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Clause 11 — number and distribution of seats

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill (Programme) (No. 4) – in the House of Commons at 5:38 pm on 1st November 2010.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Justice) (Political and Constitutional Reform) 5:38 pm, 1st November 2010

A very large number, but I am not arguing against greater parity, as I hope I have made clear on several occasions during the Bill's proceedings. However, I am also not in favour of one area of the country having its representation in this House cut by 25%-four times more than any other part of the United Kingdom. That seems to be a swingeing cut, and it will do no good for representation in this House.

The six seats in Oxfordshire would, on average, have been 1,907 electors over the threshold, so approximately 11,000 Oxfordshire electors would have needed to be shed so that they were in a constituency that was shared with a neighbouring county. Indeed, part of the Prime Minister's own constituency, including the Saxon village of Burford, might have had to be shifted to Gloucestershire. Even Burford priory, the house of civil war Speaker Lenthall, would have had to be summarily moved from Oxfordshire to Gloucestershire.

In Hampshire, because the rules will not allow Isle of Wight to remain a single seat, the county would have been required to provide 40,000 electors from one or perhaps two of its existing seats. Most significantly, the historic county of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly would have had to find 13,138 electors, or an average of 2,190 per constituency, from Devon to make up the number for six seats. I believe that to be wrong. King Athelstan determined as early as 936 that the east bank of the River Tamar should be the border of Cornwall, and, although it may be true in the words of the Prime Minister that the Tamar is not the Amazon, it certainly is the Rubicon-a river not worth crossing.

The same is true of metropolitan areas. Warrington would have had 119 too many electors for two seats-an average of 59 per seat. The five seats in Birmingham, each comprising four wards and with electorates of between 73,731 and 75,563, would have been slightly too large and would have had to shed voters elsewhere. In London, Wandsworth would have had 3,427 electors too few for its three seats, Sutton would have had 1,119 too few electors for its two seats, Barnet would have had 371 too many electors for its three seats, and Enfield would have had 219 too few electors for its three seats.