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.

Alert me about debates like this

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

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, with whom I have duelled on a number of occasions. I shall try to move closer to some form of microphone. I hope that that is better. By the time that I have concluded my remarks, he will recognise exactly what I am seeking to do and why I am doing it in so discreet a manner.

Schedule 11 to the Bill includes in Part 2 the provisions to be repealed, but the 1297 Act does not feature there or in Parts 2 and 3 of Schedule 10, which deal with amendments to existing legislation. I do not wish to make too much of this because a great deal, not least interpretation, is uncertain when dealing with statutes of such antiquity. In the City of London context, significant elements of the franchise are, however, covered by the law of custom, which the 1297 Act protects. This prompts me to query whether the existing very specific provision relating to the City of London, which has been included in the legislation governing parliamentary constituencies until the appearance of this Bill, was inserted in deference to the Act of 1297. Perhaps the Minister might be prepared to offer an observation on the provenance of the existing provision when he replies.

I do not think that I need to exercise any great powers of persuasion to convince your Lordships that the City is demographically atypical. Its administration is quite different from that of the London boroughs. It has a local business franchise as well as a residential one, and business dominates. It currently has 5,939 parliamentary electors, which is slightly more than in 1948 but still very small in comparative terms. For example, a typical ward in the City of Westminster-the other half of my former constituency-has between 7,000 and 8,000 voters.

Having said all this about the constituency and the manner of representing it, I recognise that the Bill before your Lordships' House lays down precise rules for the conduct of future boundary reviews. I also appreciate that there is a strong desire on the part of the Government to avoid special cases other than those which the Bill itself identifies. Recognising the constraints, I believe that the amendment does not simply seek to reimpose the requirements in the current Act that the City should be part of a single constituency. Rather, it proposes such an outcome where "practicable" -to quote from the amendment-with wording that has been specifically devised to avoid special pleading and to rely on uniqueness.

The amendment would create a strong presumption that this will be the result without making it an absolute. That is the effect of paragraph (1) in the amendment, which also relates the requirement to a "special authority", a term defined in paragraph (3) in the amendment. In the Local Government Finance Act 1988, which is referred to there, the term "special authority" is defined as an authority covering an area with a population of less than 10,000 whose gross rateable value divided by its population is more than £10,000. In other words, the reference is to an area that is primarily commercial and not residential. The only geographical location to satisfy that definition is the City of London, which simply goes to reinforce how exceptional it is; hence my claim for uniqueness.

Avoiding specific reference to the City of London in the amendment avoids any suggestion of potential hybridity and, therefore, any need for me to discuss it. Paragraph (2) in the amendment is modelled on Schedule 2 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, which requires the City of London to appear in the name of the constituency that includes the City. As noble Lords would expect, I believe the continuation of this practice to be entirely appropriate. I hope that the Minister feels that I have given enough to provide him with the encouragement to look favourably on the City's treatment under future boundary reviews. I beg to move.