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 Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 10:00 am, 30th June 2020

Mr Paisley! Not yet—maybe next year.

May I express a sense of frustration at what I am hearing in Committee, including from the right hon. Member for Basingstoke, who has just spoken? She was absolutely right to talk about the importance of geographical nature as a consideration for the commissions, not just numerical nature.

As with the previous section of the debate, however, I worry that we are making heavy weather of the whole process. We have been talking about splitting wards and how the Boundary Commission for England—in particular, with Mr Bellringer’s note to us from last night about splitting wards—might somehow obtain data to help it split wards more accurately, or split streets, and perhaps we can even use postcode data. The hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton talked about using postal districts—I think I am roughly quoting him correctly.

We are making extremely heavy weather of something that we need not make heavy weather of, because the answers are already there. The only reason we have these difficulties, these problems and this debate is that the one consideration that the Bill gives to the boundary commissions is the tight 5% tolerance. Everything else flows from that. The right hon. Member for Basingstoke rightly talked about the importance of geography, not just numbers. Unfortunately, everything else that the Bill does denies that hope. We cannot have it both ways. We are making it difficult for ourselves, and for the boundary commission, by making everything else subservient to that one numerical fact.

There is consensus that we need to equalise, as far as possible, the size of constituencies, and that the disparities in size are clearly undesirable and unacceptable. However, even if the proposal to bring us down from 10% to 7.5%—the Committee has already considered that, so I will not stray too far, Mr Paisley—would give us some level of parity and equalisation, we are tying the hands of the boundary commissions far too much. Every other consideration that hon. Members keep mentioning frankly becomes irrelevant. It is the same argument as it was for the Welsh language. It is a great idea, but unless we show a little more flexibility on the tolerance around the national average it is, frankly, unachievable.