‘(1) Rule 8 of Schedule 2 to the 1986 Act (the allocation method) is amended as follows.
(2) After rule 8(5) insert—
“(6) Notwithstanding the allocation of constituencies according to the allocation method set out in rule 8(2)(5), there must be a minimum allocation of constituencies as follows—
(a) Wales must be allocated at least 40 constituencies (including the protected constituency);
(b) Scotland must be allocated at least 59 constituencies (including the two protected constituencies);
(c) Northern Ireland must be allocated at least 18 constituencies; and
(d) the allocation of constituencies must be adjusted accordingly.”’.—(David Linden.)
This new clause seeks to protect representation in the devolved nations by securing a minimum number of constituencies in each of the devolved nations.
Question put, That the clause be added to the Bill.
The House divided: Ayes 50, Noes 339.
Question accordingly negatived.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Amendment proposed: 1, page 2, line 19, leave out clause 2.—(Cat Smith.)
This amendment aims to maintain the status quo of parliamentary oversight within the boundary review process.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I thank all Members who have contributed to our debates on the Bill. In addition to our colleagues on the Front Benches, we have heard excellent contributions from my right hon. Friend Alun Cairns, my hon. Friends the Members for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson), for Dartford (Gareth Johnson), for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie), for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey), for Dudley South (Mike Wood) and for North West Durham (Mr Holden), John Spellar and the hon. Members for Eltham (Clive Efford), for Ceredigion (Ben Lake), for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy), for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle), for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) and for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins). Forgive me if I have missed anyone.
All Members who have contributed to these debates have considered the principles behind the Bill and the details of each of its clauses with a constructive and positive outlook. I have been struck by how many Members have acknowledged that the current situation of having unequally sized constituencies cannot continue and that action must be taken. The Government agree, and this Bill delivers that. Of course, there have been differences of opinion along the way, and there has been thorough scrutiny and robust challenge, which I hope has improved the Bill.
Our engagement before the introduction of the Bill with representatives of the parliamentary parties and electoral administrators has helped us to hone the technical aspects of the Bill and to take better account of what works from a practical standpoint. Our debates on amendments to the Bill in this elected House have led to a common-sense addition for the smallest of protected island constituencies. I am very grateful to all those who have contributed, including the witnesses who spoke at our Committee sessions. Many Members have advocated, challenged, probed and scrutinised in a spirit of logic but with good humour, and we have all joined in the overarching common purpose of ensuring that a crucial part of our democracy is made fairer and more equitable without delay.
There has been widespread acceptance of the equality of voting power as a fundamental principle. I think everybody knows that the boundary commissions have an important task that they have to get right of balancing that goal of equality with the need to maintain community links within constituencies. We all value the responsibility of representing our constituents and our communities, and none of us will ever stop defending the precious link between our constituents and us as their representatives. Soon we will be able to do that with a renewed sense that there is fairness and equality in our democracy more than before and that each elector’s vote to choose the Government of the day carries the same weight.
We have looked closely at how to ensure that the recommendations of future boundary reviews can be implemented without delay, and we have drawn on the experience of comparable systems in other countries. That matter was pressed to a Division in Committee, and the view of the elected Chamber is clearly in favour of automatic implementation.
The Union was never far from our mind in these debates. We gave careful consideration to the specific needs of the four nations in an overall framework, and we considered a variety of ideas in that context. The hon. Member for Ceredigion is not in his place, but I particularly enjoyed a discussion of the Welsh language and its role in community identity, and I was pleased to put on record how that can already be accommodated.
I thank the two hon. Members who chaired the Committee, as well as you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your guardianship today; I am sure I speak for all Committee members when I say it has been a pleasure to serve under you and those hon. Members. I am also grateful to my counterparts on the Opposition Benches, including Wendy Chamberlain, for their positive and challenging approach to their duties. I was particularly interested to find out from Cat Smith that not only have we had three had children since last we last served on a similar Bill Committee, but that this is in fact the first time she has completed a Bill Committee without giving birth—although there are still nine minutes and 40 seconds to go. I share her gratitude that the Committee did not decide to go on any longer than it needed to, further risking that. To make progress, all Bills rely on the wise counsel of Clerks and our officials, so I place on record my gratitude to them. We tested the new circumstances in which we find ourselves thoroughly in Committee and with our witnesses.
As a result of all those efforts, the House now has before it a Bill that provides equal and updated boundaries, meaning that, wherever voters live in our United Kingdom, they can be sure of having a fair and equal say in the crucial question of choosing who will govern. I hope that the noble Lords will now play their part so that the next review can finally get under way. It is with pleasure that I commend the Bill to the House.
I will keep my comments brief, as I covered the Labour party’s stance in my speech on Report. I put on the record that I am disappointed that the Government rejected the new clause and amendment that would have improved the Bill. The process of requiring MPs to vote on the final report from the commission is an important safety net, without which we would have just 600 MPs today.
We do not seek to delay the progress of the Bill. As I said in my opening remarks, we need new boundaries at the next election; the data on which our constituencies are built looks to be a quarter of a century old. We certainly hope their lordships will look again at clause 2, as we still have significant concerns about the Government’s approach to that matter.
With that, I draw my remarks to a close. I thank Committee members for their useful contributions and for how much fun I had taking the Bill through the House on behalf of the Opposition.
The Bill is all about creating fairness and making sure that every vote counts the same, and I wish it well as it travels through to the other place. John Spellar and I locked horns on whether boundary changes should ever be characterised as a nuisance; I would never want to misquote him, and I apologise if he thought I did. However, there is no nuisance in creating fair and equal boundaries—we should all agree on that.
Equal suffrage is a cornerstone of our democracy, and the Bill is part of that. I thank the Minister for accepting new clause 10 during the Committee’s proceedings, which is now clause 7 of the Bill and makes Ynys Môn a protected constituency, which is an important addition to the two constituencies that are already protected. The Bill honours a 2019 Conservative party manifesto commitment to ensure that we have updated, equal parliamentary boundaries, making sure that every vote counts the same. I hope that the other place heeds the debate in this place, and the fact that this was a Conservative party manifesto commitment, as they consider the measures in the usual way.
However, one outstanding issue is certainly the Boundary Commission and the way it will operate in support of this legislation. I hope the Minister is able to continue, through the Cabinet Office, to make sure that that organisation is doing everything it should to have the data it needs to put in place this important piece of legislation.
I close by saying an enormous thanks to the Committee Clerks, who made the running of the Committee so smooth, and also to the Minister, her colleagues, those Members who chaired the Committee and, of course, to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for being here this evening.
I echo the comments made by my colleagues on the Front-Bench about our thanks to those who presided over the Committee and to all the Members who took part. I regret that new clause 2, which sought to protect Scotland with 59 constituencies, was not passed. I think history will judge that vote harshly in the years to come, but that is a story for another day. I was speaking with a friend earlier this week about some of my favourite music and we were reflecting on a shared love of Green Day. I was reminded of their song “Wake Me Up When September Ends”, because when September ends we will have Lords amendments and I very much hope that when their lordships look at this Bill they will remove clause 2, which is an affront to democracy.
Well, Madam Deputy Speaker, let us consider the glory of the United Kingdom. Let us start, alphabetically, with the first constituency that comes to mind. My hon. Friend Robin Millar is not in his place, but if he were, he would doubtless tell us what a glorious place it is. We would then turn to Stephen Flynn. Regrettably, he is not in his place, but if he were he would tell us how wonderful Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire are.
Does the Minister not agree that the debate has given everybody the opportunity to talk about the uniqueness of their constituency, and that the Boundary Commission should not forget that when looking at redrawing the boundaries, because that uniqueness in each of our constituencies is what makes us want to do our jobs?
I absolutely agree on that, and it allows me to do something rarely allowed to a Minister in such proceedings, which is to pay tribute to one’s own constituency. Let me put on record how wonderful Norwich North is, with its parishes and towns, which in themselves are separate communities. My hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis made the point about how fiercely such things are argued, even within a constituency.
Not until I have managed to name all the parishes and towns in Norwich North, which are, of course, as anybody will know, the wonderful places of Hellesdon, which goes back to the Domesday Book—shades of my maiden speech coming on here—Old Catton, Sprowston and Thorpe St Andrew, and next to those the historic characteristics of more urban Norwich.
They sound like lovely parishes. I could also mention Norden, Bamford, Castleton, Heywood and Middleton in my constituency, and just have. I wish to pay tribute to everybody who participated in the Bill Committee, because I think we have achieved a robust Bill. Obviously, we will see what their lordships send back to us and no doubt we will have further interesting and exciting psephological exuberance, as I said earlier. I also wish to put on record my thanks to the Clerks, all the House staff and all the Bill Committee members, and, of course, to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for being here tonight. I have to say how disappointed I am not to hear the hon. Member for Strangford speak—
May I close this unusual contribution to the end of a Bill’s proceedings by also noting how wonderful the constituencies are of our Whips, those of my hon. Friend David Rutley and—this may take us to the end of the alphabet, although I am subject to challenge—the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. [Interruption.] Oh goodness me, I meant my hon. Friend Eddie Hughes. I have got it wrong and I am going to face retribution for that—there will be letters written about the difference between those places. With that, I think I can now give way to a Whip to conclude tonight’s proceedings.
I believe York Outer is the last one. Let me now put the Question.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.
I will not suspend the House, because I trust that hon. Members will leave quietly in the right direction and that those who want to contribute are already present.