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), who knows something about the geography and other considerations, took an entirely different view from that espoused by the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler)?

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

Yes, that is fair. So, indeed, did the Home Secretary. I think that the Home Secretary found that there was a certain restiveness on the Back Benches while he gave the reasons for retaining the status quo vis-a-vis Scotland and Wales in their relationship to England. I do not go so far as the Home Secretary. If we moved towards a federal system of government, there could, in my view, be a more equal relationship between the value of the vote cast in Scotland for the federal Parliament and the value of the vote cast in England. I commend the Liberal Democrat party's proposals, which were described by the former Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. George Younger, as the most logical and coherent of the proposals that had been put forward for the improvement of the government of Scotland.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans , Ribble Valley

Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House why the Liberal Democrats did so appallingly badly at the last election? Was the reason for the poor result the Liberal Democrat party's support for proportional representation, or its support of federalism, or both?

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

I quarrel with the hon. Gentleman's premise. The Liberal Democrats in Scotland returned to the House with nine Members, which was not far short of the Government's number. A degree of modesty about the Conservative party's achievements in Scotland is certainly in order.

The reality is that the Bill has been introduced in an unceremonious and ill-considered fashion. I interrupted the Home Secretary, who was kind enough to give way in his usual manner, to ask him what consultation he had had with the chairman of the boundary commission who is, as a matter of fact, Madam Speaker. He replied that he had notified her of the Government's intentions.

It is an unsatisfactory arrangement that the chairman of the boundary commission should be merely notified of the Government's intentions. However courteous such a notification may be, it smacks of pure formality. I believe that the chairman of the boundary commission should have a more than formal role, especially as the chairman of the boundary commission is also Madam Speaker. By her presence as chairman of the boundary commission she in some way symbolises the very independence of the commissions.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I disagree with that point. The fact that the Speaker of the House is the chair of the boundary commission prevents hon. Members from criticising the boundary commission in a serious and hard-headed way, simply because it may be misconstrued as an attack on the Speaker. The fact is that the Speaker plays no role in the commission and does not attend the meetings. I believe that the Speaker should have no role and should not be the chair of the boundary commission. The boundary commission should be up front with a positive role. If it did things with which the House disagreed, we should not then be prevented from complaining about it.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman, nor he with me. I am speaking about what I believe the presence of Madam Speaker as chairman conveys emblematically. It conveys a sense of the independence and of the irreproachability of the commissions. Like the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that the appointment is desirable. Those bodies should be at arm's length from the House, although also open to scrutiny and cross-examination by the House before the House decides whether to accept or reject the boundary commissions' recommendations. The hon. Gentleman and I are not alone in that view.

The Hansard Society for Parliamentary Government produced a report last year which was commended by Sir Barney Hayhoe, whose elevation to another place has been noticed, as worthy of considerable and careful study by all interested in parliamentary matters. The 1991 report on election campaigns was chaired by Sir Christopher Chataway, who also recommended that the Speaker's connection with the boundary commissions should be severed for, I believe, good and sufficient reasons.

The point about consultation with the Speaker may not have been calculated to embarrass the Speaker, but there is an inherent and unattractive consequence of the failure to consult. In introducing the Bill at this time, without any serious consultation, the Government have put themselves in the position of appearing to be partisan. In such a matter in which, to quote the words of the Hansard Society report, Under the so-called 'First Past the Post' electoral system the drawing of constituency boundaries can have a very significant effect on party fortunes", it should not be left to individual parties to proceed in this way. Nor is it sensible to do as the Government have done, which is to introduce a Bill which deals only with the question of timing and not with the other anomalies and difficulties faced by the boundary commissions.

The Boundary Commission for England produced a report last year in which it drew on its experience to draw attention to the problems that it saw. There was nothing in the Home Secretary's speech, nor is there any provision in the Bill, to tackle the problems that the Boundary Commission for England has identified. The two principal problems it highlighted are the problem of popular participation in the boundary commissions' work arid the problem of conformity of decisions between different parts of the country.

On the latter point, we might have expected to hear how the Government viewed the 1983 Court of Appeal decision in the case referred to by the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham). In the case the Labour party sought judicial review of a number of decisions by the boundary commission and of the way in which it conducted its role. It did so because it believed that the boundary commission was giving undue weight to one of the rules in the existing legislation which required it to operate within county boundaries or, in the case of London, within borough boundaries which it would be extremely difficult to ignore.

I do not think that the law, as expressed in the Court of Appeal case and as consolidated in the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, is satisfactory. I remind the Minister what the Master of the Rolls, Lord Donaldson, said in that case. It is clear in our judgment … of these matters that although they may all be properly regarded as interlocking"— that is, the five criteria set out in schedule 2 to the 1986 Act— the requirement in rule 4 that 'so far as is practicable' constituencies shall not cross county or London borough boundaries must be regarded as taking precedence over the requirement in rule 5 concerning the size of the electorate in each constituency". In establishing the case for seeking a redrawing of boundaries, some attention should be paid to the priority to be given in law to the requirement to conform with what the hon. Member for St. Helens, South described as "the skin" of the county boundaries. I should have thought that the greater desideratum is to seek to give greater equality to the value of the vote, although I repeat that I do not believe that that will be achieved without an alteration in our electoral system which will introduce a system of fair voting.

The Bill is exceedingly important and it may create acute difficulties for the Boundary Commission in Scotland, and probably in England, because of the proposed reforms of local government and because of the provisions of clause 3, which draw attention to the fact that the boundary commission will have to pay attention to local authority boundaries at a time when they are not merely fluid, but wholly uncertain.

Indeed, the approach of the Secretary of State for Scotland has not been spelt out beyond an adherence to a very broad view that there should be single-tier authorities. I do not know whether he means that in the highlands and islands of Scotland we should have a single Highland region with no tiers below it, or whether we are to have some new authorities based on districts.

If we are to have a single-tier authority in the highlands covering approximately half the land mass of Scotland, the boundary commission will not be greatly assisted by reference to local government boundaries when deciding how to allocate populations to parliamentary constituencies in future. That is an example of the difficulties and uncertainties that face the boundary commissions which make it inappropriate to proceed as the Government suggest.

I accept what seems to be common ground between the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and the Home Secretary that the widening disparities in populations of constituencies should be tackled before the next election. However, it should not be tackled in the way suggested in the Bill. It should not have been tackled by the Government introducing a Bill on a matter of considerable constitutional importance without consultation, discussion or external advice and simply, apparently, to satisfy their own urgent desires to secure their position.

I cannot accept what the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said about the probability that the Bill will make no difference. That is part of the right hon. Gentleman's well-known optimism in respect of the fact that Labour will form the next Government whenever the election is held and whatever boundaries may be decided. That is a misconception. The Bill is partisan and the way in which it has been introduced is enough proof for citizens of objectivity who are concerned about such matters. I hope that the Government will take the Bill away, reconsider it, discuss it with other political parties and then bring back a better Bill.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset 6:31 pm, 15th June 1992

Before considering the Bill specifically, I wish to refer to the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) and to echo some of the comments of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) about my hon. Friend's predecessor, Sir Anthony Meyer. I hope that I can do that with the full weight of my 83,000 constituents and not belittle the 31,000 constituents of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland who so eloquently placed on the record his views of Sir Anthony Meyer.

My new colleague the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West will, in his parliamentary career, miss the charm and friendliness expressed by Sir Anthony, particularly in the way in which he treated new Members of Parliament. As a new Member five years ago, I well remember the charm and help that Sir Anthony showed me. I wish to place that on record and the fact that he did wonderful work for his constituents and for the Franco-British group, of which he was chairman for many years, building up a relationship between this Parliament and the French Parliament.

Sir Anthony and I shared problems with sea defences. The pictures of flooding which were so graphically shown on television enabled many of us who had concerns about our sea defences to alert the Government, who have changed their thinking a great deal in respect of sea defences in the past few years. Sir Anthony Meyer was the key in that he concentrated people's minds on the issue.

Our new colleague, the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West was previously a broadcaster with the BBC. There will be great rejoicing in heaven that one of the sinners has repented. We can certainly do with a few poachers turned gamekeepers on the Conservative Benches. I welcome him and his excellent maiden speech, which I am sure is the first of many speeches that he will make in the House over the years.

Before coming to this place, many people are unsure about the animosity across the Chamber. They are uncertain whether it is real or feigned. As the Leader of the Opposition and his deputy had spent so long slaving away to achieve a position in which they would be able to table their own legislation, it was rumoured that the Government might be kind enough, in this new Parliament, to introduce a Bill more of less in their honour, embodying the kind of socialist principles that we knew they would want to stand for: equality, fairness, job creation, minimum wages and more public spending. When one considers the Bill, one has to admit that the Home Office has come up with the right Bill to encompass such wonderful legislation and thus put that fairness into practice.

We must therefore wonder why the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was so curmudgeonly in his greeting for the Bill. I wonder whether Labour will want to force a Division at the end of the debate. Conservative Members believed that the Labour party still stood for those socialist principles of years ago, but I am afraid that we got it completely wrong. The Labour party no longer stands for fairness, equality or job creation, although it perhaps still stands for minimum wages and more public spending.

I wonder whether that may be a slight reflection on the fact that there are shortly to be elections to the shadow Cabinet and for the Labour party leadership and deputy leadership. One of the candidates, the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), has said that he believes that previous elections to the shadow Cabinet involved some gerrymandering and fiddling. The House must be grateful that he made that public and brought it to our attention, although one wonders why he did not blow the whistle when he did so well in those elections rather than leaving it till now. Perhaps he believes that the system is not going to work this time.

Conservative Members believe in fair elections. During the Whitsun recess I visited the Manchester industrial museum. I recommend that people should visit that museum. Yesterday I found in my pocket a piece of paper which I had obviously picked up in that excellent museum. That piece of paper recorded one of the most important things to happen in our political history. It carried the six points of the people's charter produced in 1838 by the Chartists, who were instrumental in pushing the modern Conservative party and eventually the Labour party into parties of mass movement.

The Chartists' fifth condition was well written and is as pertinent today as it was in 1838. It seeks: 5 EQUAL CONSTITUENCIES, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of larger ones.

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West

In commending that principle, I hope that my hon. Friend will not go along with the other principles. I doubt whether many of us would be in favour of annual Parliaments, although we might be more sympathetic to the idea of having three acres and a cow.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

My hon. Friend assumes that I do not have political amnesia. As in all good political speeches, one refers only to those parts which help one's argument. One does not confuse the mind of the listener. I do not believe that we need annual Parliaments, about which the Chartists state: thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation since though a constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot) no purse could buy a constituency under a system of universal suffrage in each ensuing twelvemonth: and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituencies as now. I am not sure whether that holds for elections to the Labour shadow Cabinet.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire

If the hon. Gentleman looks at his leaflet, he will see that the three acres and a cow have nothing to do with the six points of the charter that were associated with the ideas propounded by Feargus O'Connor, who was a Chartist leader. The six points of the charter, including annual elections, are all about arrangements for this House and for electoral arrangements. Five of the six are in place in one form or another.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. Before the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) continues, the relevance of his previous points is becoming increasingly obscure to me.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. As you can see, I am being led down a path that I was not trying to follow. I was about to make a point about my constituency of South Dorset. Before the Reform Act 1832, my constituency was represented by no fewer than 10 Members of Parliament. Many people realise that I often do the work of 10 men, but I wish that I were paid to do the job of 10 men. We in South Dorset believe in the fairness of the system. In giving up nine of our previous seats, we believed that we should ensure that equality of size of constituency is maintained.

We in South Dorset, along with people in other constituencies, hate the thought of change. I certainly hate the thought of having to lose 20,000 or so constituents who have been loyal and kind to me over the years. The boundary commission, which is to sit in Dorchester on Tuesday and Wednesday, will consider all the counterclaims and try to get the best balance so that there is symmetry between the areas which could be amalgamated to give rise to the eighth Dorset constituency recommended by the Parliamentary Boundary Commission.

The Bill is absolutely right. We must have the changes in place in plenty of time for an election in 1996 or 1997. At the beginning of 1995, people will be able to set up a new association in Dorset, select a candidate and do all the necessary things, including much fundraising. That will have to happen in all the constituencies that are changed. I do not like to lose people, but we shall disfranchise people unless we make adjustments. If adjustments are to be made, it is best to make them quickly. That is what the Bill would do.

Many hon. Members have mentioned the strange idea that, within the United Kingdom Parliament, there should be the same general rules for selecting the size of constituencies but that those rules should be circumvented on a national basis for Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England, with a different number of people per constituency in each case.

Figures have already been provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), but the most striking figure is the difference between 54,000 per constituency in Scotland and more than 69,000 per constituency in England. In effect, four Scotsmen from an average-sized Scottish constituency moving to an average-sized English constituency would end up with only three votes. That is often turned the other way round, but why disfranchise Scotsmen or Welshmen who come to live in England? As I have a geographical affinity with both countries, perhaps I should have an extra third of a vote.

We should settle the matter now. One way of doing that would be to amalgamate the four boundary commissions into one and then divide the total population by 651—or even 650, to go back to the figure before the additional seat was recently created—and consider perhaps 65,000 constituents per seat.

The point has been made that we have to have special rules for very sparsely populated areas, and I fully agree, but those special rules could be applied on a United Kingdom basis. For places such as the Western Isles with 23,000 constituents, it would be easier to spread the additional number of constituents to be absorbed throughout the whole of the United Kingdom rather than just in Scotland. My namesake, the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) already has to look after 80,000 constituents in Scotland. If we are to look after constituents in the Western Isles and in the Caithnesses and Sunderlands of this world, taking account of sparse populations, the burden should be spread over the whole of the United Kingdom. With a United Kingdom Parliament, there is no need for an artificial barrier which separates out the different countries.

This is a good Bill as far as it goes, and the House should support it. I should be extremely surprised if the Labour party divided the House on the issue. The matter should be for the good sense, good judgment and honour of all Members of Parliament. We can rely on the boundary commission, as we have done previously, to do its job well, and this additional legislation will help it to do just that.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire 6:46 pm, 15th June 1992

All English Members have received a newsletter from the Boundary Commission for England stating that the general review of boundaries is intended to be produced by mid-1995. Clause 2 states that that should be done by the end of 1994, merely bringing the measure six months forward. It then allows that, even if that is not done by that date, it is not statutory: no action can then be taken for failure to produce the review at that time.

It is a peculiar measure which tries to gee up the work of the boundary commission when that could be done by other techniques—for instance, clause 1 allows extra resources, and also the Government could merely encourage that activity. Why do we have that date, just six months earlier? It looks as though everything would be okay under the previous arrangements, and there would still be time to act. Perhaps the commission would have come forward with reports prior to mid-1995. That allows a suspicion to arise in people's minds about what is taking place.

One of the greatest defects in the measure is that the 1991 electoral register will determine the quotas and will decide what is to be done within a certain county in relation to the numbers to be divided up. Massive numbers of people are missing from the electoral register. Before 1987, the electoral register was not unproblematic—there were many errors in it. Many ineligible people were included and others who were eligible were not included. In a rough and ready way, it always balanced out the errors. A report by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys in 1981 showed that there were sets of compensating errors of about 7 per cent. in the register. By the end of its life a typical register was already about 16 per cent. out. So there were problems.

But there were not great problems with boundary reviews. As there were sets of compensating errors and the total figures were more or less correct for individual areas, we did not have great problems in working out quotas and deciding how many parliamentary seats there should be in a shire seat.

However, the electoral register was hit from 1987 onwards, coinciding with the introduction of the poll tax. The problem occurred first in Scotland and then moved to England and Wales. There was no problem of a lack of numbers in Northern Ireland, the difference being that Northern Ireland never had a poll tax: it never had two sets of registers which interfered with each other and affected the registration of certain groups of people.

The shortfall between the numbers on the registers and the estimated population is not evenly distributed throughout the United Kingdom. If they were evenly distributed, the quotas might work and things might be reasonably okay in some rough and ready sense, but there is a serious maldistribution of the missing people.

We heard the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) this evening. The figures for Clwyd seem reasonable. They are probably as good as those for any other county area in England, Wales or Scotland, but in other areas the figures are serious. There are many shortages in the London area. Usually in large conurbations the numbers problem is considerable.

I referred in an intervention to a parliamentary answer which spelled out the problems. First, on 6 February, between columns 293 and 296 of Hansard, I was given the figures for Scotland. There is a shortfall of 140,000 between the estimated population and the number of people on the register. The figures are divided into district areas and parliamentary constituencies. Each of the parliamentary constituencies shows a shortfall between its electorate and the relevant population figure. In eight constituencies, the shortfall is 3,000 or more. In two constituencies, it is 4,000. In Strathkelvin and Bearsden, 5,000 people are missing, and in Midlothian and Perth and Kinross, 4,000 people are missing. That is a serious factor which needs to be corrected.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield

I was born and brought up in Strathkelvin, and my family stay there. It is one of the growth areas of west central Scotland. One cannot move for new housing. The area is developing from a former mining area into a commuter area for Glasgow. It is astonishing that the figures show a serious drop in the electorate when, in population terms, Strathkelvin is a growth area. It is one area of Scotland where, even now, growth is continuing, to the detriment of the green belt. One cannot travel from Glasgow all the way through to Cumbernauld and Strathkelvin because of the build-up of population and development in the area.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire

I thank my hon. Friend. I must make the point clear. I am talking about the difference between the number of people on the electoral register and the number of people entitled to be on it. It is possible that the electorate in Strathkelvin has grown. Part of the hidden problem is that we often do not see the shortfall in electoral registration because we see the electorate growing in various areas. However, the population on the register might not grow by anything like as much as it should.

The problem in Strathkelvin might be exactly that new people are moving in and the arrangements do not allow registration to take place quickly enough to include the new people. Yet the people who move in are entitled to be on the electoral register in future and should be taken into account in determining the boundaries.

So we know where the problems are in Scotland, because the Scottish Office is kind enough to provide the statistics. For England and Wales, I received a written answer from the Department of Health. Even though the Home Office has responsibility for ensuring that electoral registration takes place, the Department of Health collects the figures. The answer in columns 473 to 480 of Hansard of 11 February shows that the shortfall for England is 1,750,000—a massive disparity. Areas such as Barnet, which is represented by four constituencies, show a shortfall of 34,000. Other shortfalls are: Brent 26,000; Camden 30,000; Ealing 43,000; Islington 29,000. Cities such as Manchester have a shortfall of 35,000. Birmingham has 31,000 missing, and Bradford has 33,000.

In some areas, such as Clwyd, there is not a great problem, but in other areas there is a serious problem and there will be a considerable maldistribution if we plough ahead with the current arrangements and those proposed in the Bill. To prevent that maldistribution, we could decide to act on the estimated relevant population figures rather than the figures for those who are on corrupt registers; or we could take emergency action to get the electoral registers right. If we got the electoral registration figures right, we could complete the exercise.

I accept the principle that we should have equal electoral districts. I grant that there are some extra problems in Scotland, but I support the general principle that electoral districts should be of equal size as far as possible. I want us to move towards that as soon as possible, but we must do it on the correct information. Otherwise, considerable injustices will be created within the electoral system.

The evidence that the electoral register is in such a bad way is produced by the OPCS. It published an article in issue 64 of "Population Trends" in summer 1991, which showed the disappearance of the electorate which, as I said, tied in with the introduction of the poll tax. Furthermore, the greatest percentage of people missing from the electoral register is among attainers—the people who are about to be placed on the register for the first time. Presumably it began to be understood that it was less easy to discover such people if they did not appear on the electoral register, and therefore the poll tax register. They could not be found on any previous register.

There is no problem with the percentage of attainers on the register in Northern Ireland. Registration of attainers is probably healthier than ever in Northern Ireland. Perhaps the political parties in Northern Ireland do a great deal to encourage electoral registration. Unfortunately, such encouragement has fallen by the wayside in England, Scotland and Wales.

At one time, when the Labour party was emerging, people were engaged to a considerable extent in encouraging registration. They believed that their way forward was to ensure that electoral registration took place. Seats would surely flow from ensuring that all the voters in an area were registered. We need to put the electoral register right.

The Home Office is currently involved in discussions that could lead to a solution. According to a parliamentary answer that I was given, the circumstances surrounding the general election are being investigated, including the state of the electoral register. Representations have been made by political parties and other interests, and by about October a report may have emerged. The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys is also conducting an investigation, and we shall gain some valuable information as a result.

The Bill should be put on hold until we have secured the information that will allow us to establish equal electoral districts very rapidly. We cannot do that, however, on the basis of a large quantity of information that is invalid and incorrect, and electoral registers that were corrupt at the time of the election. Owing to the poll tax factor, about 1.5 million people were missing from the registers. If we assume that that figure represents an anti-Tory cohort, we can also assume that, if the names had not been missing, there would have been a hung Parliament.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson, Shadow Spokesperson

I take my hon. Friend's point about the inaccuracy of the registers: we feel strongly about that in London. I challenge him on another point, however. I may have misunderstood him, but he seemed to say that the people who are missing from the registers had failed to register because of the poll tax. That applies to a certain percentage of the population, but in my borough, for instance, more names appeared on the poll tax register than on the electoral register.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire

Under the poll tax legislation, it was possible to transfer people from the poll tax register to the electoral register. During the legislation's Committee stage, the Opposition moved that that should be obligatory—that people should be transferred automatically, thus adding to the number on the electoral register. As it was not obligatory, transferral was happening in some areas and not in others. A number of lists and provisions are used for poll tax registration purposes; it might be much more legitimate to use them for electoral registration purposes.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield

Is there not a case for a completely new electoral census? The Bill does not contain a clause that would provide local authorities with the resources to maintain and develop the register, or a clause to ensure that, wherever an electoral registration officer operates, he is equipped with a clear set of guidelines to enable him to carry out his duties appropriately. My area has a good electoral registration system, but in many areas electoral registration is not given the necessary priority. It is therefore impossible for the boundary commission to deal with information that is up to date and factually correct, and many seats may be lost because of the poor condition of the register. That has nothing to do with the poll tax; it is due to the system, and the lack of resources with which to maintain it.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire

I agree that the poll tax is not the only problem. There are many long-term problems. The current extent of mobility in society is causing increasing difficulties, and hosts of people feel that they are no longer part of that society. Action must be taken to encourage them to register and exercise their rights. Much needs to be done to ensure that we have proper, equal electoral districts.

I hope that the Home Office will move in that direction. I have therefore introduced a private Member's Bill, which will be dealt with on 12 February. The Bill seeks the establishment of a rolling register, allowing additions and deductions to be made to keep the register up to date. It confers extra powers and duties on electoral registration officers, which I hope will lead to the provision of the money that they need. It also encourages the mounting of advertising campaigns to persuade people to register.

Let us consider the amount that the Government spend on advertising privatisations, fancy employment schemes such as youth training and the like. There is a vast disparity between that amount and the amount that they spend on electoral registration. In one year, under the previous Conservative Government, expenditure on national publicity for electoral registration amounted to about 0.32 per cent. of total expenditure. It fell far short of the amount being spent overseas to encourage expatriate voters to register.

A massive educational job needs to be done to encourage registration. When the necessary facilities have been provided, we shall be in a much better position to bring about equal electoral districts. We may be able to move forward on two fronts at once, especially if the Government give signs of willingness to think along the lines that I have suggested.

There is a further problem, however. Clause 3 provides a link between the local government and parliamentary boundary reviews. It gives the data by which action will be taken if the local government reviews have been completed; it may be necessary for the parliamentary boundary commission to take the knock-on consequences into account. According to the guidance notes on local government boundaries, produced by the Department of the Environment, the parliamentary boundary commission is one of the bodies that must be consulted. Information must be carried between the two bodies.

What worries me is the fact that some of the first tranche of shire authorities that are to be considered for local government boundary review are not included in the tranches that have so far been considered for parliamentary boundary review. They will be considered at the end of the procedure, and in the case of those at the back of the queue for parliamentary review, account will have to be taken of the local government boundary reviews that may have been agreed earlier. That will lead to the danger of a political stitch-up. The two systems should be separated.

We are moving forward in terms of local government reform. Dates have been named by which we must accept the boundaries. Some people will be stuck with the boundaries as they are now, while others will be involved in changing circumstances. The two elements do not fit together, and they are wide open to abuse—not abuse by manipulative local government or parliamentary boundary commissioners, but abuse by those who are laying down the parameters within which they should act. The game is being fixed by the Government.

We must watch the Bill very closely. It is not the innocuous measure that the Secretary of State initially presented; it is a measure of great significance for the future of political democracy. Unless satisfactory answers can be given to the questions that I have raised—I do not believe that they can—we should vote against it.

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West 7:08 pm, 15th June 1992

I listened with some interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). He had it right when he said that the consequences of a boundary commission review are not always easy to predict either for politicians or the boundary commission.

I have good reason to be grateful to the parliamentary boundary commission, as my predecessor in West Hertfordshire, or Hemel Hempstead as it was then called, now my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lye11), decided to go to another constituency, leaving West Hertfordshire vacant and therefore enabling me to enter the House. Certainly my experience has been that it is a nice constituency to represent, with a good solid Conservative majority.

The work of the boundary commission is not easy. In tackling the problems of where to draw constituency boundaries, it has real difficulties of geographical spread. In addition, it must reach decisions on areas where the entitlement is not for eight or nine seats—some whole number—but for some number in between. I am fortunate to have rather more electors than there are supposed to be in a parliamentary constituency. Nevertheless, all of us approach a boundary review with some trepidation because we do not know what will happen in our area, whether our constituency will change its political nature or whether we shall end up with vast tracts of new constituents to get to know and lose those whom we already know. Our trepidation could be tempered a little if we could nominate those constituents whom we are to lose under a redistribution, but I doubt whether the boundary commission would ever go down that road.

Remarks have been made on both sides of the Chamber about alleged under-representation. Certainly there is evidence that some people who should be on the register are not. That has a great deal to do with the procedures adopted by different local authorities. Far too many of them send out their electoral registration documents at the end of August or the beginning of September for registration in mid-October. Obviously, many people move over that six-week period. I know of constituents who were disfranchised because the registration documents were either put in the bin by the previous residents who knew that they were moving or forwarded to the previous residents. That is a great pity, but there is a way round it. One can submit claims to the electoral registration officer virtually up to the last minute.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) referred to the historic role of political parties in that regard. The Conservative Association was founded to check the electoral register. Many of our voluntary workers as well as our professional agents forget that that is a key part of their role. I hope that political parties and the Government will encourage more registration campaigns.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, but it must be remembered that at one time the political parties were responsible for constructing the electoral register, not just checking it. The sheer corrupt practices brought about independent electoral registration officers as an institution of local government. An independent, arm's-length, well-financed system of registration should be established and the parties should keep their mucky fingers out of it. Such a system would guarantee that everybody is on the register.

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West

I would not quarrel with the gist of that. Nevertheless, there is a role for political parties to do what is necessary in a democratic society and ensure that people get the vote. A lesson to be drawn from this evening's debate and the consensus across the Chamber is that we need reforms that go beyond the scope of the Bill. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) referred to postal votes and I shall come to that because the present arrangements are lacking. If the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) is suggesting that the electoral register should be entirely in the hands of the professionals under the electoral registration officer, I do not agree, because the parties should play a role in a democratic society.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson, Shadow Spokesperson

Our point is that the Government have not introduced such proposals. They are not talking about additional resources for local authorities or the establishment of some form of independent assessment, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr suggested. We would not allow people to treat the Inland Revenue in this way. People cannot disappear out of the tax system. At least, if they try, they are pursued night and day. That does not happen with electoral registration, yet it underpins our democracy.

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West

You would not want me to be tempted to discuss Inland Revenue records, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not believe that resources are the only answer to the electoral registration problem. The procedures need to be tightened up. Far too often local authorities leave people on the register if the form is not returned. Sometimes—this has happened in my constituency—people are registered against houses that have been demolished. There is also double registration. The does not necessarily affect numbers, as the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East suggested.

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that, if it had not been for under-registration, we would have had a hung Parliament. His argument is not sustainable, considering the swings in different constituencies, whether the electoral register had decreased or remained the same. Does he remember the comments about how the enormous drop in the north Hackney register would put the Labour party under pressure? I did not notice any evidence of that when the result was declared.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire

I did include a proviso in my comments. I said that if the 1.5 million missing were an anti-Tory cohort—I accepted that others would be involved in that number and there were good grounds for saying that many who were squeezed off the register were against the Government—it could well have produced a hung Parliament. Twenty-two Conservative Members were elected with majorities of 1,000 or below. I am not saying that all 22 would have lost; some might have survived, but some with majorities just over 1,000 might have lost. If the results in about 22 seats had been different, we would have had a hung Parliament.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. Before the hon. Gentleman replies, I remind Members that interventions by their nature should be brief and relevant. The debate seeems to be going wide of the Bill. That is a gentle reminder.

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West

Perhaps, then, I shall move on to another topic and explain why estimates of population are no better than the electoral register. In the past, many such figures have not been reliable for any purpose. If we were to face a redistribution and reallocation of constituencies on the basis of the estimated population figures, we would have many more difficulties than we have with the electoral register under the present arrangement.

The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) referred to the difficulties of building blocks for the redistribution of seats. He rightly pointed out that there were problems because London borough boundaries were not crossed last time. However, the precedent has been set at least in some parts of metropolitan districts. I would expect the parliamentary boundary commission to do that in London this time and I hope that that would lead to a reduction in the over-representation of London, which undoubtedly is unfair in terms of one man, one vote.

One must start from some basis, and the present county boundaries are a good starting point. Otherwise, the boundary commission would have the unenviable task of starting at one end of the country and somehow creating constituencies of 69,000 running down. Then it would have to cross rivers and other major natural or community boundaries. Although there are anomalies within county boundaries, at least by staying within them the commission has some outline within which to work. That is practicable.

I suspect that the commission will group London boroughs, as it did metropolitan districts, and consider two or three together. That will produce some sensible and coherent proposals.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien , Normanton

I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman said about constituencies crossing the boundaries of different authorities. My constituency does just that. It has four wards in Wakefield and one in Leeds. Under the Bill, there will be insufficient time to bring the communities, which have separate identities, together. If a constituency is to cross boundaries, it is important that sufficient time is given so that those in the communities understand exactly where they will have to vote. Anything less than that would be unfair to the people involved.

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West

I do not see any difficulty in people understanding where to vote. People will vote in the wards, where they have always voted. There is no question of constituencies crossing ward boundaries and, because those wards contain entire polling districts, the problem does not arise.

Labour Members who have spoken in the debate primarily represent metropolitan constituencies, but many Conservative Members represent non-metropolitan ones. In those cases, it is not unusual for the parliamentary constituency to consist of areas from more than one local authority. I do not pretend that that is easy. I represent two thirds of one local authority but many Hertfordshire Members represent bits of different authorities. That means that we have to attend to different functions in different districts. That is, of course, a problem, but it is not insurmountable.

The position in the United Kingdom is, at least, better than that in the United States. The exact mathematical rules used to make up congressional districts lead to the most ludicrous and unnatural boundaries as well as the temptation to gerrymander them because the boundary decisions are in the hands of elected representatives rather than an independent body, such as the boundary commission. However, there is one lesson we can learn from the United States. It managed to produce a census in December 1990, on which the distribution of congressional districts is based, and have those districts in place in time to pick candidates for the election in November this year.

It is important that the boundary commission's work should be able to produce constituencies in good time so that candidates can be selected and organisations capable of fighting elections can be formed.. That would also mean that those Members of Parliament who are unfortunately dispossessed, because of the reductions in the number of seats in one area or another, would have time to decide whether their future lies outside the House or perhaps in a constituency in another part of the country.

I praise the boundary commission because it has shared much of its thinking and information on the current review with the public. I remember reading its two previous reviews and the only information we received was a list of wards that would make up the proposed new constituencies. The current press releases contain a great deal of the boundary commission's reasoning and that is to be applauded because it will help people to put forward alternative views. The publication of the electorates in various wards will also help, because people will be able to ensure that their alternative views are consistent with the legal obligations of the 1991 registers. The boundary commission is doing more than it did before.

I hope that the boundary commission will think more about the geography of the constituencies that it creates. The numbers game is not everything. I have difficulties because the two halves of my constituency are only just connected by a road while the two halves of the constituency of my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page) are not connected by road. That creates difficulties which would not have arisen had rational proposals been made in the first place so that we had geographically compact constituencies. It is true that the different parts of the constituencies connect with each other, but across fields only, so we have to ride or walk from one part to another as we cannot go by road. That should answer any question that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr may ask.

Like almost everyone else, I understand the position of hon. Members representing the Scottish isles or constituencies such as Caithness and Sutherland[Interruption.]

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but an undercurrent of conversation from Labour Members is interfering with my ability to hear him.

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West

My first elected position was as a burgh councillor in Scotland, so I am familiar with the geographical problems involved. However, because we pay special attention to the problems of the Western Isles or Anglesey, or other parts of north Wales, that does not mean that we should have the same attitude to the urban parts of Scotland.

The case that the allocation of Glasgow constituencies should be based on exactly the same principle as those of Birmingham is more or less unanswerable. If we ignore the constituency of Sutton Coldfield, which is above the quota, Birmingham has 11 Members of Parliament and 656,000 electors. Glasgow has exactly the same number of Members of Parliament, but it has only 518,000 electors. On any calculation, Glasgow has two seats more than it should have compared with Birmingham. That might be exacerbated by the review, because Birmingham and Glasgow might have fewer representatives and it is easy to imagine that the differential will widen rather than narrow. That is not justifiable.

We should apply the principle of equality throughout the United Kingdom except in remote rural areas, where that is not practicable. The boundary commission already has powers to consider such factors in England. That is why we have a smaller electorate in rural English constituencies, such as Hexham, than in urban ones. I do not see why that approach should not apply throughout the United Kingdom and not just within England.

Reference was made to postal votes. I fully understand why there must be a closing date for postal votes well in advance of the election. Ballot papers must be printed and sent out and time allowed in which to return them. I do not see any reason why electors should not be able to go to the town hall or write in to appoint a proxy even up to the last minute before polling. It is simply a matter of issuing a new proxy poll card and notifying the presiding officers at a polling station that a proxy has been appointed. It should be possible to do that up to 48 hours, or even 24 hours, before polling. That would solve the problem for the many people who discover, at the last minute, that they are going away on business or on holiday.

I know that anyone can apply for a permanent proxy if they have good reason to think that they will travel as part of their occupation and that they might be disfranchised. As practical politicians, we know that that is not what happens. Only those who travel regularly and are politically aware apply for permanent proxies.

Many advantages would be gained from changing the system. The claims procedures should also be simplified and extended to cover overseas electors. Why on earth can overseas electors not put in a claim if they are legitimately entitled to be on the register up to the same moment as any other elector? There is no logic in that practice, and it disfranchises people. The registration procedures are still too complicated. One needs a second-level degree to be able to understand the form.

This debate has been interesting to those of us who, perhaps, take a closer interest in the nuts and bolts of electoral workings than is usual in the House. We are not always preoccupied with the grand world events or even the major domestic political issues. We must consider the nuts and bolts that make our democracy work.

I believe profoundly in the constituency system. We have a duty to represent our electorate and we need to have an affinity with them. That is why it is important that the constituency boundaries are changed regularly. That means that the system should be more streamlined, which is why I support the Bill. However, that has not solved all our problems.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take on board the points that have been raised on both sides of the House, because all electoral arrangements need to be dealt with from time to time. I hope that we shall look again at some of them in the not-too-distant future.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble , Upper Bann 7:29 pm, 15th June 1992

In introducing the Bill, the Home Secretary emphasised its narrow effect and said that it was primarily concerned with the timing of boundary commission reports. However, the Government want the timing changed and the publications of the reports brought forward, because they believe press reports which have suggested that there is a significant party advantage in so doing. That was made clear in the press comments after the general election and is also seen in the timing of the legislation.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) referred to other matters which could have been included in the Bill. He wanted it to include poll cards and postal votes, and the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) made the useful suggestion that statutory rules on registration could have been embodied in the Bill to avoid some of the anomalies which occur. Northern Ireland Members are particularly conscious of anomalies in the registration system.

All those matters could have been included. Indeed, I believe that the Home Office is carrying out its normal post-election review of procedures and is even to convene a meeting of political representatives in the next few months to discuss those matters. If there is agreement between the parties on the details of registration, and so on, those could be embodied in the legislation. Although the Bill is the Home Office's one shot at electoral legislation in this Parliament, those other matters are all being left out. That makes the inter-party consultation which is about to take place a bit of a farce.

Photo of Sir Peter Lloyd Sir Peter Lloyd , Fareham

Some of the changes which might come about could be made through guidance to electoral registration officers or by order, but any large change which would affect the review of boundaries must be left until after the current review is complete.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble , Upper Bann

I appreciate that some of the matters that I have mentioned could be handled by guidance and subordinate legislation, but I am surprised that the Government were not even prepared to wait another month to see what happens in their post-election review of electoral legislation before introducing the Bill. That reinforces my view that the legislation is dominated by considerations of party advantage.

Photo of Sir Peter Lloyd Sir Peter Lloyd , Fareham

I hope that I can help the hon. Gentleman by explaining that changes to how the boundary commission will see its role and judge what boundaries it should propose in its recommendations cannot be made now without going back to scratch, because the English boundary commission has been operating since the beginning of last year and has already made provisional recommendations for about one third of the counties. It is simply not possible to return to the start. However, matters which several hon. Members have raised about postal votes can be dealt with—

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble , Upper Bann

I was not suggesting—

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. I remind the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) that no one must stand between the person in the Chair and the Member speaking.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble , Upper Bann

I hope that the Minister did not misunderstand me. I was suggesting not that the boundary revision process should go back to scratch but that it was theoretically possible to include other matters in the Bill rather than focusing on such narrow issues.

The advantage in considering other issues would be to deal with anomalies in the present legislation. An anomaly revealed in the 1983 litigation was the fact that local government boundaries have priority over quota issues. Most people would regard that as an anomaly. Looking at those rules, I notice that local government boundaries to which the commission must have regard in England, Wales and Scotland, are county and borough boundaries, whereas in Northern Ireland they are ward boundaries. That is an entirely different level, so there is some anomaly there.

Several Conservative Members focused primarily on what they regard as the anomalous over-representation of Wales and Scotland. Northern Ireland Members are particularly conscious of numbers of seats and agree that we are under-represented. The background to that is of some interest. The representation of the area which now constitutes Northern Ireland was increased in 1918 to some 30 seats. After the creation of a Northern Ireland Parliament in 1921, our representation was reduced to 13 and then, with the abolition of the university seat, it fell to 12 seats. That was quite a drop.

The reduction was a response to what is now known as the West Lothian question. That is worth thinking about, because in recent devolution debates hon. Members have suggested that, in the event of a future assembly in Wales or Scotland, some restriction should be placed on the ability of Welsh or Scottish Members here to discuss and vote on English matters. I refer to the Northern Ireland experience because the question of reducing the speaking and voting rights of Members with regard to subject matter was considered and rejected. Instead, the different path of reducing the number of representatives, without affecting the powers and status of those representatives, was adopted. That path was adopted for the Northern Ireland Parliament and a Parliament was established, which was regarded at the time as "sovereign" within the areas devolved to it. Those two terms may seem slightly contradictory, but that was the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown given in 1922. Parallel to that was the convention that matters within Stormont's competence could not be raised by way of question or otherwise in this place.

Lesser forms of devolution also exist—for example, the assembly proposed for Wales in the 1970s. In those issues, the West Lothian question does not really arise. As a belated response to the abolition of Stormont in 1973, Northern Ireland's representation in this House was increased to 17 in 1983. It was suggested that Northern Ireland was being treated as analogous to Wales in terms of representation, but the figure of 17 was close to the figure which would have obtained had a United Kingdom quota existed. In other words, if the electorate had been divided by 650 to provide a United Kingdom quota, it would have produced a figure close to 17.

Curiously, if a similar operation were undertaken now, a similar result would come about. The United Kingdom electorate is 43.7 million. If divided by 651, it produces a United Kingdom quota—if one were to exist—of just over 67,000. The present Northern Ireland quota, according to 1992 figures, is 67,000, so that similarity exists.

However, there is no such thing as a United Kingdom quota. We have separate Welsh, Scottish, English and Northern Ireland quotas and hon. Members have queried the differences. In commenting on those differences, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East referred to the answer given by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas Hamilton). The Under-Secretary of State's response was interesting because, when questioned about Scotland's representation, he said: The present settlement takes account of Scotland's status as a small nation and of large, sparsely populated and inaccessible areas."—[Official Report, 20 May 1992; Vol. 208, c. 250.] He referred to three matters, of which the last two would generally be recognised as reasonable factors to take into account.

The rules in schedule 2 of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 govern the boundary commission, and rule 6 expressly refers to "special geographical considerations". The rules do not refer to what might be called the national factor but, implicitly and in a roundabout way which prevents open discussion of the matter, they do so through the device of setting minimum numbers of seats for Wales and for Scotland and leaving the English representation as the residual figure. That, again, detracts from the overall Great Britain figure. Indirectly, and in a typically English way, this takes account of the small nation factor. I describe it in that way because what is being done is not made explicit. That typifies much of the way in which the Government's administration is carried out.

I see nothing wrong in principle with taking account of the small nation factor. It is not an unusual factor. The United Kingdom is a multinational state, not a single, homogeneous nation state. In other multinational federations, it is not unusual to see some weighting to take account of small national units. I take the European Parliament and the way that voting takes place there as an example. In drawing this parallel, I am not expressing approval of the European union, as my vote and that of my party colleagues on the treaty of European union and on the Bill to provide that union will show when the matter comes before the House again.

In the European Parliament, countries have basic minimum figures—for example, Luxembourg is guaranteed six Members. Judging by equality of representation, that is good. I hope that it will not happen, but if any degree of European union proceeds, at some point people will begin to readdress the issue of equality of representation within the union and the degree of favour given to small national units. I think that the view will still be that there must be some increased representation for small national units which are in danger of being swamped by larger national units within a federation or multinational state.

That is the position within the United Kingdom, which is a multinational state with one nation—the English nation—numerically dominant. If one uses a purely mathematical approach throughout the kingdom, one opens the door to increasing that dominance. In view of the tendency of English Members of Parliament to ignore and then override the interests of the smaller national states, there is a case for increased representation for small national units in the way suggested by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West.

However, having agreed that there should be increased representation for smaller national units, one is then concerned, as a Northern Ireland Member, about the failure to apply that principle to Northern Ireland. In Wales and Scotland, minimum figures are given, but rule 1{4) relating to Northern Ireland is drafted differently. It does not give a minimum, and it could be construed as meaning that there shall always be 17 Members for Northern Ireland unless, having regard to factors such as boundaries, the commission cannot easily achieve that, in which case there can be one more or less.

That applies a mythical United Kingdom quota rather than adopting the approach used for Wales and Scotland, and we are concerned about that. When the changes were introduced in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we were given to understand that the Northern Ireland representation was to be increased to 17 to begin with, and would be increased as the population expanded. In 1983, Northern Ireland had an electorate of 1,061,000, giving a constituency quota of 62,000. In the intervening years, the electorate increased by 80,000 to 1,141,000, which on a 17-seat basis would give a quota of 67,000 but on an 18-seat basis would give a quota of 63,500. That would be consistent with the expectation that the figure would increase from 17 to 18 as the population increased.

Keeping the number of Northern Ireland Members of Parliament to 17 may suit those English Members who today queried Scottish and Welsh representation in the name of equality, but that commitment to equality strikes me as slightly dubious in view of the Government's failure to treat the United Kingdom as a single unit in the past. Perhaps English Members have been converted to the concept of equality of citizenship and equal citizenship. If they have, I looked forward to seeing them all come along on Thursday night to oppose the continuation of direct rule, which most clearly shows an inequality of citizenship. We shall see what happens.

What I have said shows that I feel that we have missed an opportunity to look again at the basis on which representation is adopted. We cannot take a crude mathematical quota and apply it, because that ignores the national element.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

Does the hon. Gentleman feel that the small nation principle would be satisfied in the case of Northern Ireland if the number of constituents there increased from 17 to 18, or is he looking for something different?

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield

He is looking for 30.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble , Upper Bann

I did say that there were 30 Northern Ireland Members in 1918, but I could not justify that many today because the population figures have not grown. Under the existing legislation, it would be possible only to increase the Northern Ireland representation from 17 to 18. That would be in line with our expectations.

In reply to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, I should make it clear that my argument is slightly different. I am suggesting that if we take account of this factor we should do so explicitly, because the indirect way of doing so—through the phrasing of rules 2, 1(2) and 1(3) and schedule 2—gives rise to false expectations. Hon. Members representing Wales and Scotland may feel particularly defensive about this, but if one takes account of this factor explicitly, everybody knows what has been done. It can be debated and the extent to which it is done can be considered and allowed for, and nobody need feel defensive. The Bill does not take advantage of the opportunity to consider these matters. There is a need for a rethink about the basis on which representation takes place and the extent to which one takes into account the element of nationality.

There is a need for agreed principles, embodied in legislation, to cover representation to this place. Those principles should apply throughout the United Kingdom and would take account, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West said, not only of geography and sparsity of population, but of the position of the smaller units of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is not, as some people think, a single homogeneous unit but has its different parts, and it is right that, to some extent, those differences should be reflected here.

Photo of Mr Roy Thomason Mr Roy Thomason , Bromsgrove 7:48 pm, 15th June 1992

It is appropriate that I should make my maiden speech on this Bill, for my constituency is suffering from a local government boundary reorganisation, the issues relating to which are relevant to those affecting this Bill. I am therefore grateful to have been called.

I pay tribute to Sir Hal Miller, my predecessor, who represented Bromsgrove and Redditch, and then Bromsgrove, from 1974. Although he was a vice-chairman of the Conservative party from 1984, he is principally remembered in this House for his involvement in, and support for, the car industry. He was joint chairman of the all-party motor industry group, but that office was only a token acknowledgement of the enormous work that he undertook, with others, to secure the future of the British motor industry at a time when it was under such threat that it might have disappeared altogether. The House and the country owe him a debt of gratitude for that work.

If Sir Hal was held in high esteem here, that is but little in comparison with the affection that he enjoyed in the constituency, where he assiduously looked after constituents' interests. Nothing was too trivial for his consideration, and there are many who remember with gratitude his work on their behalf—a difficult act to follow.

In his maiden speech to this House in March 1974, Hal Miller referred to the proposed construction of the western orbital route on the edge of the west midlands conurbation. It would not surprise hon. Members to hear that blight and the fear of development remain potent forces, because the western orbital route has still to be built. I wonder what will have happened in another 18 years; I can only hope that we will have ceased talking about it and planning it, and that it will have disappeared as a proposal.

Sir Hal's interest in the motor industry was germane to the interests of the constituency, containing as it does the corner of the Rover Longbridge car plant. Many of the constituents work in west midlands industry, so much of which is related to vehicle production.

Bromsgrove is a microcosm of middle England. We have a market town with some industry and a large service sector. We have villages and small towns and even the edge of the west midlands conurbation, including an overspill estate. That richness and variety give the place a special quality.

There is no single community, but a group of communities bound together by outside pressures, enjoying a good quality of life but always under threat from larger neighbours. Development pressure in this beautiful part of the countryside always has to be resisted. The green belt is seen more as a green lifeline.

As far as one can generalise, the people are of sound judgment, as demonstrated by my appearance here. They are also honest in paying their taxes—they have one of the best records of paying the community charge in the country. Below this House is a tally stick, displayed in a glass case, which was used 400 years ago by a resident of the area for the payment of his taxes—so the tradition is a long one.

The group of linked communities which makes up the constituency is under threat, for the old local government boundary is likely to be changed. The Local Government Boundary Commission proposes to move the urban fringe into the west midlands conurbation. It looks neat on the map; it would make good sense were it not for the fact that hardly anyone living in the area wants to be sucked into socialist Birmingham. That ability to overlook the wishes of the people must not be repeated by the parliamentary boundary commission.

Edmund Burke, writing 200 years ago, said: To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle of public affection. He saw loyalty being built from the bottom up: the family, the community, the state. How can there be loyalty to the nation unless there is also identity with its parts? Those who seek to deride the importance of family and community also attack the nation. That way lies anarchy, since people are important individually, as part of the family and as part of a nation.

We support each other through the units of which we are component parts. It follows that respect for community is as important as respect for nation or family, for each layer protects and enhances the other.

I take issue with the definition of nation offered earlier by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). He talked of the United Kingdom having several nations, but when. I speak of "nation" I speak of one United Kingdom.

This House rightly guards its traditions. The last time anyone of my name sat here was 500 years ago. No doubt, by the time I have finished speaking, some hon. Members will hope that history will repeat itself. If he were here today, that representative would recognise many of our proceedings. We are all the products of our own history. What is true of individuals is true of our institutions; and communities have their traditions too. We should not ignore them; they are an important part of our history, as they have grown and developed.

The Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 requires the commission to take note of local ties. I hope that will be fully acknowledged in the forthcoming review. Of course boundaries must be changed to meet the required numbers, to ensure that each voter has as much democratic say as the next, but within that requirement we must allow the wishes of people to be ignored when creating new constituencies. I differ from some Opposition Members who seem to think that some principle of weighted voting can be achieved, particularly for Scotland and Wales. I find it surprising that they should advocate a different form of democracy for those parts of the country. I know that I should not be controversial in this speech, but I must acid that Opposition Members are perhaps more used to systems of weighted voting in the form of trade union block votes.

The process of reorganising the constituencies is as important as reorganising local government. For too long we have allowed confusion to reign, councils to be too large and remote, communities to be forced together with little mutual interest. Unlike some Opposition Members, I welcome clause 3; by virtue of the clause, the commission will be able to take into account the initial views expressed by the new Local Government Commission, which is specifically charged with looking at the interests of the communities which are so important in the parliamentary scene.

Whatever changes are imposed as a result of this Bill, or in local government, the importance of the small platoon in society must be acknowledged. Again, I must not be controversial, but the party that I represent has rightly taken pride in the importance of the individual, the family, the community and the nation. Opposition Members often see the nation as foremost—at least, the nation as they would define society. The great divide between the two principal parties rests on our differing emphasis on whether the individual is to support society or society is to support the individual.

We must not lose sight of that great principle—the importance of the individual—when the commission scrutinises parliamentary boundaries. Great weight must be placed on individuals and their community within the requirement for equality of votes.

I support the Bill because it improves the efficiency of democracy. I wish that we were going further with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but that is not possible today. When processing the change arising from this Bill we must not lose respect for our democratic traditions by cheapening the new constituencies, divorcing them from or splitting up their natural communities. Some change will be essential: change is always painful.

Let us maintain our emphasis on individuals, their loyalties, their ties and their identities when making changes within a requirement for numerical equality.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr 7:58 pm, 15th June 1992

I believe that this is the first time in eight years in the House that I have ever followed a maiden speaker. It was a privilege to listen to the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) and to hear his tribute to Hal Miller. Hal arrived in the House at the same time as I did, in February 1974. We all wish him well in his position as chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, helping there to redress the terrible imbalance in our motor industry.

The hon. Gentleman has a good record of defending independent local government. It was a pleasure to hear him speak about community and society, because we are all imbued with the notion that there is no such thing as society; we remember being lectured on that by the former Prime Minister. The hon. Gentleman will not again be allowed to speak pejoratively about socialist Birmingham without an intervention. From now on I shall describe him as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Bromsgrove.

The Bill is welcome, and anyone who professes to be a democrat, whatever his argument, party affiliation or views on the current electoral system, will agree that there must be equality of voting. Under our present electoral system, the only way in which one can remotely approach equality is to have equal numbers of electors in each constituency. I shall not bore the House by repeating statistics showing the wide disparities: I shall say only that the averages are not as bad as they appear.

In England, the average Labour Member represents 64,150 constituents and the average Conservative Member represents 71,600. Those are random figures. My constituency is the largest in Birmingham, with 72,817 constituents. The average Liberal Member in England represents 68,260 constituents. The figures we have heard in the debate show how misleading averages can be, because there are massive disparities, from 20,000 to more than 100,000. That cannot be tolerated, and it must be corrected as soon as possible. Movement of population will not affect the situation.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), who made an extremely valuable speech. I shall not repeat what he said about how the electoral register is compiled. About two or three years ago, I and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) took part in a debate on electoral registration, the first in the House for donkey's years, at about 2 am one July. Electoral registration officers are extremely grateful that the House has in recent years started to take an interest in this backwater of local government, which is under-resourced because it is not particularly sexy.

The figures on the electoral register are for 1991, and we are debating not just movement of population but population growth. In 1991, the English shire counties had 2.7 million voters more than in 1976. Greater London had one third of a million less than in 1976, while in the metropolitan counties there was hardly any change. The figure is about 10,000 in 8 million. That means that the English electorate has grown by 2.4 million and the increase has all been in the English shire counties, which are under-represented by 19 or 20 Members. One could argue the converse, that the urban areas—Greater London and the districts within the metropolitan counties—are over-represented.

In Birmingham, it is said that the inner-city wards should have fewer constituents because the work load is greater. Members representing those wards and the inner-city constituencies should have greater resources to do the job, but equality of voting should be paramount. That is no excuse for different sized electorates. Our allowances—perhaps even our salaries, but I make no special point about that—should equate to the number of constituents. That would be seen to be fair.

The building blocks used for constituency changes—the local authority wards—are larger in the city I represent than in any other area. The smallest electorate in a Birmingham ward is 16,500, while the greatest is 21,500. The average Birmingham ward has 19,000 electors for three councils. I have four wards with almost 73,000 electors, and there are 12 councillors in my constituency. In terms of electorate and population, my constituency approximates to a city the size of Gloucester.

Some time ago, I checked to see how many councillors were involved in administration in Gloucester and was told that there were 33. In addition I was told that there were 12 county councillors as well as the 33 district councillors. Some urban areas are greatly under-represented, because the wards are far too big. When the boundary commission uses those wards as building blocks, the difference in a city such as Birmingham between a three-ward and a four-ward constituency will be 19,000 electors. There will be massive disparities between them and adjoining constituencies.

There are only three constituencies in Birmingham with four wards: mine, and those of Selly Oak and Northfield. All the others have three wards. The constituencies of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath (Mr. Godsiff) which adjoins mine, and the constituencies of my surrounding hon. Friends, have 52,000 to 55,000 electors, while the largest constituencies have well over 70,000. That is an enormous disparity, and it cannot be corrected by the use of local authority building blocks. That will not change the review.

When Birmingham loses an hon. Member, as it will when the constituencies are reduced from 12 to 11—or from 11 to 10, if Sutton Coldfield is removed—more four-ward seats will be created, because its wards will be added to the other three constituencies. That will cause a disparity of 19,000 voters in adjoining constituencies. That would not be tolerated in other areas, and it happens only because of a perverse local government arrangement for the city of Birmingham, which is restricted to 117 councillors for an electorate of almost 750,000.

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point about Birmingham. The solution in terms of local government reform is to be found in the city of Glasgow, which has single-member wards and an election every four years. Such a system would give the commission greater flexibility and result in a more satisfactory arrangement for local councillors.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I agree. As an alternative to doubling the number of councillors in Birmingham, which would horrify the political leadership there, I would opt for 117 single-member wards, with each councillor responsible to only 6,500 electors. That is much better than three councillors with 19,000 electors.

That massive shift in the electorate and the massive increase of 2.7 million electors is the result of the successful policies of post-war Labour Governments. The beginning of the building of the new towns, slum clearance in urban areas and rebuilding at lower densities has shifted the population out of urban areas and improved the quality of life but the consequences for electoral geography have prejudiced my party.

I do not share the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook that the review will lead to a net Labour gain. Surely something has gone wrong with our electoral and political systems when it is assumed automatically that rural dwellers vote Tory while those who live in urban areas vote Labour. There is a divide in our society, and when it is considered in black and white terms, it is clear that something has gone wrong with the poilitical process over the decades since the war at least, and probably since the 1930s.

The divide is not to be found in continental Europe—I know that those words will be almost like red rag to a bull to many hon. Members—and that is something that both main parties must remember. It is the divide that brings the knee-jerk reaction. If boundary changes bring extra seats for the shirtes, there are those who immediately shout, "Gerrymandering!" There is no gerrymandering if we are seeking merely to make the size of constituencies more equal.

Local inquiries take place before it is decided how a town or constituency shall be divided, and the area can be cut like a cake or a doughnut. The process can have massive party political consequences as expressed in the membership of the House. As I have said, it is not gerrymandering if we seek to have electorates of equal size.

Intellectually, I have no answer to the Birmingham-Glasgow argument, which has been advanced today and other occasions. I merely say that I hope that the commissions will insist on the crossing of London borough boundaries. London is already over-provided with parliamentary seats, with 84 instead of 81. The metropolitan districts are no different from London boroughs; when we drive from one borough to another, we do not know that we have made the crossing. Manchester and Trafford, Oldham and Rochdale, Salford and Wigan, Stockport and Tameside, Gateshead and Newcastle, and Leeds and Wakefield all have crossed boundaries. If it is good enough for them, it is good enough for London, and crossed boundaries will destroy the over-provision of seats in London. There is a strong case for ensuring that London borough boundaries are crossed.

I say from a party point of view that it is desirable that there be a crossed boundary between Dudley and Sandwell, to avoid the unnecessary loss of a constituency in Sandwell. It is not justified within the west midlands, and it would be protected if the boundary was crossed.

Birmingham and Coventry will lose a seat, and there is nothing that anyone can do or should do about it when it comes to sizing up constituencies. It is important that there is precision when it comes to a date for reports, and the last day of 1994 is reasonable and practical. It is probably what would have happened even without the Bill. However, the Bill brings us precision, which is important.

When the boundaries were last changed—I have not checked this, but I cannot be more than a month out—the House agreed to the necessary orders in March 1983. The general election took place in June of that year. There was little time for constituencies to be formed and for political organisations to be put together. We must understand that political parties are the bedrock of the protection of our democracy, and unless they can organise adequately to fight elections it is democracy that suffers. They did not have sufficient time to do so between March and June.

I think that the next general election will be in the autumn of 1995 rather than in 1996, and on that basis it is important to have plenty of time to organise. Recently, I spent some time working out which 40 Tory Members with marginal constituencies we should target during this Parliament, in the House and their constituencies, to make their lives uncomfortable. After a while, I said to myself, "Hang on, they won't be the same 40 marginals come the election." We do not know where the marginals will be, and we shall not know until the House agrees to the orders that will give effect to the boundary changes. That is a party political consideration, but we are here to talk about it and others.

I agree with those who have said that the Bill represents a lost opportunity. As I said during business questions the other week, the House does not discuss electoral arrangements sufficiently. It is not a practical proposition to do so shortly before an election. When there is to be an election in about 18 months' time, it is not practical to start discussing the minutiae of electoral arrangements, important though they are. The time to do it is shortly after an election, when incidents are fresh in our minds, when we know that we are at least three, three-and-a-half or four years away from the next electoral fight, and when minds are cool. There is certainly time to consider these details in the first and second Session of a Parliament. That is the time to talk about the registration of absent voters.

Last year, I conducted a survey of electoral registration officers to ascertain what they did about absent voters and how they made people aware that they were entitled to vote. Over 50 per cent. responded to a simple questionnaire. Their responses revealed that they responded very differently, and in some instances I was horrified. Some of them told me, "It is not my job to trawl for absent voters." Others told me that they took active steps to ensure that absent voters were registered. The Home Office was not quick enough to take up the matter, but I was impressed that the EROs were prepared to open up and say that they wanted guidance. I know that guidance was issued, but much more could have been done through advance publicity.

It is amazing what it is possible to pick up when travelling on the tube in London. It would be unfair to name him, but one of this country's leading experts on elections and electoral systems was travelling from one of his seminars to another group of students, who would sit and worship at his feet. He told me that he had been at the local government boundary review inquiry that took place in Oxford last week, I believe. Apparently one of the assistant commissioners said that he was prepared to take account of future population.

The Bill allows for future local government boundary changes but not for future population. Indeed, it has never been possible to argue on the basis of future population. It would be unwise for the House to allow assistant commissioners to go down that road, because it would open up legal challenge. Surely we do not want an ordinary boundary redistribution to be delayed by vexatious legal challenge. If account is being taken of future population, we should be chary of the practice.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield

I shall be, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not have the words in my mouth yet.

My hon. Friend referred to a matter that was raised at Oxford, and I beg to differ with him. It is for the commissioner to take into account of approved planning permissions over an agreed period. On that basis, it is legitimate for him to take into account population trends. A local authority and the Department of the Environment will take them into account when it comes to local authority grants, and certainly rate support grant.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I disagree, because the trends are not votes in ballot boxes. The matter has been dealt with, because it is proposed by means of the Bill to have reviews within shorter periods. Of course, we shall never have perfectly equal constituencies unless we have a rolling register and precise district drawing as they have in the United States. That brings precision, but it destroys communities and causes many difficulties. It would be an extremely dangerous road to follow.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) that codification is not possible, and that review would be open to unnecessary or vexatiouss legal challenge, which would cause delay. The Labour party suffered from what happened in 1969 and from its attempt legally to delay the review in 1983. That hangs around the neck of the party and raises a large question mark about democracy.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I am making my point. It hangs around the Labour party's neck that we are not quite all right about equality of voting and equality of constituencies. As I said earlier, one of the reasons for that is the electoral geography, which we have allowed to go amiss over the years.

Photo of Mr Robert Jones Mr Robert Jones , Hertfordshire West

I was not present at the Oxford inquiry, but it is possible that what the assistant commissioner said has been misconstrued. There is a real difference between guesstimating future population movements, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), and taking into account increases in the electorate that have already occurred. The quota year is 1991, but already there is another year to consider. During the previous redistribution there was an enormous gap between the quota year and the year being reviewed. Therefore, it is proper to take into account what has happened in the intervening time.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I agree with that point, which was also made earlier. When decisions are made, they should be on the most accurate possible electoral register, notwithstanding missing people, and they should not be tied to the quota dates. If there are substantial changes since the 1991 register, they must be taken into account. The draft proposals for the metropolitan districts will be produced in the early to middle part of 1993, and if there have been massive changes in the electorates, we shall argue strongly for them to be taken into account by the assistant commissioners at the boundary reviews. I accept that that is more difficult in places such as Birmingham, because of the large size of the wards.

If we love the first-past-the-post system with single Members, we must also love and accept boundary changes. I do not agree with the current electoral system, which is not as fair as it could be. A system that allows a party with 42 per cent. of the vote consistently to provide more than 50 per cent. of Members of Parliament does not have the necessary fairness required in a modern democracy. However, this is not the time to argue that point; I merely place it on the record.

We must accept that the review of boundaries and its consequences are part and parcel of our electoral system, and we cannot run away from that. I say to hon. Members who were not here before 1983 that later this year, when the other tranche of shire county draft reports are published, and during next year when the London boroughs and the metropolitan draft reports are published, one thing will dominate the conversation in this place. If not in the Chamber, certainly in the Corridors, the Library, the Tea Rooms, the Bars and on the Terrace—or where any two Members are speaking together—the conversation will be, "How have the boundary changes been for you?" It is the ultimate vested interest—

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

The selection and the reselection.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

My hon. Friend is right. It is the ultimate vested interest, and that is why there is a need for more independence and a greater arm's-length relationship. Those outside should not see us controlling the drawing of the boundaries and think that it is Members of Parliament who fix them. We should remember that, for every one of us in this place, there was at least one other person who sought to be here in our stead in April 1992.

Photo of David Evennett David Evennett , Erith and Crayford 8:23 pm, 15th June 1992

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) on his excellent, balanced and interesting maiden speech. It was reasonably non-controversial, but none the less effective and forceful in both content and delivery. He acknowledged the tremendous work and service of his predecessor, Sir Hal Miller, and he told us of the delights of his constituency. His knowledge and experience of local government mean that he will be a most welcome addition to the Conservative Benches and we look forward to many more speeches from him in the next few years.

I am pleased to participate in this important debate. The issue of boundaries, whether parliamentary or local government, has concerned a considerable number of my constituents in the past few years. Naturally, it raises both local, general and specific issues.

The Bill is small in size but large in importance. I especially welcome it because it will speed up the review of and report on parliamentary boundaries. I have never believed that time alone makes for good or better decisions. Often a more rigorous timetable might better concentrate minds. The Bill will require the next reports from the boundary commission to be submitted by 31 December 1994. That will be welcomed by the vast majority of rational and interested people. In particular, my constituents will recognise the logic behind the Bill and will be grateful for more regular reviews of parliamentary boundaries.

Apart from the gross unfairness to the people of Britain of the wide variations in the number of electors in parliamentary constituencies, too long a period without change merely exacerbates the problem. Populations change and areas develop or decline, sometimes rapidly. It is unacceptable that such vast differencies in size of electorates in parliamentary constituencies should be allowed to exist for up to 15 years. That is too long a period. The Bill will ensure that the necessary changes are made sooner that that.

Constituencies range in electoral size from 100,000 to under 40,000, which is wrong, unfair and unjustifiable. We all accept and agree that constituencies cannot and should not all be exactly the same size, but the size variation is just too great. The average of 69,500 should surely allow the range of between 60,000 and 80,000. That would be reasonable and therefore more acceptable. The current range is too great.

My constituency of Erith and Crayford was formed out of the old Dartford division and was altered in the last boundary commission review before the 1983 general election. It lost the two wards of Barnehurst and Barnehurst, North to the neighbouring Bexleyheath constituency. That was done to achieve a more equal size of electorate between my constituency and Bexleyheath. In the previous decade, the population and electorate of my constituency increased with the building of many new housing developments. In addition, there was the growth of the new town of Thamesmead in the north of my constituency, which was built on reclaimed marsh land.

Photo of David Evennett David Evennett , Erith and Crayford

If the GLC had done its job properly, the town would have been developed much more effectively and conclusively a long time ago. Unfortunately, under the hon. Gentleman's regime in the Labour-controlled GLC, it was stop and start for poor Thamesmead. That is why problems remain today. However, I will not allow the hon. Gentleman to divert me: I want to spend a little time talking about Thamesmead because that town is relevant to the Bill's provisions.

The town of Thamesmead is a self-governing trust under the excellent leadership of its chairman, Mr. Alan Cummings, and its chief executive, Mr. Philip Glascow. It straddles the borough boundary of Bexley and Greenwich and is split between the two parliamentary constituencies of Woolwich and Erith and Crayford. The local government boundary commission, which I regret has taken almost five years to review Thamesmead's position, has recently recommended that the Bexley part of the town—the ward of Thamesmead East—be transferred to Greenwich.

Although I accept that today's debate is on the parliamentary boundaries, and therefore is not the time to argue why the status quo on local government should remain and the wishes of the Bexley residents of Thamesmead be upheld, an important issue is involved. I do not know whether the Secretary of State for the Environment intends to accept the local government report on Thamesmead. With the 10,000 electors of Thamesmead East ward, I hope that the Secretary of State will reject the recommendation and listen to the people.

If, however, the Secretary of State decides against the wishes of the people, what will happen to the parliamentary boundary? I shall continue to press him to heed the wishes of the people and to allow Thamesmead East ward to remain in Bexley. I hope that he will see sense, since the local government boundary commission failed to do so.

Will the parliamentary boundary, according to the Bill, automatically follow the local government boundary? I listened with interest to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), although I did not agree with all of them. He raised the important issue of London. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) referred to Birmingham and to the fact that parliamentary boundaries straddle local government boundaries in other parts of the United Kingdom. On this occasion I agreed with the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who disagreed with the hon. Member for Perry Barr. I hope that the Minister will take note of the concerns of Members with London constituencies. The boundary of Greater London is out of date and I look forward to Ministers telling us how they view the future of parliamentary boundaries in London as it is a very important issue.

My constituents in Thamesmead East ward want to stay in Bexley and in the Erith and Crayford constituency. If the Secretary of State for the Environment agreed to the local government boundary commission decision to put them into Greenwich, would they be forced out of Bexley and also out of Erith and Crayford, since the parliamentary boundary would follow the local government boundary?

Mr. Evenett:

I was not around in 1981, but the people of Thamesmead East want to stay in Bexley. They also want to stay in Erith and Crayford. Bexley council showed good sense in taking note of the wishes of the people. It has backed the people in their stand to remain part of Bexley. In a referendum, 96 per cent. of the people in Thamesmead East ward wanted to stay in Bexley and in Erith and Crayford. Bexley council, a first-class council, should be commended on its support for the local people.

In London, parliamentary boundaries traditionally do not cross local government boundaries. What is to happen in the future? In my opinion, coterminous boundaries of borough and parliamentary constituencies in London have much to commend them. The opportunity to deal with just one local authority allows one to give a better service as a Member of Parliament to constituents. It is also much better for the community. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove and others said in their excellent speeches how important this is for the community. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove mentioned Edmund Burke and his view of community.

We have experienced difficulties in London, due to the artificial creation nearly 30 years ago of the London boroughs. A sense of identity is now beginning to emerge in those boroughs. The people who live and work there now identify themselves with my borough of Bexley. Surely we do not want to destroy that by creating parliamentary boundaries which cross borough boundaries. The result would be to diminish the affinity with the boroughs, which would be a retrograde step.

Crayford people remember Crayford urban district council with great affection. Even though Bexley took the Crayford motto "Boldly and Rightly" as the Bexley motto for the borough, it has taken a long time for the people of Crayford to look towards Bexley rather than towards Crayford. If we are not careful, we shall run the terrible risk of losing that developing affinity with the borough of Bexley. The people of Thamesmead and other people in my constituency will be grateful if the Minister can say what will happen to them if a local government boundary change takes place.

Boundary changes and reforms are emotive issues. Constituency names change and cause problems. Some people disapprove of them. Communities do not like alterations made simply to suit the logic of bureaucrats.

An important additional issue commands great support. There should not be vast discrepancies in constituency size. The boundary commission has to balance the two sides—on the one side maintaining communities, and on the other removing unfairness and anomalies in the system.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield

So far, the hon. Gentleman has not addressed the issue before us in the Bill—the parliamentary constituencies. Can he confirm that under the proposals both Greenwich and Bexley will lose constituencies?

Photo of David Evennett David Evennett , Erith and Crayford

It depends on the flexibility that the boundary commission adopts. I intend to refer to figures which suggest that both Bexley and Greenwhich should keep three Members each. The boundary commission has a difficult task to perform. Conservative Members commend the chairman and members of the boundary commission for their work, even if sometimes we think that they get it wrong and therefore do not always support their conclusions.

Today, with the greater movement of population and rapid changes in certain areas of the country, there is a definite need for more frequent boundary changes. The emphasis here is on the word "frequently". There has been an increase in population in the suburbs of London and a decline in population in the inner city areas. In that part of London which is near my constituency, there may be good reasons for small electorates in certain areas. I was disappointed, however, when my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said that he would not look at the size of electorates in Scotland as some of my hon. Friends and I believe that Scotland is terribly over-represented in this place. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West has already referred to the fact that there are 46,000 electors in his constituency.

Photo of David Evennett David Evennett , Erith and Crayford

There are 51,000 electors in Newham, South. Greenwich has only 48,000 electors. My constituency has just under 60,000, and the number is growing. Woolwich has an electorate of 56,000. Those constituencies are small in the eyes of some people in rural areas. The Isle of Wight is a vast constituency, with an electorate of 100,000. Changes are needed in London. Inner-city London will lose seats, while outer London will keep its representation.

Photo of David Evennett David Evennett , Erith and Crayford

That is a problem that we shall have to address. I believe that it will work in London. It is possible to be both fair and effective.

Photo of David Evennett David Evennett , Erith and Crayford

No, I am trying to educate the hon. Gentleman, who often makes comments from a sedentary position on issues that we believe to be important.

It is unacceptable to have vast discrepancies in the size of the electorate. I have sought to highlight today the specific problems that we have in London, which I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will take on board.

The Bill is short, it is easy to understand, it is easy to implement, and it is designed to improve our system of representative democracy. It is undoubtedly a small measure, but it is an important one which will speed up the boundary commission, make its reports more frequent, and ensure that the fairest possible boundaries are established to prevent the anomalies that we have seen in the recent past. The Bill has my strong support and I believe that it will be supported by all political parties because it will present a fairer system. We are looking for a more equal electorate, better representation, and a fairer distribution of seats. The Bill goes a long way towards that.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson, Shadow Spokesperson 8:40 pm, 15th June 1992

I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) on presenting a wonderful piece of special pleading. He raised an interesting point. As I said in an intervention, I remember that, in 1981, Tory Bexley was happy that Thamesmead, East, which the hon. Gentleman has described, should go into Greenwich. At that time, Greenwich opposed the move. They have now switched positions; Greenwich is in favour and Bexley is opposed. I can assume only that both local authorities, which are under different political control, have done their political homework and have worked out who will gain and who will lose. It is true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) said, that Greenwich and Bexley will lose a seat each.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson, Shadow Spokesperson

The proposal is for one seat from each borough. What we witnessed was the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford doing a good representation of a maggot squirming on the end of a hook. I do not know whether his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will assist him or will see him gobbled up. No doubt we shall find out in due course.

You may call me an old cynic, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you wish, but I am one of the hon. Members who believe that the Bill should be called the Save the Tory Party at the Next Election Bill. Obviously I have no objections in principle to a review of parliamentary boundaries. Who would have? However, as a number of my hon. Friends have said, the Bill misses the real problem of the electoral register. The terms of reference given to the boundary commission are also extremely limited.

It is difficult for us not to take into account—perhaps I am being over-cynical—the fact that the smart money says that the Tory party will achieve a net gain of about 20 seats from the Bill. I was rather surprised to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) say that there could be a Labour gain from the Bill. In theory there could be, but it seems that the way in which the Bill will work out will inevitably lead to a net gain of about 20 seats for the Tory party. Looking at the Home Secretary, I cannot believe that that fact entirely escaped his notice when the Bill was drawn up and when the Government considered what the boundary commission would mean for the Tories at the next election.

The real issue is not the size of the constituencies; the number on the electoral register is the crucial point. We can point to clear discrepancies. The Home Secretary referred to the fact that 95 per cent. of people were on the register. That sounds like a high success rate. However, it naturally means that 5 per cent. of people are not on the register. Translated into the electorate, that means that about 2 million people are not registered and are therefore not eligible to vote. As some of my hon. Friends have said, that 5 per cent. is not equally distributed around the country.

I should like to have heard the Home Secretary say—it might have made me more kindly disposed towards the Bill—that there would be extra resources for the electoral registration process, rather than extra resources for the constituency carve-up. The trouble is that registration in inner-city areas can mean that an electoral register can be anything up to 17 per cent. inaccurate by the time it is published. It is an extraordinarily difficult matter.

Conservative Members who represent inner-city constituencies will know how difficult it is to locate people, to make a point of contact and to ensure that they are on the electoral register. In constituencies such as mine in the east end of London, many people live in flats and many in houses in multiple occupation. There are many hostels and there is a growing number of homeless people in the inner-city areas.

Where are the votes of all the people who sleep in doorways down the Strand or in the cardboard cities? They are entitled to vote. Indeed, it could be argued that they have a greater vested interest than many other people in getting a Government who are attentive to their problems. They do not have a vote because they are kept on the move. When the Prime Minister was a Social Security Minister, he introduced changes in social security provision which meant that there was a growing band of people who were shuffled around as they went through the period of qualification for payment in various parts of the country. There are an awful lot of people who simply never appear on the registers.

There is also a transient population of those who are looking for jobs and are moving from one area to another. The advice from Norman Tebbit was, "Get on your bike." Unfortunately, what did not go with that was the ability to vote when one got on one's bike if one turned up in the right place too late.

What we should like to have heard from the Home Secretary and what we should like to hear even now is that more resources will be put into a registration campaign and that more effort will be made to get people on to the register. The Government could find the money to advertise in South Africa, on the Costa del Sol and everywhere else they thought that they could pick up a few votes from people who have been out of the country for 25 years. I only wish that they would show as much concern for those who have no intention of living abroad, who still live here and who want to participate in the democratic process.

Photo of Sir Peter Lloyd Sir Peter Lloyd , Fareham

We show far more concern for those resident in this country, which is why we advertise every year. The advertising for those abroad was a one-off when the new provisions came into effect.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson, Shadow Spokesperson

I take the point, although I suspect that such a concentrated appeal will be a one-off every time a general election comes up as long as the Conservatives are in government. Advertising for registration must be continuous. There must be a substantial flow of resources from central Government to local authorities, backed up by continual campaigning using all the media to ensure that people get themselves on to the register.

My borough is one that seems likely to lose a seat. I should not mind if I felt that there was a genuine movement out of the borough of Newham which would justify a change to a lower level of parliamentary representation, but the figures in Newham simply do not express the real size of the population and of the people who are eligible to vote in terms of age qualification. I know that some people deliberately excluded themselves from the register in my area, as elsewhere, because they did not want to pay the poll tax, but, as I said earlier, we had the peculiar situation in Newham that at one stage more people were on the poll tax register than were on the electoral register.

It seems that not enough effort is being put into getting people on to the electoral register. Many people in London especially have been and are being disfranchised. The ballot box is supposed to underpin our democratic system, but if people are denied access to the democratic system through the register or if many barriers are put in the way of their getting that access, our democracy is flawed. People have been disfranchised, which should worry all hon. Members who are concerned about the democratic process.

Our system of registration and voting is wholly outmoded. If it is a question of a national insurance number or of the Inland Revenue, one tends to be hunted down—quite rightly, and we do not argue about that. It is right that people should pay taxes and that they should be on the national insurance register. That is very important. After all, decisions that affect tax are taken in this place. The only way to achieve representation in this place is to vote for the people here. I wish that we would show as much priority and concern about the electoral register as we quite rightly give to those who should pay tax and those who should be registered for national insurance purposes.

The system is outmoded. People are excluded from registration because they move. I understand why one should vote in the constituency in which one lives. That clearly makes a great deal of sense. However, I see no reason why the ability to vote should not move with us and be transferred easily with us.

People enter polling stations at general elections and see the pencil on a bit of string and the plywood booth. I see no reason why one should not be given an electoral registration number at birth that can be activated at whatever age we decide people should be eligible to vote. At the moment that is 18 although, at some point, it may be reduced to 16. Instead of going to the clerk in the polling stations who has to thumb through a book, one's number and address would be fed into a computer terminal. It would then be easy to discover whether someone had been moving around. [Interruption.] My hon, Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) may laugh at that. Well, I may not have worked out all the nuts and bolts. No doubt, if he applies his considerable abilities, he will be able to make my inchoate scheme that much more efficient.

However, it seems to be nonsense that people can lose the ability to vote because they have moved. There are postal votes and ways of referring back to constituencies, but those are obstacles in the way of exercising one's democratic right. We should remove as many of those obstacles as possible.

My final point about my borough of Newham is that it looks as though we are going to lose a seat. We will live with that if that is the case. However, Newham at the moment has the fastest birth rate in the country. In view of what is going on, I am going to try to speed it up a little as soon as I leave the House tonight. I might also point out that Forest Gate also has the highest incidence of car theft in the country. It is now clear what they are all doing in the backs of those stolen cars on Wanstead flats. Jolly good luck to them. They must work a lot harder. The Minister should consider the fact that the population is growing in Newham and perhaps we should not lose one of our excellent Members of Parliament for that borough.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Order. Four hon. Members hope to catch my eye and I understand that the winding-up speeches are expected to begin at 9.30 pm. With a little co-operation, I hope to be able to call all the hon. Members who wish to speak.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford 8:52 pm, 15th June 1992

I will bear in mind what you have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I will confine myself to 10 minutes or less.

I welcome the Bill, because it is wrong that the next election should be fought on boundaries that reflect population figures allocated and arrived at in 1976. To fight the next general election on boundaries which by then will be more than 20 years out of date is wrong and undemocratic.

I rise at this late hour in an attempt to urge my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to reconsider his earlier remarks. In response to a question from one of my hon. Friends who asked whether the Government would consider setting up a boundary commission for the whole of the United Kingdom, the Home Secretary said that that would not be possible because it would require primary legislation. This Bill is primary legislation. The position in the House, in the country and in the Conservative party has reached a point at which the over-representation of Scotland—and of Wales, to a lesser extent—cannot be sustained any longer.

I understand the historical protocol and arguments that have applied in the past. On many occasions I have been reminded of the fact that the first prescription for seat numbers in Scotland arose from the Act of Union of 1707 which prescribed that the number of seats for Scotland should be 45. Over the centuries that followed, that figure has risen to more than 70.

It is clear to everyone in the House that the English average of 69,000—plus is way above that in Scotland of more than 54,000. If we had a boundary commission for the United Kingdom as a whole, working perhaps to a figure of 65,000, we would still arrive at a figure of 650 Members of Parliament. That is the upper limit for representation to the House.

The Select Committee on Home Affairs which reported in 1987 got itself into a bit of a state with regard to the over-representation of Scotland and Wales. At paragraph 67 it stated: The present rules allow for over-representation of Scotland and Wales, for reasons which have been considered sound in the past. But there has been no review of the statutory rules for some time. That is the precise point. The rules were "sound in the past". Earlier today, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said that he had some sympathy with what he believed were the legitimate demands of the Scottish and Welsh people for some form of government. He did not have time to develop the point about the kind of government, but he thought that it was right that they should have a form of devolution.

If Wales and Scotland have a form of devolution and a greater say as nations over their affairs, it would clearly be wrong to sustain the level of over-representation as it is now. The Select Committee on Home Affairs went on to state in paragraph 67: If … it is judged that Scotland and Wales should continue to receive special treatment to give them an effective voice in parliamentary affairs, there may still be a case for reducing the difference between the standards of representation of the different countries of the United Kingdom by making some modest changes in the number of seats. There is common agreement across the House that we do not want to continue to add to the number of hon. Members in the House, for good reasons which I will not go into now.

On the one hand, there are special factors of sparsity, population, work-load and geographical distances which apply in some parts of Scotland, as the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) will confirm. However, such arguments cannot apply to Glasgow, where there are 11 seats ranging from 36,560 in 1992 for the seat of Glasgow, Provan to the dizzy heights of 57,223 for Glasgow, Hillhead. Clearly, there is no argument in Glasgow, Edinburgh or the central belt of Scotland for sustaining over-representation when a boundary commission could simply apply the United Kingdom average of 67,000 and thereby reduce the number of seats. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take that point on board.

Photo of Mr Bob Dunn Mr Bob Dunn , Dartford

I am confining myself to 10 minutes, I am afraid. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand if I do not give way.

There is a strong argument—I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will respond to it—for a single boundary commission for the United Kingdom. Paragraph 20 of the Home Affairs Select Committee's 1987 report states: Nevertheless we believe it ought to be explained that it would not be difficult technically to amend the Rules to achieve a uniform UK quota. Exactly so. I hope that my hon. Friend will respond and let us know why we cannot use this primary legislation to effect a boundary commission for the United Kingdom as a whole and put parliamentary representation on all fours across the whole of the United Kingdom.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North 8:58 pm, 15th June 1992

Lest there be any misunderstanding, of course I accept the need for regular reviews of constituency boundaries. It has never been disputed in the House that boundaries need to be reviewed. It is a totally illogical argument, and one which I certainly am not advancing, that the boundaries that were previously agreed should remain for years to come without review or revision at all.

The concept of boundary changes and so on should be as politically impartial as possible and with full co-operation between the parties. I do not believe that the way in which the Government have acted brings about that objective. It is a desirable objective that the concept and operation of boundary reviews should be politically impartial. We learned from my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) that there has not been any approach from the Government to the Opposition, and I am not at all surprised that that is so.

We may be considered on this side to be cynical about the exercise, but it is interesting to note that, almost as soon as the election was over, when the Government were re-elected with a much reduced overall majority, we read in the newspapers, perhaps two or three days after 9 April, that one of the first items that the Government were considering and would almost certainly put in the Queen's Speech was this Bill. The press concluded that the Government hoped to gain 10 to 20 seats. I may be cynical, as I have said, but I do not believe that the Bill would be before us if the Government were not of the view that some advantage was to be gained.

If it is said that that is an unfortunate view to take of the Government and that they are motivated, as the Home Secretary said, by the best of intentions, I remind the House of what happened in the previous Parliament, when there was a Bill stating that people who were overseas for a long period should be given the vote. The Opposition Front Bench decided, in my view wrongly, to support the Government. Several of my hon. Friends and I voted against the Bill. If there is any regret, it is among those in my party who decided to support that measure. I saw no justification for it. Although there is undoubtedly a case that people who go abroad for short periods should continue to have the vote, that should not be done in the way that the Government decided at that time.

We know the Government's record in local government—for example, the abolition of metropolitan county councils, and the Greater London council. Of course, they were Labour-controlled. They were an irritant to the Government of the day and they were duly abolished. When one sees the matter in that context, it is perhaps more understandable why I have many misgivings about this Bill.

I would much rather have had, before there was any Bill, a wide-ranging debate on various matters connected with the electoral process. Polling cards have been mentioned. During the election, I received several telephone calls from an area in my constituency. The Post Office had made an error. The polling cards did arrive on time, but the people were deeply concerned when they were late. They were obviously conscientious and wanted to vote. I contacted the Post Office, but I explained to the people concerned that they did not need to have a polling card. That is not generally understood and it is one factor that we should take into account.

There is another, far more important factor, and that is the number of people—25 per cent. or more—who have never participated in the electoral process and do not vote in local or national elections. Of course the figure of non-voters is considerably higher in respect of local government elections. Is there a case for a form of compulsory voting, as in Australia? We have not had the opportunity to debate those matters and it is quite likely that we will not be able to do so in Committee.

On population changes, of course it would be unfortunate if there was no review of boundaries over a long period. However, it is undesirable to change constituency boundaries too frequently, because people identify with their constituencies. Much more attention should be given—and would have been given if there had been a general debate on the subject before the Bill was produced.

There should have been more time for consultation and for consideration of other matters. I am not satisfied that the Bill will provide sufficient time for consultation and public inquiries and for representations to be made, if the deadline of December 1994 is to be met.

The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), who has now left the Chamber, and several other hon. Members referred to what they considered to be the over-representation of Scotland and Wales. I was a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee which considered the matter. The Committee decided to make no recommendation for change. It is far more appropriate for Members of Parliament who represent Scottish and Welsh constituencies to make the point, but this sensitive moment, especially for Scotland, where various matters are being debated, is not the time to suggest that those areas are over-represented.

I can only conclude that the reason why Conservative Members raise what they believe to be the overrepresentation of Scotland and Wales is that those constituencies mainly vote Labour. Does anyone believe that if those constituencies voted Tory the comments that we have heard tonight would be made?

I have given consideration to whether I should support the Bill by not seeking to divide the House. I feel uneasy in my mind, for the reasons that I have given and others—I could not deal with all of them for lack of time. I feel that the Bill has been introduced not in the interests of democracy, or to allow the review of boundaries which is obviously essential, but because the Government are determined to do whatever they can to obtain extra seats. They may turn out to be wrong and I hope that they will, but they believe that they will gain extra seats. They are working on the assumption so widely reported in the press that there are seats to be gained and therefore they have introduced the Bill.

As I feel so uneasy and believe that I was proved right with some of my hon. Friends on votes for people living overseas, I have come to the conclusion that it will be right to divide the House at 10 o'clock.

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West 9:06 pm, 15th June 1992

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) implied that somehow something other than objectivity was involved either in the timing of the review or in the proposals which may or may not come forth from the boundary commission. The boundary commission is utterly objective. It works to its own timetable. It is independent. If my memory serves me correctly, the only Home Secretary since the second world war to have messed about subjectively with the process was a Labour Home Secretary in the 1970s, who deferred the proper period within which the boundary commission should report because he feared that the redistribution of electors between constituencies might work to the disadvantage of his party.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) said that, in the interests of objectivity, if there is greater devolution of power to Scotland—apparently that agenda is now open, but we have yet to learn whether it is—the quid pro quo is surely that there should be equality. That is all that we are saying. There should be equality, or as close as one can get to it, between the number of constituents per Member of Parliament in Scotland and in the rest of the United Kingdom.

For the sake of argument, let us assume that there was not a Conservative victory at the last general election and that the right hon. Friends of the hon. Member for Walsall, North are therefore on the Government Bench. We should have been asked to contemplate the creation of regional councils—a sort of devolution for England. To justify the over-representation of Scotland, England would have had to be given its devolution as a fig leaf to protect that arrangement.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) made an admirable maiden speech. He spoke with great conviction and style about the cohesion of local communities, the loyalty that one should have to the platoon as compared with the army, and the sense of loyalty to local communities. I endorse that strongly, because—here I declare a non-pecuniary interest—I am president of an organisation called the Association of British Counties, which is dedicated to the restoration wherever necessary of the traditional and historic counties of England and Wales. That is germane to the Bill and much has been said about the need for the boundary commission to be as faithful as possible to the loyalties of people who have a sense of belonging to their local communities.

I am ashamed to say that in the 1970s, when a good deal happened which should not have happened, a Conservative Administration destroyed a number of ancient counties and went on to introduce aberrations which were much hated by people all over the country—the metropolitan county councils. Thank goodness the days of Humberside—whatever that is—appear to be numbered, and the people of north Lincolnshire and the east riding of Yorkshire may have their counties back again. I hope that the rump of West Midlands metropolitan county council will also be destroyed soon.

I also issue a plea for the redundancy of the lord lieutenant of West Midlands metropolitan county council. I believe that the lord lieutenant who goes into proud cities such as Birmingham should be the lord lieutenant of Warwickshire, while the one who goes into Wolverhampton and—dare I say it—Walsall should be the lord lieutenant of Staffordshire. Their heritage should be returned to them and, wherever possible, the boundary commissioner should ensure that his boundaries coincide with their ancient, historic counterparts.

Choosing a county—entirely at random, of course—which should be restored to its former glory, I refer to Huntingdon. The same possibly applies to Rutland, and it certainly applies to Westmorland and Cumberland. Let us get rid of that awful thing called Avon and give the people of Somerset their identity back.

All over the country there are old loyalties that should be respected. I hope that, when my hon. Friend the Minister of State considers the guidance from the boundary commission, he will remind Sir John Banham that—working within the Department of the Environment, and reporting to it—another commission, the local government boundary commission, has already accepted guidelines to the effect that, if one-tier local government is introduced, the reform will be easier to accept if ancient loyalties are given full expression and ancient boundaries restored. The creation of Humberside may have made the acceptance of such a reform highly unlikely and very unpopular, but the restoration of the ancient county names will make a number of proposals for one-tier authorities very acceptable, provided that wherever possible the new boundaries are coterminous with the ancient county boundaries.

My hon. Friend is faced with a comparatively easy task. He will merely apply fairness, helping to bring about a position that is as close as possible to equality of size in constituencies throughout the country. The boundary commission works to its own timetable, according to its own criteria and with its own sense of fairness. The best thing that the House can do is to give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading, in the knowledge that it may help us to solve other problems—not least in areas such as Scotland.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien , Normanton 9:13 pm, 15th June 1992

I speak on behalf of the people of West Yorkshire, who could lose a parliamentary seat if the review is not carried out honestly and correctily. I am sure, however, that the arguments that the people will advance will justify the continued existence of the 23 constituencies in the area.

The hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher) referred to the historic counties. The West Riding county council was, indeed, such a historic county, but it was abolished by a Tory Minister. The people in the area will never forget that it was the Conservatives who abolished it. The quicker we reinstate the former West Riding county council the better.

The township of Ossett in my constituency will suffer again, if one West Yorkshire constituency is removed. In 1983, Ossett was moved from the Dewsbury constituency into the Normanton constituency. If the suggested revision takes place under this review, Ossett could be moved again, this time into the constituency of Morley and Leeds, South. It is unfair to shuffle communities about simply to make up numbers, without having regard to the impact on those communities. That is why I intervened in the Home Secretary's opening statement to ask whether the legislation allows sufficient time for consultation to obtain the views of local people.

Clause 2 refers to the change of dates. It is against that background that I ask whether there is sufficient time for people to make the necessary observations on behalf of their communities. It is not just that Ossett was moved from Dewsbury into Normanton; part of it was moved into the Wakefield constituency to make up numbers. Communities are not only shuffled from one constituency to another; but they are divided to make up the numbers that the boundary commission requires of a constituency according to its formula.

The boundary commission newsletter states: The Commission announced the commencement of the general review of all parliamentary constituency boundaries throughout England on 21 January 1991. A report on the Commission's review must be submitted to the Home Secretary not earlier than 1 February 1993 and no later than 31 January 1998. It is too early to estimate when the report will be completed but it is unlikely to be before mid 1995. Yet the Bill provides that the report should be produced 12 months before the date which the commission says it will have difficulty meeting under existing legislation. Therefore, I put it to the Minister that the timetable is so tight that communities such as Ossett will not have an opportunity to consider the implications of further boundary changes to their constituencies.

We are also told that local inquiries into such changes will last up to one week. Again, communities are denied the opportunity of time to present their case as to why their community should not be divided and shuffled from one constituency to another. It is appalling to limit the time for a first public inquiry to one week. There is also the question of the local government boundary commission and the problems that exist in Wales. The Secretary of State for Wales is shuffling around the proposals for the boundaries of local authorities in Wales, which will have an effect on constituency boundaries.

Are the Government being fair to people in constituencies by introducing the Bill in the apparent haste they are, given the details of its various clauses? At present, West Yorkshire has 23 constituencies. Under the proposals, theoretically, West Yorkshire would have 22.74 constituencies, given the number of people on the 1991 electoral register. If the theoretical number of constituencies is more than 22.5, West Yorkshire should retain its 23 seats.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien , Normanton

My hon. Friend accepts my argument. It is justifiable for West Yorkshire to plan to retain 23 seats. If the commission argues that the figure of 22.5 or 22.74, depending on how one looks at the statistics, is not sufficient to retain 23 seats, it should consider the projected electorate for 1996. As has already been said, we should also consider the proportion of the eligible adult population that is registered in constituencies so that the number of eligible electors is equalised between constituencies. That would mean that the theoretical figures would take account of the projected electoral registers.

The Secretary of State stated that he thought that 95 per cent. registration was a good figure. The Home Office may have told the boundary commission that 95 per cent. registration would be sufficient, but the addition of the unregistered 5 per cent. in West Yorkshire, which will have 22.74 theoretical constituencies, would justify the retention of 23 seats.

The boundary commission must approach the revision of boundaries carefully. The Minister of State should consider its programme carefully. If local communities and interested bodies, including political parties, are not allowed to present their case to the commission, or if the right of appeal is so restricted that the ability of those groups to put their case is limited, the Government will not be acting in the best interests of the people in the constituencies affected. I am making a special plea for West Yorkshire because due allowance must be made in all circumstances for proven under-registration or anticipated growth in an area before a decision is taken to reduce the number of seats in a county.

The Government and the boundary commission must allow time, because the haste with which the Bill has been introduced is not in the best interests of communities throughout the United Kingdom, particularly in West Yorkshire. I ask the Minister to give careful thought to what I have said on behalf of the people and communities in West Yorkshire.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 9:24 pm, 15th June 1992

Before I turn to the substance of the debate, I should mention the two maiden speeches today. The first was by the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards), who paid a generous tribute to his predecessor, Sir Anthony Meyer. Opposition Members remember when Sir Anthony acted as stalking horse in 1989 and we certainly appreciated his efforts. Many Conservative Members also appreciated his efforts, but could not say so until the fall of their then leader. It is clear that the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West will make many interesting speeches. His tone is more loyal than that of his predecessor. Having been a broadcaster at the BBC, he should have a word with some of his colleagues who believe that the BBC is populated with Trotskyites. Clearly, he at least has slipped through the net.

The hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thompson) also made a powerful and effective speech although, unlike the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West, his speech was controversial. Personally, I thoroughly approve of that and I am sure that we shall get to grips with some of the matters that he raised. Unfortunately, he is no longer in his place, but he will no doubt read these remarks in the morning.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said in opening the debate on behalf of the Opposition, it is unfortunate that the only measure on constitutional reform which the Government are likely to introduce is to bring forward the boundary commission review. From speeches made on both sides of the House, it is obvious that there is a significant and substantial interest in constitutional reform. Conservative Members who have complained at length about the alleged over-representation of some parts of the United Kingdom and suggested possible constitutional change should be aware that there is no point in considering matters of constitutional change individually. If there is to be change, by all means let us discuss it. It is unfortunate that today's debate takes place only on a narrow principle—the undeniable question of population change and the necessity for a fresh boundary review to be set up.

The principle of the Bill is that the population has changed and therefore the pattern of constituency representation must also change. No one would quarrel with that. Our quarrel will arise at a later stage when we discuss the detail of the Bill and the way in which the changes will be made. We are concerned not about the fact that the review is taking place but about the way it is likely to take place. Hon. Members will be aware that the Committee stage must be taken on the Floor of the House because of the nature of the Bill. I assure the Government that we shall seek to divide the House on a number of occasions unless they make the concessions and changes that we consider necessary. We are worried about the rules and guidelines under the 1986 Act and shall want to refer to those.

Clause 2 deals with the period in which the boundary commission must review the matter. Initially, the period was three to seven years, which was rightly felt to be too short; it is now 10 to 15 years, and the Government propose that we should reconsider the matter every eight to 12 years.

I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), who pointed out that the Home Affairs Select Committee recommended against any change. It felt that a Member of Parliament should have a chance to establish a relationship with his constituency. Clearly, if constituency boundaries change regularly, the weight which many people put on the link between a constituency Member and the constituency will be undermined. All those who back our present electoral system and rely heavily on that link should think deeply and at length about the advantages of letting a constituency run for, say, three Parliaments rather than changing it every Parliament or every second Parliament. Sometimes changes are radical, and if a link is to exist the seat should remain in existence for up to three Parliaments. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook said, we favour a fixed term for the review, which would avoid some of the allegations of gerrymandering because the Government could do nothing much about implementing the changes. We think that a 12-year period would be appropriate.

Much of the debate has turned on the alleged discrepancy between the size of constituencies. In England, they range from 42,000 in Surbiton to more than 100,000 in the Isle of Wight. In Scotland, the Western Isles constituency has 23,000 electors and the Gordon constituency 80,000. That shows that there are discrepancies in England and Scotland, just as there are in Wales and Northern Ireland, as has also been pointed out. Discrepancies are inevitable, but they are not confined to one country of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) said that in London there are a number of small constituencies. If anomalies are to be ironed out, that should also be looked at.

While the weight of a vote is important, it is not everything. It would be possible to construct constituencies which were, as near as may be, exactly the same size, but I am sure that every one of us in the House, and every political party in the country, would say that some regard has to be paid to community ties and identifiable areas. I know that, whenever an inquiry takes place, that is what it turns on, not on the numbers. Hon. Members and parties argue fiercely about which ward should be in which constituency because of community ties. Often, community ties are related to the political complexion of the area. Sometimes it is not always clear what the community tie is, and political colour is a far greater tie than any more obvious link that someone who is not biased might think important.

The constituencies of Members of the European Parliament are so large that any idea of community is meaningless. There should always be an identifiable link with a city or a town. It is unfortunate that, in the last review, the boundary commission was prepared to split towns and communities for reasons that were not altogether clear. Most of us believe that community ties are worth considerable weight and I hope that the boundary commission will have some regard to that. I am sorry that the Government did not take the opportunity to make that clear in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Westminster, North said that in London dealing with one council gave the advantage of social cohesion, and the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) agreed. That is fine, but why not elsewhere in the United Kingdom? If it is good enough for London, it is good enough for other parts of the country.

Photo of Mr John Wheeler Mr John Wheeler , Westminster North

The hon. Gentleman is right, but there is an important difference in that London has a one-tier local authority system, which other parts of the country do not necessarily have.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

That is true. However, under clause 3, the Government invite the commission to take account of any future changes that are more likely to result in single tiers. Most urban parts of England also have single-tier local government, so the same argument would obtain in Birmingham or Manchester. I am not sure about the point that the hon. Gentleman wishes to make.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

In urban areas, boundaries are crossed in five of the seven metropolitan districts. That means that boundaries in London could also be crossed, because it does not cause a problem of representation.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

That is so. For the benefit of some of my hon. Friends I should make the point that, when looking for ways in which the boundary commission can be influenced—sometimes it may wish to influence itself—they should have a look at rules 4, 5 and 6 in the 1986 Act. Those rules allow the boundary commission to exercise discretion or influence to be brought to bear making a large difference to the political complexion of the seat. Rule 6, which allows the boundary commission to take account of special geographical considerations—size, shape and accessibility of the constituency—seems to give the commission considerable leeway. We ought to look into that. The guidelines and the way in which the boundary commission conducts itself are of far greater importance than whether the review takes place in 1994 or any other year.

I can never be sure whether Back-Bench Conservative Members who talk about Scotland do so on their own account or whether they have been given a nod and a wink by the Government. Perhaps the Minister will let us know shortly. The hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) referred to people of Scottish and Welsh descent living in English constituencies. That is not the point, which is that the United Kingdom is made up of four separate nations which have come together. Many people value the links between them and want them to continue, although many of us think that the government of this country is in desperate need of improvement.

Scotland is a nation and the argument runs that it should have a large degee of self-government, albeit within the United Kingdom. This is not a narrow nationalist point to do with whether Scots men and women should be governed by Scots men and women. The Home Secretary said that it would be taken amiss if the Government reduced the number of Scottish seats. That was something of an understatement. It would certainly undermine the claims of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland, who are running around Scotland saying that the Conservatives care deeply about Scotland.

I hope that many people in Scotland will listen to what has been said in this debate. Whatever the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State may say, many Conservative Back Benchers take a different view of Scotland. It is interesting that no Scottish Tory Back Bencher has spoken in support of the proposition that his representation should be reduced. Unless there are to be major constitutional changes hitherto not envisaged, I see no argument for changing the balance as between parliamentary seats in the United Kingdom.

The difficulties in some parts of Scotland have been mentioned. Ross, Cromarty and Skye is small numerically, but it has the largest geographical area of any constituency. To bring the numbers there up to the quota of 68,000, it would be necessary to create a constituency so large that the relevant Member would have difficulty getting around it once in 10 years, let alone once a Parliament.

The opposite applies to the Isle of Wight. There is obviously a good reason to have one Member representing one island with an identifiable sense of community—yet an electorate of 101,000 is way above what would be acceptable in mainland England.

The number of Scottish Members has remained fairly static—from 71, it has become 72—but the number of Members representing English seats has increased as the total has risen from 613 to 651. There are clearly imbalances within England as well as between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

If the Government intend to make further constitutional changes to the relationship between Scotland and Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom, perhaps the Minister will tell us what they are. I understand the Prime Minister to have been saying in Scotland that no changes of substance are planned, so I hope that he will repudiate the views of Tory Back Benchers who want to reduce Scottish representation.

Clause 3 causes us some concern. The press release that heralded the Bill did not refer to it. I refer in particular to the proposal that nothing in this subsection shall prevent a Boundary Commission publishing proposed recommendations which take account of boundaries which are not in operation at the time of publication. I should like to know what that means. Does it mean that such boundaries have to be in existence somewhere but not in operation? Will it be open to interest groups to argue that the Government have perhaps proposed local government boundary changes that the boundary commission ought to take into consideration?

In the next few years, the pattern that the Government have in mind for England and possibly for Scotland will become clear. If the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), is to be believed, just about every village, parish and collection of houses that wants a local government boundary will get one. Will it be open to those making submissions to the boundary commission to argue for substantially different boundaries?

Part of clause 3 is far too widely drawn and I suspect that the Government will use that to try to urge the commission to get further than it otherwise would in drawing up boundary changes which will benefit the Conservative party. If the Government do not amend and tighten that definition, we shall certainly vote against the clause in Committee. What will happen to areas that the commission has already dealt with? Can they be revised in the light of clause 3 if a different pattern is urged?

Some of my hon. Friends rightly expressed concern about under-registration. It is clear that many people over the age of 18 are not on the electoral register. In my constituency, some people on the poll tax register who have paid their poll tax are not on the electoral register and they have every right to feel aggrieved. Not only is the electoral register out of date, but the figures that we shall soon have are also likely to be inaccurate because of the poll tax.

I warn the Government about the difficulties that will be caused for people who are pushed off the electoral register, sometimes through no fault of their own, and for people who have excluded themselves from the political process. The poll tax and those who supported it have much to answer for. It is extremely dangerous for the political process when more and more people—

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

No, because the Minister is becoming restive—I promised him 20 minutes and he is already down to 19.

The Government should have regard to the fact that many people are not on the electoral register. If the boundary recommendations are to have any real meaning, the commission must have regard to proven under-registration. If it does not attend to that, the changes will be made on a false basis and people will be excluded from the process. No Government can ignore that.

The remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) about efforts to get people on the register should be taken on board. There has been a complete lack of television advertising on that matter. When the Government propose to privatise public assets, a great deal is spent telling people about the opportunities which may arise to acquire shares at knockdown prices. The same effort should be put into urging people to put their names on the electoral register. Perhaps we could hear more about that because, so far, the Government's efforts have been lamentable.

We shall not divide the House on the principles of the Bill, but many aspects of the workings of the Bill and of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, to which we shall return when we deal with the matter in Committee, are causing concern. We shall divide the House on those matters because we strongly believe that the Government are simply letting matters drift and are not attending to real and substantial issues which should worry anyone interested in parliamentary democracy.

Photo of Sir Peter Lloyd Sir Peter Lloyd , Fareham 9:43 pm, 15th June 1992

As my time is even shorter than I expected, I shall start by picking out the highlights of the debate and saying how much the House enjoyed the two maiden speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) paid a well-merited tribute to his predecessor, Sir Anthony Meyer, who is well remembered with great regard for his strong and sincere conviction which, when he felt it necessary, brought him into high-profile collision with his party. I dare say that the Whips are wondering how far my hon. Friend will follow his predecessor's example. Plainly, he can speak well and has an attractive constituency and a strong grasp of local issues. The House looks forward to hearing him again.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) also made an excellent maiden speech. He, too, paid a well-earned tribute to his predecessor, Hal Miller, who was well liked and listened to in the House, and it became plain from my hon. Friend's speech that that was the position in Bromsgrove, too. Hal Miller was an authority on the motor industry, in which he now holds a key position. He spoke on it with great effect. His successor, my hon. Friend, also spoke with great authority as befits a former chairman of the Association of District Councils and leader of Bournemouth city council. The House will look forward to hearing from him again.

I have listened to all but half an hour of the debate. Alas, I missed the remarks of my hon. Friends the Members for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce) and for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett). I missed also the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), who I know takes a thoughtful and constructive interest in these matters. I shall read the speeches of my hon. Friends and the hon. Gentleman, with profit no doubt, in Hansard. Some strongly held views have been expressed during the debate. That is not surprising, as every hon. Member has a direct and personal interest in any measure that might affect the size and shape, if not the very existence, of his or her constituency at the next general election. The point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones).

Similarly, it is not surprising that the debate has ranged widely and at times has been more concerned with what is not in the Bill than with what is, but it has been sensible and constructive throughout.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said, the scope of the Bill is modest and confined. It has only five clauses, two of which deal with the title and financial provisions.

The other three clauses do four main things. First, they require the current boundary commissions to report by the end of 1994, nearly 12 years after the commissions last reported in 1983.

Secondly, the shortened time scale will be aplied to future reviews. There is the requirement to report not sooner than eight years and not later than 12 years, compared with the present minimum of 10 years and maximum of 15 years. It is plain, as my right hon. and learned Friend said, and as many of my hon. Friends reiterated and amplified during the debate, that 15 years is too long if constituencies are to be kept at a reasonably equal size.

In England, constituency sizes range from 42,000 electors to more than 90,000. In Wales they range from 32,000 to more than 70,000 and in Scotland from 23,000 to 78,000. These ranges are not acceptable, although they are not surprising, as the boundaries on which the registers were based were, in England and Wales, those in force in 1976, 16 years ago, since when many millions have moved home. We have a geographically mobile society and registers that are so out of date are not a proper basis for the current distribution of constituencies.

It has been a welcome feature of the debate that Opposition Members have not sought to argue that the 1976 registers are an adequate basis for constituency boundaries for the next election, even though some fear that the likely reduction in the number of seats in the old urban areas from which voters have moved and the likely increase in the number of seats in the shire counties which have seen growth in population may not be to their party's advantage. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was wise to say that no one should make any hard and fast assumptions of gain and loss as a result of the changes in any election to come.

Several hon. Members on both sides of the House want to change the rules under which the boundary commissions operate. The commissions must have regard to the balance of population, social and geographical considerations and the significance of county and, particularly, London borough boundaries. There may or may not be a case for examining these matters and other aspects of the rules, although I must say that they have served well to date. Many people are disappointed by boundary commission proposals, but few argue with any persuasive conviction that they are partisan or unreasonable, or that it is not possible to make effective representations on provisional proposals and, often, to get them changed.

I assure the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) that the timetable and the additional resources that are being made available are intended to allow representations to be made, to be heard and to be acted upon.

Although there may be a case for reconsidering some of the rules, now is certainly not the time to do so. If we were to change them in this round, the English Boundary Commission, which began work last year under the current rules and which has already reported on more than one third of the English counties, would have to start again under the new rules. That would also be so for the Scottish Boundary Commission, which started work at the beginning of this year. That would effectively mean no boundary changes before 1997–98—an eventuality which might be devoutly wished by some Labour Members. Nevertheless, we shall carefully consider the serious suggestions for rule changes made during the debate, or which might be made in the House or elsewhere at a later stage. I would not rule out putting any of those suggestions into effect for the next round of reviews, especially if they should commend themselves across the political spectrum.

Rather more insistently, many Labour Members—notably the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes)—complained that the 1991 register, which is the reference point for the English, Scottish and Welsh boundary commissions, is insufficiently accurate to form an acceptable base for redistribution. I have some sympathy with that view. Just as I believe that constituency boundaries should not be allowed to become too out of date, so I believe that registers should be as up to date and as complete as possible.

From the estimates available, it appears that the 1976 register, which formed the basis for the last reorganisation in England and Wales, contained 97 per cent. of the eligible population and that by 1991 that figure had fallen to 95.5 per cent. We shall know better whether there has been such a fall when the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys has completed its work later this year. We may find that there has been no such fall or that any fall has been larger than estimated, but we shall discuss with local authorities and interested organisations, including political parties, how to ensure the maximum practical accuracy of registers.

In so far as that is the objective of Labour Members, there is no difference between us, but I do not accept the claim of some of them that the 1991 shortfall is wholly the result of the community charge and that it all works to the disadvantage of the Labour party. The timing of the estimated falls in proportions registered in England, Scotland and Wales does not bear out the proposition that the community charge was the only factor—and it does not necessarily demonstrate that it was the key factor. Although I accept that people sought to evade community charge payment by staying off the register, some electoral registration officers—notably in Leeds—used the community charge registers to improve the accuracy of their electoral registers.

Whatever the net effect of the community charge on registrations—and if I may confront the issue of raw party political advantage that lies below the surface and which, in parts of the debate, occasionally appeared above it—I suspect that the use of the 1991 register, with its estimated 95.5 per cent. accuracy in England and Wales and its 96.5 per cent. accuracy in Scotland, will be more favourable to the Labour party than anything more accurate or up to date. I say that quite simply because there is movement out of old urban areas—the old Labour heartlands—and that very process means that by the February, when a register comes into effect, a proportion of those on it will by then have moved away. That will have been compounded in some places where the practice has been to leave names on the register for a year or two, even though those people have not returned the registration form.

At any one time, therefore, areas that are losing population will have registers that tend to overstate the current number of electors. Contrarywise, those areas where the population is growing will always have registers that understate their adult eligible population. During the general election campaign, my hon. Friends with expanding constituencies will have been faced with frustrated citizens, newly moved to their area and not on the electoral register, who were angry that they were unable to vote. After the last reorganisation, many of my hon. Friends will have had the experience that, by the time their new boundaries came into effect, their electorate was again well above the quota.

As the English and Scottish commissioners have already started work on the basis of the 1991 register, it will not be practicable for the Government to accept an amendment on that point. That, I know, will be deeply disappointing to those of my hon. Friends who see great advantage in basing reorganisation on more fully accurate and up-to-date registers. For that same reason, if Opposition Members think carefully about it, they ought to be somewhat relieved that there is no question of changing the rules at this stage and opting for a later and more complete register. They have argued strenuously that they want a register that better reflects the number of eligible residents in each constituency. If I were to say that I could see a way of obliging them, I am certain that they would begin to have some doubts about a move in that direction being provided for in this Bill.

I said that there were four elements in the Bill. I have dealt with two of them. I intend not to deal with the others so that I can refer to points that were made in the debate. As I have already implied, the constructive approach of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central is welcome. Both are concerned about clause 3, in particular about the way that the commissions would be able to take into account local government boundary changes not yet in force when making their provisional recommendations. That is a Committee point, but I ought to emphasise that, apart from Wales, the commission can have regard in its final proposals only to boundaries in force at the time that it makes its report. The flexibility in the Bill is designed to ensure that boundaries are as up to date as possible. I shall check the clarity and scope of the wording and see that it is helpful rather than confusing. I believe that it will be found to be extremely helpful.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) is concerned about the steadily growing size of the House. There were 625 Members in 1950. There are 651 Members in 1992. I know that the Select Committee discussed this matter some years ago. Its proposed solution—a fixed divisor—would, I believe, result in some real problems, but the issue needs to be tackled. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and his party may be prepared to discuss it seriously at some stage. The right hon. Gentleman has already offered to discuss seriously detailed reforms that might be made to the constitutional arrangements.

As for bringing the average size of electorates in English constituencies and those in Wales and Scotland into line, the differences are of very long standing and have wide implications for the structure and constitution of the United Kingdom, which should not be confused with the contents of this limited and practical Bill. The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) dealt very well with the complexities of any consideration of this issue from the perspective of Northern Ireland. I believe that some of my hon. Friends could usefully read what he said.

This is a small but important Bill. It naturally evokes interest from every hon. Member. It will make our constituencies more equal—which, judging from the debate, is in the interests of all hon. Members. Nobody argued against the Bill, so I hope that we shall have the united support of the House for giving it a Second Reading.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 290, Noes 44.

Division No. 31][10 pm
AYES
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)Dickens, Geoffrey
Aitken, JonathanDorrell, Stephen
Alexander, RichardDouglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)Dover, Den
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)Duncan, Alan
Amess, DavidDuncan-Smith, Iain
Ancram, MichaelDunn, Bob
Arbuthnot, JamesDurant, Sir Anthony
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Eggar, Tim
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)Elletson, Harold
Ashby, DavidEvans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Baldry, TonyEvennett, David
Banks, Matthew (Southport)Faber, David
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Fabricant, Michael
Bates, MichaelFairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Batiste, SpencerFenner, Dame Peggy
Bellingham, HenryField, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Bendall, VivianFishburn, John Dudley
Beresford, Sir PaulForman, Nigel
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Blackburn, Dr John G.Forth, Eric
Body, Sir RichardFox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Bonsor, Sir NicholasFox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Booth, HartleyFreeman, Roger
Boswell, TimFrench, Douglas
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Fry, Peter
Bottomley, Rt Hon VirginiaGale, Roger
Bowden, AndrewGallie, Phil
Bowis, JohnGardiner, Sir George
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir RhodesGarnier, Edward
Brandreth, GylesGill, Christopher
Brazier, JulianGillan, Ms Cheryl
Bright, GrahamGoodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Browning, Mrs. AngelaGorst, John
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW)
Burns, SimonGreenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Burt, AlistairGreenway, John (Ryedale)
Butcher, JohnGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Butler, PeterGrylls, Sir Michael
Butterfill, JohnHague, William
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Carrington, MatthewHampson, Dr Keith
Carttiss, MichaelHannam, Sir John
Cash, WilliamHargreaves, Andrew
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHarris, David
Chaplin, Mrs JudithHaselhurst, Alan
Clappison, JamesHawkins, Nicholas
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)Hawksley, Warren
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyHayes, Jerry
Coe, SebastianHeald, Oliver
Colvin, MichaelHeath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Congdon, DavidHeathcoat-Amory, David
Conway, DerekHendry, Charles
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Hicks, Robert
Cope, Rt Hon Sir JohnHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Cormack, PatrickHill, James (Southampton Test)
Couchman, JamesHoram, John
Cran, JamesHordern, Sir Peter
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Davis, David (Boothferry)Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Deva, Nirj JosephHunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Devlin, TimHunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Hunter, AndrewMonro, Sir Hector
Jack, MichaelMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Moss, Malcolm
Jenkin, BernardNeedham, Richard
Jessel, TobyNelson, Anthony
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyNeubert, Sir Michael
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Nicholls, Patrick
Jones, Robert B. (W H'f'rdshire)Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelNicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame ElaineNorris, Steve
Key, RobertOnslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Kilfedder, Sir JamesOppenheim, Phillip
King, Rt Hon TomOttaway, Richard
Kirkhope, TimothyPage, Richard
Knapman, RogerPaice, James
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)Patnick, Irvine
Knight, Greg (Derby N)Patten, Rt Hon John
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)Pawsey, James
Knox, DavidPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Kynoch, George (Kincardine)Pickles, Eric
Lait, Mrs Jacquiporter, David (Waveney)
Lamont, Rt Hon NormanPortillo, Rt Hon Michael
Lang, Rt Hon IanPowell, William (Corby)
Lawrence, Sir IvanRenton, Rt Hon Tim
Legg, BarryRichards, Rod
Leigh, EdwardRiddick, Graham
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkRifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)Robathan, Andrew
Lidington, DavidRoberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Lightbown, DavidRobertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterRobinson, Mark (Somerton)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Lord, MichaelRumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Luff, PeterRyder, Rt Hon Richard
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasSackville, Tom
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnScott, Rt Hon Nicholas
MacKay, AndrewShaw, David (Dover)
Maclean, DavidShaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
McLoughlin, PatrickShephard, Rt Hon Gillian
McNair-Wilson, Sir PatrickShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Madel, DavidShersby, Michael
Malone, GeraldSims, Roger
Mans, KeithSkeet, Sir Trevor
Marland, PaulSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Marlow, TonySoames, Nicholas
Marshall, John (Hendon S)Spencer, Sir Derek
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Mawhinney, Dr BrianSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir PatrickSpink, Dr Robert
Mellor, Rt Hon DavidSpring, Richard
Merchant, PiersSproat, Iain
Milligan, StephenSquire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Mills, IainStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Stephen, Michael
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)Stern, Michael
Moate, RogerStewart, Allan
Streeter, GaryWaller, Gary
Sumberg, DavidWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Sweeney, WalterWaterson, Nigel
Sykes, JohnWatts, John
Taylor, Ian (Esher)Wells, Bowen
Taylor, John M. (Solihull)Wheeler, Sir John
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)Whitney, Ray
Thomason, RoyWhittingdale, John
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)Widdecombe, Ann
Thornton, Sir MalcolmWiggin, Jerry
Thurnham, PeterWilkinson, John
Townend, John (Bridlington)Willetts, David
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)Wilshire, David
Tracey, RichardWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Tredinnick, DavidWinterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Trend, MichaelWolfson, Mark
Trimble, DavidWood, Timothy
Trotter, NevilleYeo, Tim
Twinn, Dr IanYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Waldegrave, Rt Hon WilliamTellers for the Ayes:
Walden, GeorgeMr. Nicholas Baker and
Walker, Bill (N Tayside)Mr. Sydney Chapman.
NOES
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyKennedy, Charles (Ross, C & S)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Kennedy, Ms Jane (L'p'l Br'g'n)
Barnes, HarryKilfoyle, Peter
Bayley, HughKirkwood, Archy
Bennett, Andrew F.Loyden, Eddie
Caborn, RichardLynne, Ms Liz
Callaghan, JimMcCartney, Ian
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Maclennan, Robert
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)Mahon, Alice
Clapham, MichaelMilburn, Alan
Cryer, BobO'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Foster, Donald (Bath)O'Hara, Edward
Gordon, MildredOlner, William
Hall, MikeParry, Robert
Hardy, PeterPatchett, Terry
Harvey, NickPickthall, Colin
Heppell, JohnPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Hinchliffe, DavidSkinner, Dennis
Hood, JimmyTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Tipping, Paddy
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Hutton, JohnTellers for the Noes:
Jackson, Ms Helen (Shef'ld, H)Mr. David Alton and
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Mr. David Winnick.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Boswell.]

Committee tomorrow.