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Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:44 pm on 18th November 2016.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 12:44 pm, 18th November 2016

The hon. Gentleman should address that question to his hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham, because her Bill proposes that all these proposals must be brought forward by the four boundary commissions before October 2018, which is a very tall order. We took evidence from the boundary commissions in our inquiry and it was clear they would not be able to make major changes in the light of changes to the terms of reference unless they had a sufficient lead-in period. My right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin made that point earlier, and it has not been contradicted. When he challenged the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, saying, “You don’t really have it in your heart to ensure we get these changes through by the time of the next general election in 2020,” the Opposition spokesman did not seem to demur from that.

The most important thing is to establish equality of constituencies. In paragraph 31 of our report, the Committee said,

“We believe that, all other things being equal, constituency electorates should be broadly equal.”

What is the position at the moment? It was in the year 2000 that we had the basis for the current boundaries, and if this situation continues beyond 2020 we will still be using that basis. Office for National Statistics figures show that in 2010 only 254 out of 650 constituencies in the UK were within the 5% limit either side of the norm, and 187 were even outside the 10% parameters, which is what the hon. Lady proposes in her Bill. The evidence brought forward by the Boundary Commission for England is that in 2010 some 200 out of the 533 seats were within the 5% limit, but a large number were outside that. The latest figures, for 2013, are that 188 constituencies in England are more than 10% either side of the norm. That is thoroughly unreasonable and inequitable, and it needs to be rectified.