My Lords, anyone who has spent much time in one of the hearings on boundary reviews will know that it is possible to define community in a variety of contrary ways within a few minutes, from a few speakers. We all have our own definition of the communities that we live in, which is one of the problems. I am still waiting to hear from the Government why there is this desire to move away from the 600. The way that it was approached last time was not particularly clever, but if the proposal to reduce the number of MPs had been put to a referendum, it would have been overwhelmingly endorsed by the electorate.
It is certainly more than iniquitous that some Members of Parliament can represent 80,000 electors and some represent under 50,000 and yet be contrasted as if they were doing the same job. With today’s technology, that is simply not possible. The volume of work with such a big variation is hugely significant to the pressures on any individual, of whatever party or even of no party, representing that many people. I speak as someone who until recently represented 550 square miles, which is the size of Greater London, and 80,000 voters, plus many eastern Europeans who are not counted in that parliamentary arithmetic.
If there are to be further improvements, the question of electoral officers needs to be considered. My own experience is, very vividly, that a competent electoral officer will do a very different job. I recall one occasion when there was an excellent new officer and the number on the register went down significantly. It was explained to me that, even in places such as Bassetlaw, the dead do not vote, and they will no longer be on the register. To lose 2,000 at one go demonstrates the variation in systems, which is significant in all of this.
I would like to see two things. One is ward boundaries being sacrosanct. That is the kernel of local democracy and should be integral to any boundary review.
The second would be a much bigger change, but it is possible with technology. Where there is a mayor, as in London, there should be one integrated register. For London, Manchester and other areas with a mayor, having one register would lead the way in reducing anomalous situations, tidying up the register and eventually perhaps allowing people to vote in a variety of polling stations rather than just one. One register for a mayoral election would be a huge democratic step forward.