Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:46 pm on 27th July 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Deputy Chairman of Committees 4:46 pm, 27th July 2020

Like many who have spoken, I welcome the Bill. The first eight clauses are probably the meat of it. I will try to touch on a few points on Clauses 2, 4, 5 and 8.

Clause 2 touches on the need for the approval of both Houses. This is sensible, as can be clearly seen. If we had not had a system of the approval of both Houses when the previous discussions about the boundary changes and the move to 600 went through, the changes would already be in place. So needing the approval of both Houses is both sensible and a very good backstop.

I have a question on Clause 4 regarding public hearings, which I do not think has been touched on yet, and the move from the first to the second consultation. It is sensible for input on the public consultation to be in the second round. That will allow communities and parties to have sight of other proposals that are made. My concern would be with the boundary commission having more set plans and being less able to effect or bring forward changes if we have already gone through the first part of it. Most importantly, public consultations need to be fair, open and transparent.

I have another point on Clause 5 with regard to the voice of the smaller nations. I completely understand and get the idea of moving to constituencies of a similar size. The 5% plus or minus will make it very difficult to fit in more council boundaries, so looking to move that would be sensible. However, my point goes back to what the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and my noble friend Lord Hain said about the nations. Currently, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have 117 constituencies, with London and the south-east having 156. These proposals will change it so that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will have 106 and London and the south-east will have 164. That will further endanger the unity of the union. Other considerations could be brought into the Bill with regard to rural constituencies that are distant from Westminster, et cetera, that would trump the size of the constituencies.

Finally, on 23 July Jon Cruddas MP wrote to the Prime Minister raising real concerns about Havering Council’s Conservative group and conversations about the gerrymandering of boundaries. That obviously brings back for all of us memories of the wilful misconduct that happened in Westminster City Council. I raise this to put it on the record as a concern. It needs to be addressed and dealt with.