Fair political boundaries are crucial to ensure our communities are fairly represented in Parliament.
Balancing equality for voters and community (or geographic representation) is a challenge. After all, we don’t all live in neat towns of 74,769 electors, yet under the new rules, the Boundary Commission will have to work to a tight quota that could mean some odd-shaped constituencies that don’t really make sense for local residents and are tricky for politicians, cutting across several local councils for example.
What are the issues?
Missing voters. The new set of boundaries have been drawn on the register as it was in December 2015. This means areas where people move on a regular basis, for instance those with a high concentration of certain demographics – private renters and younger people and therefore for have lower rates of registration, are not included and of course the many people who registered to vote in vital 2016 elections and the EU referendum don’t count for these purposes.
Constituency size. One of the principles of a fair Parliament is equal-sized constituencies to ensure more equal representation for all citizens. At the moment, constituencies vary in size from less than 22,000 to more than 110,000. We can understand this drive to equality, but keeping constituency sizes up-to-date will require more frequent boundary reviews, which may disrupt the link between MPs and voters. Whilst the numbers are important, it is also crucial to have a system that does not awkwardly split up or graft together different communities.
Unfair representation. One of the main issues with the current law is that unregistered, but eligible, voters are not considered when drawing up constituency boundaries, although they are obviously still entitled to support from their MP. Urban and socially deprived areas where registration is low will be under-represented while affluent areas where registration is high could have disproportionate representation.
Unbalanced power. It’s the job of Parliament to hold the government to account. If you reduce the number of MPs in Parliament without reducing the number of ministers you increase the power of the executive and make it more difficult to challenge. This could reduce the ability for Parliament to offer meaningful dissent and therefore to do its job effectively.
What we propose:
- We support the principle of equalisation but there should be more flexibility on numbers to help constituency boundaries reflect actual communities. We support raising the equality constraint up to +/- 10% to minimise disruption for both citizens and elected representatives.
- The next boundary review should be based on a more accurate and complete data source than the electoral register to ensure all citizens are counted. We recommend using census population statistics complemented by citizenship information provided by passport data.
- We want the government – and all parties - to commit to a cap on payroll vote to ensure healthy balance between the government and backbenchers.