My Lords, I also speak to Amendment 3 in my name. Amendment 2, if agreed to, would move the next review, beyond 2023, to 2033 instead of 2031, thus making it a 10-year gap. Amendment 3 would make that a permanent arrangement.
As a former MP, I am acutely aware of the disruption caused by reviews, not just for MPs but for their constituents, councils, councillors, local organisations and many others within the constituency. Others who are going to participate in the debate will confirm and testify to that.
Some Members will recall that in Committee, in discussing amendments giving priority to communities over arithmetic and amendments on the percentage variation—which will be covered again today in the debate on Amendments 12, 13, 14 and 18—we discussed the importance of the linkage between the MP and her or his constituency. Good MPs work in their constituency, very hard: helping individuals at surgeries and in other ways; working with organisations of all kinds; and building up a rapport and an understanding to enable them to represent their constituents at Westminster. An MP is a representative, not simply a member of an electoral college to elect a Prime Minister and thereby a Government, as some of the current special advisers seem to believe.
I know well the excitement, or rather the trauma, of boundary reviews. I was first elected in 1979 and experienced my first review very quickly, in 1983, so I know what it is like. Thankfully I survived, but I have seen many good MPs have their careers ended arbitrarily as a result of a review.
We currently have fixed five-year Parliaments—I know some consideration may be given to that—but previously we had four or five-year Parliaments as normal. If that continues, a review every eight years would mean that most MPs would face a review in every second Parliament, which is not much time for them to settle in and get to know their constituency, their constituents and how to represent them effectively. Time would be taken up by MPs preparing for the next review, perhaps even for selection and reselection—all this just in the Government’s wish to get more arithmetic exactitude.
The Government argue that this makes every person’s vote equal—of equal strength and equal value—but that does not take account of other factors, like marginality. If they really wanted every vote to count, they would be moving towards proportional representation, which I know the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, who is following me, and others would like, but I know the Government do not want that and are not going to move in that direction.
My main argument is to minimise disruption, to increase the accountability of MPs to their constituents and to increase their effectiveness—something that is being sidelined in our parliamentary democracy. I beg to move Amendment 2, and I wish to seek the opinion of the House by Division when we come to that point.
My Lords, the Bill sets out a system for reviewing constituency boundaries which will result in changes much more dramatic than those of any previous reviews ever put in place.
I would like you to imagine the position of a newly elected MP in a general election in 2025. They will have won a seat with new boundaries, but just four years later a new boundary revision process will begin. From 2029 they will be engaged, over a two-year period, in arguments about whether the constituency might exist again, or whether it should be redrawn in a very different form. They will not know the decision of the boundary commissioners until the end of September 2031.
Under these rules, Parliament will no longer have a say over whether the proposals are implemented. The new boundaries will therefore take effect in any general election from February 2032. There will be just four months between the Boundary Commissions’ reports being finalised and their proposals automatically taking effect in any general election. All that is certain is that the proposed constituencies will be very different from those at the previous election.
The problem with eight-yearly reviews, a fixed number of seats in each state or region and very limited flexibility from the quota of electors in each seat is that they will involve major changes to more than 300 constituencies every time. Not many more than 100 constituencies are likely to have unchanged boundaries. This is not a one-off problem but is what will happen with every boundary review in future.
The frequency of reviews involving dramatic changes to boundaries does not make sense if the link between MPs and their constituencies is to be valued. Unfortunately, little consideration was allowed in the other place for the question as to how frequently reviews should take place. Over the past 50 years, we have had 14 general elections. That is an average of one every three and a half years. Therefore, with a boundary review every eight years, and with the rules as proposed, we can expect that only one in five constituencies will exist with the same boundaries for two consecutive general elections.
Somebody winning a seat shortly after a boundary review will know that they will get the chance to fight that same seat just one more time. There will then be a 50% chance that it is reorganised in a major way, and an 80% chance of the boundaries being changed in some way. But somebody winning a seat more than four years after a boundary review will immediately face a 50% chance that the constituency boundaries will change in a major way at the very next election, and an 80% chance that the constituency boundaries will be changed. It may be that some people welcome this kind of disruption to constituencies. Internal selection battles may be a great joy for some people but constantly having to engage in them cannot be good for anyone who wants to serve the people of a constituency or to demonstrate that they could do so in future. Party HQs may welcome frequent reorganisations so that awkward MPs might find themselves forced out and without a seat, while more obliging loyalists could be rewarded with new opportunities.
One of my friends on the Cross Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, was an excellent constituency MP, but he twice found that a constituency that elected him with large majorities was effectively abolished by the boundary review process. Constituents cannot be well served in a system in which constituencies are likely to exist for only two general elections.
The late and much missed Professor Ron Johnston, has been quoted by all sides many times in our debates on the issue of boundary reviews. In Grand Committee, the Minister, referred to his “respect and appreciation” for him. Professor Johnston felt that a constituency should exist for three general elections before its boundaries could be redrawn. The only way in which to make that more likely while keeping boundaries reasonably up to date is to make the reviews every 10 years, not every eight.
My Lords, I apologise for not participating in Committee, having spoken at Second Reading, but I followed the three days of debate in Committee. I saw the feed on the first day, in which the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, raised his proposal for a 10-year cycle for reviews. I was surprised at his persistence in bringing back the issue on Report. Not only has he gathered comrades in arms from the opposition coalition, he has the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, and the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, as co-signatories to his proposals. However, where are the interests of parliamentary democracy served by another example of foot-dragging on boundaries? I excuse the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, because I suspect, from listening to the views of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and Lib Dems generally, he would wish to do away with single-member constituencies altogether, in the hope of achieving something more advantageous to the Lib Dem cause of proportional representation.
Where is the radicalism in the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes? No Clydesider he on this issue. He sounds positively reactionary in what he tells us about the relationship of an MP with his constituency. He said in Grand Committee that
“the reason for having 10 years rather than eight is to give some stability for the Member of Parliament to get to know her or his constituency—to become acquainted with it and have the support of their constituents—and to be able to come to the House of Commons as a representative, not a party hack”.—[
While I would not have supported my noble friend Lord Forsyth in Committee, I believe that the more frequent the review the better. Eight years is a fair balance and keeps as closely as is practical to the perfection of equal electorates at general elections.
In returning to these amendments, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, disappoints me, as do the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, for whom I have a high regard. In my experience, candidates should get to know their constituencies before elections, not learn on the job as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, suggests. I expect that the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, will agree with me on that. In his talk of disruption and the concept of “swings and roundabouts”, as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, called it in Committee, he forgets the poor voter and the purpose of the Bill in providing fairness of representation as the registered electorate changes to provide 650 MPs. However, despite his observations, I think that changing boundaries in the pursuit of fairness is not something with which he disagrees. The difference between us is, in practice, between his proposals in the amendment, for reviews every 10 years over three elections, and the Bill clearly stating eight years and the probability of two elections.
I have always seen the noble Lord as an early bird, a personal clock on continental time, not a stop-abed, reluctant to meet the day. Quintus Fabius Maximus, the Cunctator, has nothing on him as he seeks to avoid a battle with public opinion. Perhaps he has already achieved that objective by being in this place. He might, however, reflect on how the apparent policy of his party and his amendments will be received by the other place if, as he suggests, he pursues them to a Division and, more importantly, on how that will appear to the voters who they seek to represent.
I have little to add to what I have heard. It is important that changes to constituencies are not too frequent. A Member of Parliament gets close to the local authorities, the electors and all sorts of organisations. I have had the experience of representing a constituency for 23 years and then half of it being taken away from me to the east because the county boundaries changed. The numbers had to be made up by adding two new wards to the west. It was not easy, but we conquered the problem. One had to rebuild new associations, friendships and interests, and people wanted to know you better. It is therefore a very bad thing, in my experience as a Member of Parliament for 41 years, for constituency changes to be too frequent. I support the amendment.
My Lords, I spoke at Second Reading but not in Committee, but I have been following the Bill’s progress with great interest. It is fundamental to our democracy. I want to express my concern about this grouping and to speak against Amendments 2 and 3 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, Lord Rennard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town.
The fundamental reason for boundary reviews is to ensure that constituencies of equal size are maintained. To do this, we need the data to be reviewed on a regular basis, balancing this with the need to avoid constant disruption. In a fast-moving world of significant changes in our demographics, which can be through housebuilding or geographical migration, including changes to people’s work patterns and locations, it seems that the Government’s proposal in the Bill to conduct boundary reviews on a cycle of eight years is fair and reasonable. If, as the amendments propose, boundary reviews are held only every 10 years, there will be an even greater risk than there is now that constituency boundaries will become out of date and unequal between the reviews.
Prior to 2011, when general reviews took place every eight to 12 years, it was a very unsatisfactory system where interim reviews would take place to consider whether particular constituencies should be updated between the general boundary reviews to take account of local government changes and shifts in population in particular areas. Those interim reviews were disruptive. They were made at the discretion of the Boundary Commission and they made it difficult for MPs to develop stable and effective constituency relationships with communities. A balance of eight years should avoid the need to hold interim reviews, which has to be a good thing.
It is right that all parliamentary constituencies should be of equal size and that everyone’s vote carries equal weight. It is a balance between regular reviews and minimal upheaval while ensuring that constituency boundaries accurately represent significant demographic shifts in a fast-moving world. Eight-year reviews strike the right balance.
My Lords, I support the amendment and I want to focus on one particular point. The Minister, in replying to the debate in Committee, put great weight on the support that he alleged his proposals had received from interested parties. I shall quote him:
“Prior to the Bill’s introduction we engaged with all the parliamentary parties and with the electoral administrator representatives, and an eight-year cycle was the one that was supported.”—[Official Report, 8/9/20; col. GC 171.]
I had hoped for rather more than that, so I put down a PQ. I did not get a lot more in response; I will come back to that in a moment. It said:
“Ahead of the Bill’s introduction, the Government engaged with parliamentary parties, and electoral administrator representatives, and there was general acceptance of an 8-year cycle.”
In Committee, the Minister said the eight-year cycle was “supported”, but in reply to the PQ he said it was accepted. Those are very different things. Being supportive is, “What a jolly good idea, Minister. How wise you are.” Being accepting is, “Well, Minister, if that is really what you want, I suppose that we will have to go along with it.” That comes perilously close to misleading the House.
I would be inclined to forgive the Minister for that if, when he winds up the debate, he is able to give a clear and concise summary of exactly what the consultation consisted of, who was consulted and exactly what their replies were. If he cannot do that in winding up—I understand that he might be a bit short of time—I would be grateful if he would give a commitment to write to all noble Lords involved in this debate setting out at greater length and in more detail what the consultation was. In doing so, he will make us a great deal more confident that this is not a product of ministerial whim and the justification for it thought up only after the event.
My Lord, I believe that it is sensible to have more frequent boundary reviews than those being proposed in the amendment. Prior to Covid, this country was enjoying very substantial employment figures and people were relocating around the country to where the jobs were to be found. However, the pandemic has changed absolutely everything. The jobs market is dreadful and getting worse, and when we eventually arrive at a new normal, I suggest that it will bear little resemblance to what we knew pre-Covid. Jobs will be extremely difficult to come by, and to find employment people will have to translocate in pursuit of work. This will inevitably change the shape and size of many constituencies and demographics in general. That is one reason that I believe it is vital that boundaries are reviewed on a more frequent basis than that being proposed in this amendment. That is why I shall support the Government.
It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, not least because of his own and his family’s historic links with the city of Sheffield. However, I have to disagree with him on this occasion. I shall speak briefly in favour of the amendments because I want to speak again on Amendment 12 and the substantive issue around that.
To pick up the point that was just made by the noble Earl, if we are not to have the catastrophe of a major shift in population further away from the north of England, we will have to take the opportunity of the use of social media and more imaginative and creative ways of bringing jobs to people, rather than people having to go to existing jobs; otherwise, we will have an even greater imbalance in the country, both economically and socially, than we have already.
The simple point I want to make is one that I made in Grand Committee. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, I do not believe that the issue is about the Member getting to know the constituency before they are elected, if they are lucky enough to be so; it is about the constituents getting to know the elected Member. In the single-member constituency framework that we have and of which I am in favour, it is absolutely fundamental that the constituents know who is representing them, that they know where to contact them and that a constituency Member gets to know the critical areas of the community so that they become a voice for the area, whichever party they start off representing.
I want to make just one additional point in response to the noble Baroness who has spoken against these amendments. I experienced an interim boundary change because of local authority boundary reorganisations. It was nowhere near as disruptive as the major and complete rebanding of constituencies in the period that I experienced otherwise. It added a part of Hillsborough into the Brightside constituency, which has allowed me to take the title of Brightside and Hillsborough—although I spent a lot of time in Hillsborough, not least in the football ground, when we were permitted to do so.
This is all about stability and the arrangements that complement and develop the concept of the citizen knowing who represents them in our system. These amendments are a sensible way of ensuring that we do not have constant disruption. That may be good for numerical equality, which we will come to later, but it has absolutely nothing to do with democratic representation.
My Lords, I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, has just said about the emphasis on people’s interests rather than those of politicians, and I shall come back to that in a moment.
In the interests of brevity, I wish merely to reiterate our support for these two amendments which have been clearly explained by my noble friend Lord Rennard, and to emphasise our approach to the Bill, because we are just starting on this process again. We are concerned to minimise excessive, unnecessary and pointless disruption. Anyone who has had the privilege of serving as a Member of the House of Commons knows that the commitment is to people—the human geography rather than just the physical geography—and for that purpose we are concerned about the way in which this Bill has been drafted. However characterful a constituency may be in its built as well as its natural environment—I challenge anyone to compete with north Cornwall on that score—you represent views rather than vistas. That is why a better electoral system with multi-member constituencies would indeed be much more representative than the present one.
In the context of this Bill, for those reasons, we are determined to maintain a consistent relationship between people and their representatives wherever and whenever there are no overriding reasons to break it. I admit that this is a conservative approach, but it is also the people-friendly one, and I hope that that will appeal to the Minister. It is a matter of appropriate balance, as other noble Lords have said. We support the amendments.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Foulkes and all noble Lords who have spoken today on these amendments, the majority making a very good case to have Boundary Commission reviews every 10 years.
Those who have been through boundary changes will know the upheaval that can happen. Former MPs have spoken today on the impact they can have. I have never been a Member of Parliament, but I speak as someone who has had to reorganise constituency boundaries. It is difficult for all concerned, including party members, party organisers and electors, some who can find that they have not moved to a new home but that they have moved into a new constituency.
A change in constituency boundaries takes some time to bed down, with new relationships having to be formed and the sitting Members sometimes having to find new constituencies to represent. In some cases, they find that they do not have a constituency, which will happen when this Bill goes through. I know that these things can happen whenever there are boundary changes, but a 10-year period means less churn and less upheaval and is better for democracy. The MPs have time to build up good relationships with the constituencies that they represent, which provides stability for all involved. Political parties play a big role in our democracy and work closely with the MP or their party’s candidate. It is a crucial role. When boundaries are altered, there can be big changes to make, not only for the Member of Parliament, but for all those who work with them to get them elected. A 10-year period would allow for much more stability.
There is support for this from most Peers who have spoken today on this amendment, as there was in Committee. I ask the Minister to take careful note of the views expressed today in favour of a 10-year review. My noble friend Lord Foulkes said that he will call a vote on this, and we will, of course, be supporting him.
My Lords, this amendment seeks to change the timings of boundary reviews so that a review would be undertaken every 10 years. Currently under the Bill, a boundary review would take place every eight years. This is a change from the current law. I think many noble Lords have forgotten what the current law is: under it, a review should take place every five years.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and many other noble Lords, in supporting this amendment, said that they wanted a lack of disruption to local communities. Many noble Lords also talked about disruption to Members of Parliament, but I am more interested in local communities. Our aim, as committed to in our manifesto, is to ensure that parliamentary constituencies are updated regularly but without the disruption to local communities and their representation that might occur with the current five-yearly reviews. I, and the Government, agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, on the Opposition Benches, who said at Second Reading:
“Eight years seems to me a sensible compromise, ensuring that constituency electorates are kept reasonably up to date, and in normal times would operate for at least two general elections.”—[Official Report, 27/7/20; col. 82.]
We believe that an eight-year review cycle strikes the right balance between ensuring that our constituencies are based on contemporary data and avoiding the disruption of having a review roughly every time an election occurs. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, who has a lot of experience, for supporting our view on this.
While we were drafting the Bill, we shared our broad plans for the Bill’s contents with parliamentary parties and electoral administrators. We also discussed a range of technical issues with them. During those meetings, we stated that the move from a five-year to an eight-year review cycle was government policy, but that we would be interested to hear from anyone who disagreed with this idea. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, that there was general acceptance that the eight-year cycle was the right approach.
Parliamentary parties also raised understandable concerns about ensuring that the data used was as up to date as possible. This was particularly notable regarding the use of local government boundary data. I am surprised that nobody has brought that up today, because it was brought up in Committee. The Boundary Commissions take all that data into account when drawing up proposals for constituencies. This was the rationale behind Clause 6, which allows the Boundary Commissions to consider a more up-to-date picture of local government boundaries and allows them to factor that into their proposals where appropriate and relevant.
When we engaged on this measure—I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, that it was an engagement—representatives of the parliamentary parties and electoral administrators were supportive of it. They thought that reviews only every 10 years would further undermine the aim of having updated constituencies. It would mean that the data used would be even more out of date, and that over time constituencies would become less reflective of current local government boundaries and demographic changes. The parties also told us that they find it helpful, for campaigning purposes, for up-to-date local government wards to be used in constituencies.
With the longer review cycle of 10 years, the question of interim reviews, which has not been mentioned this afternoon, also arises. The representatives of political parties and the electoral administrators with whom we engaged were against the prospect of introducing interim reviews. Let me explain the chain of reasoning here. Prior to 2011, when general reviews took place every eight to 12 years, interim reviews also took place to consider whether certain constituencies should be updated in between general boundary reviews to take account of local government changes and shifts in population in certain areas. Were we to move to a 10-year review cycle, the rationale for interim reviews would remain strong. Our stakeholders told us clearly—and we agree—that we should not return to this approach. Interim reviews bring further disruption and confusion to constituencies, and uncertainty to sitting MPs. An eight-year cycle removes this problem. It treads the most balanced path between the need for stability and the need for contemporary data.
I will address some of the arguments made in support of the amendment when it was discussed in Grand Committee and which have been repeated this afternoon. Most of the noble Lords who are supporting this amendment—the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord Blunkett, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris—argued that eight-year reviews would prevent MPs and constituents building a rapport. There is an assumption in that argument that I find problematic. I agree that it is important for representatives to know their constituents well. However, the realities of the electoral cycle surely mean that MPs must be able to build a rapport with constituents in less than five years. If 10 years is needed to establish good relations, that would seem to take for granted that one will be re-elected.
The argument was also made that a constituent might approve, or disapprove, of their MP’s behaviour, but be unable to express their opinion at the ballot box because a boundary review had now made them part of a different constituency. This is not an argument for reviews to take place every 10 years as opposed to every eight or five, or any other length of time, but an argument never to change constituencies. The Government believe that a far more unfair and frustrating situation to be in as a voter is knowing that the vote one is casting is not of equal value to those cast in a neighbouring constituency. I thank my noble friend Lady Pidding, who has a lot of knowledge of this, for her explanation of this issue.
It was argued that a 10-year cycle would enable reviews to take place at a predictable point before each election and thus ensure that the boundaries used for each poll were fully up to date. Some Lords acknowledged that their reasoning assumed that each Parliament would last for five years. However, we should test the strength of that assumption with care. Since 2010, the law has required Parliaments to last five years, notwithstanding certain exceptions, but in that time only one Parliament did last five years. Therefore, even when terms of Parliaments are fixed, a world in which boundary reviews are conducted at a particular point before a general election has proved impossible. Will it be more possible, however, when terms of Parliaments are not fixed? Neat schedules where boundary reviews and election dates align perfectly are attractive in theory, but this has not proved possible in practical terms and is unlikely to in the future.
I agree with my noble friends Lord Taylor and Lord Shrewsbury: we believe that the middle ground proposed in the Bill today is the right way forward. Eight years removes the disruption of a review happening roughly each time an election occurs, but it also ensures that boundaries remain up to date and fair by making sure that not too much time elapses between reviews. I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, this has been an interesting debate which has served to convince me that we were absolutely right to move this amendment and to pursue it. However, I would like to congratulate the Government Chief Whip, who has done a good job in mobilising the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding, the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, and above all, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, his predecessor, to speak against this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, says he is surprised at my persistence. As a former Government Chief Whip, he is one of the people who should be least surprised by my persistence, not just on this but on other matters. He said he was surprised because I am normally a radical, and I am making what he sees as a reactionary move. Perhaps he is thinking that there is a Private Member’s Bill along the same lines in the House of Commons, supported by Peter Bone and Sir Christopher Chope. I hope he will look at that; it might convince him to rethink his opposition to my proposal.
It is interesting to note that all the former MPs who have spoken in this debate support this amendment. They have experience on the ground of how these things work, and I am very encouraged by their support. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lipsey for finding out that when the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord True, who dealt with this issue in Committee, said that the Government’s proposal was “supported” by all those consulted, that was totally wrong. As the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, confirmed, they “accepted” it, and my noble friend Lord Lipsey pointed out the difference between those two things extremely well.
I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Blunkett for reminding me of one other important aspect of constituency representation that I had forgotten—the football teams in each Member’s constituency. I had a slight problem there, in that I had both Cumnock Juniors and Auchinleck Talbot in my constituency, and they are bitter rivals. I had to be neutral when they played each other, which was not an easy thing to do. However, I understood the respective supporters and their various interests.
I remind the Minister and the House that up to 2011, Boundary Commissions were instructed to hold reviews every 8 to 12 years. On that basis, 10 years seems to strike a sensible balance. I therefore intend to press my amendment and hope the House will support it as a sensible way forward.
Ayes 261, Noes 240.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 6. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
Clause 2: Orders in Council giving effect to reports