All 9 Chris Clarkson contributions to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020

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Thu 18th Jun 2020
Parliamentary Constituencies bill (First sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 1st sitting & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Tue 23rd Jun 2020
Parliamentary Constituencies bill (Third sitting)
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Committee stage: 3rd sitting & Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons
Tue 23rd Jun 2020
Parliamentary Constituencies bill (Fourth sitting)
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Committee stage: 4th sitting & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 25th Jun 2020
Parliamentary Constituencies Bill (Fifth sitting)
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Committee stage: 5th sitting & Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 25th Jun 2020
Parliamentary Constituencies Bill (Sixth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 6th sitting & Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 30th Jun 2020
Parliamentary Constituencies Bill (Eighth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 8th sitting & Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 30th Jun 2020
Parliamentary Constituencies Bill (Seventh sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 7th sitting & Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 14th Jul 2020
Parliamentary Constituencies Bill
Commons Chamber

Report stage & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons & Report stage & 3rd reading
Tue 10th Nov 2020
Parliamentary Constituencies Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendmentsPing Pong & Consideration of Lords amendments & Ping Pong & Ping Pong: House of Commons

Parliamentary Constituencies bill (First sitting) Debate

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Parliamentary Constituencies bill (First sitting)

Chris Clarkson Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 18th June 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

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None Portrait The Chair
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Chris, you have time for one quick question.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
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Q Thank you, Mr Paisley; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

My question is about how to deal with county boundaries or sub-units within a region. It is specifically an English problem, obviously. I will take the north-west as an example because there are five discrete units. If we take Greater Manchester’s current electorate—I am using the December 2019 figures—we can neatly subdivide it into 27 seats that are just on the edge of quota. However, there are basically 49,000 extra voters that you could take in from Lancashire, so at what stage do you make a determination on whether to start splitting wards and have a neat compact unit within one county? Or do you start looking across county boundaries?

Tony Bellringer: As Isabel suggested, we have our nine regions in England, so we work within the regions. We start off by subdividing that as well, and we largely try and work with county units. As far as possible, we start off by trying to keep within county boundaries, but we might need to put a couple of counties together because we know that if you just do that initial mathematical calculation distribution, they end up with halves of constituencies in both counties, for example, and that will not work mathematically. You cannot have the smaller number or the higher number in either because they would be either too small or too big.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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Q What formula do you use to calculate how you divide between those sub-units? Is it just a Hare formula and you divide by the quota?

Tony Bellringer: We use the same distribution formula that is used to allocate the seats across the UK initially. We do that for the regions, and within the region we work out what we call a theoretical entitlement: if you use this agglomeration of a couple of counties, it would be allocated this many seats on the face of it.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
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Q Do you have any concerns about polling districts having no legal standing and are just advised by local authorities for the administration of elections?

Tony Bellringer: I do not think that it makes a huge difference to us if they do not have a legal standing. They are a recognised administrative unit, as you say, that is used by electoral administrators in the delivery of an election. That is another reason why at the moment we use wards, because, although they have more of a legal status in law, they are used as a unit by the electoral administrators to deliver elections. One thing that we do have a mind to is that somebody has to use this constituency in delivering the election, and we want to make that process as smooth as possible for the people actually running the election as well.

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Shaun Bailey Portrait Shaun Bailey
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Yes, for the initial proposals, but perhaps you could say if you were diverted as the process developed.

Eamonn McConville: We operate with exactly—or very close to—the same operational methods as the other commissions. We all operate under the same legislation, with the requirement to carry out the three public consultations. As my colleague Tony said, the initial proposals are our best estimate as to what would be a good starting point. From there, we seek public views and, if required, we amend to accommodate those within the factors that my colleagues mentioned previously—local ties, geographical features, existing constituency boundaries. It is a very similar process to that outlined by my colleagues.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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Q My points dovetail nicely with my colleague’s questions. We have been talking quite a bit about the necessity, or desirability, of ward splitting in England. Obviously, it is a slightly different situation in Northern Ireland because, in addition to wards, you have electoral areas. I want to understand what you use as the principal building blocks for drawing the new seats—is it electoral areas or wards? If it is electoral areas, at what stage do you start splitting those back down to constituent wards?

Eamonn McConville: Our building block is set out in the legislation as the local government ward that exists. In Northern Ireland, our electorate in each of those wards is smaller than, for example, in England. Tony spoke earlier of wards with 10,000. Ours typically have 2,000 to 3,000.

We still face the issue of how small we are geographically, plus having Lough Neagh right in the middle of Northern Ireland, so there are times when we are balancing all the factors. Consideration of splitting a ward does arise, but, like my colleague, there is no ready-made data set through which we could split a ward. We have to take that into account, whether by looking at geographical features or through another method. For the last review, we decided not to split any wards.

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson
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Q Mr Bailey may have touched on this in his question about local government boundaries after the contraction. Mr McConville, what efforts do you make to keep the constituencies as coterminous as possible with the new boundaries? I asked two of your counterparts earlier about constituencies that cross over multiple local authority boundaries. I wonder if you have any views on that, too.

Eamonn McConville: It is really a matter of mathematics. We have 11 local government areas and in the last review we had to create 17 constituencies. It is one of the methods that we try to take into account, initially and as the process proceeds.

Simply from a mathematics point of view, it will require splitting off the larger local government areas into the various constituencies. As I said, as well as the local government areas, we will take account of responses that come in from the public to inform the proposals and the creation of the constituencies as the process proceeds through the review.

Parliamentary Constituencies bill (Third sitting) Debate

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Parliamentary Constituencies bill (Third sitting)

Chris Clarkson Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 23rd June 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

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David Linden Portrait David Linden
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Q Can I ask you specifically what the Green party’s view is on the distribution of seats that will result from this Bill? It is my understanding—the Committee has been told this previously—that Scotland stands to lose seats, and you have spoken about the 20% drop in Wales. Does the Green party of England and Wales have a view on whether or not that is appropriate, and what that does for the integrity of the Union?

Chris Williams: Our Scottish Green colleagues will have a similar position to you on the Union. I guess we come from a perspective of wanting every vote to have the same weight and potentially the same impact on an election, in terms of determining the future Government. The difficulty we have is that whatever we do with the process and with first past the post, there is always going to be some inequity between the constituencies, even if we have no tolerance or variance limit at all. By the time they come in, the numbers will still be different, because the data is always historical and never accurate enough. If we are going to go down the line of every vote being pretty much equal, and trying to make that as equal as possible within the system, it is very hard to argue for a great deal of difference between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I would say that a vote in Hartlepool is as equal as one in Ogmore but, at the same time, I can see that this might well bring greater arguments for further devolution.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
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Q On the same theme, Wales has roughly the same sized electorate as Greater Manchester, where I am an MP, but we have 27 MPs and Wales has 40, which means that their average electoral quota is 64,546, to 71,780 in Greater Manchester. Why do you think that 30% fewer electors are required to elect an MP in Wales?

Chris Williams: I guess I argue that there should not be that inequity, except for protected constituencies. Every vote should be as equal as possible in terms of being able to influence the future make-up of the Government.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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Q So you accept that there has to be a reduction?

Chris Williams: Yes, unfortunately, but I think that we need to consider the Ynys Môn example. Giving the commission the flexibility of a greater tolerance limit will perhaps mean that places like Wales will feel a little less hard done by, and constituencies will be a little more representative of communities.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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Q What would you say to those in Greater Manchester who feel hard done by, being under-represented at the moment?

Chris Williams: I would agree with them.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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Q But that is at the expense of taking seats from Wales.

Chris Williams: Unfortunately, yes. I dare say that England as a whole will not necessarily feel a huge benefit from about 10 extra MPs, but an area like Greater Manchester might well do so.

None Portrait The Chair
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No other colleagues are indicating that they wish to ask a question so, if that is the case, Mr Williams, before leaving, do you wish to add anything?

Chris Williams: I think I have made the key points. Thank you for having me.

--- Later in debate ---
None Portrait The Chair
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Thank you. Now Mr Clarkson.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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It is fine, Chair. My question is far too long for the time we have left.

Parliamentary Constituencies bill (Fourth sitting) Debate

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Parliamentary Constituencies bill (Fourth sitting)

Chris Clarkson Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 23rd June 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

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Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q My own constituency of City of Chester has split wards, with some shared with Ellesmere Port and Neston and one shared with Eddisbury. What administrative difficulties or issues do you have to deal with in terms of split wards? Let me ask a further question: imagine you are an administrator and the Boundary Commission has given you a couple of constituencies in your area that share wards. Do you roll your eyes and think, “Oh God, that’s a bit more work for us,” or is it quite easy to get on with split wards between different constituencies?

Peter Stanyon: That much depends on the relationship between the local authorities. On the split wards situation, the returning officer responsible for running the parliamentary election in that area must comment on the review potentially undertaken by the other local authority. It very much depends again on what local practices are. The ideal situation for an administrator would be to have full control of all the areas—the subdivisions, polling stations, districts, staffing and so on —as that makes life easier for administrative arrangements. It is not insurmountable; it is purely about the local practice.

It gets slightly more complicated when we talk about combined polls. If you have a local government election and a parliamentary election taking place side by side, that adds to the degree of complexity. If it is a stand-alone parliamentary election, it is not quite as difficult to administer.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
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Q Peter, the Bill allows you to consider ward changes that have not necessarily come into effect yet. For example, in Salford, where I used to be a councillor, there has been a boundary review that should have come into force in May, but obviously the election has been delayed. Considering that, is there a preference about which set of boundaries you use? Do you find the newer, updated boundaries more useful for keeping electorates within quota and drawing more coherent seats?

Peter Stanyon: We welcome the fact that the Bill provides for an understanding of the situation closer to when the decisions are recommended by the boundary commissions. One of the big issues is that where ward boundary changes have taken place and the new constituencies follow the old ward boundaries, there is an awful lot of complication in trying to explain that to electors and trying to change systems to reflect a system no longer in place. When you look at a map and see a boundary going straight through the centre of a ward, you are sometimes puzzled about why that is the case. You go back to how it was, based on the previous situation. It is far preferable for the parliamentary constituency situation to be closer to that of the local authority, purely for the administrative reasons of ensuring that you de-risk the possibility of sending electors, postal votes or ballot papers to the wrong area. We would always welcome the latest situation, which is as close as possible to the review, being the one that is enacted and rolled out in the electoral registers themselves.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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Q If there were a situation where you could draw more coherency from the old set of boundaries, would you ever use a mix and match approach? Using the example of Salford again, most of the changes are in the east of the city, where the population has gone up quite a bit. The west is relatively unchanged, so you could leave the seat of Worsley and Eccles South pretty much intact, but you would need to heavily redraw Salford and Eccles.

Peter Stanyon: In many respects, it is the certainty of what the boundaries are. One of the difficulties of the 2018 boundary review was that the boundaries had changed so significantly in some areas that it was trying to replicate them back to the areas themselves. Where registration officers are aware that a previous system—for want of a better phrase—will be the preferred system, as long as that is known well in advance, it is easier to administer than if there is a sudden change to something later on.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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Q Is it fair to say that an element of the disruptive change that will be an inevitable part of this review will be down to the fact that local electoral geography has changed substantially over the last 20 years?

Peter Stanyon: Absolutely. It comes back to the electoral figures that are being dealt with. Certainly, the proposed reduction of seats from 650 to 600 exacerbated it. It is 20 years since the review was undertaken, so there will be significant changes in some areas. Over time, hopefully they will be negated as we go forward, but yes, it is difficult to cope with at the moment because it has been a long time since the last boundary review.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
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Q Hi Peter. What are the additional problems that are created for electoral registration officers when a constituency goes into two local authority areas that are under the purview of different local authorities and EROs?

Peter Stanyon: In local authority A, the electoral registration officer will cover the area for that local authority, maybe giving that register away. That is reasonably straightforward in terms of polling stations and the like, but slightly more complicated with absent votes and postal votes. There need to be agreements about who will be leading on each individual process. In some areas, the give-away authority will administer parts of the process for the authority that has taken it in, because of software incompatibility or different approaches being taken.

Most of the challenge is about: how do you mirror local authority A’s working practice on to local authority B? Despite the fact that the law that everybody is working to is exactly the same, there are local practices that are slightly different. That comes down to the real nitty-gritty of things like how many staff are appointed to polling stations, the processes used for the opening of postal votes and things like that. It is more an administrative approach that is difficult, which means that the respective returning officers need to communicate very closely with each other, to make sure that there is no element of doubt as to the way in which processes are administered.

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Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
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Q Mr Hughes, thank you for giving evidence to the Committee this afternoon. Do you feel that the balance is right between community ties and the 5% tolerance in the Bill?

Darren Hughes: There are so many strong arguments on the threshold question. We would come down in favour of a higher threshold than the plus or minus 5%, to be able to offer some flexibility in that sense. There are two competing ways of looking at this. On the one hand, who are the people for whom communities of interest are important with respect to parliamentary boundaries? The answer is: every single Member of Parliament and all the people who are in that orbit of representation, democratic work and politics. Outside of the campaign periods, the boundaries themselves, for the most part, do not have enduring appeal or identity. It has always struck me that, on a basic thing that people need to do all the time—think about where they are going to rent or buy a property—Zoopla does not make a big thing of telling you what parliamentary constituency you will be in if you move to this particular accommodation, whereas it will talk about the borough, the schools and the other services that are available. It makes sense to, as best as possible, come up with sensible communities for a constituency because the Member of Parliament will need to be doing a lot of important work there. However, I do not think you want to stretch it too far to pretend that people’s connection to a particular constituency is the most important thing. One way of dealing with that might be to look at the threshold question.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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Q I should put it on the record that I am a member of the Electoral Reform Society. I wanted that to be out there.

I want to pick up on a couple of points that have been raised. In terms of the 5% electoral quota and splitting communities, going back to the Maori electorates—which I think are arrived at by dividing the South Island’s population by 16 and then applying to the Maori electoral register—they do lead to some splitting of communities and they still stay within the 5% boundary. Is that correct? I am thinking, for example, of Te Tai Tonga, which covers the entire South Island and only part of Wellington.

Darren Hughes: That is mostly right. The number of constituencies for the South Island is set: the population on the census is taken, divided by 16, and that gives you your quota for North Island seats, plus or minus. That number is demand driven by the number of Maori New Zealanders who decide to register on the Maori electorate. For a long time, only about 50% of people did that. It has gone up a lot more in recent times and that is why it has gone from only four seats up to seven, because it is demand driven. It comes off the back of that quota formula that you quote. Therefore—remembering that New Zealand is the same geographic size as the UK—one constituency is the entire South Island plus Wellington in the North Island.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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Q In your experience, do you think that has compromised the quality of the representation those Members of Parliament give?

Darren Hughes: Well, they have to work incredibly hard, not just because of the geographic size, but because those constituencies will cover more than one iwi—one tribe. Finding a single Member of Parliament to represent such a broad number of Maori interests, views and citizens is a tough challenge. However, Maori electors are also on the general roll and so will have access to a general electorate Member of Parliament. Also, because New Zealand has used proportional representation for the last quarter of a century, all the political parties of size will have a significant number of Maori Members of Parliament on the list as well. I think that mixed model has certainly led to more Maori Members of Parliament being elected than there were under the previous system. For the actual geographic seats, the burden of size is absolutely something they would all willingly concede.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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Q I know the ERS’s preferred system would be the single transferable vote. Were such a system to be adopted—for example, the hon. Member for Glasgow East mentioned the slightly bizarre size of the Highland North seat, which was based on the 600 review —theoretically, there could be an entire seat covering the entire Highlands. We are just electing three Members. Would that be an appropriate system for Britain?

Darren Hughes: With the boundaries here we have to talk about the single-member “winner takes all” voting system. That means that many millions of people either vote for a candidate who does not win or a winner who did not need their votes. Those votes are not translated into representation. If we had the single transferable vote, you would draw the boundaries differently. Of course, they would be geographically bigger, but you would be electing a team of Members of Parliament to cover that geographic area.

That could also be of assistance for local government. As you are aware, Scotland has had the single transferable vote system of proportional representation for local government for quite some time, and that has better reflected the political views of Scotland, in terms both of parties and of communities of interest. I think it would be great to have parliamentary constituencies for which we did not expect just one person, on a plurality of the vote, to represent absolutely everybody in the area. That is too big a challenge for just one person when such quality alternative arrangements exist.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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Q I have one quick follow-up. Assuming that we stay with the current system, which will be the case, would you not accept that having more equalised electorates is fairer to the electorate than having wildly disparate ones? I am thinking of Greater Manchester, for which I am an MP, where you have electorates ranging from 63,000 to 95,000.

Darren Hughes: I think that ties into the way in which the boundaries are drawn up. Using the electoral register imposes a responsibility to make sure that it is as accurate and complete as possible, so that those decisions about fairness can be looked at. In that respect, we know that, no matter how you slice it, millions of people are not on the register. Some of the work that has been done on promoting automatic voter registration—the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust published a paper in April looking at how we can make sure that we find as many citizens as possible and get them on the electoral register—would achieve a lot for a fairer electoral administration, which would then leak through into the kind of decisions that would need to be taken by the boundary commissioners.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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Q Setting aside what we would prefer the system to be, do you agree that, for the current system, more equalised electorates would be fairer?

Darren Hughes: Yes, provided that we are talking about things such as the electoral register being more accurate and complete by taking proactive measures, for example automatic voter registration. Keeping the number of seats at 650 adds to that argument. So yes, but with the important caveat that you mentioned: this is not a system that we would choose if it were over the last—[Inaudible.]

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I am very grateful to you, Mr Hughes, for your appearance before the Committee today. One of the things in which the Electoral Reform Society is interested is, essentially, the health of British democracy. Can you expand a little on your thoughts about the distribution of seats between the four nations of the UK, commenting specifically on the fact that under these proposals both Scotland and Wales would have less representation in the House of Commons?

Darren Hughes: These questions on the Union are very interesting. In our three most recent general election reports, we have been tracking the movement between the nations at elections. In addition to some of the class voting changes that Professor Curtice talked about this morning, we think that those issues of the politics and the psephology of the nations of the UK are certainly worth more attention than they probably get.

The most obvious point with respect to the Bill is that it makes a bad situation slightly better, in the sense that at once stage Wales would have fallen to 28 seats from its current 40 under the cut to 600 seats. I guess that it is important to recognise the effects of the Bill in that regard. Even so, the impact on Scotland is not exactly clear, but it would certainly be a reduction, maybe in the order of two or three seats, while in Wales, it would be more like eight. That becomes quite a significant proportion of the representation.

One thought that we have had about that, though, comes back to the previous answer that I gave to Chris Clarkson about the electoral register and making sure that more people are on it in areas where there might be under-registration or non-registration, in order to boost the entitlement to more constituencies.

--- Later in debate ---
David Linden Portrait David Linden
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Q Continuing the theme of geography, although I appreciate that you will not necessarily have the amendment paper in front of you, I have tabled new clause 5, which looks specifically at the highland constituencies and that limit of 12,000 sq km. I have asked this question of other witnesses before the Committee. Can you offer any thoughts on ways in which to manage constituencies so that they are slightly more manageable for Members? I think that most people would agree that having a constituency of 12,000 sq km is somewhat unsustainable. In my name, I have tabled a new clause to say that it should be 9,000 sq km, for example. Do either of you have a view of that, in terms of the management of constituencies?

Professor Pattie: At the risk of sounding flippant, the Durack division in Western Australia is 1.63 million sq km. The north highlands is large, but there are much larger seats out there. It is how you strike the balance, I guess, but where it is can be tricky. I would not want to minimise the workload of an MP, in particular working in any area as large as the north highlands. Where one draws that line is a judgment call. I do not think that you will find an easy answer. To use a phrase much bandied about at the moment, I do not think that this is an area where one can defer to the science, because there is no clear science to this.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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Q This is for both our witnesses, but I will start with Dr Rossiter. Do you agree that reaching electoral equality is important not just between regions but within regions? I will take the example of between regions first.

At the moment, Wales has an electoral quota of about 54,500, as opposed to about 72,000 in the north-west. Within Greater Manchester, where I am an MP, the number ranges from about 63,000 to 95,000. To take the concept that you just put forward of not splitting communities, in my borough are two seats that are prettily evenly divided: mine is Heywood and Middleton, and the neighbouring one is called Rochdale. From the sound of things, they are self-contained communities, but, in reality, I represent about a third of Rochdale. If you were not to split the communities, my neighbour would represent 103,000 people to my 57,000. Taking that to the logical extreme, do you not accept that, at some point, you will have to split some communities in order to achieve electoral equality?

Beyond that, talking about disruption in future reviews, would you accept that, to a degree, splitting wards would minimise that, reducing the amount of absolute disruption? Most of the disruption that will come from this review relies on the fact that the electoral figures we are using are 20 years out of date.

Dr Rossiter: If I take your second point first, I do not think that the difficulties that are going to come with the current review will be of such a scale that anything really can be read into them—too much should not be read into that, if you see what I mean. To take your first point, the commissions have always been capable of producing constituencies that are very close to quota. The problem you are identifying—these large differences in constituencies—has largely come not because of an observance of local ties, but from demographic change within and between regions. I am totally comfortable with the concept of trying to achieve equally populated constituencies—I have always thought that should be aimed for. My concern is the unintended consequences of a set of rules, which I think is the territory we have entered.

In terms of principles, absolutely every person’s vote should be treated as equal in so far as that can be achieved in a constituency-based system. There is no reason why either between or within areas that should not be achievable. Where local authority boundaries have to be crossed to achieve that, I have no problem with that. I remember writing a paper back in the 1980s about how we needed to look at crossing London borough boundaries, which were being observed as almost sacrosanct at the time, causing quite significant difficulties and an over-representation effect.

What I think we are looking at is how you strike the right balance. I do not disagree at all with where you are coming from and what you are trying to achieve; it is just that by placing in a rule as strict as 5%, you are removing a degree of discretion that will not benefit anybody either politically or in their sense of connection with a constituency and their MP.

Professor Pattie: To add to that, the point I was trying to make earlier was not that one must never split communities. That is going to happen, and it always has happened under the boundary review process; there have always been communities split. My point is to recognise that splitting wards in itself is not a solution, because that may involve another form of community split. But we must also remember—Iain put this nicely this morning when he described the different directions in which community can run, depending on how it serves different people’s interests—that community is very much in the eye of the beholder. I am sure we all recognise, even in areas that we know well, that we could quite quickly generate quite a few different views of what a local community really was. They are often genuinely held. So, one should not be too—how can I put this?—precious about community versus size. I think David is absolutely right: the issue is where to strike the balance and how one achieves that as relatively painlessly as possible.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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Q To take that thread, if we are not being too precious about communities, why is a 7% or 8% variance better than a 5% variance? Surely it is better to get closer to the mean.

Professor Pattie: We would argue it is better because it involves less disruption to the boundaries of existing constituencies, so you get more continuity of representation over time.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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Q Less disruption is less work for the Boundary Commissions, rather than electoral equality.

Professor Pattie: Well, you still have equalisation and a fairly tight parameter in terms of the size of seats, but one does not have to artificially flex things too much. You are trying to strike the balance between the rules of equalisation and rule 5 conditions. One is trying to hit that balance point between equal electorates and not too much disruption.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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Q I take the academic point, Professor Pattie, but I think it would be quite a hard sell on the doorsteps to tell some of my constituents that 20,000 extra voters are required because it will save somebody a bit of work.

Professor Pattie: Yes, but it will not be at that sort of level.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
- Hansard - -

But it is at the moment.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I am not sure which of the two of you I am aiming this question at, but how much does locality and the experience of living in a community influence the way people vote? Does it bring outcomes where people vote collectively in a similar pattern?

Professor Pattie: You heard evidence from John Curtice this morning on this and I would not disagree with him. There certainly is evidence that people are influenced by the context in which they live and by what is happening around them both in terms of the economic and political environment and in terms of the climate of opinion around them. People who in a sociological sense look very similar, but live in different areas, can go in very different ways much more akin to other people within their area. Is it the biggest influence on people’s voting? No, probably it is not. Does it have an effect? Yes, it does.

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill (Fifth sitting) Debate

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Parliamentary Constituencies Bill (Fifth sitting)

Chris Clarkson Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 25th June 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

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Read Full debate Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 25 June 2020 - (25 Jun 2020)
Shaun Bailey Portrait Shaun Bailey
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My right hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely correct in her analysis. Although equality is obviously the foremost consideration, it does not eliminate those links with communities either. I think she definitely said that in her contribution. She has made the point time and again. I represent a seat with 65,500 constituents and she represents a seat with 83,000. The figures speak for themselves, so I do not think I can add to what my right hon. Friend has said.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
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I want to pick up on the point made about the review allowing local input. The hon. Member for City of Chester described the notorious case of Mersey Banks, which was corrected after a review. Furthermore, to pick up on the point made by the right hon. Member for Warley about the lack of imagination of the boundary commission, does my hon. Friend agree that if the Boundary Commission for England were willing to take the same approach as, for example, the Boundary Commissions for Scotland, for Wales and for Northern Ireland, where wards can be split, that would correct some of the more eccentric seats that have been come up with?

Shaun Bailey Portrait Shaun Bailey
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My hon. Friend makes a fantastic point on these matters in his usual expert way. We cannot treat this exercise as arbitrary; we have to give the commission some credit. It has intelligent people, who have a degree of imagination about what they can do within the scope of these rules, and they are boundaries or guidelines; they are not so arbitrary that there is no room for manoeuvre, which I appreciate is part of the argument that Opposition Members are making.

I will try to round off my comments as quickly as I can.

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Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
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I apologise, Mr Paisley, for missing part of the debate, but I was in the main Chamber for business questions and came here as soon as I could.

I sympathise with the idea that we should set the parameters for this process, and then remove the politics from it and allow a clean process to come to its conclusion. That is a very attractive proposal and it is easy to see the strength of that argument, on the surface. However, when we listened to the evidence from the experts, one of the things that came across absolutely clearly —I should say that I am speaking in favour of the amendment—was that they do not understand the role of parliamentarians and they do not understand the relationship that parliamentarians have with their constituencies. That came out loud and clear, even from those who were more sympathetic to the argument that place is important in people’s minds in how they vote.

My fear grew as I listened to the evidence that if we hand this process over to bureaucrats or academics, in the absence of understanding of that relationship between MPs and the communities they represent, and of the affinity that MPs develop with those communities, we will end up with a mathematical exercise. We have set the parameters at 5% and basically we just draw rings around the population across the country 650 times, and then we will satisfy the criteria. And by the way, within that, we will do a bit of manipulation to try to meet some community needs.

For me, that hits fundamentally at the heart of what the democratic process is all about. I mean, the origin of politics is the marketplace—the agora—where the popular view would prevail. That is really where the roots of democracy lie. What happens in that marketplace—in that common place within a community—is that people discuss and debate matters, and express views about their common experiences. And eventually, they come to a collective view.

To look at what happened at the last election, in many communities up and down the country, people were sick and tired of being left behind and felt that their communities were forever in decline while others were benefitting from being part of the European Union, the globalisation of the economy or whatever it was. Collectively, they came to the same conclusion and there was a seismic shift within those communities.

That shift moved against the Labour party in what have been called the red wall seats. Some common experience within those communities caused a large body of people to come to a collective view. Place and common experience are important factors in the way people form views about how they want to be represented. To undermine the connection between place and the most common experiences of the community hits at the root of the democratic process.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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The point about place is fair and important, but the reality is that even under the current boundaries there are many seats that simply do not represent a cohesive or coherent grouping of population. I look at my own constituency, which is one of the red wall seats. I have Middleton, which is Manchester-facing; Heywood, which is Lancashire-facing; and a third of the town of Rochdale, where the people are deeply embittered about the fact that they are not in the Rochdale constituency. Whatever process is used, there are going to be some communities that are either split, orphaned or combined with areas they do not necessarily look to, purely because of the electoral mathematics and geography. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that?

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford
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Yes, there has to be, within this process, some degree of equalisation as to the weight of people’s votes and we have to try to achieve that as much as possible. I am arguing that, within that, we have to respect the importance of place, location and community in the democratic process. If we start to pick those apart just to meet a numerical requirement, we will diminish and undermine the ability of those people to seek representation that makes their views known collectively—how they feel about their area and their collective experience—through a democratic process. It is important that we understand them.

Why I feel that this is important comes back to us. I will move on to that point further this afternoon, but it is about how accountable we are, for what we do, to our communities. That was dismissed in the evidence we had from the experts. They did not value or feel that we value the views of our constituents. Actually, that is how we get re-elected. If we ignore our constituents, we will find ourselves unemployed very quickly. We have to show, as much as we humanly can, that we are listening and sympathetic, or empathetic, to the views of the people we seek to represent, and that we will take those views and seek to get answers. Even if we cannot get the answers that they want, we will get them a decent answer to the questions they are posing. That accountability of MPs to their communities is important.

In this process, we are accountable too. We cannot just go to a boundary commission and say, as one former Member of Parliament for my constituency said once, although not to the commission itself, that it would be fine to draw a line down the middle of Eltham High Street. The constituency goes into Bromley on the south and Greenwich on the north. People in my community were up in arms that our community should be divided between two constituencies in that way and that the integral centre of our community—the High Street—should be divided.

People value place. They feel that it is important that representation bears some resemblance to place and takes into account the entirety of the community, and its common characteristics. That is an important process. If I were to advocate such a split, at the election I would not expect many people who valued the area to vote for me. If I was going around saying, “Well, it doesn’t really matter. Draw the line at the High Street. It’s all fine,” it would not be fine. The hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton has rightly pointed out that we represent many communities. My constituency could be called Eltham, Plumstead South, Shooter’s Hill, Charlton South and Kidbrooke. Many different communities and villages have come together in the conglomeration of the suburb of south London. People do identify with those areas. I could even add Eltham Heights and New Eltham; I could name every street.

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill (Sixth sitting) Debate

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Parliamentary Constituencies Bill (Sixth sitting)

Chris Clarkson Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 25th June 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 25 June 2020 - (25 Jun 2020)
Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson
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I am grateful for that clarity. I am less keen on formally using polling districts as building blocks—we will come to this issue when we debate a different amendment—on the basis that they lack the formality of a consulted-on review by an independent body.

I have a question for the Committee that might be within the expertise of an hon. Member or the Minister. In my constituency, I already have split wards. I share one ward with my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) and another with the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson). Split wards already exist, and it is not clear why there needs to be consideration of introducing them into the legislation now, if they are already possible.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
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Just to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, I believe it is more to do with the fact that his constituency is currently aligned with a set of boundaries that predate the Cheshire West and Chester authority. Should the boundary commission conduct the review, it will probably try to use the current boundaries for Cheshire West and Chester. I am sure he would agree that that would possibly lead to quite an unwieldly seat that does not contain the entire city and might go into rural areas that do not necessarily accord with the more urban parts of his constituency.

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Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson
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With the greatest of respect to the right hon. Gentleman, he is now talking about split polling districts—he is doing my head in. My head is fried. I might just jump out the window.

On the contribution of the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton, it might be, as the right hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell said, that previous local government boundaries were superimposed on pre-existing parliamentary boundaries. That is entirely possible. If there is some clarification, that is fine. If split wards are permissible, that may go some way towards achieving our aims. I am grateful for that contribution.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I largely agree with my right hon. Friends the Members for Basingstoke and for Elmet and Rothwell, and thank the hon. Member for Glasgow East for his amendment. I will treat it as a probing amendment, and I shall not support it as it stands because we are still awaiting a letter from the boundary commission. My concern is that if we start prescribing units, it becomes dogma. We have seen that three of the boundary commissions are perfectly happy to start looking at innovative ways of splitting wards and treating postcode areas and community council areas as building blocks.

As Mr Bellringer suggested—I am not saying that this is the attitude across the piece, but it appears to be—the boundary commissions will go for the path of least resistance, which at the moment is wards. If we give them something smaller to work with, they will just work to that particular unit. We will get concomitances of polling districts snatched from area A and area B, and it becomes a more microscopic version of what we currently have. I am also concerned about using polling districts. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell said, there is the danger of reintroducing a political element into something when we are trying to take it out by introducing the process of automaticity.

I shall not support the amendment. I greatly appreciate the option of being able to split wards. I am glad that we have had this debate. The Committee has heard from Government-supporting Members that it is something that we are happy to look at, but I consider that being prescriptive is not the most helpful way to approach it.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford
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The hon. Member for Glasgow East has provoked an interesting debate about how we go about this process. I did not understand some of Mr Bellringer’s arguments. We all know our constituencies extremely well, and we know the level of detail that electoral registration officers produce, road by road and building by building. On a fixed date, when we enter into the parliamentary boundary review, the number of people registered for a particular street is known. I do not understand why the boundary commission, in communication with the local registration officer, could not, where it needed to, investigate that level of detail, so I did not understand those answers.

As the Bill progresses, perhaps some thought can be given to expanding the areas of information that the boundary commission uses to draw up the parliamentary boundaries. We had an interesting discussion in the evidence sessions about the use of polling districts and what their legal basis was. Peter Stanyon from the local government boundary commission explained that it was often dictated by the location of a suitable venue for a polling station, the accessibility for people with disabilities, and the convenience, to enable communities to vote. Those are important factors, and they seem to be things that lead to a community being provided with a suitable location, which is desirable. Those might be suitable building blocks.

However, Mr Stanyon also said that, post a parliamentary boundary review, local government has to have a review if there are changes within its area to a parliamentary boundary. That use of technology could therefore allow the boundary commission to go down to sub-street level in the knowledge that, at some later date, the polling district will be changed to meet the new boundary that the commission has drawn up.

The commission does not need to be restricted to the distinct polling district area. It can now move forward in the knowledge that, if it can avoid creating a parliamentary boundary that goes across the jurisdiction of a local authority area, which brings in all sorts of difficulties, it has the flexibility to create an additional polling district or to add an additional community from within that local government area, in order to avoid all the problems that come with that cross-border situation. The local government boundary commission has made it quite clear that it would move the boundaries to suit that new parliamentary boundary if it were created.

I think that the hon. Member for Glasgow East is on to something, and that should be explored as the Bill progresses. We are creating a rigid set of criteria where some flexibility could avoid lots of difficulties that will be created by having small sections of communities in different local authority areas represented by an MP who primarily supports and represents a different community. We should explore that further.

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Alec Shelbrooke Portrait Alec Shelbrooke
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As I said, my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty has four local authorities in his constituency, but I seriously take on board what the hon. Gentleman says about more than two authorities. That still comes back to the point that I am making—a constituency does not have to stay within one local authority. We can keep like communities together and make that work—people want the communities that they understand—especially when a region has a situation: North Yorkshire is half a seat short and West Yorkshire is half a seat short, so there will have to be that crossover. It should not just be an arbitrary line drawn on a map; it is about having regard to like communities.

The only point that I am trying to bring out through this probing amendment—I hope the Boundary Commission for England will look at a way to do it—is that, although some of these things seem obvious, actually in communities they are not so obvious. That is why I used the example of the people of Sherburn in Elmet, who are in North Yorkshire and are covered by Selby District Council and North Yorkshire County Council. They are in a different constituency from me in West Yorkshire and the Leeds City Council area, but they think I am their MP because my constituency has the word “Elmet” in it.

There are local considerations that cannot be defined by the local boundaries. I hope that this probing amendment is able to bring out the need for guidance and advice, which we can give to the Boundary Commission and say, “These things are not as vital.” I am sure that it will have heard the hon. Member for City of Chester, who said that two authorities do not seem to be a problem, but it is stretching it when we start to move beyond that.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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I will start by disappointing the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, because there are actually a number of seats that cross the Lancashire county boundary into Yorkshire, including Ribble Valley, and Oldham East and Saddleworth. If she wants to hear how strongly people can feel about it, she should ask my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) what happened when he put a red rose on Earby library.

I completely understand the depth of feeling about crossing the Tamar. Actually, Cornwall is about the right size for six seats, so that is unlikely to happen. There are actually four seats in the north-west that cross the Mersey.

We need to look at the fact that local government boundaries, as they are currently constituted after Redcliffe-Maud, are actually fairly arbitrary. Bits were hived off from one area to another based on things such as local transport links and who went to work in what area. I think that a little more attention needs to be paid to natural community boundaries when we have to look at crossing county boundaries, which will inevitably have to happen in some areas.

The hon. Member for City of Chester makes a very important point about trying to limit it to as few local government areas as possible. To the best of my knowledge, in the north-west there is only one seat that contains areas from three councils: Penrith and the Border, which is geographically massive.

Alec Shelbrooke Portrait Alec Shelbrooke
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I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. There is something that I forgot to say, and it might add strength to his argument. There is a planning application that got kicked out by the Secretary of State that would have led to hundreds of houses being built right on the border of Wetherby, but in the Harrogate Borough Council area and North Yorkshire. Not a single person moving into one of those houses would have thought that they lived in Harrogate; they would have thought that they lived in Wetherby. That is one of the reasons why it got kicked out. Again, it is an arbitrary boundary. If someone knocks on the door of the people who live there, who are literally a 10-minute walk from Wetherby town centre, they will not say that they live in Harrogate.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Every Monday morning, my office sends a load of casework to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd), because 30% of my seat is Rochdale and people do not automatically think that I am their MP. The reality is that if we are too prescriptive about local government boundaries, we will go back to having these odd Frankenstein seats where we are trying to conform with electoral boundaries. I do not think that being too prescriptive is the right approach.

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson
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I agree with the hon. Gentleman about not being too prescriptive, but he cannot have it both ways. As he said previously, he also supports the 5% absolute tolerance on the numbers. I am pleased to hear him talking about not being too prescriptive, so will he bear that in mind as we proceed through our consideration of the Bill?

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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I can tell the hon. Gentleman that it is foremost in my mind, which is why I was very glad to have the debate that was sparked by the hon. Member for Glasgow East. We need to be less prescriptive about the units that we use to build things, but there is a common-sense approach that does not involve taking ridiculous leaps by keeping whole units together, just because they have arbitrarily been drawn one way by the Local Government Boundary Commission.

Chloe Smith Portrait Chloe Smith
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We have now tapped into one of the very rich seams of community interest and detail in and around the Bill. I will make some general comments about what clause 6 does in order to accommodate explanation of what the amendment might do. I hope that will help the Committee.

I will begin by referring back to the fact that, in coming up with their proposals, the boundary commissions have a set of factors to which they are allowed to refer. I will read out the wording, which states that commissions

“may take into account, if and to such extent as they think fit”.

It is very clear in the legislation that that is a “may” power —it may be used and is there if it is needed—rather than being a “must”. The relevant factors include geographical features such as rivers or mountains, community ties, existing parliamentary constituencies and local government boundaries. The Bill does not change that.

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill (Eighth sitting) Debate

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Parliamentary Constituencies Bill (Eighth sitting)

Chris Clarkson Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 30th June 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 30 June 2020 - (30 Jun 2020)
Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford
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We are talking about plus or minus 7.5%. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the issue of wards, but Sir David pulled me up because it is not within the scope of this debate. However, I agree that we should look at sub-ward level, particularly where it might avoid having to create a constituency with an orphan ward or community—one single ward coming in from a neighbouring local authority area. If that can be avoided that is very desirable. Again, that would go back to my point that that is why we need flexibility within the boundary commission. We also need more co-operation with local electoral registration officers who have numbers down to street level, so they could clearly do that.

However, I take the point made by the right hon. Gentleman—or the point that he from the Electoral Commission—that where that happens it has to be a community. It cannot just be a few streets from a neighbouring area that does not really relate to the rest of the constituency. It has to be something that it makes sense to take down to sub-ward level. We do not need to worry about polling districts, because we have heard from the Electoral Commission that local authorities carry out a review of polling districts immediately after parliamentary boundary reviews where necessary. Therefore, we do not need to worry about the parliamentary constituency boundary commission creating new areas at a sub-ward level if it avoids other disruption such as going out across other local government boundary areas.

To conclude, we need to provide this degree of flexibility for the boundary commission, which has made a case that that flexibility would help it. We have had expert advice that a tolerance level around 8% is most desirable; and that we get payback from each percentage point we go up from the rigid 5%, which begins to taper off if we go above 8%. I think my hon. Friend has got it right and I urge the Government to accept the amendment.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
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The hon. Member for Eltham said that Mr Bellringer indicated that the boundary commission tries to work as close to the quota as possible, and only varies where there is a good reason. I can only speak from the evidence I recall, which is mostly from the north-west. Our smallest constituency is Wirral West, which is just below 6,000 and was drawn at that size to try to avoid a cross-Mersey seat between the Wirral and Liverpool. The largest is 95,000 in Manchester Central, which was drawn very close to that size at the time because it was expected to depopulate. The commission does not always stay as close to the quota as possible. It sometimes take some very odd logical steps to try and make seats seem cohesive.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford
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I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point, because that is exactly what Mr Bellringer said. He said that as a general rule the commission would try to get as close to the average as possible, but in exceptional circumstances it would try to provide a better holistic solution. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, but that is not the norm.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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In which case, I invite the hon. Gentleman to look at the 75 seats in the north-west and see how many of them are close to quota, even when originally drawn. Very few is the answer. As a thought experiment I decided to see what would happen if we applied the 2019 electoral figures, which are the most up- to-date ones we have, to the 5%, 7.5% and 10% quotas. As a sample, I took all the seats represented by Conservative Members. Only one seat falls within the 5% quota, which is the seat represented by my hon. Friend for Hitchin and Harpenden. If we extend to 7.5%, we still have only one within quota—again, the seat represented by my hon. Friend for Hitchin and Harpenden. If we get to 10%, two of us—my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke and me—are still over quota.

Looking at the population drift from these seats, it is not that large over a number of years. It is simply that the more the quota is extended simply to try to reduce the extent of change, the more the seats end up disproportionately large. When starting with a 5% quota variant, the maximum difference between the smallest and largest seats is 7,260. That rises to 10,912 on 10%; then 14,551 on 10%; then 21,826 voters based on the OCSE of a maximum of 15%. It is never more than 15%. The reality is that we will see population change in the seats that will be drawn, which is a natural consequence of some areas depopulating and other areas increasing in population. Drawing the quotas as closely as possible to the mean is a way of ensuring that when we review the situation in eight years’ time, the variation will not be so severe that radical change will be needed. Obviously, radical change will be required in this review because the information is 20 years out of date. We should aim to get the electorate as close as possible to that mean now, so that in the future we are not having to radically redraw the map every time we come to this exercise.

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson
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I speak in support of new clause 2, which I tabled with my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood. I have really enjoyed listening to the contributions to the debate, but I am concerned about the lack of consistency expressed by Government Members. That is partly in relation to the clause, but also in relation to the clause as it reflects other parts of the Bill. I will try not to stray too far from the clause, and I am sure, Sir David, that you will pull me back if I do.

The right hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell—who, as always, makes me stop and think—talked about the boundary commission getting it right first time. I suspect that he meant in the first set of proposals as opposed to the former ones. One of the problems is that we cannot always trust the boundary commission to get it right first time. Frankly, there are occasions when it does not get it right the second time. That is why we opposed automaticity in another part of the Bill.

I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but the lack of absolute confidence—we do have confidence in the boundary commission—might have been expressed in another part of the considerations. The hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton discussed disparities in our own region, and about his seat and that of the right hon. Member for Basingstoke who, I think, has described her seat as being a small market town that has grown and grown over the years. She might wish to correct me. These changes do happen, and it is not simply that the boundary commission chooses to draw much bigger seats. Growth does happen, and for that reason it is projected that south-east England is likely to get extra seats as a result of population shifts.

The hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden—I must get it correct—said that the situation was not what we have now, but the new clause does not propose the situation we have now—it is not proposing 10% either way. I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham suggesting that we have 10%, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley suggesting that it is perfectly legitimate to propose that within the OSCE guidelines. However, the new clause proposes a balance between that very tight adherence to the variance of 5% and the need for community interest.

I listened to the debate at Second Reading, and the right hon. Member for Basingstoke, and the hon. Members for Newbury and for West Bromwich West might have mentioned the importance of reflecting community interests. We have all spoken on that subject, and the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden discussed that in a question on first past the post, and spoke about maintaining the importance of community. Many Committee members have mentioned the importance of community, but the lack of consistency comes up when we reject all those arguments in favour of tight adherence. Somewhere, we have to strike a balance.

On this side of the Committee, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood said, we have accepted the Government’s arguments that we must have much more equally sized constituencies. We are asking Government Members to accept, as we strive to achieve that, that the guidance to boundary commissions should say that those community ties—which all other hon. Members have said are important—should be taken into account, so that they get it right first or second time. In this Bill, we do not have the opportunity to call them back if they do not get it right.

This new clause provides balance and a safety valve, as we have discussed regarding automaticity, to ensure that community interests and ties are taken into account. It achieves a tighter tolerance around the average, so that it achieves something of the Government’s aim—which is also our aim—to secure more equalised seats, but not going so far that it completely wipes out the community interest. Across the Committee, hon. Members have talked about that. I will therefore support my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood in the vote.

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Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson
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The hon. Gentleman makes a salient point. I would suggest that we have English devolution, and if we were logical in these arguments, we would reduce the number of constituencies available in those parts of England where there has been devolution but not in the parts where there has not been. In my own area, for example, we do not have an elected mayor, whereas Greater Manchester—I see the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton is present—does have an elected mayor.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson
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Of course I will. I mentioned the hon. Gentleman, so I could hardly not give way to him.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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Following that logical stride, the devolution settlement across the UK has been entirely piecemeal. It is uneven across the United Kingdom and part of the current problem is a result of that. For example, there was a Welsh Assembly, so there was no reduction in the number of Welsh seats in 2005, whereas there was a reduction in the number of seats from 72 to 59 in Scotland. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that this situation is a natural consequence of the poorly executed devolution plan across the United Kingdom, and that now, in the interests of wider fairness, there should probably be a wider discussion about the devolution settlement for England, and each constituency in the United Kingdom should carry the same weight?

Also, does the hon. Gentleman accept as a cautionary tale that when Canada began setting quotas for certain provinces to have a set number of seats, it led to a massive expansion of the Parliament? They added 30 seats two elections ago, simply to try to keep pace with the fact that Quebec had to have a minimum number of seats.

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To be clear, I was not proposing different sized quotas in different areas. I was just suggesting that that would be the logic of following devolution to the letter, and to the max, in terms of representation at this place. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we have inconsistency in devolution in the UK. He should take it up, perhaps, with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, or his successor. [Interruption.] I am not going to go there. The hon. Member for Glasgow East is naughty, Sir David, and knows he should not tempt me to go down that route.

There is another issue. Wales and Scotland in particular have different geography and different population levels from much of England, but not all of it. I am thinking of rural Wales and rural Northumbria, for example. Wales in particular is affected by geography—the sparsity of west Wales and areas such as Brecon and Radnor or Montgomeryshire, the geographic barriers represented by the Welsh valleys, the beautiful area of Snowdonia, where, again, I spent much of my childhood, coming over the border. There is also Ynys Môn. The Committee decided this morning that it should be protected, and I supported that and we have been calling for it for a long time. However, that has a knock-on effect for other constituencies, which must themselves deal with issues other than population, such as sparsity and geography, which need to be taken into account. Because the Committee has decided on a tight 5% tolerance, it is even harder to take into account those areas, and the issues are amplified because Wales is losing so many constituencies. The problems mount one on the other. Every decision that the Committee makes puts further strain on the Welsh area in particular and therefore on the integrity of the constituencies and their viability—and therefore on the Union, because of the way they are represented here.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion spoke this morning about a constituency measuring 97 miles from one side to the other. Whoever the Member for that constituency would be—I think that it would have happened under the 600 boundaries; if 50 constituencies were lost with a tight tolerance there might have to be a 97-mile constituency —they could not possibly do justice to such a huge expanse. It would not be fair to them or their constituents. We want equalisation as much as possible and we have had an argument today about constituents being properly served by having the same number of constituents, voters, electors or—the Minister was right—people living in the constituency. Similarly, they will also not be properly served if their Member of Parliament has to cover a constituency that is hundreds of miles wide.

It is the same for Scotland. I remind the Committee that it was previously proposed, as I believe I mentioned on Second Reading, that there should be a constituency that, if it were superimposed on England with one end at the Palace of Westminster, would have its top end at Nottingham. It would be impossible to serve that constituency or to give its residents any kind of service.

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill (Seventh sitting) Debate

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Parliamentary Constituencies Bill (Seventh sitting)

Chris Clarkson Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 30th June 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 30 June 2020 - (30 Jun 2020)
Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Again, we can all think of constituencies, either our own or in our area, where that will be a considerable challenge for the boundary commission—where, in their words, there is going to be a significant review of constituency boundaries, particularly in constituencies such as mine, where the town of Basingstoke is now, one could argue, really too big to be one constituency. The debate is important and the Committee has shown the value of the process in raising this.

I note from the boundary commission’s response that they are not against looking at sub-ward level splits, which is obviously a matter of fact and they have done that in the past. However, I sense a reticence there for the future. I hope when the Minister responds she can underline the importance of ensuring that reticence is alleviated. Mention is made of the cost of splitting wards and pulling together data at a sub-ward level. There is a great focus on polling district data, which was not the only source of information that was mentioned in the evidence sittings and our debate. Yet the focus in the Boundary Commission for England’s response seems wholly to be on that form of information. Scotland and Wales already use postcode data, yet no mention is made of that in the response.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
- Hansard - -

The boundary commission settled on the fact that it has to be units available across the entire country and then solely focuses on polling districts, which we have already said are subject to political considerations. What are not, of course, are postcode areas, which also represent, broadly speaking, cohesive communities. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an area that the boundary commission should consider?

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is right. It feels to me that the issue needs further consideration by the boundary commission. It is a great shame that even though it has already done an extensive piece of work with Ordnance Survey, surveying polling districts between 2013 and 2018—at a cost of a quarter of a million pounds, according to the note—there still seems to be resistance to looking at that in more detail or, as my hon. Friend suggested, at other data sources, which are presumably much more readily available. I understand that the Post Office delivers post every day, and therefore must update its information on a regular basis—particularly when new houses are built. Many of us will have had constituency casework on that issue.

Perhaps individual political parties might want to pick that issue up with the boundary commission. My feeling is that the Committee would want to press further for it to look at it in more detail.

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Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sure, Mr Paisley, that you would not want me to start listing aqueducts, currency, safety in the streets, law and order and so on. The Opposition have tabled a similar amendment—I am not sure of the procedural mechanism for resolving the fact that there is more than one amendment on the same issue. I will take guidance from you on that, Mr Paisley.

I make two points in relation to the debate. First, I ask Committee members to bear in mind the knock-on effect on the rest of the Wales, if and when they agree the amendment. We will be discussing that matter later. Right hon. Members have made good, sound arguments as to why we should accept the amendment. However, that has an effect on the rest of Wales, and I ask hon. Members to park that.

Secondly—I have to make this point, unfortunately, from a political point of view—never since St Paul took a trip to Damascus has such a great conversion been seen as that of Conservative Members deciding that perhaps Ynys Môn does need to be a protected constituency. Other parties, our own included, have called for that change in several reviews. Something has obviously changed, if Conservatives are all of a sudden in favour of the proposal. I invite members of the Committee to decide, in their own time, what circumstances have changed such that the Conservatives are, all of a sudden, in favour of it. Let us be clear: we have called for it in several reviews. We are, therefore, pleased that Government Members have seen the light, whatever the motivation that drove them to that point.

May I be indulged briefly, Mr Paisley, to pay tribute to the former Member for Ynys Môn, my good friend Albert Owen, who like you was a member of the Panel of Chairs? I miss him greatly as a person and as a mentor and adviser, but I know he still maintains a full role.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
- Hansard - -

As a Romanophile, I thank the hon. Member for Deva Victrix. I very much enjoyed the talk of Rome. On the political considerations, Ynys Môn is one of only two constituencies in the United Kingdom to have been represented by all three major parties and the local nationalist party, so the hon. Gentleman’s argument does not stand. Talking about north Wales, possibly combining Ynys Môn with Bangor would be particularly unfair to some mainland parts of Wales, which have distinct identities. I support the amendment: Ynys Môn is a distinct part of Wales, with a unique culture and identity, and has a perfect case to be a protected constituency.

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. In fact, my argument stands because only now has the Conservative party changed its opinion—again, I leave him to come up with the reason why.

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill Debate

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Parliamentary Constituencies Bill

Chris Clarkson Excerpts
Report stage & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons
Tuesday 14th July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 14 July 2020 - (14 Jul 2020)
Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Order. I am sure colleagues can see that there is a lot of time pressure in this debate. I urge Members to stick to a maximum of six minutes, rather than having me impose a time limit at this stage. If Members can do that, we will see how we get on.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
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First, I thank the Minister and her team for their hard work on this Bill. There are a select few of us in this House who can get excited about boundary reviews, and most of us are here today, and I thank her for indulging my psephological exuberance throughout.

I will speak about the merits of the Bill before turning to the amendments. At its heart, the Bill is about fairness; it is about recognising that everybody in this country should have an equal voice in our democratic process. Fundamentally, it is about saying that no one person’s vote should count more than another’s. There will be some in this Chamber who believe that that is the case already, and no doubt we will hear a series of eloquent speeches about that to one effect or another, but the crux of the matter is that there are some parts of the United Kingdom where just 56,000 people can send the same number of representatives as 100,000 in another.

Before this is hand-waved by Opposition Members as a ploy to make the electoral geography somehow better for one party or another, we need to understand the basic principle of electoral equality. This idea is not new; it was not cooked up in some trendy centre-right think-tank over on Millbank the other day. It started with the Chartists back in 1838, who, in the “People’s Charter”, called for this measure to be introduced as an essential cornerstone of our democracy.

As I mentioned in the Bill Committee, we do not need to look far for extreme examples of disparity. Greater Manchester, where I am an MP, has 27 MPs whose electorates range from 63,000 to 95,000. How can that be fair or right? My own seat, Heywood and Middleton, is around 111% of the electoral quota. Why should my constituents’ voices count for less than those of voters in Wirral West or Preston?

The issue is not just about apportionment within regions or counties, however—far from it. Using the December 2019 figures, we arrive at an electoral quota—the number of voters per seat—of about 72,431. That should be the average size of every seat in every region, but it is not. In Wales, it is a shade over 57,900; in the south-east, excluding the Isle of Wight, it is nearly 78,500. As a tenet of fundamental fairness, we simply cannot turn a blind eye to such disparity.

I accept that, historically, there are good reasons for that malapportionment—to ensure that the four nations of our Union could all have a voice in this place—but Scotland now has a Parliament that is the most powerful devolved legislature anywhere in the world, Wales has the Senedd and Northern Ireland has its Assembly. Outside London, there is a patchwork of uneven devolution settlements in certain counties and metropolitan areas, none of which comes close to those devolved legislatures.

David Linden Portrait David Linden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is an argument I considered perhaps in response to the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson). What the hon. Gentleman is missing here, of course, is the fact that we have English votes for English laws in this House under Standing Order No. 83W. English votes for English laws rather negates the idea that the imbalance in terms of devolution can be worked out under the Bill.

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Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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The hon. Gentleman makes an eloquent point, but I disagree with him fundamentally. At the end of the day, there is no devolved legislature for England. This is a temporary fix that could be addressed by introducing a level of electoral fairness. I am more than happy to have a discussion about constitutional reform with anybody, but that is not what this debate is about. I am a Unionist to the tips of my toes, but I do not think that the Union will be reinforced by giving unfair or special treatment to one country at the expense of another.

Turning to some of the new clauses and amendments that have been tabled, new clause 1 seeks to change the variants of the electoral quota to 7.5%. That is, in effect, 15% between the smallest seat and the largest. In practice, that is a difference of about 10,860 voters, give or take. The argument put forward in Committee was that it would lessen the disruption needed to bring 650 seats into quota. Of course, that entirely ignores the fact that there will be a high level of disruption regardless. By its very nature, correcting 20-year-old boundaries and ensuring a fair distribution of seats in every nation and in every region will result in some disruption. I demonstrated that in Committee by pointing out that of the 10 Conservative seats represented, just one would have remained unchanged with a 7.5% variance. In fact, so many electorates have now deviated from the mean, it seems improbable that there will be minimal change.

The other argument put forward was that a 7.5% variance would avoid splitting communities or needing unusual combinations of wards from multiple authorities. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke)—sadly, he cannot be with us today and has expressed his disappointment at not being able to—quite sensibly put it, that could be addressed by splitting wards. The Boundary Commissions for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already do that. The Boundary Commission can do that in England, but it prefers not to for the sake of ease. This should not be about doing what is easiest, but what is best.

James Grundy Portrait James Grundy (Leigh) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my hon. Friend agree that the solution Labour proposes in new clause 1 is somewhat crude and inelegant? It does not properly address the concerns many Members have regarding the creation of coherent constituencies and it undermines the core principle of carrying out a boundary review—equalising electorates. Does he furthermore agree that a better model is the extant one used by the Boundary Commission for Scotland, which splits wards into their component communities where necessary to create coherent constituencies, rather than ones that merely meet the narrow requirement of electoral quotas?

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, which is, as always, well-considered and eloquent. I completely agree with him. The Boundary Commission for Scotland has already demonstrated that it is perfectly capable of splitting wards using postcode data. There is nothing in the legislation that prevents the Boundary Commission from doing that; it is simply a choice not to act, and that cannot be a good enough foundation.

Andrew Rosindell Portrait Andrew Rosindell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I totally agree with what my hon. Friend is saying. The absurdity of entire wards making constituencies that divide communities, particularly in places such as Greater London, where we have huge wards in my constituency of 10,000 or 12,000, means that changing that involves massive upheavals and breaking up communities, so he is absolutely right that the Boundary Commission must be more flexible on this point.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
- Hansard - -

Certainly, in some of the larger metropolitan boroughs, there is what I call the martini paradox, where three wards is not quite enough and four is too many.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)
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I am listening to the hon. Gentleman’s speech with great interest. I wonder if he agrees with me, as an advocate for democracy, that we should have automatic voter registration. That would genuinely ensure that everybody gets an equal voice.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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If the hon. Lady will bear with me, I will come to that point when I address new clause 3.

I do not support new clause 1; I think that it is intended to undermine the concept of electoral equality and that it would cause further exponential disruption in future reviews as seats get further and further away from the mean, exacerbated by the large deviation permitted

New clause 2 is unconscionable. Setting a minimum quota for each nation would ultimately lead to one of two outcomes: either the malapportionment that we currently have, whereby some votes count for nearly twice as much as others, or the situation that developed in Canada, which has minimum quotas for areas and where rafts of new seats had to be added to Parliament to ensure some level of electoral equality. Under that approach, if Wales were to maintain its 40 seats, Greater Manchester alone would have almost as many MPs and the south-east would have well over 100. When we have one eye on the overpopulation of the other place, it strikes me as frankly bizarre that our nationalist friends should seek to pack this one, too.

David Linden Portrait David Linden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman knows that I have a lot of time for him, but he will recognise that the rule in the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 was introduced under the Government of Margaret Thatcher. The number of seats in Scotland was then amended from 73 to 59, in recognition of devolution. It is a well- established process that the devolved nations have that protected constituency; indeed, it was a Tory Government who put it in place.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman knows that I have a lot of time for him, too. I am not here to blindly say that I agree with everything that my party has ever done; I think that using an electoral quota is a much fairer way of doing it.

As I say, it strikes me as frankly bizarre that when we are concerned about the overpopulation of the other place, we should be trying to pack this place out. The hon. Gentleman played an extremely constructive role on the Bill Committee, with some very sensible proposals —he is one of us! [Interruption.] I mean an electoral geek, obviously. It is just a shame that his new clause 2 does not follow that lead, so I will give it “D minus —must try harder.”

Let me move on to new clause 3, which I think our Liberal Democrat friends might find a bit disappointing, too. Although on some level I have sympathy with the idea of including those who are not on the electoral register, we have to use the fairest and most consistent data available to us, which is the electoral register. If some people choose not to be on it, that is their choice. Similarly, some people will not qualify, and it is unfair to try to guess who those people might be. In either case, I do not think that adding additional people to the register will improve any electoral chances.

Lastly, I turn to the concept of automaticity, which is covered by amendment 1. I hardly need—

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
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Shall I wind up, Madam Deputy Speaker?

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
- Hansard - -

Okay. Somebody else can deal with automaticity.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are not really doing very well so far, are we? We will have another go at trying to stick to six minutes. John Spellar, I am sure, will do that.

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Chloe Smith Portrait Chloe Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I absolutely agree on that, and it allows me to do something rarely allowed to a Minister in such proceedings, which is to pay tribute to one’s own constituency. Let me put on record how wonderful Norwich North is, with its parishes and towns, which in themselves are separate communities. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) made the point about how fiercely such things are argued, even within a constituency.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
- Hansard - -

Will the Minister give way?

Chloe Smith Portrait Chloe Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Not until I have managed to name all the parishes and towns in Norwich North, which are, of course, as anybody will know, the wonderful places of Hellesdon, which goes back to the Domesday Book—shades of my maiden speech coming on here—Old Catton, Sprowston and Thorpe St Andrew, and next to those the historic characteristics of more urban Norwich.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
- Hansard - -

They sound like lovely parishes. I could also mention Norden, Bamford, Castleton, Heywood and Middleton in my constituency, and just have. I wish to pay tribute to everybody who participated in the Bill Committee, because I think we have achieved a robust Bill. Obviously, we will see what their lordships send back to us and no doubt we will have further interesting and exciting psephological exuberance, as I said earlier. I also wish to put on record my thanks to the Clerks, all the House staff and all the Bill Committee members, and, of course, to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for being here tonight. I have to say how disappointed I am not to hear the hon. Member for Strangford speak—

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Don’t go away.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
- Hansard - -

I will not.

Chloe Smith Portrait Chloe Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I close this unusual contribution to the end of a Bill’s proceedings by also noting how wonderful the constituencies are of our Whips, those of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) and—this may take us to the end of the alphabet, although I am subject to challenge—the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. [Interruption.] Oh goodness me, I meant my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes). I have got it wrong and I am going to face retribution for that—there will be letters written about the difference between those places. With that, I think I can now give way to a Whip to conclude tonight’s proceedings.

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill Debate

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Parliamentary Constituencies Bill

Chris Clarkson Excerpts
Consideration of Lords amendments & Ping Pong & Ping Pong: House of Commons
Tuesday 10th November 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Commons Consideration of Lords Amendments as at 10 November 2020 - (10 Nov 2020)
Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not going to put assertions in the mouth of the right hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell—that would not be right for me to do—but the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) has made his point.

Let me turn briefly to Wales, which will lose out in terms of the number of constituencies. We all support the principle of bringing greater equality among constituencies, but the point about Wales is really important. I think the Leader of the House misinterprets the guidance from the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. I have read it and it is clear that departure from the specified point should seldom be 10% and definitely should not be over 15%. We are talking about 7.5%.

Evidence has been heard not only in respect of this Bill—I looked at that—but in previous Committee hearings in the House. For example, in 2014-15 the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee was clear on this issue, as was the evidence from the Boundary Commission for England itself about the difficulties for the boundary commissioners. I put on the record my thanks to all the staff who are involved in what is a very difficult process. They do an excellent job that is not easy—it is extremely complex and complicated—and I praise them for the work that they do.

There are specific issues in relation to Wales and geography, as indeed there are in certain other parts of the UK. It is absolutely right that distinct geographical exemptions are made for Ynys Môn, the Isle of Wight and Na h-Eileanan an Iar—I do not know whether I have pronounced that correctly; my Welsh pronunciation is a lot better than my Gaelic—because of water boundaries and islands, but distinctions also need to be made in relation to, for example, valley boundaries and mountains, which really do split constituencies.

We can end up with some very odd circumstances. We are not saying that the tolerances should be used as a matter course, just that the allowance should be there when it is a common-sense decision for the benefit and integrity of communities. I think of the circumstance in my own constituency in respect of the boundary review that was not put into place: the Cardiff bay barrage was split between three constituencies, thereby splitting apart the docks communities of Cardiff bay that sit together. A person would literally have passed through three communities as they walked along the barrage, which is only about 1 km long. It was absurd. We have to allow the boundary commissioners to take such things into account.

I have made the points that I wanted to make on the Lords amendments, so let me return to what President-elect Biden said:

“Democracy is the root of our society, the wellspring of our power, and the source of our renewal. It strengthens and amplifies our leadership to keep us safe in the world. It is the engine of our ingenuity that drives our economic prosperity.”

Those are words that I completely endorse and that we should have in our minds as we consider these important matters relating to our democracy. I support the position that we are taking on the Lords amendments.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I add my well-wishes to the Minister for the Constitution and Devolution, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith). She was an integral part of the process in the Bill Committee and will be sadly missed during this process, but we look forward to seeing her again soon.

At the beginning of October, the NHS Track and Trace app told me that I had to self-isolate for 12 days. It was inconvenient, yes, but it did mean that on 8 October I was at home, glued to BBC Parliament as their lordships considered the Bill on Report in the other place, my psephological exuberance undiminished—possibly even enhanced—by my isolation.

I shall speak to their lordships’ amendments in turn. Some are predictably partisan and an attempt to achieve what their colleagues were unable to do in this place; others are genuine attempts to improve the workings of the Bill, although I do not believe that they would all actually manage that goal.

As we have heard, Lords amendments 1 and 2 seek to change the proposed cycle of reviews to once every 10 years rather than once every eight. The rationale offered by Lord Foulkes of Cumnock was that this is to enable MPs to

“get to know their constituency”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 October 2020; Vol. 806, c. 714.]

Quite what Lord Foulkes thinks we have been doing in the interim is a mystery to me. I humbly suggest that if a Member has not managed to establish themselves in a constituency after eight years, an extra 24 months will not make much difference. I chuckled when Lord Rennard began his oration in support of that amendment by saying:

“I would like you to imagine the position of a newly elected MP in a general election in 2025.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 October 2020; Vol. 806, c. 714.]

Of course, the noble gentleman would have to imagine, wouldn’t he? He set out a scenario whereby a newly elected MP would have won their seat on one set of boundaries, and just four years later, they would be engaged in a two-year process to reset those boundaries, which would define the seat they contested next time. Lord Rennard made an impassioned entreaty on behalf of these poor, doe-eyed freshman MPs: how would they cope? Well, I am just 11 months into the job and engaging in that very process right now. I can assure our noble friends that my colleagues and I are quite capable of keeping pace without their assistance.

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David Linden Portrait David Linden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the hon. Gentleman therefore regret that the amendment that I tabled in Committee to that very effect was not supported by his own Government?

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
- Hansard - -

I will stand to be corrected by the hon. Gentleman, but was that not a probing amendment, which he withdrew?

David Linden Portrait David Linden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is right, but the Minister said that it was not something that the Government were willing to entertain. The fundamental point is that the Conservative Government do not support that principle.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman can find out my views over a glass of wine once the Smoking Room reopens.

I am afraid that the argument that a wider variance will minimise disruption is entirely specious. We know that regions will differ in the number of seats necessitating significant change across the piece, and I demonstrated in Committee that even if there had been a 15% variance—the maximum allowed under the Venice Commission—my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and I would still have been representing seats outwith the permitted tolerance. Such is the outdated nature of the current constituencies that I was not eligible to vote when the boundaries of my seat were last approved.

That brings me neatly to Lords amendment 8. There is a marvellous American expression: “Decisions are made by the people who show up.” However well-intentioned this amendment might be, I fear that it misses the point. We would all like to see greater participation in our democracy, but the right way to do that is not simply to add everyone’s name to the register. Individual electoral registration was brought in to combat electoral fraud, and I fully support that. I appreciate Opposition Members say that there have only been nine instances of fraud, but that is nine too many.

Alec Shelbrooke Portrait Alec Shelbrooke
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Nine proved.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson
- Hansard - -

Quite right. Someone’s choice to exercise their franchise should be a positive affirmation and a conscious choice. If we want more people to vote, we should be increasing awareness and improving education. Simply adding names to a register will not increase participation and could lead to a form of stealth malapportionment, whereby certain constituencies would appear on paper to have an on-quota electorate, only for the number of people actively voting to be akin to a rotten borough.

Extrapolating, estimating or automatically registering people is not an answer. We know from countries such as Canada—which, by any measure, we must consider a mature democracy and one with which we would like to be compared—that automatic registration has not been effective and there are high levels of dissatisfaction with the accuracy of preliminary lists.

I have no doubt that their lordships have sent us back a Bill that they consider to be improved. Some of them will be drawing on their own experiences as Members of this place, and I must thank them for their time and consideration, while politely disagreeing with all but new clause 2. The Bill will enable a much-needed review of constituencies, some of which are 20 years out of date, and it will do so in a fair and robust way. The next general election should take place on the basis of boundaries that lend equal weight to every voter, and we have the means before us to enable that now.

Andrew Bowie Portrait Andrew Bowie
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson) and his passionate defence of the Government position and opposition to the majority of the Lords amendments. It is also a pleasure to join so many of my colleagues in sending best wishes to one of the most liked Members of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith). We send her our best wishes for a speedy recovery and we cannot wait to see her back at the Dispatch Box. I will not start to compare the performances of Ministers in Her Majesty’s Government, but I am sure that the Leader of the House would agree that she would have given a stellar performance at the Dispatch Box today to which he could only aspire.

What we are trying to do today is based on two fundamental principles, those of fairness and equality. This Government and the Conservative party believe that every vote in this one nation, this United Kingdom, should, as far as is possible, count as much as the next. It is essential if we are to stand here with any semblance of respectability in the eyes of the public that they know that we are here with as much right as the next Member of Parliament, representing, as closely as is possible, the same number of electors as the next person in here. That is the aim of the Bill and it is why we are driving towards a new boundary review.

In Scotland’s case, such a review is nearly 20 years overdue. My beautiful West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine constituency came about as a result of the 2004 boundary review Scotland process. My constituency’s population has increased from 81,000 in 2004 to 97,000 today, with the electorate increasing from about 61,500 to 72,000. Although that places it slap bang in the middle of the range the Bill proposes, it shows the difference between where we are now and where we were 20 years ago and how out of date the current boundary proposals are. The situation in my constituency is nowhere near that of Linlithgow and East Falkirk, which now has 86,000 electors, whereas Glasgow East has about 54,000. [Interruption.] Sorry, I meant Glasgow North, and I apologise deeply to the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden). We can therefore see that this Bill is much-needed.

As I say, the Bill is about equality and fairness. On Lords amendment 7, although the difference between 95% and 97% might not seem much on the face of it, it poses a huge difference in the size of constituencies. We are talking about a 15% tolerance; it would not be just 7.5%, but 7.5% either way, and so the difference would be 15%. That could allow some constituencies to have up to 78,000 electors, which is slightly above where mine is, and others to have as few as 67,000. Surely, any Member of this House would see that as unpalatable and unfair, and something we should combat.

I am going to move on quickly to Lords amendment 8, as I know we have a lot of speakers and we need to get through this. Everybody in this House who is involved in the democratic process, at whatever level, wants to see higher turnouts in elections and more engagement in the political process, but it is also a right of any citizen in this country to choose not to take part in the political process. Although the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar) might have been right to say that it is an offence for someone not to return an electoral registration form if they have been sent one, it is not an offence not to volunteer to go on to the electoral register. It is up to us all to encourage people across this country to get involved, to register, to vote or to join a political party, but it is surely not incumbent on this Government or any Government—in fact, I think that it would be a rather dangerous path to go down—to insist that every single citizen in this country is automatically put on the electoral roll. I think that would be dangerous and damaging, and as I have said, it is a fundamental principle that people get to choose whether or not they engage.

I will finish where I began. This is about fairness and about equality. This Government are determined to make sure that every voter in this country counts for the same as the next one, and that is why I oppose the Lords amendments, with the exception of Lords amendment 2. I support the Government’s position in trying to get this Bill through as quickly as possible. It is a simple and necessary Bill, and one that is very much overdue.