Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 20th June 2018.

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Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip 9:30 am, 20th June 2018

I have a lot of respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but that is probably just parliamentary gymnastics in action. When the House of Commons divides and the opinion of the 650 or so Members, who are sent here to represent their constituents, is tested, the Government cannot say, “On these particular votes the House of Commons’ voice can be heard and somehow respected, but those other votes are a bit inconvenient for us, because we don’t have the numbers, so we’ll just ignore them.” The Government were getting into a difficult position on Opposition day votes and when Government Members take part.

Yesterday, there was some debate about whether the Bill was being killed. I would probably have taken that view, but the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean and indeed the Minister have said no, the Government are not killing the Bill in Committee. They might not be killing the Bill, but it does feel as if it is in Guantanamo Bay at the moment—being held for numerous days without trial. We have not had the opportunity to put the Bill on trial, to scrutinise it line by line.

My final observation this morning is about something I found very telling last night. When the House divides, it is very unusual for Democratic Unionist party Members not to take part in a vote, and it is curious that, in the five, six or seven sittings of the Committee, the hon. Member for North Antrim has not always been present—he is a larger than life character, so if he is in the room, we tend to notice him. Yesterday I found the comments of Nigel Dodds and the fact that Democratic Unionist party Members chose to abstain very interesting. It is fairly well known that the DUP is not united at the moment on the whole issue of reform of parliamentary constituencies.

I am happy to sit in Committee every Wednesday morning, but yesterday’s debate in the House was interesting. Comments such as those of Steve Double show the direction of travel in the House. He did a very good job of being both a Government loyalist and a rebel—the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean, as a former Chief Whip, is aware of how such speeches are made. He said that he was not happy about how the terms of yesterday’s motion were framed, and he would therefore go into the Lobby to support the Government. However, he made it absolutely clear that he does not support the reduction of 650 seats to 600.

We can come here and continue to have these debates, but it was clear yesterday that the direction of travel is that the democratically elected House of Commons does not support the number of seats being reduced from 650 to 600. I think we will find that out very clearly when the will of the House is tested on it.