Report (3rd Day)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 9th February 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 5:30 pm, 9th February 2011

My Lords, I do not have any doubt about the passion, sense of identity and pride that my noble friend Lord Teverson brings to this debate about Cornwall. We are well aware of the broad views of the various political groupings and of the Members of Parliament. Last night I heard the noble Lord, Lord Myners, explaining why he could not be here today but leaving his own views on this on the record. As always, with this, as with a number of the other amendments that we have discussed throughout this Bill and in recent times, we come again to whether a special pleading-I do not say that in any pejorative sense-outweighs the Bill's objectives of giving equal weight to the votes.

I also understand the argument being put that Cornwall would rather have only four MPs than five if one of them crosses the Tamar. I am not sure whether that is actually in the best interests of the people of Cornwall. I do not really understand the argument that the pride and the identity-the pride in Cornwall's rich history and the talk of strong community-that we have heard of will be diminished simply because one MP is going to take responsibility outside Cornwall. The answer to my noble friend Lord Newton's question is that I totally agree that there is no unique argument about river borders and we have not applied that in the Bill.

I recognise the strength of feeling in Cornwall but I cannot agree that Cornwall's position is similar to the Scottish island constituencies in terms of why the exceptions were accepted. By this, I mean that the Bill originally provided for exceptions on the practical level. Without these exceptions, we would be faced with constituencies that would be impractical for Members and constituents and so would deny effective representation. In other words, the genuinely extreme geography of the dispersed Scottish island groups does not make it possible to combine them with the mainland, for practical reasons. If we look at the Scottish island groups in this way, we do not think it possible to argue the same case for Cornwall.

I recognise the strong sense of identity that many have in Cornwall. I do not agree that parliamentary constituencies can create or destroy that identity. I believe that a parliamentary constituency can cross the boundaries of a local authority, without taking away at all from the sense of identity of each constituent community within that constituency. The fact that a parliamentary constituency might cross boundaries, be it in Ayrshire or Cornwall, in no way takes away from that sense of identity. I repeat; I have heard no argument that convincingly sets out the opposite case.

I know that we have had a lot of fun about Cornwall and Devon. I occasionally have jousts with my noble friend Lord Shutt about the relative merits of Lancashire and Yorkshire. That is part of a long tradition within our United Kingdom but it is very difficult to push those arguments too far. Further, I argue that there is strong evidence to support the case that constituencies can and do exist that contain more than one community with more than one sense of identity. Many Members of the other place represent diverse communities today, from constituents with rural and urban communities to those containing the speakers of dozens of different languages, all of whom have their different cultural identity. Belonging to one constituency does not detract from one or diminish that diversity. I believe that Members of the other place who are in that situation do an excellent job representing the various interests of all their constituents.

Again, I recognise the strength of feeling and pay tribute to the campaign that my noble friend has waged, but I cannot agree that we should depart any further from our objective of greater equality in the value of votes unless the geographical ramifications of doing so might create an impractical constituency. We do not see a sense of local identity and the setting of a parliamentary constituency as an either/or decision. Instead, we seek the best balance between respecting a local objective and a national one. Locally, the opportunity to voice one's opinion to the Boundary Commission at a public meeting means that those commissions will be able to take local factors into account on a case-by-case basis. Nationally, we want electors to know that their vote counts and has equal weight as much as we possibly can. The Bill, we believe, presents the best balance between those two important principles, so, although I respect his passion, I invite my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.