All 1 Lucy Allan contributions to the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill 2017-19

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Fri 1st Dec 2017

Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill Debate

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Lucy Allan

Main Page: Lucy Allan (Independent - Telford)

Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill

Lucy Allan Excerpts
2nd reading: House of Commons
Friday 1st December 2017

(6 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con)
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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this very important debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) on being the promoter of a Bill on such an important issue, and on his excellent and passionate speech setting out some of the arguments that need a light shone upon them. There is much to be commended in the Bill, which highlights some of the weaknesses in the process being undertaken by the Boundary Commission. I believe that process is flawed.

All hon. Members are clear that this is about communities, people and, in essence, democracy. I suspect we all agree on the democratic principle of equal representation and that every vote should be worth the same. I care very much about this principle; it is why I am here today. The objective should be for all constituencies to be an equal size. The second objective from both the Government and the Boundary Commission is to cut costs. Understandably, people would like to see fewer Members and far fewer Members of the other place. Parliament can be seen as an inefficient bureaucracy. The machinery can be hugely impenetrable. Not including MPs and our staff, some 2,000 people are employed by the House of Commons. It sometimes looks like a very expensive way to do democracy.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con)
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We have a responsibility to reduce the cost of politics. If it is not in our powers to control the costs of the other place, we should still seek to reduce the cost of this place.

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think we all agree that the cost of politics should be reduced, and there are ways in which we can do that, but as Members of this place democracy is the first principle we are duty-bound to uphold.

The proposals do not achieve the objectives that both the Government and the Boundary Commission intended to achieve through the original legislation. The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton made a very interesting point about Crawley and I would like to speak to the Bill from the perspective of representing a new town with a rapidly growing population. What is happening in my constituency shows up the flaws in the proposals. Populations across the country will grow and shrink at very different rates, and we have to take into account of demographics and geography. Telford is an ex-mining town with a rural hinterland. Set in the heart of rural Shropshire, it is an excellent example of a new town. Its rapid growth is very easily predicted, because we are building new homes and people are moving to Telford all the time.

One key point that I know other Members will be raising is voter exclusion. In addition to people coming to new towns with a growing population, there have been two very significant events in our recent electoral history: the EU referendum in 2016 and, although I regret to say it, young people going wild for the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) in 2017. Young people signed up to vote for the first time and people in my constituency, who had never voted and never been registered before, signed up to vote for Brexit in 2016. We cannot ignore those new voters.

Ian Murray Portrait Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab)
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The hon. Lady is making an incredibly important point. The population of Edinburgh is exploding, but the number of constituencies is going down. That surely means that the boundary changes are making this place less representative, rather than more.

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan
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The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point.

Many Members represent constituencies with a high level of unregistered voters, but the Boundary Commission is not prepared to take them into consideration. Very often, those in most need of representation are not registered to vote. I normally have my constituency surgeries on a Friday—I feel passionately that I should be here today to represent my constituents’ interests—and my time in surgery will, very often, be devoted to those who are not registered to vote. No one is suggesting that we, as elected representatives, should ignore their voice. No one is suggesting that we should not allow them to come to our surgeries. It is a fundamental principle that they are included in the whole process. These people count, we represent them, and we have an absolute duty to make sure they are considered.

For all the consultation, no changes have been made in my constituency—or in many others—to reflect the points that have been raised. There needs to be more flexibility and discretion if the reforms are to achieve their objective. I would support the Government if their objectives were to be achieved through this process. We need a process that has integrity and can be relied on to achieve what we all hope for in terms of democracy.

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
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Does the hon. Lady not agree that it is better to represent a large constituency in a single unitary authority area, rather than trying to represent a smaller constituency, as set out in the Boundary Commission proposals, that straddles two borough areas with double the number of borough chief executives, clinical commissioning groups, police and—

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Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan
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The hon. Lady makes a very important point. That is just one of the flaws with the current process that needs to be addressed.

As the chair of the all-party group on new towns, I want to talk about rapidly growing towns. Indeed, the process needs to recognise the changing demographics right across the country. Telford is surrounded by a band of leafy and affluent rural Conservative constituencies in rural Shropshire where the population is shrinking. They have an elderly population and young people go away to the big cities to work. We can see that those constituencies will shrink in size, whereas my constituency is growing rapidly. The Boundary Commission proposes that Telford should receive an extra 20,000 constituents of voting age, even though we are already, if we count all the voting-age population, right in the middle of the thresholds imposed by the current process. That makes a real mockery of it.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)
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Local boundary commissions are allowed to take into account predictions of population growth and census data. Does the hon. Lady agree that it would be important to allow that for parliamentary boundary commissions?

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan
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The hon. Gentleman is right. There needs to be some discretion and flexibility to take account of local anomalies and issues, in particular those he raises.

I have a great deal of sympathy for Opposition Members, because I serve a population with pockets of significant deprivation. People come to see me when they have nowhere else to go. My weekly surgeries are full, despite best efforts to resolve problems over the phone, of people dealing with issues relating to benefits, debt and eviction. They have complex lives, tussles with the council and problems with their housing. Most are not registered to vote. The Boundary Commission, however, is not much interested in any of that—the fact that they are not registered does not count. I know that the Government and the Boundary Commission would not suggest that these people should be excluded by their representatives, so they should be included in this process.

The Boundary Commission wants to add another 20,000 people of voting age to my Telford constituency. That would make it a super-sized constituency that significantly exceeded the parameters, when all along the objective has been to create constituencies of equal size. If we will not achieve that, why is the process going ahead? Fewer people will get to see their MP. We could, perhaps, employ extra trained case workers, but that would be no different from going to the citizens advice bureau. It is not the same. The people we represent want to have a connection with us and I want to be able to deliver that form of representation.

In 1992, it was necessary to divide Milton Keynes into two constituencies. That will need to happen in Telford in the not too distant future. Instead of recognising that, however, we are adding to the number of Telford’s voters because, as of December 2015, we did not have the sufficient number of registered voters. That was an arbitrary date and a long time ago. Indeed, in electoral and political history, 2015 was a very long time ago. We have to stop and have a little look at this, so we can make a success of ensuring that all constituencies are properly represented.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)
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Does my hon. Friend agree that the rapid growth of new towns makes it logical to have more regular reviews, every five years rather than every 10 years?

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan
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That is an interesting point. We are not taking into account the number of people who are coming to new towns such as my constituency, or, indeed, the number of people who will move into the houses that are being built and have almost been completed.

In my view, the so-called public consultation has been no such thing. The Boundary Commission is simply taking submissions from political parties that have gathered a great deal of local support and, in some cases, not so local support. They are lobbying for an outcome that supports the political objectives that benefit them. My constituency is a case in point. The situation is farcical: all the people who are sending submissions are politically connected, and they all want the constituency to grow significantly when it could stay as it is and be within the threshold. I cannot believe that any genuine members of the public would want to share their MP with a larger number of people.

Given that there will not be another general election until 2022, the Government have an opportunity to consider carefully whether to take this proposal off the table, go back to the drawing board and get it right for the future. Why wait until October 2018, find that the House does not want the proposals to go ahead, and then start thinking about how to correct the process? We need to update the position and redraw boundaries at some point, but we must get it right, and I think that, for all sorts of reasons, we have an opportunity to do that now.

I commend the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, and also the former Member of Parliament for North West Durham, who presented the same Bill for the same reasons last year. There is a lack of flexibility and a failure to recognise that MPs must care for all constituents, registered or not. We must give a voice to all our constituents, be they in affluent Tory shires or urban areas.