Your vote matters, wherever it is cast in the UK
A polling station during the December general election. The Parliamentary Constituencies Bill would equalise the size of the electorate in constituencies across the country
Our parliamentary constituencies are in dire need of a refresh – and we need to start that process now
Last week, MPs voted on government legislation virtually for the first time in our Parliament’s history. For me, and many other MPs, it was a significant moment. Coronavirus has affected every aspect of our lives. But the British people, public services and businesses have risen to the challenge. So too has our democracy.
Today I will be introducing the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill to the UK Parliament, which will rightfully receive scrutiny from MPs. Some may question why such legislation is necessary at this time, when the country and world feels like it’s at a standstill.
The answer to this is simple. Keeping the British people safe is clearly our top priority. But an effective government still has a responsibility to plan for the future and ensure that time-critical parliamentary business continues.
If this legislation is not brought forward now and approved, the Government will be legally obliged to implement an old recommendation to reduce the number of parliamentary constituencies (and MPs) down from 650 to 600.
That is no longer in the best interests of the British public. Since the previous policy was established under the Coalition Agreement, the UK has left the European Union and lawmaking has come back to the UK Parliament. We have taken back control, are regaining our economic independence and we no longer have MEPs.
Each constituency will have a near equal number of eligible voters so that every vote counts the same
But the public still deserves consistent access to an accountable, elected representative in their community that is able to work for them. So fair representation of the British people must be at the heart of any electoral policy – as is the case with this Bill.
To have confidence in our democracy, every voter needs to know that their vote carries equal weight, no matter where it is cast in the UK. That is why we pledged to deliver equal and updated constituencies in our 2019 Manifesto.
Moving forward, each constituency will have a near equal number of eligible voters so that every vote counts the same. This is a sensible policy that will make our elections fairer.
It will also ensure that the people of all four nations of the UK have equal representation in Parliament. And we need updated constituencies because they were last defined using data from the early years of the century – today’s youngest voters have been born since then. This cannot be right.
This Bill will continue the important tradition in this country that independent bodies – the four Boundary Commissions – conduct rigorous and impartial reviews of our constituencies. In extensive consultation with local communities, it is they who calculate where the geographical boundaries should be.
That’s stood the test of time. We will keep that important framework in place.
But there are some other limited, important changes that we intend to make to bring it up to date. I set these out in March and have since engaged extensively with all parties.
The second change will address any accusation that, despite the fact that the organisations that conduct the reviews are rightly independent, boundary reform could be politicised.
These reviews are not about furthering any political agenda, so we’re going to strengthen the independence of the Commissions further. This Bill will mean that once their recommendations are made, they are implemented automatically – reducing the likelihood of yet more delays.
The last key change will be to lengthen the time between Boundary reviews, which currently take place every five years. We want to extend the review period to eight years – to strike the right balance between ensuring up-to-date boundaries going forward and minimising disruption to local communities.
Of course, we will continue to ensure a modest leeway in the size of proposed constituencies. They will need to fall within a 10% range of the average electorate size (+/-5%), as has been the case under governments of all colours. This tolerance allows flexibility to the Commissions in order to propose the right constituencies, with broadly equal electorates, while taking into account the geographical diversity and rich community ties that exist across the UK.
We will also still preserve the four protected constituencies – Orkney and Shetland, Na h-Eileanan an Iar, and the Isle of Wight – whose boundaries must remain as they are out of geographical necessity.
And all of our proposals will be placed under the microscope with utter transparency. Parliament now has the opportunity to scrutinise our plans and Parliament must collectively decide to approve them.
What is certain, is that our parliamentary constituencies are in dire need of a refresh – and we need to start that process now. Reviewing parliamentary constituencies is one part of the ambitious plans this Government has to make sure our electoral laws are fit for the 21st Century and continue delivering a democracy that works for everyone.
Now is the time to get it done.