Parliamentary Constituencies Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:06 pm on 2nd June 2020.

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Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 5:06 pm, 2nd June 2020

A huge chunk of what the hon. Gentleman proposes is out of the scope of the Bill, but in terms of what is in scope, I hope therefore that he will reject the Labour party’s amendment, which goes against equalising the size of constituencies by arguing against the tolerance quota. I am sure he will consider that as he comes to vote tonight.

Let me pre-empt a question that might legitimately be asked: why are we doing this now, given the other challenges that are presented by the coronavirus? Of course, we absolutely rely on the electors of the UK to cast their vote and choose the Government of the day, and fundamental to that is the idea that each vote carries the same weight. We can achieve those equal votes only through a robust system of boundary reviews. They should be regular, thorough and impartial, and it is those reviews that provide us with updated and equal constituencies.

The last implemented update of Westminster constituencies was based on electoral data from the very early 2000s. That means that our current constituencies take no account of our youngest voters, and nor do they reflect nearly two decades of demographic shift, house building and migration. That cannot be right. The purpose of the Bill is to update those rules. It needs to do that so that the next review, which is due to start in early 2021, can proceed promptly and deliver, with some certainty, the updated and equal constituencies that the electorate deserves.

I will run through the main elements of the Bill. With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, let me say at the outset that in doing this I have engaged extensively with interested parties, including representatives of the parliamentary parties and electoral administrators, to ensure that these proposals are as good as they can be.

As I mentioned at the start, the Bill will amend the existing legislation to ensure that we continue to have 650 parliamentary constituencies in the UK, as we do now. In order to achieve that, the Bill brings to a close the 2018 boundary review, without implementation. It removes the Government’s obligation to bring those recommendations of the 2018 review into effect, because those proposals would take us down to 600 constituencies.

This is a change of policy from that adopted under the coalition Government. We have listened to views expressed across the House, including that of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, and I am pleased that Opposition Members have stated their support for retaining 650 constituencies. We believe that the decision to move to 600 seats is no longer the right choice for the British public because circumstances have changed. In the past decade, the population has grown and we have, of course, left the European Union, which means that significant areas of policy and law making are coming back to all the legislatures of the Union, including the UK Parliament.