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Parliamentary Constituencies

Volume 512: debated on Tuesday 22 June 2010

It is nice to get a welcome from time to time from the Opposition Benches.

The Government have announced that legislation will be introduced to provide for the creation of fewer and more equal-sized constituencies. Further details will be announced in due course, and Parliament will have the opportunity to debate the provisions in full.

In 1981, the Boundary Commission for Scotland said that amalgamating the Western Isles with Skye was “unworkable or intolerably difficult”, and it repeated that in its more recent review of 2005. What is the Deputy Prime Minister’s view now?

Clearly, in line with existing legislation dating back to 1986, it is right for us to continue to provide for more equal constituencies in this country. [Interruption.] Here in London, for instance, Hackney South and Shoreditch has an electorate of just 57,204, while a few miles down the road, on the other side of London, Croydon North has 22,615 more voters. Its electorate is more than a third larger. That cannot be right.

Order. I recognise that there are people who are angry, but before we continue, let me appeal to the House to have some regard to the way in which we are viewed by the public whose support we were so recently seeking.

On 7 June, the right hon. Gentleman told the House that he accepted the case for smaller island and heavily rural constituencies in the north of Scotland, which happened to be Liberal Democrat. Does he also accept that in urban areas there is a very heavy case load of constituents, that it is growing, and that in every urban area there are tens of thousands of citizens who are not on the electoral register and who ought to be taken into account in these calculations?

I have a simple question. Why is the right hon. Gentleman so frightened of equal-sized seats? It is extraordinary. Why does he not go back to first principles? Why is it that all he wants to do is indulge in special pleading?

There are issues of principle at stake. It is right, as the 1986 Act sets out, that we should have more equal constituencies. It is right that we should bring the size of the House of Commons down. We have a more oversized lower Chamber than any other bicameral system in the developed world. It is right, of course, that the boundary review should be conducted independently, as it will be. I do not understand for the life of me what is wrong with that.

Let me make it clear that on this side of the House there is no issue about ensuring that constituencies, as far as possible, are of equal size, and there never has been. The issue is about ensuring that that process is conducted in a fair way, and that full account is taken of the 3.5 million citizens who, according to what the Electoral Commission said in March, are not currently registered to vote. It is surely fair to ensure that those individuals are taken into account in the electoral calculations.

I am as concerned as the right hon. Gentleman about the fact that there are 3.5 million people—[Interruption.] Well, what did you do about it for 13 years? You created the problem in the first place, and now, within a few weeks, you are complaining about it.

Let me repeat that I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says, and I understand the strength of feeling. Of course the review should be conducted independently, and of course it should be conducted fairly. I think that it is fair to have constituencies in which people’s votes are equal regardless of where they live in the country. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to work co-operatively—[Interruption.] I know that it is extremely unpopular for any Labour Member, as was recently shown in the case of the former Secretary of State for Defence, to reach out a hand to work in co-operation with this coalition Government. Lord Prescott gets his ermine in a twist, and says that it is collaboration. What kind of new politics is that?

Order. We will now move on to topical questions, in which, I remind the House, we have always expected faster progress. That means short questions and short answers.