Debates between Chris Clarkson and Christian Matheson during the 2019 Parliament

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
Thu 25th Jun 2020
Parliamentary Constituencies Bill (Sixth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 6th sitting & Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 23rd Jun 2020
Parliamentary Constituencies bill (Fourth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 4th sitting & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 18th Jun 2020
Parliamentary Constituencies bill (First sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 1st sitting & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill (Eighth sitting)

Debate between Chris Clarkson and Christian Matheson
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 View all Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 30 June 2020 - (30 Jun 2020)
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
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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 between Chris Clarkson and Christian Matheson
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 View all Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 30 June 2020 - (30 Jun 2020)
Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson
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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
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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
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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 (Sixth sitting)

Debate between Chris Clarkson and Christian Matheson
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 View all Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 Debates 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.

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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.

Parliamentary Constituencies bill (Fourth sitting)

Debate between Chris Clarkson and Christian Matheson
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 23rd June 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 View all Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 23 June 2020 - (23 Jun 2020)
Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson
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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.

Parliamentary Constituencies bill (First sitting)

Debate between Chris Clarkson and Christian Matheson
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 18th June 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 View all Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Notices of Amendments as at 16 June 2020 - (17 Jun 2020)
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.