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Parliamentary Representation

Volume 202: debated on Thursday 23 January 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received about the level of parliamentary representation from England; and if he will make a statement.

In the past 12 months, we have received four letters on this subject from hon. Members. A private Member's motion was debated in the House on 8 March 1991.

I wish to put two propositions to my right hon. Friend: first, the English are under-represented in the House; and, secondly, the Scots are over-represented here. If my right hon. Friend agrees with either or both contentions, what will the Government do about that?

Occasionally, when I am ironing, I consider the possibility of having a constituency which is called Mitcham, Morden and Mole Valley. That is not, however, a possibility, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) represents an area a little bit down the road in the county of Surrey. I am told that the same considerations of constituency difficulty, demography and geography would apply to rearranging the constituencies within Scotland. It is for that reason, I believe, that the Government have decided that we should maintain the present system.

Is the Minister aware that the hon. Member for Dartford—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) will pay attention for a moment. Is the Minister aware that the hon. Gentleman is quite right to worry about the level of representation in England because every time a Tory is defeated in Scotland he flees the country, comes down here and tries to get a Tory seat? I refer, for example, to the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), Ian Sproat, Michael Ancram, and Gerry Malone. The problem for the hon. Member for Dartford is that, once he has been defeated at the next election, he will be replaced as a candidate by the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth).

The hon. Gentleman might reflect on the fact that those Scotsmen who come down here to represent English constituencies are the best of the Scotsmen, who choose to come down here to represent one of the 523 constituencies in this country.

My right hon. Friend will know that there has been a large influx of people into Dorset, including many people from Scotland and from Wales. If my hon. Friend will look at the recommendations already coming from the Boundary Commission, she will see that it recommends that there should be eight rather than seven seats in Dorset. That would have some benefit in the forthcoming election if she could push it through. I wonder whether she can.

The whole House will be very relieved to know that such a matter is not entirely in a Minister's hands. I understand that, if that change occurs, the Conservative party will certainly benefit by an extra constituency.

Does the Minister accept that when the wishes of the people of Scotland are reflected in the decision to set up a Scottish parliament, it will indeed make sense to reduce the representation of Scots in the House? Does she recognise that the inequity and injustice done to her party through, for example, no Conservative Members of Parliament being returned in 12 Glasgow constituencies would be redressed by the granting of proportional representation throughout the United Kingdom?

I am not persuaded by the hon. Gentleman's arguments that to have proportional representation would necessarily persuade Glaswegians to vote Conservative. I hope that the Government's policies will persuade Glaswegians to think carefully about whether to vote Conservative in the next general election.

Seriously, as the Boundary Commission proceeds with its report over the next 10 years, would not it be correct to ensure that all parts of the United Kingdom had the same proportion of representatives? That would solve the whole problem.

As my hon. Friend knows, this matter has been discussed quite recently within both the Government and the Home Affairs Select Committee. Equitable representation is very hard to achieve. When the Boundary Commission looks at these matters over every 10 years or so, demography and demographic conditions have to be considered, and it is less easy than it appears on paper simply to provide consistency in terms of the demographic relationship of the people living in the country and the number of Members representing them in the House. Inevitably, it would mean that there would be more and more people coming into the House to represent constituencies unless some kind of control were exercised.

I think that the Minister is saying that the Government's view is that the basis of representation should remain the same—in which case, I am glad. Will she tell some of her hon. Friends that a recent independent study has shown that if the basis of representation in Scotland were equated with that in England, the Conservative party in Scotland would cease to be an endangered species and become an extinct species? Some of the remarks made by Conservative Members show the foresight and planning of the dodo.

I suspect that these matters will be discussed on a number of occasions in the future, but the Opposition should not be too complacent about the attitudes and voting patterns of those north of the border for ever and a day.