Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:27 pm on 27th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour 4:27 pm, 27th July 2020

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, made some powerful points. Until now, the principle of constituency equalisation has been applied by the Boundary Commissions in a fair and sensible way, taking proper account of local views, community identity and geographical sparsity, instead of being rigidly straitjacketed, as this Bill requires, and damaging Wales more than anywhere else, as my noble friend Lady Hayter has said.

In no other nation or region of Britain, proportionate to the population, are there such large and remote areas and vast rural areas with many thousands more sheep than people and constituencies of many hundreds of square miles. Yet under this Bill, four existing geographically large constituencies across mid, west and north Wales could well become two monster ones of thousands of square miles each. The Prime Minister can drive across his constituency in five to 10 minutes, but it takes a couple of hours or more to drive from one corner of the current Brecon and Radnorshire constituency to another.

Moreover, before 2010, every Parliament and Boundary Commission understood and accepted an elementary verity about former coal-mining Welsh valleys: that you cannot communicate with the next valley by the shortest route, because that is over the top of the mountain. You must travel to the top or bottom and go around. Communities in each of these valleys have different histories and identities, including, importantly, on the Welsh language. Parliament first decided in an Act in 1944 —well over 70 years ago—that because of Wales’s uniqueness, there should be no fewer than 35 seats. This Bill will result in an arbitrary cut of fully a fifth, from 40 to 32 seats in Wales.

Most offensive is the way that the Bill sweeps away local democracy. For generations, constituency boundaries have been reviewed and adjusted by local agreement not central diktat. Local people have had the opportunity to object if community identities were threatened or unsuitable mergers with nearby towns or villages were proposed, but the Bill has unilaterally dumped this for a rigid formula, with Wales most punitively hit.

The original, fairer, more transparent and consensual boundary review system should be restored. Equalisation should not be applied in such a dogmatic, rigid and politically discriminatory fashion; then we could have a fair and democratic boundaries Bill, not this unfair one, which rides roughshod over local community views, especially in Wales.