Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:54 pm on 27th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Morris of Aberavon Lord Morris of Aberavon Labour 6:54 pm, 27th July 2020

My Lords, my contribution to this debate is based on more than 41 years representing the constituency of Aberavon, which was torn apart after 23 years by local government boundary changes, depriving me of my eastern wards and, to make up for it, granting me other delightful wards from the Neath constituency. Continuity of representation and specific association with local organisations is particularly important. I regret that there is no statutory steer to the Boundary Commissions on this aspect. It is quite hard, but satisfying, to build a new relationship. However, I was able to maintain a majority of more than 20,000 for most of my time.

My second experience is professionally representing as counsel before an assistant commissioner’s hearings, where much of the legwork is done, frequently by experienced QCs, who do invaluable work. I was representing the City and County of Cardiff. I called my star witness, a Mr Callaghan. Reading from my brief, I said, “Your full name is James Callaghan.” “No,” he said, “Leonard James Callaghan.” I should have known better, having read innumerable documents initialled “LJC”.

I welcome the damascene conversion from the coalition Government’s ill-fated proposals for 600 MPs. It is argued, properly, that 650 is a better number than 600, a number plucked from the sky without any basis and which would have caused massive disruption. The last time I spoke on this issue in the House was to oppose the massive reduction in representation from Wales proposed in the previous Bill. It would have been the greatest of all, from 40 Members to 30—a 25% cut—where traditionally it has hardly ever come below 35, a figure probably entrenched and understood by Boundary Commissions from 1918 onwards.

The survival of the union is assisted massively by strong numerical representation from the devolved nations. To ignore the present strains on the constitution is dangerous driving. The proposed cut in representation for Wales is almost as dramatic, because it would mean a cut from 40 to 32, which is much bigger than the loss in Scotland. I welcome the changes proposed for Ynys Môn.

The Bill ignores the difficulty of large geographical areas being split by valleys that run north to south, with substantial difficulties in communication east to west. I endorse the remarks of my noble friend Lord Hain. In all my years, I went only occasionally to the valleys to the left and to the right of my constituency; I kept to my own constituency, and this was the difficulty of travel from west to east or east to west.

This brings me to the most important objection to the Bill: the allowable variation in electoral quota of plus or minus 5%. A 7.5% variation would fundamentally cope with the difficulties of geography and continuity. To take away the role in this of the House of Commons and the House of Lords is an abdication of responsibility and undermines constitutional history.