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Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:09 pm on 18th November 2016.

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Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Leader of the House of Commons), Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 12:09 pm, 18th November 2016

We have heard that point again and again during this debate, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right.

What is fantastic and one of the key things that we have got right—I talk about things when they go right in this House—is the constituency link. It is a wonderful and marvellous thing to have the privilege to represent constituencies in defined areas, where we can build up a relationship with our constituents over the years. I have had the pleasure of being a Member of Parliament in this House for 15 years, and I have got to know my constituents. I know exactly the type of issues they will bring to me. From having represented them, I have a sense of the type of things that interest them. I believe that it is negative and bad to toy with this very valuable feature and to erode the constituency link.

When I was first elected, there were 72 Scottish Members of Parliament. If this goes through, there will be 53, so we will have lost almost a quarter of Scottish Members of Parliament within 10 years. I accept that some of that has been necessary—it was right and proper—because, with the Scottish Parliament, it was thought that the number of Members of Parliament should be reduced. However, to have 53 MPs to represent an area the size of Scotland will be very demanding and challenging for many of my hon. Friends.

In the last debate on this matter I mentioned that if the changes go through we will have more Members of the House of Lords from Scotland than we will MPs; I had detected 61 Lords with registered Scottish addresses. Since then I have done a little more research, and have found that I have five—this one solitary Member for Perth and North Perthshire has the benefit of five Members of the House of Lords. So, just to be equitable, how about we equalise the House of Lords along with the House of Commons? I would quite happily gift some of my Lords to urban constituencies, so that they could have the benefit of one of them serving them. Perhaps we should start to think about how to do that. People often ask us what we will do with the Scottish Lords when we become independent. I will put the House’s mind at rest: as a parting gift and gesture of our largesse we are quite happy to donate the Scottish Lords to the rest of the United Kingdom. You cannot get more generous than that.

I will finish by saying a little about what I think the boundary changes are really about. I do not believe they are about reducing the cost of Parliament, because the amount is peanuts in terms of budgets—it does not amount to much at all. This is all to do with trying to stymie the Labour party. That is what is behind all this. I have spoken privately to Conservative Members who have come to me and told me that that is what it is about—to ensure that the Labour party never gets back into government again. They want to do it now, while they have a majority. But the Labour party really does not need any assistance in becoming an electoral liability. It is doing it perfectly well on its own. It does not need Conservative assistance—let it get on with making itself unelectable. It is doing a fantastic job.

In trying to stymie the Labour party, however, the Conservatives are starting to erode the quality of our democracy. That is a dangerous thing given all the other knockabout stuff going on. Mucking about with something that seems to be working quite well and is one of the defining features of this House and the way we do business here will undermine and pick away at what makes this place good. Doing that while leaving that monstrosity down the corridor in its current condition, when it should be a national embarrassment and embarrass every single Member of this House, is an absolute and utter disgrace. There are things that we need to do to improve our democracy and our public life, but they do not include unpicking the great things that happen because we are a representative democracy. There is absolutely everything to do in dealing with that absurdity down the corridor.