Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:22 pm on 27th July 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated 7:22 pm, 27th July 2020

My Lords, I am glad that the Government have decided to maintain the number of Members in the other place at 650. When I was a Member of the other place, I voted against that Bill and against the principle of reducing the number of seats to 600; 650 seems a sensible number to ensure that all parts of the UK are properly represented and maintains a link with all our diverse regions and communities, which would have been diminished if the number of seats had been reduced to 600.

However, I have some reservations about the Bill. The 5% variance rule between constituencies seems overly rigid and prescriptive. Indeed, the legislation recognises that this may not always be appropriate by increasing the number of protected constituencies from four to five. I also have concerns that the allocation of seats favours England at the expense of the other nations and regions of the UK. Northern Ireland maintains 18 constituencies but, under these proposals, Scotland loses three and Wales loses eight, while England gains 10. This seems a disproportionate shift of power towards the centre, which will embed “English votes for English laws” even more trenchantly. That is worrying, especially as devolution means that the democratic dynamic across these islands is moving in another direction. A locking clause to preserve seats in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland at their current numbers of 59, 40 and 18 respectively will help them to maintain their existing parliamentary influence.

Another concern is that the Bill concentrates too much on numbers and not enough on communities to protect constituencies for all discrete areas by virtue of the fact that they are islands. By definition, these seats are ordered on a “community first” approach. That approach should apply to constituencies in general, because of the nature of community cohesion. Finally, there must be parliamentary accountability for the final recommendations from the boundaries review. That cannot be left to unelected quangos or to be dealt with by Orders in Council.