Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:39 pm on 6th September 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Deputy Prime Minister, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice 4:39 pm, 6th September 2010

Allow me to make progress.

Every single other constitutional measure that I can recall has been considered within a time scale that allowed for proper pre-legislative scrutiny, but the man who came to office preening himself on how he was to raise the standards of our politics has brushed all that aside-so much so that the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, to which he is answerable, denounced his approach in unusually strong terms. It said:

"The Deputy Prime Minister has accurately described the Bill as 'fundamental to this House and to our democracy'. We regret that the Government's timetable has denied us an adequate opportunity to scrutinise the Bill before second reading."

Had the Select Committee had time, it might have been able to prise from the right hon. Gentleman some better explanation for clause 9, which can only be described as the Liberal Democrat protection clause.

The essence of the Bill is that arithmetic trumps all-that it trumps community loyalties, historical ties, long-established county boundaries, mountains, and, indeed, the sea. In pursuit of arithmetic, for example, the views of the people of the Isle of Wight are wholly to be ignored. It is all in the name of an arithmetical formula, except in one area of the United Kingdom-the north of Scotland. There will be two protected constituencies: Orkney and Shetland, with 37,000 voters, and the Western Isles, with 22,000 voters-a third of the standard size. Our objection is not that Orkney and Shetland and the Western Isles should have special considerations taken into account, but that they are the only areas that will be allowed to put their case about local needs and concerns.

Then we have the most bare-faced and partisan exemption of all: a new rule to allow seats that are more than 12,000 sq km in size-where this figure came from, I do not know-to exist even without the required quota of electors. Alongside that, another rule prevents any seat from exceeding 13,000 sq km. At present, only one seat on the mainland is bigger than 12,000 sq km-Ross, Skye and Lochaber, the seat of the former leader of the Liberal Democrats. Contrary to what the Deputy Prime Minister intimated, this is to protect a small seat with 24,000 voters-fewer than the average at which all other seats will be aimed. The only other seats that could conceivably be assisted by that rule are located in the Scottish highlands, and they are also Liberal Democrat-held.