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It is a pleasure to follow Steven Paterson in this important debate. I too would like to congratulate Pat Glass on introducing the Bill. Having brought forward my own private Member’s Bill as a new Member last year, I understand the work that goes on behind the scenes to get something ready even to bring to the Chamber at this stage.
It was interesting to listen to some excellent contributions from right hon., hon. and, indeed, very learned Members, who often enlightened us—certainly me—on constitutional history.
I am rather saddened for democracy’s sake that the Bill would shelve the sixth periodic review that is now entrusted with the Boundary Commission. The current review aims to redress the widening democratic deficit now evident in this place. The Boundary Commission is an independent body, acting on a remit agreed by the previous Parliament to create constituencies with comparable electorates within a 5% tolerance of 74,769 electors per constituency.
Now to my little bit of history. One hundred years ago, the report of the Speaker’s Conference of 1917 stated that
“each vote shall, as far as possible, command an equal share of representation in the House of Commons”.
That is a really important point for us to remember in this place. Obviously, there have been many changes to the franchise throughout the last century, and the tenet of equality of representation has, I fear, been lost.
Electoral register figures from December 2015 show there were 58,359 electors in my constituency. The largest constituency electorate is the Isle of Wight, with over 100,000 electors, and the smallest is the unprotected constituency of Arfon, I believe, with an electorate of under 40,000. There is clearly a need for the current review to continue without change to its terms of reference. It should surely be the aim of all democratically minded people to work towards equality in representation, rather than to widen the disparity, as this Bill would.
The Bill could introduce a potential disparity. Reading the clauses, it seems to me that allowing for plus or minus 10% on either side could add up to 20% in some cases. If we take the stated ideal of 74,769, that would lead, based on figures from 2015 registers, to potential high and low electorates ranging from 67,293 to 82,245.