Committee (14th Day)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 26th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lords Spokesperson (Attorney General's Office), Lords Spokesperson (Wales Office), The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Scotland Office) 7:30 pm, 26th January 2011

No; I wish to answer some of the points that have been made in the debate.

The amendment stipulates the figure of 35, which-as was said by one or two contributors, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, in moving his amendment-reflects the figure set out in the 1986 Act, which stated that there should be no fewer than 35 Members from Wales. I observe that the same Act stated that there would be no fewer than 71 Members for Scotland. That provision was repealed by the Labour Government. I do not complain about that; indeed, I encouraged them to do so. The number of Members of Parliament from Scotland under the Labour Government fell from 72 to 59, and is set to fall again under the Bill to 52, which is about a 26 per cent reduction. That will be relevant when we come to consider issues about devolution raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan.

My noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy gave a clear expression of the Government's position as admitted in evidence. One of the underlying purposes of the Bill is to try to secure fairness-equal vote, equal value-throughout the United Kingdom. The amendment which has been moved and those which have been spoken to would go against that fairness of one vote, one value throughout the United Kingdom. We believe that every elector's vote in elections to the other place should have the same value, regardless of where that vote is cast in the United Kingdom. It is important to emphasise that we are not in any way proposing less representation for Wales than other parts of the United Kingdom. Indeed, the value of a vote in Wales will be the same as the value of a vote in England, the same as the value of a vote in Scotland, the same as the value of a vote in Northern Ireland.

We have allowed for a 10 per cent range of tolerance between the largest and smallest constituency to take account of local and other factors. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, gave the impression-a caricature-that it was simply a matter of drawing square boxes on maps. That is not the case and does great disservice to the Boundary Commission, which will look at the issues and take account, to the extent that it thinks fit, of important matters such as special geographical considerations-the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency. The noble and learned Lord put it very well when he gave the illustration that a parliamentary boundary does not define which rugby team you will play for. As my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, said, when people are asked where they belong, they tend to answer in terms of old counties or smaller towns and communities. They tend not to identify where they belong in terms of parliamentary constituencies.

I am not sure whether my noble friend Lord Steel is present-I saw him at one point-but he will recall that when he represented the seat of Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, having the rugby teams of Hawick and Gala in the same constituency set up some interesting issues of rivalry between different communities. As I said in response to a debate yesterday evening, Members of Parliament by their nature represent a number of different communities within their constituency. The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and the noble Lord, Lord Bach, made the point about size and accessibility. Brecon and Radnorshire, which is the largest constituency in Wales, is often given as an example. To give a sense of perspective, it is worth stating that at 1,160 square miles, the current Brecon and Radnorshire constituency is considerably smaller than the constituency represented by honourable friend Lord Thurso in Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, which is just under three times larger than Brecon and Radnorshire. Then there is the constituency represented by my right honourable friend Mr Charles Kennedy, of 4,909 square miles. Of course, there are geographical limitations which the Government have submitted in the rules.