Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:21 pm on 6th September 2010.

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Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Labour, Torfaen 6:21 pm, 6th September 2010

I almost entirely share the views of Mr Davis.

I hope not to listen to anything more about the Chartists. The Chartists of 1839, when there were lots in my constituency, had very different constituencies from those of 2010. Chartists believed in annual Parliaments, something I used to think was not a very good idea.

Jonathan Evans rejected our view that the Bill is partisan, but why is it so rushed? Why was there no pre-legislative scrutiny and why is there no attempt whatever at consensus? The Deputy Prime Minister boasted that all parties will be involved in some way or other in reforming the other place, but for this Bill, which in many ways is much more controversial, no attempt at consensus has been made. From all my years as a Minister in Wales and in Northern Ireland, I know that any lasting settlement must be based on consensus and compromise. If not, it will not work and it will be a constant sore. That is my first charge against the Bill.

My second charge relates to Wales. Roger Williams thought the Bill was good, so he is agreeing that 25% of Welsh Members of Parliament must go after the next election. What he did not say-but we will-is that when people voted for the devolution settlement in 1998, they voted for a package. That package was not simply the establishment of the Assembly, but the continuance of Members of Parliament, at that level, here in the House of Commons to protect the interests of the people of Wales and their nation. If we have a referendum, and there are greater powers, that might change, but at least people would have voted on it. However, in 1998, they voted for the opposite-the retention of Members of Parliament.

The other issue to which the hon. Gentleman referred was the size of our constituencies, but he represents one of the biggest constituencies in the whole United Kingdom. If he had to have 76,000 electors, it would create an enormous-a preposterous-constituency, which would start in Crickhowell and finish in Wrexham; it would be the size of Powys. That is nonsense. The great problem with the proposal is that equal electoral districts do not mean absolutely equal arithmetical electoral districts, because that would be nonsense. In Wales, it would fly against our valley constituencies, the rural seats, county towns or other parts of our country where the link between the constituency Member of Parliament and the community is absolutely vital. That is why I vigorously object to the part of the Bill that would take away those links, whether they are based on geography, history or tradition.

That relates to what is in some ways the worst part of the Bill, which would take away from the British people the right they have had for generations to stand up in inquiries in their communities and object to, or agree with, whatever the Boundary Commission proposes. To take away that right is a real dereliction. Two years before I entered the House in 1985, there were proposals to split my valley constituency into three. There was uproar, not just from the political parties but from the whole community-from the Churches, business people, trade unions, local authorities and ordinary people. They were able to go to a public inquiry, which was headed, for those of us opposed to splitting the constituency, by the late Sam Silkin. It was a great inquiry, because everybody was involved and the proposals were completely overturned.

We are now abolishing that right for local people, although it seems-the Minister might be able to deal with this point when he winds up-that when we are looking at boundaries for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly or the Northern Ireland Assembly, there will still be a right to hold public inquiries in all those countries, but not for our mother of Parliaments in Westminster. That is wrong.

I hope that over the next few months we shall be able to change the Bill in Committee. I hope that those upstairs, in the House of Lords, will also be able to change it. They are called the watchdog of the constitution-I hope that they are not the Deputy Prime Minister's poodle-but ultimately, the people of our country, in constituency after constituency, will object with great vigour to doing away with a system that, in my view, is the greatest parliamentary system in the world. By abolishing those rights, we do ourselves a great disservice.