Here’s my correspondence with my MP about the devonwall constituency. It would be interesting to see examples of replies other people have had from our other Conservative MPs on this issue.
Letter of October 20th to George Eustice MP
Dear George Eustice,
I’m writing to you in relation to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill of 2011. As a result of this legislation, and in pursuit of the aim of relatively equally-sized constituencies, a cross-border Bideford, Bude and Launceston constituency is being proposed by the Boundary Commission. This will combine 43% of its electors from Cornwall with 57% from Devon. As you are no doubt aware, this has caused bemusement, dismay, anger and even outrage across Cornwall. For the first time since the Commons was elected in the 13th century, a constituency will straddle the administrative border of Cornwall.
Attempts by parliamentarians to amend this legislation in both Commons and Lords in order to exclude Cornwall from its provisions unfortunately failed. This was despite other places – Orkney and Shetland, Na h-Eileanan an Iar and the Isle of Wight – being exempted from its provisions.
Unlike the Scottish island constituencies, which will have electorates after the Act of around 21-22,000 and 33-34,000, or the Isle of Wight (with two constituencies of 52-53,000 each), the people of Cornwall are not asking for greater representation. Indeed, they would be perfectly content with lesser representation in order to maintain the integrity of Cornwall for the purpose of elections to the House of Commons.
On the basis of electorate statistics in December 2015, five Cornish constituencies would average 78,775 electors. This is just 268 voters above the Boundary Commission’s window of 71,031 to 78,507. For the sake of just 1,340 voters the historical integrity of the Cornish border, critical for maintaining and enhancing the sense of place of the Cornish people, is being consigned to history by the arbitrary 5% variation limit in the legislation.
However, since the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act was passed, a completely new context has arisen. In April 2014, the Government ‘fully recognised’ the Cornish as a national minority under the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. At the time the Chief Secretary to the Treasury stated explicitly that this gave the Cornish ‘the same status … as the UK’s other Celtic people [sic], the Scots, Welsh and the Irish’. [https://www.gov.uk/government/news/cornish-granted-minority-status-within-the-uk]
The proposed cross-border constituency rides roughshod over the fundamental guarantee provided by the Government as recently as 2014 that the Cornish would henceforth be treated on an equal basis. The territories of the other four indigenous nations of these islands are being respected in this boundary revision and not breached. It is entirely unjust and illogical therefore not to treat the Cornish in the same manner.
Moreover, the imposition of this constituency will directly and indirectly violate
a) Article 5, paras 1 and 2 of the Framework Convention
as well as
b) Article 15
There are four immediate possibilities therefore.
First, the Government repeals this Act and instead seeks ways to reform democratic processes in the UK in order to bring them up to date with practice in other European states.
Second, the Government recognises the very marginal exception necessary to provide five constituencies for Cornwall, thus respecting its historical boundary, and amends the Act accordingly, following the precedent of the treatment of Orkney and Shetland, Na h-Eileanan an Iar and the Isle of Wight.
Third, the Government redraws Cornwall’s administrative boundary with Devon to include the areas of north west Devon that are proposed to lie within the Bideford, Bude and Launceston constituency, thus bringing the administrative and representational boundaries again into line with each other.
Fourth, the Government changes (or recognises) the constitutional status of Cornwall so that it becomes a Crown Dependency, like the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. This would obviate the need for representation at Westminster.
Which of these options will you be urging on the Government? Or is there an alternative possibility I have not considered?
I note that one of the slogans at the recent Conservative Party conference was ‘A democracy that works for everyone’. For this laudable aim to be translated into reality, more tolerance and sensitivity towards the special case of Cornwall’s border and its significance for Cornish people must be displayed.
I look forward to your response.
Letter of November 7th from George Eustice MP
Dear Dr Deacon,
Thank you for your letter regarding the proposed Boundary Change and your concerns about a cross border constituency.
As you know, all Cornish MPs including myself argued that there should not be a cross border “Devonwall” constituency in the last parliament when this was discussed. We tabled an amendment and tried to get the legislation changed. However, we were unsuccessful in doing so and the final plan to emerge for boundary changes therefore included a cross border constituency in North Cornwall and North Devon.
I will follow this issue but the time to change it was when the original legislation went through four years ago. We tried to do so but were ultimately unsuccessful.
While it would be preferable not to have a cross border constituency, it is not new. Constituency boundaries before 1974 reflected the old county boundary which meant that North Petherwin and Werrington included were in Devon seats on historical maps. The constituency boundaries were realigned with the new county boundary following the Second Periodical Review of constituencies. This was completed in 1969 but not implemented until after the 1970 General Election, meaning that constituency boundaries took effect in the February 1974 election.
It meant that the Parliamentary constituency of Tavistock that existed from 1955-1974 would have included parts of Cornwall from the time North Petherwin and Werrington were transferred to Cornwall until the constituency boundaries were realigned with the new county boundary in 1974.
Additionally, The European Parliament seat of Cornwall and Plymouth existed from 1979-94 and Cornwall and West Plymouth from 1994-99. In 1999 all constituencies were abolished as the UK moved to the closed list PR system of electing regional Members.
Before the current regional list system the UK was divided into large European Parliament constituencies. In England these were constructed by combining UK Parliamentary constituencies into larger EP constituencies. The Boundary Commission for England was constrained by the number of seats allowed – 66. It was also constrained by the legislation – the European Assembly Elections Act 1978 – which stipulated that EP constituencies should comprise two or more Parliamentary constituencies and should be as close to the electoral quota (the English electorate divided by 66).
As I said, it would be preferable not to have a cross border constituency, but there is a precedent for it and I have no doubt that we can make it a success.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Letter of November 10th to George Eustice MP
Dear Mr Eustice,
Thankyou for your reply regarding the above. While you didn’t directly answer the questions I posed at the end, I take it to mean that you favour the establishment of a cross-border Devon/Cornwall constituency and are unprepared to support calls to amend or repeal the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act.
Your arguments for precedent in relation to a cross-border constituency were ingenious but reminded me of someone grasping a little desperately at straws. First, as you say, the transfer of North Petherwin and Werrington was ‘not implemented’ until after the 1970 general election. (To be precise I think it was 1973). So no general election was ever actually held under conditions where a parish or parishes within Cornwall (either pre or post-1973 boundary revision) was part of a majority Devonian constituency.
Second, arrangements for elections to the European Parliament are hardly relevant to UK parliamentary elections, as I’m sure you would agree. Moreover, there is a fundamental difference. In the European elections Cornwall comprised an entire unit, albeit attached to parts of England. In the next Westminster elections the territorial integrity of Cornwall will be compromised and a part of Cornwall hived off for electoral purposes.
Putting precedent, or the lack of it, aside, sadly you appear to have ignored the main thrust of my letter. I’ll repeat it. Since the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act was passed in 2011 the context has completely changed. In 2014 the UK Government ‘fully’ recognised the national minority status of the Cornish under the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Proceeding with the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act as originally passed clearly breaches this Convention, as it does not give the Cornish the ‘same status’ as the Scots, Welsh or (northern) Irish, as was explicitly promised by the Government in 2014.
I assume you’re saying that signing the Framework Convention was a completely meaningless exercise. Is the Government therefore intending to withdraw from its commitments under that Convention? And if so, when?
There has been no further reply