My Lords, this Bill is about the appropriate use of the various building blocks of our democracy. The first building block is the electoral register. I have been privileged to serve as chairman of your Lordships’ Select Committee on the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013. Committee members are very much aware that the register itself is the first building block, and we have been very concerned by its lack of completeness. The register is perhaps 80% to 85% complete, comparing very unfavourably with 96.4% in Canada. Completeness must be improved.
We are pleased that, following the rush to get on the register for the 2019 election, two-thirds of a million people registered on the last day. However, the extra registrations from those who just missed the deadline mean that March 2020 is the most accurate date for which we have numbers, and shows the radical reform that is much needed in register-making needs. In my view, the Bill’s requirement for all constituencies to be within 5% of a quota—somewhere in the region of 73,000 people—is too tight to achieve constituencies that have clear and understandably linked communities.
It is also important to note that although wards make significant building-blocks, they vary significantly in number. In North Yorkshire, there are wards of under 1,000 electors, but there are over 70,000 electors in both Leeds and Sheffield. Polling districts will often make better building-blocks in urban areas.
Let me give the House an example. In the borough of Calderdale, where I live, both constituencies, using the 2019 numbers, are near the quota: the Halifax constituency is about 3% under it, which is within the suggested 5%, but the Calder Valley is about 6% over it, and therefore outside the tolerance figure. The splitting of a ward and the transfer of three polling districts—which are themselves distinct communities—would meet the 5% objective. Either way, the Government could get a good result. I suspect that most people would prefer not to change. However, I have to say that, in our area, either of those results would be certainly far more suitable than any of the three ways put forward by the previous Boundary Commission. Happily, these were aborted, as they would have brought in three different areas from Bradford.