Below is the text of the speech made by Ruth Jones, the Labour MP for Newport West, in the House of Commons on 2 June 2020.
I think I win the prize for patience this evening. Many of my points have already been made, but I make no apology for reiterating them because this Bill will have an important impact on all of us in this House.
The onset of the covid-19 pandemic and its continued impacts in Newport West and across the United Kingdom —indeed, across our whole world—has shown now more than ever that strong and constructive scrutiny of the Government is vital. That is how we must approach this Bill, and this debate, as it works its way through the House. As such, I am pleased that the Government’s plans to cut the number of MPs has been scrapped, because this is not the time to engage in less democracy. As we leave the EU, it is even more vital that the increased workload of MPs is reflected in the make-up of our national Parliament and the design of its constituencies.
I am concerned about the removal of parliamentary approval and scrutiny from the process. Under the current rules, Parliament has the ultimate authority to accept or deny boundary changes. The draft boundaries order must be agreed by both Houses of Parliament before being approved by Her Majesty at a meeting of the Privy Council. However, the measures contained in the new Bill will remove Parliament from the process, which means that Parliament will no longer be required to approve the draft order before it is made by Her Majesty at the meeting of the Privy Council. We all remember what happened the last time the Government attempted to bypass Parliament as they sought to illegally prorogue Parliament, and this is not a good way to go.
Another key part of the Bill is the fact that the review will be based on the number of registered voters on 30 December 2020. This means that the size of the electorate on 30 December 2020 will be used throughout the new boundary review as the officially recognised size of the current electorate. We know the pressures that will be triggered by Brexit and covid-19, and we know about the uncertain housing situation at the moment. This risks the data on which these major changes will be based being flawed and incomplete. We all remember what we were doing in December 2019 and can testify to the obvious fact that a general election acts as a major driver of registering to vote. As has already been said, we see huge spikes in voter registration during national elections and during local elections, too. We now know that there will be no election between today and 1 December 2020, so we will lose that ability to ensure that the voter roll accurately reflects those entitled to vote. Let us stick to the December 2019 data.
My final point is that we must take account of geography, not just numbers of voters. Mountains and valleys, rivers and reservoirs make a difference, and I urge the Minister to remember this. I will not be opposing the Second Reading today and I am pleased the Government have made some concessions, but I caution them to take the politics out of this process, and to give the people of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the House of Commons they need and deserve.