By Cornish Stuff Editor, Milo Perrin
Friday is a quiet day in Parliament – traditionally most MPs go back to their constituencies on Friday – but the House is still open and it is a time for obscure back bench bills and opposition debates.
One such bill is Afzal Khan’s Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill, it had it’s second reading in the house yesterday. The MP represents Manchester Gordon for Labour. 99% of these bills go nowhere and don’t get put into law but they are a useful way of MPs expressing their opinions or letting the government know which way they would vote if it mattered.
What’s this got to do with us? Well, it might stop Devonwall. Mr Khan’s amendment seeks to change the maths of how the constituencies are worked out and also to use more up to date population figures that he says will bring two million more people into the sums.
A similar Private Member’s Bill was introduced last year by Pat Glass. The Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill 2016-17 had its Second Reading on 18 November 2016 but made no further progress. This was when Steve Double made his anti Devonwall speech where he memorably said “I’m a Cornishman first and a Conservative second”.*
Mr Khan said in an article for Huffington Post that explained his amendment “Constituency boundaries may seem a technical issue, but they are essential to the public’s ability to hold Members of Parliament to account. They should reflect communities and stay stable over time, so that residents with common issues and existing ties can be properly represented in Parliament.
I have no self-interest here. Under the current boundary proposals, my constituency would stay exactly the same. I simply believe it is what is best for our country.
My bill is simple, it has four clauses which do five things. It retains the number of MPs at 650; reviews the boundaries every ten years; ensures that all constituencies have the same number of voters within a margin of 7.5%; makes sure the 2 million people who registered to vote since 2015 are included in the boundary review”
Yesterday, and good news for Cornish campaigners, the government chose not to vote against this latest amendment. This signifies that the government are not going to spend any energy pushing through the suggested boundary changes as they are. In fact three Conservative MPs were there to vote in favour of it, which heaps yet more pressure on the government to abandon the whole boundary review process in this Parliament. They don’t have the time to spare because of Brexit legislation and there’s enough opposition now in the Tory backbenches for them not to bother pushing it through. The government’s slim majority reminds them that in politics, you have to choose what hill to die on. The growing backbench opposition may help Cornwall’s Conservatives to have the courage to publicly join them.
The Cornish MPs were not there, except for George Eustice. That may annoy you initially but although it would have been useful for one of them to make Cornwall’s case, don’t lose sleep over it. Of our six, Sarah Newton and George Eustice are junior ministers and therefore part of the government and so would not vote against the government’s wishes. If they did, they’d be expected to resign. Anyway, the government chose not to oppose this amendment, and therefore the rest of our MPs were free to leave. If it ever comes to a proper vote is when it matters. Steve Double has already made it plain he will vote in Parliament to stop Devonwall.
This amendment is now sent to committee stage but like Pat Glass’ amendment last year it probably won’t even get there. If it did, it would really help if one of Cornwall’s MPs got on that committee and made Cornwall’s case.
If a boundary review is done every 10 years then Devonwall will rear again whenever the maths doesn’t work to stop the cross border constituency. The Boundary Commission splits the UK into separate countries and regions to work out it’s boundaries, so it’s not simply a case of dividing the UK by the number of MPs (600 or 650). The 600 constituencies proposed in the boundary review are divided into regions and the maths of the boundaries is worked out from there. So as long as Cornwall is lumped in with the Boundary Commission’s ‘south west’ region, Devonwall will inevitably crop up again at some point.
Cornish campaigners against Devonwall are calling for an amendment to make Cornwall a special case once and for all, based on Cornwall’s national minority status.
Very pleased my bill has passed its Second Reading. Interesting the government chose not to vote against it. https://t.co/JFm3ZMJbwf
— Afzal Khan MP (@Afzal4Gorton) December 1, 2017
The 1986 Act that Afzal Khan is trying to amend provides the legislative basis for the periodical reviews of Parliamentary constituencies. The 1986 Act was amended by the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 to introduce the current Rules for Redistribution of seats. When that redistribution was done, they came up with the cross border seat of Devonwall that has received massive, overwhelming and cross-party objection from Cornwall. The Boundary Commission received a record amount of representations rejecting their plans from all manner of Cornish institutions and individuals.
Just last week Cornwall Council unanimously passed yet another motion to send their strongest opposition to creating a constituency that straddles the River Tamar, the 1000 year old border between Cornwall and England. These days, it’s important that Cornwall’s voice is represented as one in London and the opposition to Devonwall from Cornwall Council, the LEP, the Chamber of Commerce, etc focuses on the dilution of Cornwall’s representation in Parliament, a loss of voice, if the Boundary Commission continue on their current path.
Yesterday’s amendment seeks to change that direction. it’s not that Cornwall was on anyone’s mind when this amendment was put forward but by accident it could stop Devonwall.
How so? The original Devonwall law seeks to make every MP in the country represent the same amount of people. The amount this can vary was set at 5%. That put Cornwall just outside the parameters – literally by approx two thousand people – to have six MPs to ourselves. This latest amendment makes provision to change the 5% rule to allow for a 7.5% deviation from the quota. The Boundary Commission have ignored anything to do with ancient boundaries, national minority statuses or anything else like that, but this would make the maths work for Cornwall.
Dick Cole, Leader of Cornish nationalists Mebyon Kernow reacted to yesterday’s parliamentary proceedings,
“(This amendment) specifies that the number of UK constituencies should 650 and that “the electorate of any constituency in Great Britain shall be (a) no less than 92.5% of the Great Britain electoral quota, and (b) no more than 107.5% of that quota.
If this amendment makes it into legislation it will end the present Boundary Review that is seeking to reduce the number of MPs to 600 and would create an unpopular cross-Tamar parliamentary constituency.
Today’s division was 229 votes in favour of the Bill and 44 against.
Three Conservatives voted with the opposition and in favour of the amendment. Only one of Cornwall’s six Tory MPs took part in the vote, with George Eustice voting against.
It is very disappointing that he and his colleagues did not use the opportunity to vote against Devonwall”
*Cornish Stuff’s first ever article!!