My Lords, first, I congratulate the Minister on introducing this, his first piece of legislation, and wish him very good luck.
It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, who, as always, came up with some valuable insights into the matter under discussion. As an unelected Member of an unelected House, I tread with some trepidation in discussing these matters. However, that said, they are important issues, and I follow other noble Lords in recognising that.
I support the measure in general terms—I think 650 constituencies feels about right, as does having a review every eight years. That seems appropriate. We should not apologise for having equalisation of constituency size as an aspiration and an aim. It is true that it cannot be achieved in any real sense, but clearly it is something that should underpin our thinking.
That said, when we look particularly at Wales, which I know something about, but at Scotland too and indeed large parts of rural England, there are challenges of geography and of rurality in having similar, let alone identical, sizes. That 5% margin in terms of seeking equalisation may need some adjustment. That said, clearly the Chartists’ aim of equal votes has some validity.
Along with other noble Lords, I certainly favour the protection of certain constituencies such as the islands that we have protected—the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland, the Isle of Wight and now, appropriately and quite rightly, Ynys Môn. That is absolutely right. I would be tempted too to add Cornwall, to prevent any Devonwall constituency arising. That would be a mistake. Cornwall has its own identity and its own culture and language, and we should recognise that in the review of constituencies in this piece of legislation.
The Bill that we have will clearly change, and it should change as it goes through its stages in your Lordships’ House. There is much to recommend it but much to be concerned about in terms of strict equality of constituency size, which I certainly will want to look at very closely. I also share some concerns with my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham about possible political chicanery and actions leading to proposals ending up being put on ice and not being carried forward. I welcome the Minister’s thoughts on that and his reassurance that that is something he is seeking to address.