10 February 2011

Conservatives and Libdems defeat ‘keep Cornwall whole’

On 9 February the House of Lords defeated by 250-221 votes a ‘keep Cornwall whole’ amendment to the Parliamentary voting system and constituencies (PVSC) bill by Libdem member Robin Teverson.

In that vote 153 Conservative and 63 Liberal Democrats lords voted against the Teverson amendment. The bulk of support was from Labour lords, presumably a party decision. Only eleven Libdems voted for the amendment, mostly those with an association with the west country or Scotland. The debate and vote is at Lords Hansard columns 257-266. A breakdown of the vote by party is here, division 2.

During his debate Teverson made the familiar arguments about Cornwall being unique in several ways and claimed that the possibility of a Devonwall constituency “is something that arouses real feelings and passions in ordinary people, in voters and families, throughout Cornwall”. As I explained here , my reading is that while a few are very roused, the debate simply does not engage most people in Cornwall at all.

Tom McNally, a Libdem spokesman on the bill in the Lords, said that “there is strong evidence to support the case that constituencies can and do exist that contain more than one community with more than one sense of identity” and disagreed that “constituencies can create or destroy identity”.

Let me here also note that at Committee stage Norman Fowler, a Tory member, successfully moved amendment 66 to ‘keep the Isle of Wight whole’ (Lords Hansard 19 January 2011 columns 406-426).

On 9 February the Lords also agreed an amendment from crossbencher David Pannick that increases the leeway between electorates in constituencies from the government’s 5 percent to 7½ percent in very exceptional circumstances. The government argued, persuasively to me, that there was vagueness in what would count as an exception. The Commons could vote the new leeway down when the amended bill goes back to them but time is short if the bill is to become law in time for a referendum in May.

Keeping Cornwall whole, having failed as a principle to persuade most members, is now a matter of arithmetic. Can five or six constituencies be constructed with the 5 percent, or possibly 7½ percent, limits wholly within Cornwall? And if the Pannick amendment remains in the bill, will the boundary commission see Cornwall as an exception?

ADDITION 10 February 2011: This is a copy of the bill as it is now after Report stage in the Lords.