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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 7:15 pm on 1st November 2010.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 7:15 pm, 1st November 2010

I am most grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am trying to cover quite a lot of ground for colleagues in a relatively short period.

I wanted to address the issues raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber and my hon. Friend John Thurso-and I know that if my hon. Friend Mr Reid been able to contribute to the debate he would have said very much the same thing about the highlands of Scotland. [Interruption.] May I correct the hon. Member for Rhondda? He kept on saying that there are three exceptions in the Bill, but there are not three exceptions; there are two exceptions and they are, for very clear reasons, for the two island constituencies where contacts are very difficult. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute can make a very strong case for his own constituency as well, but I do not accept that having a maximum size-which it has been said is the size of Belgium-is unreasonable for the Scottish Members representing highland constituencies.

Mark Durkan made a very important point on Northern Ireland. I expected him to make the connection between parliamentary constituencies and Assembly constituencies. Instead, he concentrated on the quota and the Sainte-Laguë formula, and he raises an important point that we need to look at. I want to make absolutely sure that the system is fair to all parts of the United Kingdom, and I will certainly look at that point.

I find it very difficult to understand the argument that the Welsh constituencies are badly treated by being treated the same as other constituencies, such as those on my side of the Bristol channel. I do not know whether changing the name of Somerset to Gwlad yr Haf would have the desired effect of giving us twice as many representatives, but I do not accept that people in the west country should be disadvantaged in that way. [Interruption.] No, what is patronising is to pretend that we cannot go from one part of a constituency to the other because there is a hill or a river in the way. That is nonsense.

I briefly want to address the effect of Government amendments in this group, which are technical in nature. Amendments 220 and 221 allow the boundary commissions to use the most up-to-date register in areas where publication is delayed. If these amendments are not agreed to, in some areas the boundary commissions would have to use the register before the results of the annual canvass were included in it. I therefore hope we can all agree that the amendments must be made.

Amendment 21 makes consequential amendments to other legislation that refers to particular constituencies by name. We need to make that other legislation consistent with the new rules for constituencies in the Bill.

I hope the House will be able to support the Government amendments, and will reject the other amendments if they are pressed to a Division, as I believe they introduce inequalities-and inappropriate inequalities at that-that I personally cannot accept.