Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:59 pm on 27th July 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Gale Baroness Gale Labour 4:59 pm, 27th July 2020

My Lords, I welcome to some extent the Bill before us today, as it is an improvement on the previous Act and keeps the 650 seats. However, I must say that, as far as Wales is concerned, it is not good news, reducing its Members from 40 to an estimated 32 seats.

The restrictive 5% quota will have a disproportionate impact on Wales. The geographical nature of Wales, with our beautiful and scenic mountains, our rural areas and the valleys of south Wales, with their close-knit communities, means that, under the 5% quota, there is a danger of splitting communities and creating very large constituencies. With the mountains and valleys dividing constituencies, the task of creating constituencies that make sense to the communities becomes very difficult. I urge the Minister to consider the impact that this one-size-fits-all approach to constituency boundaries would have on communities across Wales.

It is crucial that the boundary commissioners are given greater flexibility to take into account the unique geography of Wales. For example, the seats in sparsely populated areas that have a much larger acreage, such as Brecon and Radnorshire, Montgomeryshire and those in Carmarthenshire, are all rural areas with already very large constituencies. Contrast this with the geography of the south Wales valleys, with each valley tending to have its own constituency. Under the Bill, we will potentially see constituencies with more than one valley, and with a mountain range between them. Certain geographical features, such as those valleys, should be given extra consideration than the 5% variance when it comes to drawing up Welsh boundaries.

The Welsh language is a crucial cornerstone of Welsh identity, and the Boundary Commission should be given greater flexibility when drawing up boundaries around these communities. There is concern that the historic Welsh-speaking communities could be split up in the next boundary review, with no thought of the long-term implications for the Welsh language in those areas—I accept that the Welsh-speaking area of Ynys Môn is being protected, and that is a good thing.

There will always be a need for variance, and it is a question of striking a balance between having constituencies that are broadly equal and constituencies that represent community ties. The Labour Party supports drawing constituency boundaries that truly reflect the communities within them. I trust that the Minister will take note of this.