Report (3rd Day)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 9th February 2011.

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Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Sub-Committee C - Foreign Affairs, Defence and Development Policy 5:15 pm, 9th February 2011

My Lords, I can perhaps help my noble friend on this one because this amendment is not at all about a single constituency-it is about something that is far more important than that. I remind noble Lords that, back in the early 1970s, a royal commission-the Kilbrandon commission-looked at the situation prior to the first attempt at devolution. It also looked at Cornwall. The report stated that what the people of Cornwall,

"want is a recognition of the fact that Cornwall has a separate identity and that its traditional boundaries shall be respected ... Just as the people of Scotland and Wales tend to resent the description of their countries as regions of the United Kingdom so the people of Cornwall regard their part of the United Kingdom as not just another English county".

It went on to describe a,

"special relationship and the territorial integrity of Cornwall".

I do not think that Cornwall's position could be described better than that. Indeed, Cornwall is seen by many-not just Cornish people themselves but its residents and those who move there-as the fourth Celtic nation of the United Kingdom. It has a Celtic language. It has Celtic place names and family names. It has that whole tradition. It was not a part of Anglo-Saxon England, and many will say even now that it was not seen as a part of England until well into the previous millennium.

It is the area of culture, history and geography that makes Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly a very important exception which should be recognised within the Bill. The background of its culture, as I said, is Celtic. Its industries-fishing, agriculture and particularly tin mining, which goes back many centuries-are a particular characteristic of Cornwall. More recently, China clay has been mined there. Apart, I concede, from a little bit of Devon, that is a unique feature of the area. Many noble Lords will know that place names beginning with "Pol", "Tre" and "Pen" are unique to Cornwall and to be found at a high density. They go back to the Celtic language, which is actually closer to Breton. Brittany is a region with which Cornwall still has a close relationship.

I stress to the House that the wish to keep Cornwall constituency boundaries separate is not just a Liberal Democrat wish. In Cornwall I chaired a group that was genuinely made up of all political parties and none, but which was unanimous in its support for the proposal that the boundaries of constituencies should remain within Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The group included representatives of the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, Mebyon Kernow-the Cornish nationalist party-the Liberal Democrats, the Stannary Parliament and those of no party whatsoever. There is unanimity on this, and indeed I stress to Members of this House that this argument is important not just to the political classes within Cornwall. It is something that arouses real feelings and passions in ordinary people, in voters and families, throughout Cornwall.

It is often argued that much of east Cornwall depends economically on Devon and the unitary authority of Plymouth, and indeed that close economic relationship is welcomed by people in Cornwall. But I recall in the 1990s when trying to become the Member of the other place for South East Cornwall that, if there was one thing sure to arouse strong feelings in the border town of Saltash, it was to suggest that maybe the boundaries of Plymouth could extend over the Tamar into Torpoint and Saltash. Believe me, the reaction to that suggestion was far greater than you would have seen in West Penwith or Truro or on Bodmin Moor. The feeling throughout Cornwall of its political, geographical and cultural integrity is as strong as that. As the noble Lord, Lord Myners, pointed out in the debate yesterday, this cuts across all political parties and none.

I strongly support most of the principles of this Bill but what I know and what I believe is that, in politics and in government, there has to be a human factor and there is no perfect formula that cannot be moved or changed slightly to accommodate communities that people feel they are a part of. They are limited in number, and that is why on Report I am promoting a change only for Cornwall. But the human factor means that boundaries which are historic and arouse strong feelings in citizens can, in extreme cases, be recognised. I believe that this is one of those cases.

The House has already recognised the argument for the Isle of Wight, and this amendment is written in exactly the same way as that for the Isle of Wight except that it applies to a number of constituencies rather than just one. I also point out to noble Lords that if this amendment becomes part of the Bill, which I hope it will, it will mean that rather than Cornwall having five and a half constituencies, it will almost certainly have only five, yet the people of Cornwall are satisfied with a smaller representation in the other House rather than share or go up to six. That is the feeling in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The Bill also recognises that there should be exceptions, of which Orkney and Shetland is one example. That is why I believe that this amendment is vital in terms of people's belief in the way that the parliamentary system in this country works, and that is why it is being supported by a wide range of people, including all six Members of Parliament for Cornwall, both Liberal Democrat and Conservative, in the other place.

My noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness is not in his place at the moment, but on the first amendment we considered today I think he referred to the "sanctity of the Tamar". I believe that is what he said, rather than the "sanctity of this Chamber". Although I know he did not mean it, he said it in a slightly disparaging way. But what I would say is this: there is a sanctity about the boundary of the Tamar that is felt by people in both Cornwall and Devon. It has been a boundary for over a thousand years. It is respected and it is a boundary that people feel should be recognised in the Bill. Just as the boundaries between Scotland and England and Wales and England are recognised-a point made by my noble and learned friend earlier-so I believe that the boundary of the Tamar should also be recognised in this Bill. I beg to move.