My colleague Afzal Khan's Constituency Boundary Bill was debated in the House. It sought to keep the number of MPs at 650 and allows a 7.5% variation in electorate of any constituency instead of the current 5% variation. I spoke in the debate in favour of the Bill and about the impact the current review is having on Aberavon.
You can read my speech below:
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) and congratulate him on introducing the Bill.
The constituencies created by this methodology are more of a random mishmash of voters than actual constituencies. My own constituency of Aberavon has certainly been a victim of this arbitrary and poorly designed gerrymander. Initially, the boundary review proposals brutally cut in two the town at the heart of my constituency, Port Talbot. The high street was cut off from the main shopping centre and the steelworks was cut off from Sandfields, the housing estate built for its workers.
Fortunately, the Boundary Commission for Wales saw sense and reunited the communities in its revised proposals. Unfortunately, the upshot was that the Afan valley and its communities of Bryn, Cwmavon, Cymmer, Glyncorrwg and Gwynfi were separated from Port Talbot and put in the neighbouring constituency of Neath. For anyone who knows the reality of life in our part of the world, this is a clear example of cobbling together a mishmash of voters instead of building on natural communities with shared interests.
As unacceptable as the initial proposals were to my constituents, the suggestion that the Afan valley be cut off from the rest of my constituency is equally bizarre and insulting to the culture and heritage of our people. There is a natural affinity between the communities of the Afan valley and Port Talbot. To disregard that would be to ignore the community links, leaving them isolated from their natural home, and lumped into a constituency where they would feel sidelined. The case of Aberavon illustrates why the broader terms of the boundary review are impractical and should be abandoned. Wherever we draw the line on the map, using the existing criteria we carve up communities and force unnatural alliances between very different communities to create a new constituency. Far from being more democratic, it risks alienating millions of people from the democratic process and leaving them without a voice in our political system. Wales, of course, will be particularly hard hit by the review, losing 11 of its 40 MPs, and at a time when the impact of Brexit will probably fall hardest on our part of the world and when the need for the strongest-possible voice in this place could not be greater.
Six hundred is an entirely arbitrary number. Given the House’s increased workload after Brexit, it is absolutely clear that the number of MPs should remain at 650. MPs should represent broadly equal numbers of voters, but this should not come at the expense of local community cohesion. Greater flexibility is needed, therefore, in the review process to allow for constituencies to be more equal in size and for the disparity in size between some of the smallest and some of the biggest constituencies to be reduced. This process must, however, above all recognise the need for local community cohesion and representation and recognise the ties that bind our people and the importance of the link between our people and our MPs. That should be the driving purpose of the review, as opposed to the bare-faced gerrymander the Government are attempting to force through.