Taking account of local government boundaries

Part of Parliamentary Constituencies Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 25th June 2020.

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Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:15 pm, 25th June 2020

I shall speak to amendment 9. During Second Reading, I was struck by the thoughtful approach of the right hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell, who made a plea—often repeated during the evidence sessions—for commissioners to move away from using wards as the building blocks for drawing up constituencies, and instead to break it down and use more manageable and flexible building blocks. That point was also pressed many times by the right hon. Member for Basingstoke.

In evidence from Ms Drummond-Murray during the evidence session of June 18—referring specifically to Question 8 of that session—the Committee will have noted that Scotland can break it down by postcode, if necessary, rather than using the more clunky ward building blocks. Furthermore, evidence given by Mr Scott Martin, solicitor at the SNP, drew the attention of Members to spatialhub.scot and the technology that is in play north of the border, in response to Question 102 at the Bill’s evidence session of June 18.

Polling districts are usually natural communities on their own, and are good building blocks for constituencies when wards cannot be used. Drawing constituencies using polling districts also makes the constituencies much easier to implement for the electoral administrators. They just need to reallocate the constituency that applies to each polling district, rather than allocating each individual elector. It also means that voters will not need to be allocated to different polling places when boundaries are redrawn. The parties referred to by Sir David should also be borne in mind here. Political parties that select their candidates on the basis of their members’ vote are the first users of constituency boundary data. Reallocating polling districts rather than drawing new boundaries makes it easier for political parties to ballot their members, which they may wish to do before the new boundaries are effective on the electoral registers. I remind the Committee that amendment 9 seeks to add to the tool box for the boundary commission. Rule 5(1) lists factors that a boundary commission “may take into account” to such an extent as it sees “fit”. Amendment 9 also recognises that a polling district’s data may not always be usable, clearly ensuring that it stays as set out and that the data is only used by the relevant boundary commission satisfied that a particular area and data are properly usable. Amendment 9 merely supplements clause 6 and allows boundary commissioners to draw upon technology as set out in the Bill’s explanatory notes.

I am keen to hear the Government’s thoughts on the amendment, and if they plan to object I would like to hear the reason; I will make a judgement on that before I decide whether to press the matter to a vote. I have outlined the rationale behind the amendment, and I look forward to the Minister’s feedback.