Committee (11th Day) (Continued)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 10:15 pm on 19th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour 10:15 pm, 19th January 2011

My Lords, my amendment is very simple. I am not quite sure why it is grouped as it is, but I have no interest in degrouping because I hope that there may be some movement from the Minister on this. My amendment is simple and straightforward. There are four characteristics that the Bill tells us a Boundary Commission may take into account when drawing new boundaries. I want to add a fifth which is entirely based on my experience in the other place and with the constituencies that I was privileged to represent.

The fifth characteristic that I would like to add is that the Boundary Commission may take account of local government areas with rapid increases in population. Unusually among amendments, I suggest to the Government that this one could conceivable save them money, which might make ears prick up. The reason I have brought this forward is that the two constituencies I represented had huge electorates. I represented Lichfield and Tamworth until 1979. When I was defeated, the electorate was 101,343. In The Wrekin, which was the second constituency I was able to represent, the electorate before the boundary changes was 90,892. The reaction may well be, "So what? Populations change and move. That is what Boundary Commissions are for". The reason why I suggest to the Committee that my experience might be relevant and might be worth changing this Bill for is that the population increases in both these constituencies was entirely predictable and pretty accurate. They were both new towns in the West Midlands. Tamworth was a growing and expanding town with projected increases in population and The Wrekin contained Telford new town, which likewise had completely projected and predictable increases in population. All I am suggesting is that these predictable changes in the population should be taken into account when constituency boundaries are drawn because it simply means that constituencies obviously very rapidly become very large and above the quota, I suppose.

I can anticipate one of the things that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, might say, which is that under the Bill as it stands there will be boundary redistributions every five years, so it is easier for these rapid population changes to be taken into account. I stand entirely by my position on this Bill throughout: it is a big mistake to make constituency changes every five years because of the massive uncertainty and instability that creates for MPs and the communities in constituencies. There would be no need for redistributions as rapidly as are compensated for by the five-yearly alterations of the constituency boundaries because in most cases, large increases or changes in population do not come out of a clear blue sky. Certainly in the case of new towns, they are predictable and predicted. This is where my suggestion for money saving comes in. If these factors were taken into account, there would not be the need for quite the frequency of boundary changes.

I do not expect the noble Lord, Lord McNally, to suggest that there are going to be any changes on that basis, but given that in the case of The Wrekin the population increased by 8,000 between one general election and the next, it would make sense if we made the amendment that I am proposing. As happens when one sits down and looks again at one's own amendment, I can see a better way of doing it which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and his officials might feel is simpler. Clause 5(1)(a) on page 10 says that,

"special geographical considerations, including in particular the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency", can be taken into account by the Boundary Commission. If the noble Lord were to be emollient enough to include "planned population growth" as one of those characteristics, he would make me a Member of this House with a great sense of achievement, so I hope he might consider that.