Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish a Commission to establish and maintain a national register of places within the United Kingdom, including but not limited to countries, counties, cities, towns, villages and hamlets, with a permanent identity defined by historical, social and geographical boundaries, separate from existing administrative and electoral boundaries; to grant each such place the right to its own coat of arms, flag and other symbols of local identity; and for connected purposes.
The United Kingdom today is a vibrant tapestry of distinct places comprising four countries—England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—and a patchwork of counties from Caithness to Cornwall, Kent to Pembrokeshire, Norfolk to Antrim, Flintshire to Fermanagh, and Dunbartonshire to Dorset. Our historic counties, as distinct from administrative county areas, are real places that people take enormous pride in, but today they have no official status. My Bill would change that. Then there are our great cities, from Edinburgh to Exeter, London to Londonderry, Cardiff to Colchester, and Belfast to Birmingham, and our historic regions, such as the peak district, the black country, Snowdonia, East Anglia, the Cotswolds and the highlands. Islands too are places with their own distinct identity, from Shetland, Orkney and Lewis to Anglesey, the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight, and they also form part of our nation’s great heritage; and in each of our constituencies there are historic towns, neighbourhoods, villages and hamlets, all with their own unique identity. But over the years the identity of very many of these places has been eroded by changes to local government boundaries, parliamentary boundary revisions and the redrawing of council wards, where all too often artificial names are used and where parts of one area are sliced off to make up the electoral numbers in another. Over the years, one change has been compounded by another to create very many anomalies and muddled identities. All that now needs to be put right, with these real places, their boundaries and genuine identities given permanent protection from the hands of the bureaucrats.
Take, for example, my own constituency and the community of Rush Green, where I was born. Rush Green is divided between two London boroughs, two constituencies, two electoral wards and two London Assembly constituencies, even though the whole of Rush Green is historically and geographically a part of Romford. Local government boundaries have not been drawn up with the actual communities in mind.
Another example, in London, is the twin villages of Hampstead and Highgate, divided between four London boroughs, no less, all competing to promote their own identities over that of the historic villages themselves. My Bill will stop the Camdenisation of places such as Hampstead and ensure that local authorities have a duty to preserve and uphold identities of genuine towns and villages that have been around far longer than these local government constructs, which love to promote their own corporate identity over and above that of real places. My Bill will provide for the permanent registration of the actual places that exist in our nation, with their boundaries and identities completely separated and distinct from administrative and electoral boundaries.
The Post Office, too, will be duty bound to ensure that postal addresses truly reflect real place names. Indeed, the United Kingdom register of places would be the point of reference for all public bodies, Government Departments, organisations and institutions to refer to in future.
Our counties and regions, great cities and towns, neighbourhoods, villages, hamlets and islands are places with an identity that is cherished by the people who live there. In essence, such places exist due to a prevailing sense of community spirit and the pride people have in the place they come from, and yet there is no official system in Britain where all are listed and given the recognition they deserve.
As many hon. Members will know, I am particularly proud to come from the town of Romford, which I represent in this House. It lies in the traditional county of Essex, which in turn forms a part of my country of England. I also identify strongly with my local neighbourhood of Marshalls Park, where I grew up and went to school and where my family home remains to this day. Marshalls Park does not, however, exist as a defined place.
My Bill will define, for the first time, all such places in a national register of names, location and precise boundaries as entities entirely separate from existing local authority, administrative and electoral boundaries: in other words, real places not made up by boundary commissions, local authorities or Whitehall bureaucrats.
There will be significant benefits in doing this. In particular, there will be much greater scope for the collection of data, as they would be permanently based on actual towns, villages and neighbourhoods, thereby creating a consistent area to measure changes and collate statistics, rather than changeable local authority or ward boundaries. It would also have a positive impact on community cohesion, helping to encourage a greater sense of local identity across our nation. As all Members will be aware, the drawing of administrative and electoral boundaries has systematically failed to take into account the importance of community identity and of the historical and geographical factors that have led to community development.
By creating a UK register of places, there will be, for the first time, definite and clear boundaries for all counties, regions, towns, cities, neighbourhoods, villages and hamlets, which would be taken into consideration when redrawing administrative and electoral boundaries. Indeed, this Bill will ensure that the national register of places is taken into account during any future boundary revisions, and that defined places will no longer be divided and carved up in an arbitrary way.
Polling districts should be created within the defined places. They, rather than the much larger electoral wards, could then form the building blocks of any future parliamentary boundary review. As polling districts are smaller units, their use to attain the correct number of electors would avoid the huge upheavals and divisions of towns and communities of previous boundary reviews.
My Bill aims to strengthen local communities, uphold local identities and encourage people to foster a sense of pride and local patriotism in the place where they live. It will give all places the opportunity to adopt their own symbols of local identity, such as a coat of arms or a flag, that could be included on village and town signs and municipal buildings or used for a wide variety of purposes. It will redraw the map back to what it should cover—the genuine boundaries of our towns, villages, counties, cities and hamlets across these islands of ours. It will restore local identity, local patriotism and pride in the places where we live, and I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Andrew Rosindell, Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil, Albert Owen, Ian Paisley, Priti Patel, Greg Mulholland, Sheryll Murray, Mr James Gray, Adam Afriyie, Mr Henry Bellingham, Sir Tony Cunningham and Jim Dobbin present the Bill.
Andrew Rosindell accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 28 February, and to be printed (Bill 154).