Fair constituency boundaries are crucial to ensure our communities are fairly represented in Parliament.
Balancing equal constituency sizes with the need for boundaries to reflect where people actually live is a challenge. After all, we don’t all live in neat towns of 74,769 electors.
Yet under the new boundaries, the Boundary Commission will have to work to a tight quota that could mean some odd-shaped constituencies. Boundaries that cut across several councils and geographical borders – including rivers and hills – don’t make sense for local people, and make it harder for politicians to do their job.
Why are boundaries so important?
What are the issues?
Boundaries are based on the electoral register, meaning that areas with lower registration rates will have less Parliamentary representation.
This is a real problem given that those less likely to be on the register are typically younger, from lower-income groups, renters, and people of colour.
To ensure all citizens are counted, we recommend basing constituencies on population figures, not the electoral roll. Until we move towards automatic voter registration in the UK – which is vital – we will simply end up with rows over ‘out of date’ electoral registers forming the basis of our Parliamentary representation. MPs have to represent everyone in the area – not just registered voters.
In 2019, it was estimated that 9.4m people were missing from the electoral roll – hardly a fair basis for redrawing the parliamentary map.
At the moment, constituencies vary in size from fewer than 22,000 people to more than 110,000. Whilst it’s important that constituencies are similar in size, a too-rigid system means constant boundary reviews and could mean regular changes to what seat you are in. Numbers are important, but it is also crucial to have a system that does not awkwardly split up towns or graft together different counties.
It’s the job of Parliament to hold the government to account. The government had initially planned to cut the number of MPs in Parliament – without also reducing the number of ministers. That would have increased the power of the executive and make it more difficult to hold power to account.
Thankfully, after campaigning from the ERS and others, this proposal was dropped in 2020.
What we propose:
- We support the principle of equalising boundary sizes, but there should be more flexibility to help seats reflect actual communities. Allowing up to 10% difference in size between seats would help to minimise disruption for both citizens and elected representatives
- Boundary reviews 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.
- There should be tough safeguards on how Boundary Commissioners are appointed, to prevent future political interference.
More information about Fair Boundaries
ERS General Election 2019 Briefing
Westminster Hall Debate on Proportional Representation – Briefing