My Lords, I will make three points. First, I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that Parliament should retain the right to approve or block recommendations of the Boundary Commission. Not to do this would put far too much power in the hands of the Executive and would be a further step in strengthening the Executive at the expense of Parliament—all against what the Brexiteers said Brexit was all about.
Secondly, I agree with my noble friends Lady Gale and Lord Foulkes, and other Scottish and Welsh colleagues, that it is a mistake, particularly at this moment, to reduce the representation of Scotland and Wales when the future of the union is almost hanging in the balance. If anything, the representation of the smaller nations should be increased. In the medium term, I favour a second Chamber with a balanced representation of the nations and regions of England, to offset the excessive power of London and the south-east.
As I am a Cumbria county councillor, my third point is a Cumbrian one: the case for greater flexibility in constituency size. At present we have six seats, with an average electorate of 66,500—some 7,000, or about 10%, below the quota. However, if we had only five seats in Cumbria, they would each have 79,000 voters, which is 10% above the quota. Therefore, on the criteria of the Bill, equal size means crossing the boundaries of the top-tier Cumbria County Council boundary. What is the position on this? Do the Government believe that that is the sensible thing to do? Also, think about Cumbria. If we go north, it is another country—Scotland. If we go east, we have the barrier of the Pennines, and to the south we have north Lancashire, where the Government, because of their thinking on local government reorganisation, reject the idea of Cumbria expanding south.
There is no logic in the argument that mathematically equal constituencies produce votes of equal value. Community is as important as this and should be valued, and it is particularly important in a county such as Cumbria, where the central bit is all mountains. If we want votes of equal value, we have to take seriously a move to proportional representation, which personally I favour. However, that is a separate issue for another day. To sacrifice community for the sake of some pursuit of mathematically equal constituencies is in my view wrong.