Taking account of local government boundaries

Part of Parliamentary Constituencies Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 30th June 2020.

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Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke 10:00 am, 30th June 2020

There is an old adage in the business world about doing the right thing right. Yes, the commission should do the right thing right first time, and not create re-work. I note from the letter that the Boundary Commission for England wrote to the Committee that it recommends that it should give priority to mapping metropolitan areas, given the late stage we are at, and the concerns it might have about being able to map the whole country at this stage. I think that that is part of the answer, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton said, there is also room for it to look at other datasets, so that it will not be quite so focused on just one solution. I note from the submission that one member of staff was given the matter as a project. Perhaps if a little more resource was put into it, it could be turned around a little more quickly.

I am not quite sure how the Committee can put further pressure on to the boundary commission, but my ask to it would be why it is not looking at other datasets and why it cannot resource the matter more. Surely the Government, for whom the project is important, would want to look at any suggestion of additional resources that are needed to complete the work in a reasonable timeframe so that such data could be available, whether that is only for metropolitan areas or for a broader cross-section of the country.

The second issue that I wanted to turn to, briefly, is protected constituencies. Clause 6 touches on the rules in schedule 2 and I think we can be more ambitious for the Bill, in relation to using the concept of protected constituencies not just in England and Scotland but Wales. We will discuss two amendments on that later in our proceedings, when we can pick up on some of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and show our understanding of the importance of community. As a kingdom of islands, sometimes we need rules in place to respect that unique nature of the United Kingdom. We will come on to that shortly.

My final point is on taking into account future growth, which I raised with a couple of our evidence givers. I suppose I am thinking about constituencies like my own, Basingstoke, which has grown significantly in the past three decades, from being a sleepy market town predominantly surrounded by the most amazing and beautiful Hampshire countryside, when it was the constituency of David Mitchell, the father of my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell, to what it is today, which is one of the top 10 centres of employment in the south-east—still surrounded by the most amazing and beautiful Hampshire countryside.

To the west of the town is a major development area by the name of Manydown, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Kit Malthouse. No houses have yet been built, but they will be, and to stop unnecessary change in the future it will be important for that in some way to be taken into account geographically in the setting of the boundaries.

Please do not get me wrong: I am not asking for that to be taken into account in the quotas, but surely with such major areas, which have already had many hundreds of thousands if not millions of pounds-worth of development put into planning for the future, it would be an unnecessary change pending in the future for it not to be taken into account. I am sure every single Committee member can think of somewhere in or near their own constituency where that would be the case.

Given that one of the factors in the rules—I think I have this right—is that we can look at such things for the future, I hope that the boundary commissions will be able to think about the geographical nature of what they do, not just the numerical population-based nature of it. However, I did not get a sense from their response, or from others, that that was something they were focused on yet. I hope that we can register that with them at this early stage, to stop what my right hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell said in his intervention on planning for the future and instead to get things right first time.