Parliamentary Constituencies Bill: New Clause 1 - Electorate per constituency

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and a very happy Black Country Day to you today. As a proud Black Country man it has been an honour to represent communities in Dudley South for the past five years. I hope to have the opportunity to do so for a number of years to come. Like many other constituencies in this country, the boundaries on which I was elected were last fundamentally altered ahead of the 1997 general election, based on electorates from the early 1990s. We are literally a generation out of date on the boundaries on which many of the constituencies in the west midlands were drawn up.

Like Members on both sides of the House, I am enormously fond of all parts of my constituency. I love every last ward and polling district of it. It would be a real wrench if any of it were to be taken out of Dudley South, but we also have to recognise that, like many of the Black Country constituencies, the current size of the constituency is under the quota whether it is based on 600 or 650. Many constituencies in the Black Country will need to take in additional areas and, of course, some will be divided between constituencies. I am as likely to find myself without a constituency to represent as any other Member of Parliament, but when we are considering fundamental constitutional reform such as this one it is not about whether I have a constituency to represent. This is not about me. This is about the wider electoral system. It must be a fundamental premise of our electoral system that constituencies have to be as close to the same size as is possible.

One of the very few upsides of this horrific outbreak and lockdown has been the opportunity to spend a little more time helping my children with their schoolwork at home. My daughter is in year 7 and she is studying the people’s charter of 1838—it was referred to by my hon. Friend for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson)—which includes the campaign for constituencies based on equal numbers of electors. Many Opposition Members —and possibly even some Government Members—consider themselves the natural heirs of 19th century radicals, but instead of picking up the torch of William Lovett and Feargus O’Connor, it seems they are choosing to put themselves on the side of those arguing for representation on the basis of acres of land and for the geographic extent of a constituency to somehow override the priority of equalising the number of electors represented within. That cannot be the right way. It was not the right way in the 19th century and it is certainly not the right way in a 21st century democracy.

There is a better way, one that has been referred to by my hon. Friend
the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell); we can make sure that equal-sized constituencies can be drawn up that properly represent local constituencies if the boundary commissions are encouraged to look more favourably at dividing wards across constituencies where the alternative would be unnatural constituencies or dividing communities. That was done in the west midlands during the last review and it is one reason why the proposals by
the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar)—he is not in his place—for a Halesowen and Selly Oak constituency, for Sutton Coldfield to be divided and for various other strange things in the initial recommendations were not in the final recommendations. It was precisely because in only three wards across the whole of the west midlands are they able to divide across natural boundaries within those wards, which are amalgamations of wards, and therefore have more natural boundaries across the constituency.

Let me briefly touch on the issue of automatic implementation. The right hon. Gentleman said that, as Parliament, we instruct these independent bodies to go out and draw up rules, and therefore we should be able to decide whether to implement them and whether they are the right decisions. But we also instructed the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to draw up parliamentary pay and conditions. In the not-too-distant future, it will look as strange to people that we think we should draw the constituency boundaries on which we are elected—