A few people have contacted me about the so called “Devonwall” Parliamentary constituency. There has been some party political campaigning around the proposed changes of Parliamentary constituency boundaries, so I am very pleased to have this opportunity of addressing the concerns raised with me.
Firstly, I will clarify the current situation. Constituency boundaries are kept under review to ensure that MPs represent roughly the same number of constituents at Westminster. The reviews are carried out by the Boundary Commissions for England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. These are independent bodies that propose constituencies that must meet the Rules for Redistribution set out in statute. These Rules were changed in 2013 to include the requirement that the House of Commons has 600 seats; and the requirement that all these constituencies (with the exception of four island seats) have electorates within 5% of the electoral quota. This is the total number of voters in the UK divided by the total number of constituencies (with the exception of the four island seats and their electorates).
In 2011 The Parliamentary Election and Constituencies Bill was debated and voted upon. It sought to enable the next general election to be fought under the Alternative Vote system, provided the change was endorsed in a referendum on 5 May 2011 and boundary changes made to reduce the size of the House of Commons to 600. New rules for the redistribution of seats were designed to give primacy to numerical equality in constituencies and regular redistributions would take place every five years.
Understanding that one of the implications of this Bill would be the possibility of an MP representing Cornwall and part of Devon, all Cornwall’s MPs made the case for Cornwall be treated as a special case. We moved an amendment to the legislation but sadly were defeated. Unfortunately, we simply didn’t have enough support in Parliament to “keep Cornwall whole”.
Subsequently, the legislation went through both Houses of Parliament and the Bill became an Act of Parliament. The Boundary Commission are currently implementing the Act. That is a public consultation on the proposed boundaries.
After the Commission’s report in 2018, the Secretary of State must lay their reports before Parliament. The Secretary of State must then lay before Parliament a draft Order in Council to give effect to the proposed boundary changes. This Order requires the approval of both Houses of Parliament. This order is not amendable.
Secondly, I will comment on some of the general points raised around this issue. We are very fortunate to live in a democracy where there are a politicians promoting a wide range of views. Cornish nationalists take every opportunity to pick fights with what they call ‘Westminster politicians’ and stir up grievances. The Scottish and Welsh nationalists adopt a similar strategy, trying to undermine politicians like myself who are not only very proud of our deep Cornish roots but also support the Union.
From what I understand, the basic assertion of the Cornish nationalists is that Cornwall is a separate nation like Wales and Scotland and should be treated as such. While I agree that the Duchy has a unique status within the United Kingdom, I accept that Cornwall is currently part of England and in turn the Union.
I think being part of the Union matters. It matters for the economic stability and jobs that our partnership brings. It matters for the defence and security of our country. It matters because of the common bonds we share right across this United Kingdom. And it matters perhaps even more so now that we are leaving the European Union. I don’t agree with the Scottish, Welsh or Cornish nationalists that want each nation to become independent and break up the Union. I think it is important to build bridges, focussing on what unites us rather than what divides us.
There is an assertion that by having one MP represent Cornwall and part of Devon, that Cornwall is in some way diminished or weakened. I don’t accept this assertion. Cornwall remains Cornwall. It’s worth noting that Cornwall’s bishop Tim, a member of the House of Lords, represents Cornwall and some parishes in Devon. This recognises the fact that the border between Cornwall & Devon has moved over time.
It is also worth noting that one Cornish MP, Derek Thomas, represents not only Cornwall but also the Isles of Scilly. As you know the Isles of Scilly are not part of Cornwall. This proves to me that it is possible for one MP to represent two distinct areas.
Also, I expect that when the next boundary review is undertaken, the population of Cornwall will have grown and we should have enough people eligible to vote, if all those eligible to vote actually register, to prevent the current situation.
I am very proud of my deep Cornish roots and am proud that along with my fellow Cornish MPs we have delivered significant investment into Cornwall, including the Cornish language, heritage and culture over that last few years. I am confident that we will continue to see investments in years to come too.
Cornwall Council is the first non city council to have signed a devolution deal with the Government that is enabling many more decisions to be made in Cornwall rather than Westminster. I am a keen supporter of this devolution, although I am very disappointed with the leadership of Cornwall Council’s attitude to most parish councils and hope that following elections in May 2017, the new Cornwall Council will deliver a ‘double devolution’ to people and communities in Cornwall.
As you will be aware, building on the foundations laid when John Major was Prime Minister, the last Prime Minister helped enable the Council of Europe recognition of Cornish Minority Status. This special status has of course been taken into consideration by the Boundary Commission.
There have been some comments about the motivation of Cornish MPs when deciding how to vote in Westminster. I can assure you that how I decide to vote is based on three principles; firstly what I think it is in the best interests of my constituents; secondly delivering the manifesto commitments I was elected to do and finally what is morally right. Our manifesto in 2015 was clear about implementing the Act. During the General Election campaign when asked about this issue, I made my position totally clear. I said I would vote to implement the Boundary Commission changes. I believe that voters voices having equal value is a cornerstone of our democracy.
While I wish we were not in this position, and tried to prevent it from happening, I firmly believe that being your elected representative is about doing the right thing, even if it is not popular.