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Clause 8 — Reports of the Boundary Commissions

Part of House of Commons Disqualification (Amendment) – in the House of Commons at 10:30 pm on 19th October 2010.

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Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Labour, Lewisham, Deptford 10:30 pm, 19th October 2010

Mrs Laing spoke passionately and ended with words to the effect that this was all about equalising constituencies. There is no equalisation of constituencies. All our constituencies are different. Simon Hughes would agree with me, I think, that his constituents who identify with Bermondsey do not identify with Deptford, and vice versa.

Even in London, we have distinct communities. We have people who hang together as a community and as a society. That is extraordinarily valuable. I want to examine for a moment who the people are whom the hon. Lady seemed to set aside as though they had no worth because, she said, they are not part of our democracy. Those are real people living in our communities, contributing to our communities. This is not a one-way street. It is not that we are here and they come as supplicants to us, to ask for favours. They are people in their own right, who contribute to our communities even when they do not vote and may not be registered. They are human beings living as part of our communities. We have to think very seriously about being dismissive of a significant proportion of our population.

Andrew George mentioned the Electoral Commission's study when the Chamber was far less full, so I shall repeat some of his points. The investigation found that

"under-registration is notably higher than average among 17-24 year olds (56% not registered), private sector tenants (49%) and black and minority ethnic British residents (31%)."

It found also:

"The highest concentrations of under-registration are most likely to be found in metropolitan areas" and in areas where there are

"high levels of social deprivation."

That is a representation of my constituency, which is vibrant, alive and contributing, but where there is huge under-registration.

Let me look at those different categories and how they have come to be under-registered. There has been much talk of functional illiteracy being a factor in the lack of registration, but I remind the Committee that many people in my community are entirely literate in their own language. They contribute and work, but often they are not able to function very well in English, which is not their first language. None the less, our local authority, a Labour local authority, has made enormous efforts to register people, but I shall refer again to those categories of people and to why efforts fail.

Many of my constituents are poor people. Members have spoken a lot about poverty tonight, but if someone is poor in my constituency and has the chance to work, they work. People do not lie around and take benefits when they have the option to work; they work. They do two, three and, occasionally, four little jobs on low wages, and by doing all those jobs they pile up enough to live on. However, they are never at home, including when I call to canvass them or to see whether they have any needs that I can represent, and they are not there even when a proactive council such as mine sends people out at all times of the day in order to try to find people at home. There are people who never, ever come into contact with those who would try to help them to register.