Parliamentary Constituencies Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:28 pm on 27th July 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Kennedy of Cradley Baroness Kennedy of Cradley Non-affiliated 7:28 pm, 27th July 2020

My Lords, after two false starts and the current boundaries drawn on electoral data now 20 years old, this review is much needed. I welcome the return to 650 seats, the eight-year review and the consideration of pending local government reviews. However, on this latter point, can the Minister confirm in his response that the local boundary reviews that were delayed due to Covid-19 will be completed before the Westminster boundary review takes place?

Of the issues that I believe need to change, the first is the source data. The Bill ensures that every seat, with a few exceptions, has roughly the same numbers of voters within it so that, in the words of the Government,

“every vote counts the same”.

However, constituencies of equal size will not change some MPs being elected on fewer votes than other MPs, because turnouts always differ from seat to seat. The way to make every person count equally is to count seat boundaries not by the number of registered voters in a constituency but by the number of people. This is what most modern democracies do.

When a constituent asks a Member of Parliament for help, help is given whether or not they are registered to vote. Everyone who lives in the constituency is treated equally. Our boundary reviews should therefore treat people equally. For example, where I live, in Lewisham, the electoral roll figure in December 2019 was just over 223,000, but according to ONS figures, the population of Lewisham is over 303, 000—a difference of more than 80,000 people, and equivalent to an extra parliamentary constituency. Using population figures as the source data to draw Westminster seat boundaries, instead of the electoral roll, will mean that a heavy workload will not rest on too few shoulders and people can be represented equally. If the data source remains the electoral roll, we need to make sure that it is as complete and accurate as possible.

That leads me to my second point: the enumeration date. More than a million people registered to vote between December 2018 and December 2019. Given this huge increase, will the noble Lord expand on the reasoning behind deciding to use March 2020 as the enumeration date? Is the register at March 2020 more accurate and complete than it was in December 2019? If so, what is the difference in electoral numbers between the two dates?

Finally, the electoral quota is too narrow and hampers the commission’s ability to listen to sensible representations from the community. The commission needs flexibility to make sensible adjustments to seat boundaries to ensure that people in communities that have built up around, for example, geographic locations, transport hubs, university campuses, large factories, places of worship, community centres or housing estates are effectively represented. Effective representation should be as important to the commission as equalising seat numbers. I look forward to the noble Lord’s response on these three issues.