Maria Miller – 2020 Speech on the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill

Below is the text of the speech made by Maria Miller, the Conservative MP for Basingstoke, in the House of Commons on 2 June 2020.

I commend the Minister for her powerful speech in presenting the Bill to the House. We all come here with equal power vested in us by our communities, but my voice represents a constituency of 83,000 people, while the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) represents a constituency of 61,000 people. It is difficult for us to explain to our constituents why that inequity is there. I hope that all of us here would agree that that is not right, and that we should have in our democratic system an inherent equity between Members of Parliament in terms of the number of people who are able to vote for them.

I fully support the Government’s move to automaticity, if that is the right word—to bring in boundary changes without Members of Parliament having to get involved. Indeed, the 5% tolerance ensures that equality will be ingrained in the future and moves us away from having to have these debates on a regular basis. We should all just come clean: this is a difficult issue for Members of Parliament. We have an inherent interest in the outcome of boundary reviews, which makes it difficult. My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) made the point incredibly well. We need to put those decisions outside this place to be made.

One thing that has not been discussed is that new Office for National Statistics data estimates that six new constituencies will be generated in the south-east region of this country. This place needs to give some thought to how those new constituencies should be constructed. Constituencies should have a sense of purpose. They should have a sense of history and a sense of community.​

When my constituency was first part of a boundary review, back in the 1940s, just 13,000 people were living in Basingstoke. There are now 83,000 people living in my constituency, and Basingstoke sprawls across four constituencies. My challenge to the Boundary Commission is simple, and I think the Minister needs to help it with this. Constituencies should not just be numerical constructs; they should be constructed for communities first and foremost, and we should construct them for the future, not simply salami-slice away what has gone before. That is the right thing for us to think about now, because this boundary review will be seismic in some areas of the country, and we need to ensure that we grasp the opportunity.

At the moment, the provisions in schedule 2 of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 are very sparse in terms of the directions they give to the Boundary Commission. They talk notionally about local ties, and those often figure large in the consultations that follow, but is there an opportunity here to give more direction to the Boundary Commission about their importance for constituencies, and about the importance of mid-sized market towns such as Basingstoke, which saw significant boundary changes in 2010? We have done the right thing and built new houses, but we have been rewarded with a fragmentation of our constituency, which is not necessarily healthy for the future.

Why are towns in certain parts of the country split east-west and north-south, and others simply salami-sliced away? We need a better approach to constructing our constituencies for the future.