Fair constituency boundaries are crucial to ensure our communities are fairly represented in Parliament.
Balancing equal constituency sizes and 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?
The new set of boundaries with 600 seats were going to be drawn based on the register as it was in December 2015, half way through the transition to Individual Electoral Registration. This means areas where people have lower rates of registration because they move on a regular basis, like those with a high concentration of private renters and younger people, are underrepresented. For example, people who registered to vote for the EU referendum simply won’t be counted for the new boundaries.
If the plan for a 600 seat parliament is abandoned and boundaries are redrawn at 650 seats, it must be based on the most up to date register.
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.
One of the main issues with the current law is that unregistered but eligible voters are not considered when drawing up constituency boundaries – even though they could register at any moment and still need support from their MP. Urban and socially deprived areas where registration is lower will have fewer MPs with more constituency work to do, while affluent areas where registration is high could have more than they deserve.
It’s the job of Parliament to hold the government to account. If as the government proposes, the number of MPs in Parliament is reduced without also reducing the number of ministers, you increase the power of the executive and make it more difficult to hold power to account. By reducing the proportion of independent-minded backbench MPs the ability of Parliament to do its job effectively by offering meaningful dissent could be harmed.
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
- 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 the ‘payroll vote’, to ensure healthy balance between the number of government MPs and backbenchers free to speak their mind.
More information about Fair Boundaries
ERS General Election 2019 Briefing
Westminster Hall Debate on Proportional Representation – Briefing