Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.



Wednesday 18 December 1991


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1 Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Wednesday 18 December 1991

[MR. JAMES HILL in the Chair]

Draft European Parliamentary Constituencies(Scotland) (Miscellaneous Changes) Order 1991

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Leigh): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft European Parliamentary Constituencies (Scotland) (Miscellaneous Changes Order 1991.

The Chairman: With the agreement of the Committee, it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the draft European Parliamentary Constituencies (England) (Miscellaneous Changes) Order 1991.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: The purpose of the two orders is to make certain that the next European parliamentary elections are fought on the appropriate boundaries. The European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978, as amended, requires that European parliamentary constituencies, or EPCs as I shall call them, are made up of wholly parliamentary constituencies. The background to the English order is as follows. In February 1990, the English Boundary Commission completed an interim review of the constituencies of Buckingham and Milton Keynes. That resulted in alterations to the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies, which affected two EPCs—Bedfordshire South and Oxford and Buckinghamshire. In that review, the creation of the new parliamentary constituency of Milton Keynes South-West involved the transfer of three wards from the Buckingham constituency into the new constituency. The number of electors involved was 16,523. That reflected the change in parliamentary constituencies previously agreed by both Houses when an Order in Council was made. This is a tidying-up exercise. The commission's provisional recommendation was that the European parliamentary constituency boundary should be redrawn to include the whole of the Milton Keynes South-West constituency within the Bedfordshire South EPC. Hence, the whole of the borough of Milton Keynes would be within one EPC. Consequently, the commission recommended also that the new EPC be named Bedfordshire South and Milton Keynes. Not one representation was received objecting to the new boundary. There were, however, several objections to the proposed name of the Bedfordshire South and Milton Keynes EPC, and that necessitated a local inquiry. One was held on 4 2 April 1991, and was presided over by Mr. Michael Harrison, QC, as assistant commissioner. At that inquiry, the assistant commissioner considered both the current and proposed names for the EPC, and a number of alternatives were suggested. He recommended that the name North Chilterns was the least unsatisfactory. His recommendation was accepted by the commission, and that is the name proposed in its report and in the order before the Committee today. The Scottish order simply gives effect—

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central): How much did the inquiry to determine that least objectionable name cost?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: I am informed, not very much—and that it took only slightly longer than the Committee is likely to sit this morning.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart): I served on a recent statutory instrument Committee when the Minister was asked about the cost of appointing a new judge. If I remember rightly, the cost was more than £14 million. When the Minister uses the words "not very much", do they relate to £14 million, or to a lesseer sum?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: The hon. Gentleman is being mischievous. He knows that cost related to the reforms to the Parliament House buildings and improvemens to the courts. Indeed, they cost only one quarter of right hon. and hon. Members' new facilities across the road.

Mr. Maxton: That too is a disgrace.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: The assistant commissioner's fees were around £300, together with expenses of £200. In the circumstances, that is not excessive. Turning to the Scottish order, it gives effect at the European level to adjustments to parliamentary constituency boundaries approved on 24 October 1990.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross): Either the inquiry was over in five seconds or the English silk chosen to conduct it must have been extraordinarily pert.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: I believe that Icknield was another name that was considered. It is a local name, rather like Ilkla moor baht'at, but Icknield way extends longer than the Euro-constituency's border and was therefore rejected. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir Nicholas Fairbairn), who is a Queen's counsel, will appreciate that those matters were properly considered on their merits. The source of the adjustments to the Scottish order is the slight alterations that are made from time to time to the boundaries of local government areas. It is important to keep all those boundaries in alignment with one another, but on this occasion only some 3 500 electors are affected across the seven EPCs, and the proposals generated no comment either from Members of Parliament or the general public. The orders will implement the recommendations of both commissions in full, and substitute the new EPCs for the existing constituencies. Once the draft orders in Council are approved and are made by Her Majesty in Council, the new boundaries will come into full effect at the next European parliamentary election, in 1994. I strongly commend the orders to the Committee.

Mr. Maxton: The cost of this sitting of the Committee is probably higher than that of changing the name of the Scottish constituency. Only 500 electors are involved, and it seems to be something of a waste of time for the Committee to have to go through this procedure. In a minor boundary change between my constituency of Cathcart and that of Eastwood, about 40 or 50 electors were involved. Some came into Eastwood from Cathcart, and others did the reverse—it was a two-way process. Two farms were also shifted from East Kilbride to Cathcart—or at least I think so; it is rather difficult to remember the direction of the shift. We spend a lot of time—perhaps too much—discussing such minor boundary changes.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn: The hon. Gentleman is worried about the shift of two farms. In Perth and Kinross, land was shifted that certainly had no humans on it, and probably had no sheeep on it.

Mr. Maxton: I appreciate the hon. and learned Gentleman's point. My constituency boundary passes over two golf courses on which no one lives, and it could have been redrawn in a totally different way. My worry is that we are discussing the matter while the Boundary Commission and local government commissioners are at present undertaking a major boundary review. Presumably we shall have to return to the subject soon, because the resulting constituency alterations will require further boundary changes in European seats. Those changes will be made by the Boundary Commission in the next couple of years— possibly before the 1994 European elections. I know that members of the Committee are not allowed to comment on the fact that a ministerial adviser is shaking his head. 4 Two general elections might be fought on the present boundaries, although that is not my understanding. However, our job in Committee is so futile and pointless that I wonder why we bother.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) correctly gave the number of electors who have changed between the constituencies of Cathcart, Eastwood, and East Kilbride. He asked why such changes are necessary. There are commissions for England and Wales, and for Scotland, and in their next review of parliamentary constituencies, they will have to observe the statutory requirement to report to the Secretary of State for Home Department and the Secretary of State for Scotland respectively on the outcome of the general review no less than 10 years and no more than 15 years after their previous reports. Those were made in February 1983, and the next must be between February 1993 and February 1998. That suggests that the start of the next review is not very distant.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn: Does my hon. Friend, who is responsible for the arts in Scotland, feel that the cost of this sitting would have been better spent if the money had been used to clean the pictures in this Committee Room?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: I am glad that the order has not aroused antagonism. However, if we did not use the familiar parliamentary procedure, abuses could creep into the system. If parliamentary scrutiny were reduced, undesirable consequences could follow. As my hon. and learned Friend will recognise, it is just as well that the Committee met.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Committee has considered the draft European Parliamentary Constituencies (Scotland) (Miscellaneous Changes) Order 1991.


That the Committee has considered the draft European Parliamentary Constituencies (England) (Miscellaneous Changes) Order 1991.—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]

The Committee rose at eighteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.


Mr. James Hill (Chairman)

Beaumont-Dark, Mr.

Cummings, Mr.

Darling, Mr.

Davis, Mr. Terry

Day, Mr.

Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James

Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas

Home Robertson, Mr.

Kirkhope, Mr.

Maxton, Mr.