Parliamentary Constituencies Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:13 pm on 2nd June 2020.

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Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative, Moray 6:13 pm, 2nd June 2020

I accept that point, and it is therefore important that the Government proposal respects the two constituencies that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned—Orkney and Shetland, and Na h-Eileanan an Iar. In supporting this Bill on Second Reading and throughout the process, it is important that we recognise the geographical implications of those island communities that are represented here.

However, since the hon. Gentleman makes the point of comparing constituencies, I add that his Glasgow East constituency has an electorate of just over 67,000, yet my Moray constituency has an electorate of over 71,000, so there are variances in constituencies within Scotland as well, and it is important that we look at that going forward.

I welcome the fact that these boundaries will be reviewed on an eight-yearly basis. As I have said, the last review was two decades ago, which is a long time. Given my own circumstances in the past seven days and my own movement throughout politics in this Chamber and in this Government, I have come to consider the phrase “a week is a long time in politics” a lot; if a week is a long time in politics, two decades—20 years—is a lifetime, and I do not think it is right that we continue to represent constituencies that were made up before I could vote and certainly before the hon. Member for Glasgow East could.

I want to praise a group of people who are often unsung heroes in each of our constituencies: our local election staff. They do a power of work, and not just on elections—and sometimes elections that are not timed at the best time of year for many people. In Moray, we have an outstanding team, with our returning officer Denise Whitworth and our elections team headed up by Moira Patrick and Alison Davidson. They work all year round to ensure that the democratic decision of people in Moray and in constituencies across the country is heard. It is right that we recognise that they put in a lot of work not just during an election campaign and the count, which is always important to us, but all year round. Whether in by-elections, in updating registers, or in ensuring that people have a voice and continue to be heard, the work they do is crucial.

I was encouraged to hear the point made by the Minister—who has done an outstanding job on the Bill so far, and I am sure will continue to do so—about the improved timing of the public hearings. I have been involved in public hearings for boundary commissions, and they may not be the sexiest thing for people to go along to, but people are engaged; they are very connected with their local constituencies. Whether it is a constituency’s name, a constituency’s boundaries or the fact that a line drawn somewhere pleases some and displeases others, it is right that they have the opportunity to express their views. While they may not be happy with the final outcome, they feel franchised and involved in the process up to that point.

I welcome the cross-party support we have heard so far during the debate, but I am left confused by the Labour position. Although the shadow Minister made a good speech, having listened to it I am unsure what the Opposition are calling for in the reasoned amendment they will be pressing to a Division. Are they calling for 7.5% tolerance, because that is in the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend Mr Bone? In response to an intervention, the shadow Minister could not tell us if that was the Labour party position. The 7.5% figure has been proposed from the Dispatch Box but they are not saying whether that is the Labour party position. I hope that during the course of the debate, and perhaps in summing up, we get more information on that, because whether it is 5% or 7.5%, or, as others have said, the international standard of 10%, we are always drawing a line somewhere and people will not be happy just over or under one side of that line. It is important that we have that clarification from the Opposition, because that point was left hanging in the opening remarks.

I was keen to get involved in this debate because it was another opportunity to mention Moray. In some way or another, Moray will continue after the next boundary change. It is important that we can all take this Bill forward and support it on Second Reading, and I look forward to seeing its future progress through the House.