Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:01 am on 23rd January 2019.

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Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 10:01 am, 23rd January 2019

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Ms Dorries. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton makes an interesting point: he says that the Government are now experts in running down the clock. We have long feared that that is the status of this Committee, as well as—obviously—wider events in relation to the Brexit deal or no-deal scenario.

However, my concern this week is about the capacity of Departments to deal with matters such as the one before the Committee. The Minister has told us that we are waiting for the orders to be drafted on the current proposals in relation to the boundary review—those that were published in, I think, September or October, which are based on 600 constituencies—and until they have gone through and been decided on by the House, it would not be appropriate further to consider my hon. Friend’s Bill.

My concern is that Brexit, the preparations for Brexit and, indeed, the preparations for a no-deal Brexit are sucking the life out of Departments. Right across Government, we see Departments in this position. I believe that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has 70 statutory instruments to be considered; the Treasury has 200 to 300. The Minister’s own Department, the Cabinet Office, which I shadow, is starting to see statutory instruments rack up. My concern is that much as the Minister was certain before Christmas that the drafting of the orders was on time, it is no longer on time, because resources are being diverted to other affairs to deal with the possibility of a no-deal Brexit. I press it upon the Minister that the matters before the Committee need to be considered.

We are hearing now that the February recess might be cancelled. That would have one benefit: the Committee would meet for one extra week in February, which I look forward to. I would miss the time to be with my constituents and family in Chester, but the benefit would be that I got to spend the time with hon. Members on the Committee. Can the Minister give an assurance that work is continuing to progress on the orders for the current boundary proposals, so that the House may dispose of them one way or the other, and that the life is not being sucked out of the regular work of the Department as it appears to be being sucked out of every other Department of State by Brexit?