Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 17 October 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 10:00, 17 October 2018

It is a great pleasure to follow my good friend the hon. Member for Glasgow East. It is great to see him back in Committee.

I will pick up on two points that were queried by the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean. First, I confirm to the Committee that I am not at all dissatisfied with my lot; I might be a little bit dissatisfied with the Minister’s, but I am certainly not dissatisfied with mine. I consider it a privilege to be here, and I am fortunate to enjoy the work that I undertake. That work does, from time to time, include drafting, and I will come back to that in a moment, but I confirm that that Her Majesty’s Opposition support a review of boundaries. We are long overdue one.

I was not in the House at the time, but I am pretty sure that the Opposition voted against the last set of boundaries for the same reason we are unhappy with the current ones: the obsession with reducing seats from 650 to 600, and the tight margin around the national average that restricts local factors and puts numbers above everything. The equalisation of seats is probably a fair idea in itself, but there has to be a level of tolerance, and we know about the problem with people having fallen off the register and come back on, but we are still using out-of-date registers. Those three points would have been considered in this Committee, but we are not allowed to discuss the Bill. The Opposition are absolutely in favour of a new set of boundaries, and we want to see the review moved forward quickly, but I say to the right hon. Gentleman that the Opposition are not preventing it from happening. The Government are preventing it from happening, because they do not have the courage of their convictions and have not brought forward the new set of boundaries to be considered.

The right hon. Gentleman has considerably more experience in Government than me, although that is not hard, for now. Nevertheless, the order would be simple to draft. It is not primary legislation. When I drafted my proposed order last week, I based it on the previous order. A framework is already there that can be used. Once again, I do not accept that it is a complicated piece of drafting, not least because most of the order simply reproduces the boundary commissions’ proposals. That work has already been done, and there will not be very much need to amend those proposals.

Other Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton, have spoken about the Overseas Electors Bill, which perhaps puts the Minister in a further bind when trying to defend the situation with this Bill. The Overseas Electors Bill is similar to this one. It is a Back-Bench Bill, it has received its Second Reading and it has now leapfrogged this Bill. It is not a very British way of doing things. In this country, we do not push in. We do things fairly, in a decent order and with respect for each other.

My hon. Friend’s Bill was first in the queue, and the Government have allowed another Bill to push in and be given consideration first. That in itself might be discourteous, in parliamentary terms, but unfortunately it exposes the Government politically. It exposes the absurdity and the political considerations of failing to give this Bill a money resolution. One by one, every single excuse that the Government throw up to delay the Bill is falling by the wayside. Much as I have sympathy with the Minister—in the past, I have used the phrase “taking one for the team”, and we have heard the anger of my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln—things are becoming more absurd and more damaging by the week. The situation cannot continue. There are no more excuses for delaying the procedure.

In closing, I want to ask the Minister a question, because there has been some suggestion that in the legislation underpinning the new 5 September boundaries there is a time limit within which an order has to be brought before the House. We have heard the reasons as to why the Government do not want to do that, but I would be interested to know whether they have had any legal advice about whether the time limit exists and can be ignored and on what basis it can be ignored. Otherwise, we may find that there is more legal pressure for them to introduce the order, which has apparently not yet been drafted, within the time limit specified by the parent legislation. If the Minister makes a contribution, perhaps she might address that point.