Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:57 pm on 27th July 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector) 5:57 pm, 27th July 2020

My Lords, the last Conservative Party manifesto promised to make changes to parliamentary boundaries in order to make sure that

“every vote counts the same”,

but this Bill does nothing of the sort.

While the principle of MPs representing roughly the same number of constituents must be right—it was the major aim of the Chartists in the 19th century—the idea that every vote counts the same is incompatible with the system of constituencies electing a single MP. As long as we have first past the post with single-member constituencies, the rules for drawing up the boundaries for them must be fair and stable and based on two fundamental principles. First, we must ensure that, as far as possible, everyone entitled legally to be registered to vote should be included on electoral registers. Secondly, the boundaries should be drawn up with sufficient flexibility to ensure that they are not changed fundamentally every time they have to be revised. The Bill does not address either of those issues.

It is welcome that the boundary reviews will take part every eight years and not every five years as in the 2011 legislation, but when we considered that legislation, we were told that just about everyone who should be included on voting registers was included. However, both the Electoral Commission and the Cabinet Office have shown that millions of people are missing from registers and many millions more are incorrectly recorded. A disproportionate number of those missing from the registers are young people, private sector tenants and members of BAME communities—groups traditionally less likely to vote Conservative. So more constituencies will be created to represent the more Conservative areas where fewer of those demographic groups are resident.

It is a pretence to say that this legislation is about making every vote count the same. In reality, it is about creating even more Conservative seats in the House of Commons even if the numbers of votes do not justify that. Automaticity of this in-built bias is simply a perpetuation of a lack of democratic accountability, and we should oppose that very strongly in this House.

Sitting suspended.