Taking account of local government boundaries

Part of Parliamentary Constituencies Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 30th June 2020.

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Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 9:45 am, 30th June 2020

It was so emphatic that I thought it was another marvellous point coming from my right hon. Friend. Let me meet that noise of approval with another example from the 2018 review about naming constituencies. The commission initially proposed naming two constituencies in alphabetical order: “Colwyn and Conwy” and “Flint and Rhuddlan”. However, the order of these names was reversed in the final recommendations after the commission received advice about

“a Welsh language convention of naming geographic place names from north to south and from west to east.”

I make no comments about the merits of north, south, west or east Wales. The hon. Member for Ceredigion has already done that very capably. I should also note that the Boundary Commission for Wales raises the issue of Welsh language links in the meetings and briefings with the various political parties at the start of any boundary review, and it is open to the parties and members of the public to raise Welsh language links in the extensive consultation carried out during a review.

I hope that I have provided reassurance that the law as drafted already gives the boundary commissions—in this case the Boundary Commission for Wales—all they need to take account of languages and how they contribute to local ties. This is a pressing case in Wales. I hope the examples I have given show that that is already happening in action. On that basis alone, I suggest that the amendment should not be accepted.

However, I will advance one other, perhaps darker and more serious argument than the one the hon. Member for Ceredigion intended, and I certainly do not cast aspersions on him for making those points. I want to highlight a slippery slope that could occur with such an argument. It is right that the legislation does not set out characteristics of people, but sets out characteristics of place. There is an important moral dimension to that. It is easy to foresee a slippery slope, whereby other characteristics of people could be argued for in terms of how constituencies ought to be drawn. Although we have not given him much time yet in our debates, we could think back to Governor Elbridge Gerry in 1812 in Boston who did that. Of course he gave his name to the term “gerrymander”, because he created a constituency that looked like a salamander that had the characteristics of people that he wanted to be seen in one constituency. We should be cautious about the idea of opening up to placing people together because they have a certain characteristic, as opposed to local ties of place, which perhaps give a more respectable way to look at community. I am conscious that the hon. Gentleman certainly did not go that far in making his argument, and I would not want to say that he had done so. I am grateful to him for his thoughtful presentation of the issues, but I hope that the set of arguments I have put both demonstrate how the language is rightly taken into account, and show some of the dangers of going further with the amendment. I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it.