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

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps I had better make progress and take no further interventions. I will endeavour to speak as quickly as I can to cover the remainder of the important content.

Let me turn to the permitted tolerance in electoral quota, which relates to the plus or minus 5% point that we have just touched on. The rules on that have been in place since 2011, and they provide that the boundary commission has to develop proposals on the basis that all constituencies are within a 10% range of the average constituency electorate. That is known as the electoral quota. As I have been saying, that is critical to achieving equal constituencies and to votes carrying the same weight. We have systemic inequality in some of our constituencies—I could give the examples, but I will let them be seen for themselves in some of the almanacs that we normally have around us. We know that there is a problem with unequally sized constituencies.

The existing law allows a few limited exceptions to the rules, including in respect of four protected constituencies which, because of their particular geographical circumstances, may diverge from the quota. In certain circumstances, the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland may propose constituencies that fall outside the range, and that is because of the fact that Northern Ireland represents the smallest discrete grouping of constituencies, so the Boundary Commission has less capacity in Northern Ireland specifically to meet the standard tolerance. We do not intend to add to those exceptions.

We are all absolutely passionate about representing our communities and our areas, and they all have distinctive natures—we all argue that and we all know that in our hearts in respect of the areas we represent—but I return to the central point that we are trying to achieve parity of representation for all electors across the Union and within its constituent nations. We do not think that additional exceptions are necessary, because the 10% tolerance range gives the boundary commissions the flexibility that they need to do the job, and they do that by taking into account the other factors that are set out in the existing legislation and will remain in place, to which I have referred a couple of times already. Those factors include local ties; geographical features and considerations; existing constituency and local government boundaries; and inconveniences caused by proposed changes to constituency boundaries.

We believe that the 10% tolerance will continue to allow the boundary commissions to consult openly and fully on their proposals and to adjust their recommendations in the light of the responses that they receive. The three separate consultation periods give significant opportunity to communities—as well as others in the process, such as political parties—to comment on proposals. Responses can be made in a number of ways and they really do shape the recommendations. For example, in the most recent boundary review more than 50% of the proposals for constituencies in England were adjusted in the light of feedback, so there is flexibility in the process and it is routinely used successfully.