Friday, 4 March 2011

The Devonwall Bill – some facts and comment

Over the last week, I have chatted to friends who were under the misapprehension that Cornwall’s Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs had actually voted against the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – the Bill that will lead to a cross-Tamar Devonwall parliamentary seat.

They were shocked when I told them that the MPs had actually voted for the Bill, in the full knowledge that it would breach the territorial integrity of Cornwall.

I thought that it would be a good exercise to actually set out a few basic facts, alongside some biased comments from me.

1. The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill was cobbled together by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, in order to deliver a reduction in the number of MPs (for the Tories) and a referendum on AV (for the Liberal Democrats).

2. MPs and leading lights in both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats supported the Keep Cornwall Whole campaign, which sought to ensure that the Tamar would be protected in any future review of the boundaries of parliamentary seats.

3. Speaking at the Saltash Keep Cornwall Whole Rally in October, Sheryll Murray MP for South East Cornwall (Conservative) told the crowd: “We must fight the destruction of our historic border by the political map … if not successful in the House of Commons, we will take the fight to the House of Lords and if we are not successful there, we will fight to preserve this boundary and we will fight on and on to make sure that the border between our historic Duchy and the rest of the United Kingdom is protected.”

4. Speaking at the same Keep Cornwall Whole Rally, Stephen Gilbert MP for St Austell and Newquay (Liberal Democrat) said: “This is Cornwall and that is England and lets keep it that way … if Westminster had any doubt about our resolve and commitment to defend and protect our ancient right, our national identity, that myth and that illusions should be dispelled here and now … I know what my job is when I go back to Parliament this week, my job is to vote against the Government and vote for an amendment that keeps the boundary of Cornwall intact.”

5. When the Bill was debated in the House of Commons, an amendment was moved to protect parliamentary boundaries in a number of areas including parts of Scotland, Anglesey and the Isle of Wight, as well as Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly. All six Cornish MPs backed the amendment, but it was voted down by 315 votes to 257 votes. Over 95% of Coalition MPs voted against the amendment.

6. At the Third Reading of the Bill, following the failure of the pro-Cornwall amendment, it was supported by a total of 321 votes to 264 votes. Five of Cornwall’s six MPs voted for the Bill, with Andrew George abstaining. So much for the promises of Sheryll “we will fight on and on” Murray and Stephen “my job is to vote against the Government” Gilbert.

7. In the House of Lords, an amendment to protect the Isle of Wight was supported. A further amendment was moved by Lord Teverson to ensure that “all parts of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly must be included in constituencies that are wholly in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.” This was lost by 250 votes to 221 votes, with 95% of Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers voting against the amendment. A single Conservative peer and 11 Liberal Democrats, backed the amendment. It was opposed by 153 Conservatives and 63 Liberal Democrats.

8. FACT. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have voted through a Bill, which protects the borders between the nations of England, Scotland and Wales, as well as the boundaries of two Scottish seats and the Isle of Wight – but not the historic nation of Cornwall.

9. FACT. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have failed Cornwall. Every time they had a chance to vote for Cornwall, the vast majority of Coalition MPs and Lords did the exact opposite.

10. FACT. Cornwall’s MPs spoke out against the Bill and made a lot of noise, but they failed to persuade many of their colleagues to vote against the Bill. The Cornish MPs themselves also refused to vote against the Bill.

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