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Boundary Changes

Volume 514: debated on Tuesday 27 July 2010

2. What assessment he has made of the effects on constituency cohesion of parliamentary constituency boundaries which do not follow existing administrative boundaries. (11074)

The Government believe that constituencies should be of more equal size, and that should be more important than administrative convenience for Members of Parliament. In any case, many constituencies cross local authority boundaries at the moment. For example, 19 of the 32 London borough boundaries are crossed by constituencies today.

Will the Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister explain to me their definition of the localism that means that local people in Newcastle will have no say locally in the boundaries imposed on them because there will be no opportunity for a local public inquiry?

Clearly, the hon. Lady has not read the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, which we published last week. We are actually extending the consultation period for local people from one month to three months, to give local people, local organisations and political parties more opportunity to comment on the boundary commission proposals, not less.

In considering this matter, will the Minister bear in mind the fact that people have historic loyalties to the traditional counties of England, not to administrative regions? In particular, will the people of Somerset be allowed their historic county, not some monstrous, vague, administrative nonsense?

If he has looked at the Bill, my hon. Friend will know that the boundary commissions are able to take into account local ties, but only to the extent that we can still have equal-sized constituencies. They are able to look at those things, but we think that the principle of equal-sized seats is most important and should take priority.

Will the Minister confirm that under the Bill, local boundaries, including county boundaries, can be completely ignored and that the only boundaries required to be observed are the national boundaries? Will he also confirm that under the Bill the Boundary Commission will be required, by law, to begin the process of redrawing the boundaries for the whole of the United Kingdom in the Isle of Wight—to transfer 35,000 voters in that constituency across the Solent into Hampshire, and then to work up the United Kingdom in an equally arbitrary way, with no public inquiries?

I heard the Minister’s waffle about extra consultation, but that is no substitute whatever for independent public inquiries, which the Government are abolishing because they are scared of the results. How does what is in the Bill fit with any idea of the practice of localism and greater transparency that the Deputy Prime Minister has just promised?

There were so many questions in there that it is not clear which one to answer. First, we are not proposing to move anybody who currently lives on the Isle of Wight; I think that they will continue to live where they are. The right hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. We do not lay down a prescriptive method for the boundary commissions to draw the boundaries; they are independent, and they will continue to draw the boundaries. Frankly, the hyperbole that he has come out with today and in his reasoned amendment to the Bill bears no relation to the proposals that we published last week.

The Minister has obviously not read his own Bill. If community cohesion is good enough for separate seats on the outer isles of Scotland and for the invention of an entirely artificial rule to protect the seat of a former leader of the Liberal Democrats, why is it not good enough for the rest of the United Kingdom?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that there are two exceptions, which are the two Scottish seats that have unique geography. There is not an exception for the seat of the former leader of the Liberal Democrats; it is simply a rule to prevent the Boundary Commission from drawing an extraordinarily large seat, and his boundaries are able to be redrawn in the same way as anybody’s else’s. All this bluster simply highlights the fact that Labour Members do not believe in seats of equal size and votes counting equally across the whole of the United Kingdom.