Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:33 pm on 27th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Hussain Lord Hussain Liberal Democrat 6:33 pm, 27th July 2020

My Lords, I support maintaining 650 seats in the House of Commons, as opposed to 600; this will help to minimise disruption in boundary reviews. The case for reducing the number of MPs must be based on reducing the number of Ministers and increasing the devolution of power to nations and regions. Reducing the number of MPs while not reducing the number of Ministers would increase the power of the government payroll vote and, as recent events have shown, the executive branch of the Government is already too powerful compared with those of us seeking to hold it to account.

I also welcome reviews every eight as opposed to every five years. Many MPs will feel that they have worked hard to win their seats; changing the boundaries every five years will mean that nobody elected in a general election could be certain that the constituency they had won would still exist at the next general election.

I do not agree with removing Parliament’s power to have the final say—at least, not until such a time as the rules are based on fully including everyone entitled to be on the electoral register, not just the 85% or so who may be included now. Last year the Electoral Commission suggested that there may be as many as 9 million people who are entitled to be included on the electoral register but are not, or who are incorrectly registered.

The principle of each MP representing approximately the same number of people cannot be achieved until all the people who should be voters are included on the electoral rolls. The rules of drawing up the boundaries must be fair and must ensure that everyone entitled to vote is included on the electoral register, so that each MP represents the same number of people. An inadequate system of registration means that many of them will now fall off the electoral register or may not be registered, because of difficulties with the registration process caused by the Covid pandemic.

Unless the principle of including everyone entitled to vote on the electoral register is accepted, the Bill will ensure that fewer constituencies are created in areas where there are many young people, private sector tenants and people in black and ethnic minority communities. But more constituencies will be created where there are older, more middle-class, more white communities that are less likely to move around. Boundary reviews are supposed to be impartial. The commissioners may be impartial but if the rules discount millions of people who should be entitled to vote, then the rules are being drawn up to create more constituencies likely to be represented by Conservatives and fewer represented by their opponents. This will make the system less democratic, not more.