Clause 9 — Number and distribution of seats

Part of Police Terms and Conditions of Service (Redundancy) – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 20th October 2010.

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Photo of Tristram Hunt Tristram Hunt Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central 7:30 pm, 20th October 2010

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. It is extraordinary to have begun this process without thinking about the interrelationship between this place and the other place. One does not have to be a Newtonian to think that for every force there is an equal and opposite counter-force. [ Interruption. ] I am hearing more and more sedentary comments from the Deputy Leader of the House; I do not know if that is the usual form from him.

One would have thought that all these things would be pulled together in an overarching Bill that had some degree of intellectual credibility in terms of the British constitution and the role of this place and the other place. Instead, we have an arbitrary figure of 600, and meanwhile many more people are being placed in the House of Lords. The international comparisons steadily fall away when we think about the federal structure of many other European nations, local rates of representation in many other European nations, the interrelationship between the two parts of bicameral Parliaments, both nationally and internationally, and the role of Members of Parliament today in terms of the volume of work that they do.

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.

Above all, the problem with the arbitrary collapse from 650 seats to 600, as my hon. Friend John Mann so eloquently and brilliantly enunciated, is the total absence of sentiment or feel for the nature of either the United Kingdom or the British constitution. The UK is not something to be placed under a slide rule and arbitrarily cut up on the basis of a figure of 76,000. There are interrelationships of complex formations between Wales, Scotland, England, the Isle of Wight, the Isles of Scilly and the historic Duchy of Scotland- [Interruption.] Or Cornwall, even.

It surprises me all the more that the move from 650 to 600 is being driven by the Conservative party, which I had always thought was interested in tradition, identity, locality and community rather than in utilitarian butchery of the historic constitution of this country. We have been here before; one would have thought that the Conservative party might have learned the lessons of Edward Heath, but it seems to be intent on repeating them. The grotesque local authority rationalisations of the mid-1970s were done on exactly the same principle of utilitarian Benthamite thinking, with no feel for locality or historic identity. People did not like them and rebelled against them. The Bill has blown apart the "big society", because there is no sense of locality, identity or tradition in it. Instead, it is rampant Cromwellian statism.

I believe that the reason for the arbitrary figure of 600 is simply that it is a big round number, and the Government thought it made sense. I suggest that this place deserves slightly more thought to be given to that matter. The arbitrary move to 600 was not in the manifesto of either of the governing parties, and it has no popular mandate. As a result, I am more and more convinced that the other place has no obligation to adhere to the Salisbury convention and pass the Bill. There is no popular mandate for the change, so we might lose temporarily in this House, but I hope the other place will help us win the war-even as the Government, shamefully and against the constitutional principles of this country, continue to pack it.