Parliamentary Constituencies Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:25 pm on 2nd June 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Gareth Johnson Gareth Johnson Conservative, Dartford 6:25 pm, 2nd June 2020

My right hon. Friend makes an interesting point, because having 650 Members of Parliament means that we represent fewer constituents.

The Labour party manifesto had only one clear commitment about boundary changes, and that was to have 650 seats. They have got that, and yet still they want to refuse to give the Bill a Second Reading, even when they have been successful on the main policy in their manifesto on boundary changes.

I agree with the Labour party that, had we stuck with the original policy and gone back to 600 MPs, we would have seen a decrease in the size of the legislature, but the Executive would have stayed the same size. That is a valid argument for saying that there would be a disproportionate impact on the House if we went back to 600 seats. But that is not happening, and I therefore find it slightly odd that we are not seeing some support from the Labour party.

We have been accused of not paying enough interest in local communities by not having an electoral quota of plus or minus 7.5% or 10%—I am not quite sure what the Labour party policy is on that. If that were the case, we could have simply taken the electorate of the whole country and divided it by 650, and that is what the boundary commissions would have had to implement. That is far from what we are doing. What we are doing is recognising that in three separate areas of the country, there are particular circumstances which mean that they do not have to comply with that leeway, but around the rest of the country, there is the ability to have plus or minus 5%.

The Labour party should be following us through the Lobby—after an hour or so—and supporting us in this. We should be together on this, because I think we can all support the general principle that each person’s vote has equal weight. I accept that MPs are naturally nervous when it comes to boundary changes. Nobody likes them, and we should not have them too often. We work very hard to try to get to know towns, villages and individuals, to build the important bond that exists between a Member of Parliament and his or her constituents. That is a fundamental principle of British politics. Every time that we have a boundary change, we can lose whole communities with the stroke of a pen. It is therefore only natural that we should be very nervous about the whole process. But those arguments come later down the road, when the recommendations come from the Boundary Commission. The commission is, by the way, an independent organisation that is chaired by Mr Speaker, whose deputies are judges who will scrutinise the whole process. It is a non-political process that is entirely independent and free from this House. We should be proud of the system that we have in this country, as it cannot be gerrymandered easily.

I ask the Labour party to reconsider its position. It has got what it said it wanted in its manifesto; that is now the policy of the Government. There is nothing in the Labour manifesto or its official policy about plus or minus 7.5%. The only thing that the amendment specifies is the number 650, and we have got that. The rest of it is platitudes and generalisations that we can argue about in Committee and so on. The basic principle—that we need boundary changes in this country because we are 20 years and counting behind—remains. That is a general principle that the Labour party should be able to get behind.