Committee (11th Day) (Continued)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 11:45 pm on 19th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative 11:45 pm, 19th January 2011

My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Maples, I beg to move Amendment 66C.My noble friend has not vouchsafed to me the precise rationale behind his deceptively attractively simple amendment but I shall draw to his attention any answer in Hansard which my noble friend the Minister gives to him, if such a reply is given.

Now that Amendment 66C has been moved, I shall speak to Amendment 78B, which stands in my name and the names of my noble friends Lord Jenkin of Roding and Lord Newby. In introducing the amendment I should refer to my personal association with the City as the parliamentary constituency which I had the privilege to represent as Member for the City of London and Westminster South, as it then was, between 1977 and 1997, and then for the Cities of London and Westminster between 1997 and 2001.

The amendment aims to recognise the position of special authorities. It is aimed at the City of London, which has failed to make it into a very short list of constituencies subject to special provision on account of their particular characteristics even though the City's individuality has been recognised throughout history. The Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, which currently governs boundary reviews, continued that recognition. This Bill does not. The effect of the amendment is to require the whole of the City of London to be contained within one parliamentary constituency, as provided for by the current legislation.

As your Lordships will not need reminding, the City of London has existed as a discrete community for a very long time. It had evolved a legal personality by 1189 which, as noble Lords may recall, is the beginning of legal memory. Accordingly, the City Corporation which administers the square mile does not owe its existence to Parliament. Parliament has, however, underwritten the City's rights and privileges. One of the very few remaining statutory provisions confirming the Magna Carta still in force is Chapter 9 of an Act of 1297 confirming the City's liberties and customs under the charter.

The current legislation on parliamentary constituencies affecting the City is largely the product of the past 75 years. It is particularly relevant because the Bill marks a substantial departure in the electoral treatment of the City of London.

Permanent Boundary Commissions were established by the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1944. At that time the City of London had no less than two Members of Parliament, and that situation was preserved by the 1944 Act. There was then a business vote in parliamentary elections, as well as a voting entitlement of husbands or wives of occupiers of business premises, entitlements which were removed by the Representation of the People Act 1948. In consequence of those changes, the City of London's electorate diminished to 4,542. The City was then linked up with the former seat of Westminster Abbey and called the Cities of London and Westminster constituency. To complete the picture, during the period of my incumbency between the February 1974 and 1997 general elections it was named the City of London and Westminster South constituency. Noble Lords will note that the one constant throughout has been its reference to the City of London.

When the changes were made in 1948, it was never suggested that splitting up the City's relatively tiny parliamentary electorate between different constituencies would be an appropriate option. More than that, there was a specific provision in that Act and the further one which followed soon afterwards, the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949, which required the whole of the City to be contained in one constituency. That is echoed by the supportive Amendment 85C in this group tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town. Although that amendment goes further than our amendment, the concept is therefore potentially bipartisan. That provision has been repeated in the legislation since and is included in Rule 3 set out in Schedule 2 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986.

The effect of this Bill through the replacement of Schedule 2 to the 1986 Act by a new schedule is to remove the provision requiring the City to be contained within one parliamentary constituency. It is perhaps a little surprising that the provision has been removed without a specific repeal. Magna Carta is without doubt a constitutional measure, and so therefore is the Act of 1297 which preserves the City's liberties and customs. The Bill your Lordships are considering is also a constitutional measure. There is modern legal authority which has been much referred to by academic lawyers giving evidence to the EU Scrutiny Committee in the other place on the European Union Bill suggesting that a constitutional provision requires specific statutory repeal.