The Tory boundary review is a barefaced gerrymander. Ministers must now stop using backstairs manoeuvres to block Afzal Khan’s private members bill, which would re-boot the review and command cross-party support.
Stephen Kinnock: Before addressing the specifics of the motion, let me make a general point. I have no problem at all with the argument that constituencies should be of equal size. My concern relates far more to the fact that the Government are proposing that we reduce the number from 650 to 600, which is a completely arbitrary figure pulled, essentially, out of thin air.
Let us get one thing straight. The Government’s arguments for that reduction are completely spurious. They talk about the cost of politics, but we are already set to lose 73 Members of the European Parliament, which will deprive the public of the representation that they provide; and, of course, they are more than happy to continue stuffing the House of Lords to the brim. The whole process is, in essence, a bare-faced gerrymander.
Susan Elan Jones: Has my hon. Friend observed that there has been absolutely no word from the Government that they intend to cut the number of Ministers? What they are actually doing is proportionately increasing the size of the Executive as well.
Stephen Kinnock: My hon. Friend is clearly psychic, because that is precisely the point that I was about to make. The ratio between Front-Bench and Back-Bench MPs is, in terms of balance, vital to the way in which our democracy works. Back Benchers play a critical role in holding the Government to account. The fewer of them we have, in whichever party happens to be in power, the fewer are able to fulfil their public duty, and that will reduce, critically, the amount of scrutiny that is given to vitally important issues. Arguably the most important issue that our country has faced since the second world war is coming towards us, so the House will have an increased workload, and the role of Back Benchers in holding the Executive to account will become even more important. Workloads will increase for not only for Westminster, but for Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast.
There is also a compelling constituency reason to undermine the argument for reducing the number from 650 to 600. There is real concern about the impact of the reduction on the social and cultural dynamics of each constituency. It is crucial for MPs to represent areas with natural communities and shared interests.
Emma Hardy: I made a point earlier about Hull East and Hull West. There is also a proud fishing tradition among the Hessle Road community in Hull, which goes back for years. The new boundary will divide that community—a community that has existed for hundreds of years. Does my hon. Friend agree that that should be looked at again?
Stephen Kinnock: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Some absurd things are being thrown up by this review. For example, in my constituency the proposal was to have a boundary line which separated the shopping centre from the high street. It is utterly absurd and ludicrous.
The fact is that wherever we draw the line on a map when driven by a rigid mathematical equation we carve up communities, force unnatural alliances and throw communities together in ways that do not make sense and that end up deeply alienating the people we are elected to represent.
Rachel Maclean: The hon. Gentleman is right to identify these critical issues that affect communities all over the country, as Members on both sides of the House have done, but does he not agree that this is precisely why the Boundary Commission is doing its work, during which he and all of us, and members of the public, have had the opportunity to put forward precisely such views, which the commission will consider and then produce proposals?
Stephen Kinnock: The fundamental problem with the logic of the hon. Lady’s argument is that this is about the terms of reference that the commission was given: it was given terms of reference based on 600 and on a very narrow quota of 5%. Based on that, the Boundary Commission had its hands tied and inevitably was going to end up with some of the completely absurd proposals we have seen.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle: Does my hon. Friend also agree with the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the previous Parliament, which said that the changes every five years will mean there is great disruption for communities meaning that they never settle down? It will also cost the Exchequer more because there is a five-year rotation. The Bill’s proposal would change that to 10 years, provide safety and security for communities to build, and save the Exchequer money.
Stephen Kinnock: I agree with my hon. Friend. It provides that stability and continuity and also, given the 7.5% quota, the changes would not be that radical even on a 10-year basis, so it is an incremental change.
Why are the Government ploughing ahead? The bottom line is that the entire boundary review process has been a bare-faced gerrymander, and that is combined with the use of procedural devices and backstairs manoeuvring to block the will of the House. That is further evidence of the Government’s willingness to abuse the power vested in the them. The Procedure Committee’s 2013 report concluded:
“Government policy is not to refuse a money or ways and means resolution to a bill which has passed second reading.”
The view of the Procedure Committee must be paramount in this case.
The Government clearly have no respect for this House or our democracy more widely: first, there was their £1 billion bribe to the Democratic Unionist party and now there is this. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), who unfortunately is not in his place now, is therefore absolutely right to push the Government to do right by our democracy and to bring forward his Bill.
It is essential that 2.1 million new voters are heard. It is essential that my constituents and many of the constituents across this House are fairly and properly represented. And it is essential that this Government are prevented from riding roughshod over our democracy.