Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:21 pm on 27th July 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Pidding Baroness Pidding Conservative 4:21 pm, 27th July 2020

My Lords, one of the many privileges of being a Member of this place is having opportunities, such as we have this afternoon, to have a role in determining the structure and process of our democracy. As unelected Peers, this is even more of a privilege, and one that we must use with considerable care.

I welcome this Bill for many reasons, some of which have already been expressed. It seeks to learn the lessons of the ill-fated 2018 Boundary Commissions review. By streamlining the review process, not only will future reviews be concluded more efficiently, but the Boundary Commissions’ recommendations will be provided in a politically neutral pathway for implementation. Some noble Lords will find the idea of the recommendations being implemented by an Order in Council rather than by parliamentary procedure uncomfortable. However, I ask them to consider the result that party politics can have on this process, as we saw in the last Parliament. The Bill will not only allow the Boundary Commissions’ recommendations to be implemented but, as the Minister said, put us in line with our sister parliamentary democracies of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. I do not think that it will be easily argued that this process has undermined their democracies.

However, the main purpose of the Bill is not to steal good ideas from our overseas cousins, but to deliver for the British people up-to-date and equal parliamentary boundaries, as promised in the Government’s manifesto. The current parliamentary constituency boundaries are based on data that is two decades old. Given the increase in population and changing demographics experienced across the United Kingdom, we need a Parliament that reflects that change. The next review will use the latest electoral information and return the current number of constituencies, ensuring that we have a Parliament that reflects modern Britain, providing the electorate of the United Kingdom with equal and fair votes and representation, and delivering for the British people.

The Bill has two changes which I particularly welcome: first, that the Boundary Commissions are mandated to redraw the constituencies every eight years; and secondly, that future reviews allow prospective local government boundaries to be considered alongside existing ones, helping to minimise the lack of alignment of council wards with parliamentary boundaries.

The Bill was passed by the other place with only two government-backed amendments, one to make Ynys Môn a protected constituency and the other to ensure that the next review is based on electoral data taken in March this year. Otherwise, the Bill was passed without further amendment—by Members who were returned by the electorate of this country only a few months ago, in a historic election in which this Government won an 80-seat majority with a promise to modernise parliamentary boundaries as part of a manifesto which this Bill is designed to deliver.