HOUSE OF COMMONS
Third Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
DRAFT PARLIAMENTARY CONSTITUENCIES (WALES) (MISCELLANEOUS CHANGES) ORDER 1988.
DRAFT EUROPEAN PARLIAMENTARY CONSTITUENCIES (ENGLAND)(MISCELLANEOUS CHANGES) ORDER 1989.
DRAFT EUROPEAN PARLIAMENTARY CONSTITUENCIES (SCOTLAND) (MISCELLANEOUS CHANGES) ORDER 1989.
Tuesday 7 March 1989
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The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairman: MR. JOHN McWILLIAM
Bennett, Mr. Andrew F. (Demon and Reddish)
Brandon-Bravo, Mr Martin M. (Nottingham South)
Darling, Mr. Alistair (Edinburgh, Central)
Ewing, Mr. Harry (Falkirk, East)
Fenner, Dame Peggy (Medway)
Gow, Mr. Ian (Eastbourne)
Griffiths, Mr. Win (Bridgend)
Harris, Mr. David (St. Ives)
Hogg, Mr. Douglas (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Hood, Mr. Jimmy (Clydesdale)
Hunter, Mr. Andrew (Basingstoke)
Maclean, Mr. David (Penrith and the Border)
Morrison, Sir Charles (Devizes)
Rowe, Mr. Andrew (Mid-Kent)
Spearing, Mr. Nigel (Newham, South)
Speed, Mr. Keith (Ashford)
Tapsell, Sir Peter (East Lindsey)
Taylor, Mr. Matthew (Truro)
Mr. C. D. Stanton, Committee Clerk3 Third Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Tuesday 7 March 1989
[MR. JOHN McW1LLIAM in the Chair]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft European Parliamentary Constituencies (Wales) (Miscellaneous Changes) Order 1988.
The Chairman: With the agreement of the Committee, it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the other orders before us, namely, the draft European Parliamentary Constituencies (England) (Miscellaneous Changes) Order 1989 and the draft European Parliamentary Constituencies (Scotland) (Miscellaneous Changes) Order 1989.
Mr. Hogg: Although I have formally moved only one of the three European Parliamentary Constituencies orders before the Committee this morning, I am speaking to all three, concerning 34 European parliamentary constituencies in England, six in Scotland and three in Wales. The purpose of all three orders is the same: to ensure that the European parliamentary elections in June are fought on the appropriate boundaries. The European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978, as amended, requires that European Parliamentary Constituencies, for EPCs as I shall call them, are made up of whole parliamentary constituencies. When the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions have completed a review of parliamentary constituencies, and an order is made implementing their recommendations, the Commissions are obliged to consider what effect the changes in constituency boundaries have on EPC boundaries, and to conduct what is called a supplementary review of the EPCs concerned. The present EPC boundaries in Great Britain were devised after the completion of the last general review of constituencies in 1983. In 1984, after supplementary reviews, the three Parliamentary Boundary Commissions each recommended EPCs based on the new structure of parliamentary constituencies, and these were implemented in time for the European parliamentary elections in June 1984. Since then, however, all three Commissions have carried out a number of interim reviews designed to re-align constituency boundaries with altered local government boundaries. The English Commission has reviewed 139 constituencies in four interim reviews, and the Welsh and Scottish Commissions have each reviewed 30 constituencies in two interim reviews. Once the final Orders in Council were made, the Commissions announced supplementary reviews of the EPCs affected by these changes: 34 in England, three in Wales and six in Scotland. In each supplementary review the Commissions have recommended the minimum change necessary to ensure that the EPCs concerned would once again be made up of whole constituencies.4
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish): Are more supplementary reviews to be completed, or will no reviews be carried out in those counties which are left out?
Mr. Hogg: I understand that no further interim reviews are to be completed. With one major exception, to which I will come in a moment, these proposals were not contentious. Only three representations were made to the Welsh Commission's proposals, and these were neutral or favourable. None was made to the Scottish Commission. The English Commission's proposals attracted more comment with counterproposals being made about the appropriate EPC for Bath, and representations about the name of the Wiltshire EPC. Hon. Members may like to note that the English Commission has undertaken to look again at its policy on the naming of EPCs in its next supplementary review of the whole country following the next general review of constituencies in the 1990s. The major source of controversy was, however, the proposals for the Cornwall and Plymouth EPC. Some 41 representations were made in all about the composition of this EPC of which 37 were objections, not to the minor boundary changes being proposed, but to the composition of the EPC. A strong body of opinion in Cornwall wanted Cornwall to be an EPC on its own without the addition of Plymouth. A local inquiry was held in Bodmin in July 1988 by an assistant Commissioner, Mr. G. Flather, QC. Although Mr. Flather considered that a strong case had been put for Cornwall's separate identity he was not convinced that it was appropriate to displace the primary rule, set down in the 1978 Act, that the electorate should be as near as possible to the electoral quota. He therefore supported the Commission's proposals. The average electorate of EPCs in England is 552,234; the electorate of the Cornwall and Plymouth EPC is 541,768; the electorate of the county of Cornwall is 361,477. Therefore, the Commission has proposed, and the Government have accepted, that the Cornwall and Plymouth EPC should be modified only by the minor boundary changes. The majority of the changes made by the orders are small. Many involve few, or no. electors. The largest movements of electors—1,924 between Cheshire, East and Cheshire, West and 1,030 between Lancashire, East and Lancashire, Central—are small in proportion to the electorate of the EPCs concerned and constitute less than 0.5 per cent. None of the changes is innovative; all follow previous local government and parliamentary constituency boundary changes. The orders implement in full the recommendations of the Commission and substitute the new EPCs for the existing ones. When the draft Orders in Council are approved and made by Her Majesty in Council, the new boundaries will come into full effect at the European parliamentary elections to be held on 15 June.
Mr Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central) We shall not oppose the orders, but I have one or two useful comments to make. As the Minister said, a general review of parliamentary boundaries will be carried out for the next European elections. At that stage, I expect that Conservative and Opposition Members will have plenty to say. Therefore, in some ways, it would be foolish to start quibbling about changes that are made during this round of alterations, especially as they are uncontroversial, with perhaps one 5 exception—Cornwall—about which we may hear shortly. The question whether or not Cornwall should be included with Plymouth illustrates our difficulties. Euro constituences have little tie with local, or even larger, communities. At least it can be said that, in a Westminster parliamentary seat, there is a tie between the local community and the Member of Parliament. There is little evidence of the communities being pulled together in European constituencies. For example, the south of Scotland constituency stretches from the west coast to the east coast. People living in Ayr and those living in Roxburgh or Eyemouth do not have much in common with each other, other than the fact that they live in the same country. I understand that people in Cornwall wish the clear identity of that county to be expressed. We should consider that aspect in any future reviews. The constituencies are far too large, especially when they will be served by only one European Member of Parliament. We should also consider the way in which they are drawn. The difficulty is that the United Kingdom was allocated a certain number of seats, and the country was carved up accordingly, similar to the way in which Africa was carved up in the previous century. It seems as though someone simply sat down with a ruler and drew a series of straight lines across the map of Africa to create territories, which then became countries. A similar exercise has been conducted with regard to European constituencies. The Welsh and Scottish constituencies cover vast areas, and it is difficult to recognise the common tie. In England, of necessity, most constituencies are more concentrated because of the pattern of the population. None the less, they are large, especially when only one MEP will serve each area. Perhaps one of the reasons why the European Community and the European Parliament seem so remote is that there is not the same tie between an MEP and his or her constituency as exists in Westminster. I sympathise with the position of Cornwall. The Minister gave an understandable explanation of why the Commission considered that the constituency of Cornwall should be brought up to the quota for England and Wales. The difficulty is that no logical pattern is followed. As I said, we shall not oppose the orders, but perhaps I should flag out the fact that, when we have an opportunity to look again at those boundaries after a general review of constituencies, we should look at the matter afresh. As so much of our lives is determined by so many decisions that are taken in the European Parliament, it is important to have a clear identity of Members and their constituencies. The present system may have sufficed to get the system up and running, and was certainly better than the second-hand representation that we had initially, but it is far from satisfactory and people will expect a proper and thorough review. I should probably be out of order if I trailed the Opposition's ideas, but I want to show that the present position is far from satisfactory and needs to be re-examined.
Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro): The chief argument in favour of retaining the present boundaries of the Cornwall and Plymouth European constituency centres on the size of the electorate. That is the Ministers argument. However, I hope that he will accept that concessions on that have been made in the past and in other areas, so the precedent exists. The European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978 states: 6 "The electorate of any European Parliamentary constituency in Great Britain shall be as near as the electoral quota as is reasonably practicable having regard, where appropriate, to special geographical considerations." There is a strong feeling, especially among those who have been elected to serve the county at all levels, that Cornwall has those "special geographical considerations". I understand that the aim is for every constituency to have about 550,000 electors, but the Highlands and Islands of Scotland has only 310,000. Northern Ireland has three European Members of Parliament for an electorate of just over I million. To give some idea of the geography that some of those quotas can mean, Glasgow had to include 13 constituencies to reach the correct number but, geographically, it represents less than half the area of my constituency. Those figures show that Cornwall has a legitimate right to a seat of its own. It is important to note that no constituency in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland has a seat that connects to an English one. Those proposals were considered by Mr. Flather at the local inquiry held on 12 and 13 July 1988. He noted that the Cornish electorate would be only 361,477, which is considerably less than the general quota. As I said, the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978 refers specifically to that and we have seen how that Act has been used to meet special considerations in other parts of the country. Mr. Flather made the case much more difficult for Cornwall by assuming that implicit in the suggestion that there should be a Cornwall-only seat was the idea that Devon should also have a seat of its own. We do not believe that the same considerations are involved. Although we accept that that would mean a general re-drawing of boundaries in the south-east of England, that is the Commission's responsibility and not one for those arguing for Cornwall to have its own seat. Incidentally, a counter-proposal was drawn up showing how that could be done. However, if there were particular objections to that, we do not believe that it would be for the Cornish people to do it. That is not our job. Sadly, Mr. Flather refused to give serious consideration to that suggestion on the slightly bizarre ground that it came up too late in the inquiry. That is a rather unusual way in which to conduct an inquiry. If someone's evidence is taken late, that does not usually mean that he is given less consideration. As I said, I do not believe that that is a material argument against our case. I have said what I believe is wrong with the Commissioner's and the Minister's argument on why the predominant issue must be that of the electoral quota, but I should explain why Cornwall is a special case and why so many people in that county argued in those terms. The most important practical reason is the economic geography of the county and what was acknowledged in Mr. Flather's report as a widespread belief that the link is detrimental economically. Cornwall relies on farming, fishing, tourism and mining for its income. Plymouth relies mainly on the fact that it is an urban conurbation with a growing and diversified industrial and commercial base. I have actively encouraged economic links across the border with Plymouth and Devon, but have always argued that we have separate indentities and that we should link up only when that is of direct mutual benefit and not artificially on the assumption that because Cornwall is a small county at the end of the country it should be included with Devon. Those of us who live in that part of the world have heard people saying that they have come to visit us when they make a trip to Exeter or even Bristol. They rarely 7 understand how much further and more isolated Cornwall is. Cornwall has specific economic difficulties and needs funding from Europe to improve its infrastructure, to encourage industry and to increase employment.
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's comments on the diverse nature of Cornwall and Plymouth and how the two are not linked. But those arguments apply to almost any one that is predominantly rural but with very large towns. For example, in north Wales, which stretches from Chester to Holyhead, the county of Gwynedd has no economic interest in the county of Clwyd. The two may argue that they would stand better apart, although their electorates would be much diminished. The logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument is to double, at least, the number of MEPs in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Matthew Taylor: I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. There are always difficulties in linking large conurbations with rural areas. I shall make other arguments for Cornwall being a special case, but one is its specific economic needs. The hon. Gentleman might object strongly if Euro-constituencies included parts of Wales and England in one seat, so he should have some idea of the feelings that may be generated in Cornwall. It is a constant struggle in Parliament to remind hon. Members that the general sketch that people like to draw of the north-south divide between the economically wealthy and the poor areas of the country is no more than a caricature. In Cornwall the figures for poverty and joblessness regularly compete with those in the midlands and the north-east. Cornwall is the poorest county in the country and has one of the lowest GNPs in Europe. Its poverty, which is unexpected in the south and is combined with house prices that compete almost with the south-east, requires strong European assistance. The acute need for development of rural areas, as the hon. Gentleman said, is submerged in favour of inner city regeneration and we do not want that to continue in the case of Cornish constituencies. Mr. Rather did not cover that, except to say that he did not consider it his duty to go into detailed arguments, statistical and otherwise, on economic comparisons. I am sorry that he did not do so because that would have been directly relevant. There are other reasons why Cornwall should be treated separately and Mr. Rather considered whether special geographical considerations arise from the culture, history and language of Cornwall and its feeling of separateness. In doing so, he acknowledged that Cornwall is a member of the Celtic family of nations and concluded that there is a strong likelihood that the sentiments expressed at the inquiry would be shared by enough people in Cornwall to make the geographic argument a weighty one. Mr. Flather also acknowledged that, together with that of the county of Cornwall, the views of other democratically elected bodies were virtually unanimous in their opposition. "Virtually unamimous" is a questionable description, as Mr. Rather somewhat perversely interpreted Restormel borough council's position which emphasised the country's anxiety that the ideal European constituency should comprise the county of Cornwall alone. In fact, the elected bodies could be said to be unanimous. I believe that Mr. Rather failed to draw the right conclusion: that there is overwhelming, solid public opnion in favour of a separate Cornish seat. That in itself 8 distinguishes the county from any other part of England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, where there has been no such expression of opinion. The hon. Member for Bridgend said that some of the arguments used might be extended elsewhere. In 1978 objections to the proposed EPCs were dominated by Cornwall and, when the issue arose, a total of 76 parish councils objected to a Cornwall and Plymouth constituency, but only 18 to any other constituency in the rest of England. That is a sign of the strength of feeling then. In 1983 Cornwall was one of a very few places to reject a proposal in strength and an inquiry was forced then, too. In 1988, Cornwall was the only region to voice objections and to claim a further inquiry. All that shows the strength of feeling in the county and the fact that the experience is unique. Nowhere else is there such widespread, consistent and solid opposition, articulated at length and repeatedly, and despite the fact that on each occasion it has been rejected. Nowhere else has there been such a clear voice from the electors. If the democratic will and wishes of the people were consulted, without doubt they would say that they do not see themselves as part of England— as the hon. Member for Bridgend has claimed. They see themselves as having distinct cultural identity, and as a nation with undeniable special needs. Mr. Flather did not accept that. He asserted something that is undeniably untrue: that the fact that the current MEP said that he did not support the case for a Cornish-alone European constituency had attracted no adverse criticism. That was not true. The Campaign for a Cornish Constituency, in its submission, rejected that suggestion. The present MEP is in a difficult position; he represents both seats. That is perhaps an example of why we believe that there should be a separate Cornish seat: the present Member of the European Parliament rejected the near-unamimous wishes of the people of the county on this point. Mr Flather said that a Cornwall-only EPC would be below the electoral quota, and would unacceptably enhance the value of a Cornish vote. He said that no democracy run on those lines could claim to offer universal suffrage to its electorate. But that view is unwarranted. If you look at both our parliamentary seats and our current European seats —
The Chairman: Order. I am not looking at parliamentary constituencies; "you" refers to the Chair.
Mr. Taylor: I am sorry, Mr. McWilliam. But the point I was trying to make is that there are different electorates in different-sized constituencies for both European and Westminster seats. I have given some examples of European seats. Also, arguably, one vote in 300,000 or 360,000 or one vote in 500,000 will not so enhance the votes of those electors that they will rush wildly down to the ballot booths, card in hand to exercise a vote immeasurably more valuable than others elsewhere.
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives): To get the record straight, will the hon. Gentleman check his remark about the present Member of the European Parliament and what the commissioner said at the inquiry? The commissioner said that Mr. Beazley, the present MEP, had attracted no criticism in carrying out his functions as an MEP. I believe that the hon. Gentleman, no doubt inadvertently, misquoted what was said.9
Mr. Taylor: I should have to go back to the report to check that. The hon. Member for St. Ives may be highlighting a mistaken interpretation of the subject of the commissioner's remarks. Was it the person's general functions as an MEP that had not been criticised or his attitude to the seat? Without referring back to the document I could not confirm or deny that, but it is undeniable that Mr. Beazley's refusal to support the case for a separate seat for Cornwall was criticised. The Cornish case is not one of narrow nationalism. It believes that there is a distinct need for a Cornish voice, but it is international and pro-European in both motivation and content. It is about gaining Cornwall a place of its own in Europe and a representative of its own who can fight for its special needs. It is not a retreat into isolationism but a recognition of the advantages of internationalism and co-operation through Europe and hence the importance of having uncompromised representation in the European Parliament. The only crumb of comfort in Mr. Flather's report was the inane observation that "when all is said and done, it is Plymouth which takes the secondary position in the title of the EPC." That will not change anything other than the initials of the short form of the name. It is meaningless in terms of the representation of the Cornish people. This matter has been discussed many times before. It has been raised as often as the Cornish people have been able to raise it and their views have been consistent throughout. I shall finish by quoting what my predecessor, David Penhaligon, said in 1978: "There is no doubt that this is a sad day for Cornwall. It is the first time in any election that the boundary of Cornwall which is sacrosanct and important, has been ignored. The boundary has been denied by what many people in Cornwall see as a London-based Parliament." We are sitting in London now, and we have an opportunity to reject what the Boundary Commission says and recognise the backing given by people from many different parts of the country for the distinct identity and voice that Cornwall demands. I hope that the Committee will do precisely that.
Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford): I hope that the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) will forgive me if I stay this side of the Tamar except to say that as a Kent Member of Parliament I do not regard as insignificant the prospective disparities between the electorates if there were to be a separate European electorate for Cornwall alone. The difference between the two figures is significant and such a change would cause questions and resentments in other parts of England, Wales and Scotland. I welcome the Minister's remarks of the naming of constituencies. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) spoke about the relationship between an MEP and his Euro-constituents. We all know the difficulties. Some of the names are OK and some are not. I regard the naming of Bedfordshire, South, for example, as eccentric, to put it mildly. The Euro-constituency comprises three constituencies in Bedfordshire, three in Hertfordshire and one large and growing constituency in Buckinghamshire. I know the area well. I lived there for many years and began my political career there. A name such as "Chilterns" would have been better than the name of a county in which only a minority of the parliamentary constituencies involved lie. I 10 am glad that the subject is to be tackled. The names of constituencies are important and we have not got them entirely right in many instances. We have not used our imagination as well as it has been used in naming United Kingdom parliamentary constituencies. I support everything else that the Minister says and hope that we shall soon be able to proceed to a satisfactory conclusion.
Mr. Harris: I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor). As he rightly says, the status of Cornwall is the main matter of controversy in the proposals of the independent Boundary Commission. As the hon. Gentleman has said, this is not a new issue. It has arisen on every one of the three occasions on which the boundaries have been implemented or reviewed. Each time there has been a full public inquiry. I have a particular interest in the matter not only because I am a Cornish Member of Parliament but because I had the honour and privilege to have been the first representative of Cornwall and Plymouth in the European Parliament. The controversy arose before I arrived on the scene. I now have an opportunity to nail a misconception that was aired at the public inquiry. Mr. Flather dealt with the perceived difficulties of covering a large area from the Isles of Scilly to Plymouth, and during the inquiry it was suggested that the former MEP, faced with difficulties such as having to drive nearly 100 miles from the northern tip of Cornwall to Land's End, "was so unfulfilled by the job that he gave it up." The report does not make it clear who made that vile allegation, which appears on page 14 of the report, but I suspect that it was Mr. Tyler, who was briefly a Member of this House and now seeks to stand as an SLD candidate in the forthcoming elections. Let me make it clear that I was very fulfilled by the job of representing Cornwall and Plymouth in the European Parliament. Of course it was a large constituency and the distances presented problems in travelling around. But the job was valuable and vital, and the interest being shown in the constituency— Mr. Tyler himself is eager to take on the job, although I am sure that he will not succeed—shows that the job is worth while. I welcome the chance to knock that myth firmly on the head. I now turn to what the hon. Member for Truro implied, no doubt inadvertently, as his response to my intervention made clear, about the present MEP, Mr. Christopher Beazley. I have now found the exact reference in the Flather report, which is on—
Mr. Douglas Hogg: Page 29.
Mr. Harris: Page 29— I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Mr. Flather says: "During the Inquiry a number of people praised the efforts of Mr. Beazley; and none criticised him." That is a correct commendation of the way in which Mr. Beazley has fulfilled his duties during the past five years. He has been a most assiduous Member of the European Parliament. If the Hon. Member for Truro reads the page I am sure that he will acknowledge that he has got it slightly wrong.
Mr. Taylor: I certainly acknowledge that the reference concerned not Mr. Beazley's attitude to the issue before the Committee but his general performance. That quotation 11 immediately follows the consideration whether it is possible to carry out your job effectively over such a large area.
The Chairman: Order: It is perfectly possible for me to carry out my job effectively over the area that I cover, but that is not the question before the Committee. The hon. Gentleman should not use "you".
Mr. Taylor: I was using the word in the context of "one", Mr. McWilliam. Perhaps I should follow the Prime Minister's lead in that respect. I wanted to make the point to the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) that it would be rather extraordinary if the issue had been the conduct of an MEP. I should have hoped that there would be no argument over that issue as that would imply that the whole discussion was about whether an individual should represent a seat rather than the nature of the seat itself.
Mr. Harris: I think that we should move on. I thought that the record should be put straight and I quoted accurately from the report. Much emphasis has been laid on the size of the present European parliamentary constituency of Cornwall and Plymouth and whether, apart from other factors, that raises the question of special geographical treatment to establish a European constituency. A European parliamentary constituency of Cornwall without Plymouth would cover 356,428 hectares. That must be compared with the Highlands and Islands European constituency, to which the hon. Member for Truro drew attention, which has an area of 4,056,091 hectares. We are comparing areas of about 356,000 hectares in Cornwall and more than 4 million hectares in the Highlands and Islands. That is why special treatment was given to Scotland and I believe that we cannot equate arguments about the size of Cornwall with those for giving special treatment to Scotland. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) highlighted the size of constituencies and said that perhaps they should be smaller but the problem is that Britain has 81 MEPs, which is the same number as those who represent France, Germany and Italy. Therefore, I do not believe that that number will be altered to make it possible for us to have smaller European constituencies. Faced with those facts, we cannot ignore the basic argument about the electoral quota. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary briefly outlined the arguments used by Mr. Flather in coming to his decision, but perhaps they should be fleshed out a little and I ask the Committee's indulgence while I do so. As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary said, the proposed number of electors for the European parliamentary constituency of Cornwall and Plymouth is 542,471, which is 9,763 electors short of the electoral quota of 552,234. However, the proposal for the Devon European parliamentary constituency of 596,812 electors is 44,578 above the electoral quota. As the commissioner pointed out, there is a gross disparity of 54,341. However, according to the counter-proposals put in varying forms to the inquiry over which Mr. Flather presided, the number of electors for Cornwall alone would be 361,477. That falls short of the electoral quota by 190,757, whereas if Devon had its own constituency the electorate there would be 777,806, an excess of 225,572 over the electoral quota. As the commissioner points out, those figures produce a combined gross disparity of 416,329. 12 The hon. Member for Truro says that other people at the inquiry suggested various ways in which that disparity could be reduced, for example, by splitting the constituency in Devon. It must be recognised, however, that if one changed the position in Cornwall and tried to introduce an electoral quota for the rest of the country—although Cornwall would have special treatment—that would have a considerable knock—on effect. The proposals were dismissed by the commissioner in his report. On page 33 he said: "I do not wish to be seen as in any way disparaging about these witnesses" — that is, Mr. Tyler and Mr. Prior— "if I deal with their evidence shortly. The simple fact is that in both submissions the suggested realignment of other EPCs was solely so that Cornwall may secure its own EPC upon an electorate which fell far short of the electoral quota. Such submissions are therefore dependent upon a finding that there are special geographical considerations which it is appropriate to take into account." He dismissed the submission that there were special geographical considerations. Like most people from Cornwall, I would favour a special Euro-constituency in Cornwall but, in view of the great disparities highlighted in the report, I do not believe that one can reasonably argue the case. I had the privilege of representing that Euro-constituency for five years. To my surprise, on no occasion was I presented with a conflict of interest between Cornwall and Plymouth. Indeed, on many occasions we fought the same battle with the Commission in Brussels or the Government in Whitehall as a team—Cornwall and Plymouth. I believe that that co-operation is sensible. There is strong feeling about the matter in Cornwall. The commissioner rightly paid tribute to the eloquence and the passion felt by those who gave evidence to the inquiry in support of a single European constituency of Cornwall. The matter has been examined on three occasions and three commissioners have come to the same conclusion. I am sorry about that because I wish that it could have been otherwise, but I think that they were right in their conclusions. I therefore support the order.
Mr. Douglas Hogg: The debate has centred on Cornwall. My hon. Friends the Members for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) and for Ashford (Mr. Speed) have both spoken about that. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford emphasised the importance of adhering to the electoral quota and I agree with him. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives has brought an unusual experience to bear and I hope that it has persuaded the Committee of the rightness of the commissioners' recommendations. There is one further point that I shall mention. The arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Truro were, in fact, advanced before the assistant commissioner, who decided against those arguments and laid these proposals before the Committee. It is perfectly true that, as a matter of constitutional law, we could depart from those proposals by laying modifications, with reasons. But that has not been Parliament's practice—to do so would not be consistent with convention and precedent. I urge upon the Committee the desirability of adhering to the recommendations of the Boundary Commission, because to do otherwise would be to introduce the risk of partial decision on matters that are best 13 dealt with independently and by the independent procedures that we have established. For that reason alone—although I am also persuaded by the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives—I commend this proposal to the Committee.
The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 1.
|Darling, Mr. Alistair||Morrison, Sir Charles|
|Harris, Mr. David||Rowe, Mr.Andrew|
|Hogg, Mr. Douglas||Speed, Mr.Keith|
|Maclean, Mr. David|
|Taylor, Mr. Matthew|
Question accordingly agreed to.
Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft European Parliamentary Constituencies (Wales) (Miscellaneous Changes) Order 1988
The Chairman: The Question is, That the Committee has considered the draft European Parliamentary Constituencies (England) (Miscellaneous Changes) Order 1989. As many as are of that opinion say Aye.14
Hon. Members: Aye.
The Chairman: To the contrary?
Mr Matthew Taylor: No.
The Chairman: The Ayes have it.
Mr Taylor: No.
The Chairman: Order. I have the right under Standing Orders not to divide the Committee if it is clear that the point has been made.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft European Parliamentary Constituencies (England) (Miscellaneous Changes) Order 1989.
Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft European Parliamentary Constituencies (Scotland) (Miscellaneous Changes) Order 1989—[Mr. Douglas Hogg.]
Committee rose at eighteen minutes past Eleven o'clock.
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:
McWilliam, Mr John (Chairman)
Bennett, Mr. Andrew F.
Fenner, Dame Peggy
Griffiths, Mr. Win
Hogg, Mr. Douglas
Morrison, Sir Charles
Tapsell, Sir Peter