Taking account of local government boundaries

Part of Parliamentary Constituencies Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 30th June 2020.

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Photo of Ben Lake Ben Lake Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion 9:25 am, 30th June 2020

I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 6, page 4, line 37, at end insert—

“(2A) In rule 5(1)(d) (list of factors), after “local” insert “and linguistic”.”

This amendment would enable a Boundary Commission to take into account, if and to the extent that they think fit, the effect of boundary change on linguistic ties as well as local ties.

It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. It is also a pleasure to kick off this morning’s proceedings by speaking to my amendment 1, which hon. Members will have noticed is designed to probe the Government and provoke a debate on the nature of local ties, what “local ties” might mean, and, particularly with relevance to Wales but not just to Wales, linguistic ties. I will confine my remarks to the Welsh language, although I acknowledge that there are other languages within the United Kingdom to which some of the points I will make may be just as relevant. As I said, this is a probing amendment that I hope will spark some sort of debate.

The amendment would enable the Boundary Commission for Wales to take into account, if and to the extent that it thought fit, the effect of boundary change on linguistic ties, as well as local ties, when considering boundaries. We heard on 18 June, in the first evidence session, from Shereen Williams of the Boundary Commission for Wales. In answer to a question about local ties, Ms Williams mentioned that the commission in Wales looked at electoral wards and communities that are linked through joint programmes and projects. She went on to say:

“Also, quite uniquely, in Wales…is the Welsh language. We take it into account that you have constituencies where there are lots of links to the Welsh language. That is something we would like to keep together.”––[Official Report, Parliamentary Constituencies Public Bill Committee, 18 June 2020; c. 20, Q37.]

My concern, in tabling the amendment, was not that the Boundary Commission for Wales takes no notice of the Welsh language and the links that communities have in certain parts of Wales—far from it. I know from past experience that the commission has been very receptive, and not just in the way in which it consults communities on proposed new boundaries; it has also taken into account, in submissions on certain proposals, what the impact of those might be on the Welsh language and the community. Rather, my concern is how the Welsh language, and indeed the local ties, will be catered for in future developments.

I know that later, when considering another part of the Bill, we will discuss the fact that Wales in particular stands to lose quite a number of seats, which has consequences for the commission’s work in redrawing the electoral map of Wales. It may be difficult for the commission to cater to all the different ties that fall under the statutory rule. In response to the next question, Ms Williams from the Boundary Commission for Wales said that

“it will be just as complex as the previous reviews, because we are losing quite a lot of seats.”––[Official Report, Parliamentary Constituencies Public Bill Committee, 18 June 2020; c. 20, Q38.]

She was referring, of course, to the change to 650 as opposed to 600. We also know that demographics and the relatively slower rate of growth in the Welsh population will mean that we will probably stand to lose further seats in subsequent boundary reviews. I am quite concerned about how the commission goes about its work to try to incorporate all the different local ties, including the Welsh language and linguistic links.

If Members needed to be convinced any further about the importance of the Welsh language in Wales, in our afternoon evidence session on 23 June, in response to a question from the Minister, Dr Larner said:

“There is a lot of very well-backed-up evidence in Wales that Welsh speakers, particularly fluent, first language Welsh speakers, tend to hold slightly different opinions on a whole range of ideas…I would absolutely say that the ability to speak Welsh is a really important part of some people’s identity.”––[Official Report, Parliamentary Constituencies Public Bill Committee, 23 June 2020; c. 128, Q245.]

I suppose that gets to the nub of the issue that I want to probe today: how does the “local ties” rule really capture the extent of the different elements that could constitute identity for some of our communities? I appreciate that identity is not something that we could ever capture perfectly, as it is very subjective. Rather, I am probing into whether under the statutory rules we can ensure that the importance and prevalence of linguistic ties, particularly in Wales, are maintained in future reviews.