Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:41 pm on 27th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Sheikh Lord Sheikh Conservative 5:41 pm, 27th July 2020

My Lords, the reason for introducing this Bill is to fulfil the pledge in the Conservative Party manifesto to have

“updated and equal Parliamentary boundaries, making sure that every vote counts”.

Each vote must carry the same weight. Therefore, it is important that each Member of Parliament represents an equal number of constituents, as far as possible. The number of parliamentary seats should remain at 650 and not be reduced to 600. It must be appreciated that, when we leave the European Union, the workload of MPs will increase. Therefore, they should not be asked to look after more constituents.

Our present constituencies are based on electorate numbers that are nearly 20 years old. Therefore, we need to undertake a review. The Boundary Commission’s report will be based on registered voters in all areas as at 2 March 2020. I believe that this is the proper date and that it will provide the most up-to-date registration numbers from before the lockdown.

I welcome the proposal to increase the period of boundary reviews from five years to eight years; by doing so, we can achieve the appropriate periodic changes and not cause disruption to Members of Parliament and local communities. I also welcome the proposal that the recommendation of the Boundary Commission will be put into effect without political interference from the Government or any Minister. This is in line with what happens in other countries, and I agree that that is how it should be in our country as it will enable the commission’s recommendations to be implemented without delays.

I also commend the Government for the proposal to hold public consultation during the second round of consultation, which would be more meaningful. Dividing the total number of voters by 650 will probably result in an electoral quota of over 72,000 per constituency.

There will be losers and gainers in certain regions, depending on the population in those areas. I agree that there should be a 5% variance rule and not one of 7.5%, as suggested by the Opposition in the other place. If you allow plus or minus 7.5%, the size of the electorate can differ by 15 percentage points between individual constituencies. If this happens, people’s votes will not count the same—as was pledged in our manifesto.

However, we need the variance to enable the commission to look at all factors, including geographical features, community ties, local government boundaries and existing boundaries. I conclude by saying that I support the Bill.