Lewis in Hansard

 

Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill
House of Commons Debate
Clause 9
Number and Distribution of Seats

Tristram Hunt (Stoke on Trent Central, Labour)

(Citation: HC Deb, 20 October 2010, c1067)
The move from 650 to 600 will be an extraordinarily speedy process. I have had the great pleasure of sitting with some other Members present in the Chamber on the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, and we have heard time and again from independent witnesses, scholars and constitutionalists that the speed of this process is unacceptable and will lead to mistakes. Lewis Baston, from Democratic Audit, said to the Welsh Affairs Committee:

“I am concerned about the speed with which this is being brought through. It seems to be an absolute priority to get the new boundaries in place for 2015, rather than to get them right and to consider some of the principles involved. I would much rather we did this properly.”

Many Members share that view.

 

Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill
House of Commons Debate
New Clause 20 – Combination of Polls – Speaker’s Statement

Chris Bryant (Rhondda, Labour)
(Citation: HC Deb, 25 October 2010, c82)

The hon. Gentleman is a Liberal Democrat, and I am sure that he knows all about confusion, especially at the moment. I think that he is trying to quibble to end up with a position that he can proudly defend. In 2007, he would probably have been saying that the elections should not have been held at the same time, so he should be advancing the same argument now. However, I leave that for him and his conscience.

The Welsh Affairs Committee cited Lewis Baston, the senior research fellow with Democratic Audit, who argued that the coincidence in 2015-if the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill goes through in the way that the Government intend-of a general election with Assembly elections in Wales and parliamentary elections in Scotland is even more troubling because

“the elections for Westminster and the Assembly would be taking place on different systems”-

 

Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill
House of Lords Debate
2nd Reading – 1st Day

Lord Touhig (Labour)

(Citation: HL Deb, 15 November 2010, c594)
The Bill will adversely affect the predominantly Welsh-speaking parts of Wales. This was powerfully illustrated in a letter that Lewis Baston, senior research fellow with Democratic Audit, sent to the Welsh Affairs Committee in the other place. The committee, which has also been mentioned and which has a Conservative chairman and a non-Labour majority, conducted an inquiry into the implications of the Bill, concluded it was wrong and roundly condemned it. Mr Baston said:

“There are currently 5 majority-Welsh constituencies: Ynys Mon, Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Arfon, Ceredigion and Carmarthen East & Dinefwr. All of these are undersized, and the Bill will mean reduction accompanied by radical boundary changes. The Bill risks severely depleting the representation of Welsh-speaking areas in the UK Parliament”.

 

Lord Rennard (Liberal Democrat)

(Citation: HL Deb, 15 November 2010, c624)
The highly respected psephologist, Lewis Baston, was also prayed in aid by noble Lords opposite a few hours ago. He has made calculations suggesting that perhaps eight or 10 seats may be varied between what the Conservative Party or the Labour Party might have as a result of these reviews. Those are figures in line with all the previous Boundary Commission reviews-and there have been three in the past 27 years. There is no big change out of this.

 

Fixed Term Parliaments Bill
House of Commons Debate
Clause 1 – Polling Days for Parliamentary General Elections

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Plaid Cymru)

(Citation: HC Deb, 16 November 2010, c778)
These changes will have a clear impact as electors find themselves not merely with the added burden of an extra piece of paper to complete, as they will in the clashing elections next May and the alternative vote referendum, but voting for different constituency locations. I am proud to serve on the Welsh Affairs Committee in my first term in Parliament. The Committee received evidence from a number of organisations on these potential problems, and reported on them in our first publication of this Session, entitled “‘The implications for Wales of the Government’s proposals on constitutional reform”. We heard, for example, testimony from Lewis Baston, senior research fellow with Democratic Audit. He said that

“the elections for Westminster and the Assembly would be taking place on different systems on the same day, and more complicatedly on two sets of boundaries which will hardly ever correlate with each other.”

Philip Johnson told our Committee that the coincidence of elections could have “horrendous” consequences in 2015.

 

Chris Bryant (Rhondda, Labour)

(Citation: HC Deb, 16 November 2010, c779)
I respect Lewis Baston enormously, but he is slightly wrong: there would be three different sets of boundaries in Wales and Scotland, because there are majority elected seats as well as regional seats. There is no guarantee in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill that UK parliamentary boundaries will respect the boundaries of the regions used for Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament elections, so there will be three different boundaries.

 

Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill
Second Reading
2nd Day

Baroness Henig (Labour)
(Citation: HL Deb, 16 November 2010, c720)
I was struck by the evidence that the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee in the other place received from Democratic Audit, which argued that, if the figure of 10 per cent had been adopted, county boundaries, community identity and the practicality of representation could all have been taken into account. Indeed, the previous constituency review found that nearly 90 per cent of constituencies were within 10 per cent of what they should be. That caused the electoral systems expert Lewis Baston to ask whether it was worth the disruption that the adoption of 5 per cent would assuredly produce. That is exactly the sort of question that pre-legislative scrutiny would have explored in a very helpful way. I hope that the figure will be the subject of an amendment in Committee.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Labour)
(Citation: HL Deb, 16 November 2010, c736)
Mr Lewis Baston from Democratic Audit made this very point in written evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, saying:

“A general principle of toleration of 10 per cent variation allows for county boundaries, community identity and practicality of representation to be taken into account, while a rigid 5 per cent rule cannot … Of the 533 English constituencies in the last review, 474 (88.9 per cent) were within 10 per cent of the English quota … One has to ask whether it is worth imposing the disruption … when the bulk of them are within 10 per cent of what they ‘should’ be anyway”.

 

Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill
House of Lords Committee
7th Day

Lord Campbell-Savours (Labour)
(Citation: HL Deb, 10 January 2011, c1181)
There was a huge campaign that was referred to a few weeks ago by my noble friend Lord Foulkes of Cumnock to deal with the whole issue of registration, which threw up the particular problem to which my noble friend referred. Indeed, the Democratic Audit paper on further findings on equalisation,which no doubt most Members of the House will either have read or will want to read prior to our debates in the future, deals precisely with this issue of population, Mr Lewis Baston says:

“Approximately half of the countries that delimit districts use “total population” as the population base for determining equality across electoral districts. Another third of the countries employ registered voters as the population base”

Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Labour)
(Citation: HL Deb, 10 January 2011, c1217)
Published work, in particular by Thrasher and Rallings, and by Lewis Baston, suggests that a deviation figure of 10 rather than 5 per cent would have the same effect in reducing the malproportion figure yet at the same time allow one, in determining constituencies, to keep communities together and not have the radical effect that the government proposals would have.

 

Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill
House of Lords Committee
8th Day

Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Labour)
(Citation: HL Deb, 12 January 2011, c1440)
There is one factual issue in relation to this and one principle issue in relation to law. I raise first the factual issue which my noble friend Lord Lipsey touched on. He asked how many changes there would be every five years and made the point that if the numbers remain critical and it is only a 5 per cent variation, it is possible to envisage the boundaries of many constituencies changing. I quote from a document called The Ten Per Cent Solution which is by a man called Mr Lewis Baston and dated 20 January 2011. He says the following:

“The government’s Bill”,

which is a reference to this Bill,

“proposes that the boundaries will change every election, which disrupts the relationship between MP and constituency and will no doubt lead to confusion. Because the 5 per cent limit is so tight, many constituencies that were the right size in one boundary review will be too big or too small by the next. This will happen because of growth and decline in population. It will also happen because of variations in electoral registration from year to year, which are likely to be larger under the forthcoming Individual Electoral Registration system. It is quite possible that radical changes in boundaries will be made for no better reason than fluctuating registers, which as we know have become much less stable, complete and accurate”.

So this report from Democratic Audit says that the effect will be quite significant; it uses the phrase “many constituencies”. I do not know what work the Government have done on this but it is important to know their estimate of the effect of the five-yearly review-not the first review but the five-yearly review.

 

Lord Campbell-Savours (Labour)
(Citation: HL Deb, 12 January 2011, c1503)
If the Conservative element does not get its boundary changes, the Liberal Democrats do not get their AV. I keep on repeating this because it is very important that they understand that that is precisely what happens. But what happens if the Liberal Democrats do not get their AV? The answer to that question is that the Conservative element in the coalition still gets its boundary changes.

Let me tell the Liberal Democrats what that could mean for them because Lewis Baston of Democratic Audit did some work on these matters. His article is entitled “Do Turkeys Vote for Christmas? Yes, when it comes to Liberal Democrat MPs and the boundary review for Westminster constituencies. Nick Clegg’s party will lose a fifth of all its MPs“. It states:

“Lewis Baston of Democratic Audit models the effects of a smaller House of Commons and finds that while we cannot be completely certain of the outcome at this stage, it could well be disastrous for the Liberal Democrats”.

Are they getting the message? This is not a very good deal for them. If they lose their system, they still get the boundary review. They might have to revise their position. They get the new boundaries under which, as I will now show, they lose. The document states that,

“the first detailed model of what the new constituencies might look like shows that the worst hit party will probably be taken by the Liberal Democrats, as my first Table below shows. It is possible that the ‘reduce and equalise’ policy could end up being what is known in Ireland as a ‘Tullymander’-an electoral change introduced for partisan reasons that backfires on its authors”.

Under the modelling he has done, the Conservatives lose 21 seats, 7 per cent of their total, Labour loses 13 seats, 5 per cent of our total, and the Liberal Democrats lose 12 seats, 21 per cent of their total.

“The model redistribution was undertaken using the rules proposed in the government’s Bill, giving special treatment to two island seats in Scotland and then distributing the 598 other seats across the four nations. Constituencies were then allocated to the English regions, and the entitlement of each county was calculated … The Liberal Democrats are badly affected by the upcoming boundary changes for two reasons. First, their seats tend to be geographically isolated rather than clumped together … Changing the boundaries of Liberal Democrat seats will tend to pull in areas of neighbouring seats, where the party’s vote is much lower. Second, on average, Liberal Democrats have much smaller majorities than Tory or Labour MPs … Their seats are therefore less able to withstand adverse boundary changes … In terms of the numbers of Conservative and Labour casualties of redistribution, there are several reasons for this surprising result. One is that the journalistic standby of the ‘depopulated inner city’”-

let us get it all on the record so that we all know what he says-

“is largely a myth … We do not know how the Boundary Commissions will choose between the different schemes that are within the rules. Accordingly, we looked as hard as we could at all other possible extreme results based on essentially the same template, with boundaries systematically tweaked to their maximum extent within the rules so as to boost one or other of the top the three parties”.

We will not go any further. I think I have made my point that it is a bad deal for them.

 

Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill
House of Lords Committee
9th Day

Lord Knight of Weymouth (Labour)
(Citation: HL Deb, 17 January 2011, c268)
I will not rehearse again in any great detail all the arguments that we have heard over the past 15 hours. However, I have not yet spoken in the debate on this part at any length, and certainly not today. I do not believe there is any evidence that the other place is overrepresented on any international comparison. I am struck by the Lewis Baston and Stuart Wilks-Heeg analysis. I do not believe there is any evidence that it is overrepresented, particularly if you include representatives from below the national level.

 

Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill
House of Lords Committee
10th Day

Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Labour)
(Citation: HL Deb, 18 January 2011, c336)
A prime example is what will happen to the county of Hampshire. Because the rules will not allow the Isle of Wight to remain a single seat, the county will need to accommodate approximately 35,000 electors from the island who will need to be allocated to one of the mainland seats. This will have a significant ripple effect on constituencies across the county, leading to significant changes in the shape of Hampshire constituencies. Although that extreme level of disruption would not be seen again after the first redrawing, widespread disturbance of constituency boundaries would none the less be evident every time there was a future review, because population changes will constantly push constituencies outside the 5 per cent threshold. That was confirmed by the heads of the Boundary Commissions in evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee in the other place. It has also been highlighted by Lewis Baston of the Democratic Audit team, who has predicted that,

“there will be only two boundary reviews under these rules-one reporting by 2013 and in force from 2015, and another reporting in 2018. At that point, MPs will revolt at the prospect of repeated disruptive boundary reviews, as they did in similar circumstances in 1958″.

Lord Lipsey (Labour)
(Citation: HL Deb, 18 January 2011, c341)
This is a matter on which a huge volume of work has been done by psephologists. I suppose that I am the only person in this House whose favourite bedside reading is psephology, rather than, for example, Agatha Christie, Dick Francis and the rest. I have gone through, for example, John Curtice’s and others’ annex to the British General Election of 2010, the work of Lewis Baston and so on. It is perfectly clear from those that size is barely the cause of the bias that exists in the system.

 

Lord Crickhowell (Conservative)
(Citation: HL Deb, 18 January 2011, c342)
It was not until I received the interesting paper from Democratic Audit and the points made by Lewis Baston that I really turned my attention to the English situation. It seems to me that that paper makes a very powerful case. It points out that with a 5 per cent variation, there would be serious difficulties with the crossing of county boundaries and so on, and that under a 10 per cent variation there would be much less crossing of county boundaries, much less splitting of wards, fewer and less disruptive boundary changes in future and closer concordance with community identities. Surely, we all want that.

Lewis Baston points out that for a county to avoid sharing one or more seats with another county, it needs to meet a number of criteria. He tells us that very few counties could meet these criteria in England with a 5 per cent limit. A 10 per cent tolerance of variation would transform this chaotic picture. No counties fail outright, other than the Isle of Wight, which we will debate on a separate occasion, although in practice, some might be close enough to the edge to make pairings necessary. None the less, it was found that only two relatively natural pairings-Wiltshire and Dorset, and West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire-would arise under a revised plan based on 10 per cent.

It is also probably impossible to implement a 5 per cent rule without splitting wards in constituencies. Again, that difficulty would be largely overcome. The final positive benefit would mean fewer and less disruptive boundary changes in future. Surely, that is of great significance for the political parties and candidates. As we heard from the noble Lord who is an expert on these subjects, and see from the democratic audit paper, the conclusion has to be that there are no significant differences between 5 per cent and 10 per cent equalisation as regards their partisan effect.

 

Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill
House of Lords Committee
11th Day

Lord Lipsey (Labour)
(Citation: HL Deb, 19 January 2011, c454)
The system that I propose for discussion in this amendment, whereby constituencies are equalised by virtue of population rather than electorate, is more common in other countries than the use of electorates. Britain has a jolly good constitution; we love it very much and certainly I am not knocking it. However, we should consider this. It is not a silly idea for a system that no country uses. Lewis Baston of Democratic Audit states:

“Most countries use some measure of total population to serve as the basic measure of constituency size, either total population or a modified population such as voting age population … or citizen population. Britain is a member of a minority, albeit a significant minority, of countries that use registered electorate”.

He states that the ACE Project shows that half the countries of the world use total population and one-third use registered voters as the population base.

Lord Campbell-Savours (Labour)
(Citation: HL Deb, 19 January 2011, c454)
Is not one of the problems with the Bill the fact that the Lewis Baston material on countries that use population bases does not include how those population statistics were produced? One would have thought, when obviously the Bill was going to be surrounded by discussion about population, that research would have been done by officials in the department to establish the basis on which other countries use population figures. Have they a different way of drawing up census information? None of that information has been made available, which makes it very difficult for us to argue the question of population during the passage of this legislation.

 

Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill
House of Lords Committee
12th Day

Lord Howarth of Newport
(Citation: HL Deb, 24 January 2011, c712)
I would be very grateful if the Minister could give the House his response to the following observation made by Dr Lewis Baston in Democratic Audit: January 2011 on this issue of the splitting of wards:

“It is probably impossible to implement a 5 per cent rule without splitting wards between constituencies, something which the Boundary Commissions currently avoid doing because of the potential for voter confusion and highly artificial constituency boundaries, not to mention causing headaches for the organisation of all political parties. … The worst-affected areas are those where wards have large electorates, such as the English metropolitan boroughs, most of Scotland and some unitary authorities and London boroughs. A rigid 10 per cent rule might still involve a few isolated cases of ward-splitting, but it is likely to be very uncommon in comparison with a 5 per cent rule”.

Is there not a lot of very good sense in that?

Lord Howarth of Newport
(Citation: HL Deb, 24 January 2011, c727)
In the previous debate I quoted Dr Lewis Baston on the danger that, with the narrow 5 per cent tolerance-or, as the Minister likes to call it, a 10 per cent tolerance: both ways from the norm of 76,000 voters-wards would all too frequently be split.

Equally, there will be all too frequent occasions on which constituency boundaries have to cross county council boundaries. Again, to quote Dr Baston:

“In the Democratic Audit model of how boundaries could be drawn using a 5 per cent rule, only 9 out of 46 counties, accounting for 67 of the 503 seats proposed for England, did not need to be grouped with another county (North Yorkshire, Humberside, Lincolnshire, Cumbria, Staffordshire, Gloucestershire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire). Furthermore, relatively small future changes in electorate size would lead to disruptive change to the county groupings every parliament. A 10 per cent tolerance of variation would transform this chaotic picture”,

and vastly for the better.

Lord Campbell-Savours (Labour)
(Citation: HL Deb, 24 January 2011, c738)
Maldon has a very interesting history. It was referred to by Lewis Baston in his brief, which my noble friend will have received. However, the noble Lord, Lord Newton of Braintree, did not tell us that the boundaries were changed in 1955 to 1974, in 1974 to 1983, in 1983 to 1997, in 1997 to 2010 and in 2010 to 2015. The evidence from Maldon is that the people of Maldon are confused about what constituency they belong in because of all the changes over the past 40 years to the boundaries of the constituency in which they have been placed.

 

Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill
House of Lords Committee
13th Day

Lord Roberts of Conwy
(Citation: HL Deb, 25 January 2011, c908)
Not only was I born in Anglesey, so I know something about the place, but I represented Conwy for 27 years in the other place. Conwy, in my day, included the city of Bangor, which, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell said, is the shopping centre for Anglesey and contains a lot of people who had come from Anglesey, as I found among my constituents. It really looked as though Telford’s bridge of 1825 had proved to be a floodgate for people from Anglesey to come over to the mainland site. Anglesey is small, with a total electorate of some 42,000. If we are to equalise and abide by that principle, the Ynys Môn electorate could be amplified to include the Bangor area. Indeed, this has been anticipated by the inquiry conducted by the Welsh select committee of the other place. It quoted in evidence Lewis Baston of Democratic Audit, who suggested this very combination, which would result in a constituency of some 73,400 people and meet the criteria required by the Government.

 

Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill
House of Lords Committee
14th Day

Lord Touhig (Labour)
(Citation: HL Deb, 26 January 2011, c978)
There is another important aspect of Wales that merits special consideration: the Welsh language. In five parliamentary constituencies-Ynys Môn, Arfon, Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Ceredigion and Carmarthen East and Dinefwr-Welsh is the first language of a majority of voters. Mr Lewis Baston, a senior research fellow with Democratic Audit, has been much quoted in the debates that we have had in the House in recent days. In evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee in the other place, he criticised the impact that a reduction of 10 seats would have on Welsh-speaking areas. He said:

“The Bill risks severely depleting the representation of Welsh-speaking areas in the UK Parliament”.

Lord Roberts of Conwy (Conservative)
(Citation: HL Deb, 26 January 2011, c1001)
We would all probably agree that a 10 per cent variation on either side of the quota would probably make life easier without mortally injuring the basic equality principle that lies at the heart of this Bill. As has already been said, Mr Lewis Baston of Democratic Audit has drafted a list of a possible 30 constituencies approximating the required size. The list is to be found in the Welsh Affairs Committee evidence. It merits close study.

Baroness Gale (Labour)
(Citation: HL Deb, 26 January 2011, c1007)
I have lived for most of my life in the Rhondda Valley, which has an electorate of just over 50,000. We are surrounded by the Cynon Valley, Pontypridd and Ogmore, which would be possible areas where you could expand. Lewis Baston, who has been mentioned several times, suggests that in order to fit in the numbers to get to the magical 75,000, Rhondda and Ogmore could become one constituency. My noble friend Lord Kinnock is smiling because he knows the area, and many noble Lords will as well as I do. We know that Rhondda and Ogmore have no natural links whatever.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton
(Citation: HL Deb, 26 January 2011, c1062)

Likewise, Mr Lewis Baston of Democratic Audit has commented:

“The banning”

-he was right to use that word-

“of public inquiries is a severe and deplorable downgrading of public participation and transparency in the boundary process”.