Craig Williams – 2020 Speech on the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill

Below is the text of the speech made by Craig Williams, the Conservative MP for Montgomeryshire, in the House of Commons on 2 June 2020.

I start by outlining my great support for the Government’s position, in terms of increasing the number to 650. My predecessor and many Welsh MPs have been labouring that point ever since the initial policy of reducing the number to 600 came out, and now we are leaving the European Union and the tier of politicians that once were MEPs in this country is being removed, the fact is that we need more Members of Parliament covering devolved areas, in terms of seats.

I have listened to a lot of people contributing to the debate. At the outset, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) and the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) on the points that they made, in particular, about the Union and communities being built up from the bottom. Most of my wards are a lot smaller than their polling districts. That is the nature of local government in Wales, so I certainly appreciate that. The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) was a little unkind to say that Wales needs to retain the 40 seats, given that some constituencies are under 40,000 electors in Wales. Clearly, there needs to be some review, especially given the fact that we now have our own Welsh Parliament. There is no need for constituencies of 40,000; that needs to be addressed within this.

I am in a privileged position, having represented one of the smallest geographical constituencies with the highest electorate, and now representing one of the largest geographical constituencies with the smallest electorate. I will put a steer into the Boundary Commission about Montgomeryshire. It was formed in 1542 by the royal charter of Henry VIII, which gives Montgomeryshire some legs in this Chamber. The point I want to make to Government Front Benchers is about the variance and the geographical challenges, as well as population. Montgomeryshire is, for the initiated farmer, 537,000 acres big. For the uninitiated, that is a large constituency, so it involves a lot of travel. That is a challenge, as are large electorates and populations.

The 5% variance could do with a little kick. I have heard that the norm internationally is 10%; I would push for 7.5%, and I hope we go into that matter in some detail in Committee.

I have alluded to the point made by the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) about the Union. Some thought has to be given to how the Bill interacts with the constituencies of our nation in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland. In Wales, we have two forms of electing Assembly Members—the next time, they will ​be Members of the Senedd—as there are regional and constituency Members. Crossing first-past-the-post constituencies with the regions in Wales will cause even more confusion than currently exists, and I implore the Boundary Commission to look at that.

I will end, Mr Deputy Speaker—I want to allow colleagues to come in and I can see that you will be up on your feet shortly—with a plea about Montgomeryshire and other rural constituencies. This contribution could be considered as the first submission to the Boundary Commission, but we must look at the huge geographical areas, variance and the freedom to protect those communities and constituents who find it hard to relate when Members are travelling for close to two hours. It is easier to attend this Chamber in London than to get to the south of my county council area. To get from the top of Montgomeryshire to the bottom at Brecon and Radnor takes several hours.