Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

The Parliamentary Constituencies Bill 2020

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In recent months public attention on events in Parliament has been almost exclusively on the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic. Nonetheless, other important policy initiatives have been taking place, even though they may not have grabbed the headlines. One of these is the introduction of the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill 2020 in May 2020.

The United Kingdom is divided into 650 Parliamentary constituencies. Each constituency elects a Member of Parliament. Constituency areas are not, however, static. While the boundaries themselves may remain the same, the population within them may alter substantially, for example by the provision of new housing or the migration of people from a rural to an urban area.

If some constituencies have far larger numbers of people than other constituencies, it will be realised that to win an election based on a first past the post system, which applies to General Elections in the UK, a winner needs fewer votes in a constituency with a smaller number of voters than one in a constituency with a higher number of voters. To many, this seems unfair.

To reflect the changes that occur in constituencies, statutory agencies, called Boundary Commissions, are required to keep constituency boundaries under review. Historically this has taken place once every 5 years.

The basis on which boundary reviews were to take place was changed in 2011 when the then Coalition Government enacted the Parliamentary Voting and Constituencies Act 2011. This Act had two objectives:

  • to enable the holding of a referendum on whether a system of proportional voting should be introduced for Parliamentary elections (the referendum was held and the advocates of change lost the referendum);
  • to amend the system of constituency boundary review.

This second objective contained 2 noteworthy features. First, it reduced the number of parliamentary constituencies from 650 to 600. Second, it introduced the concept of the ‘electoral quota’ and provided that in carrying out its work, the boundary Commissioners should ensure that the number of constituents in any constituency was within 5% of the ‘electoral quota’. The electoral quota was to be established by dividing the total number of voters in the UK by the number of Parliamentary seats.

Although the Boundary Commissioners made recommendations for boundary changes, as they were required to do, in accordance with the Act of 2011, their recommendations were – for a variety of reasons never implemented.

When enacted, the new Bill will recommence the process of boundary review, but on a slightly changed basis.

  • First, the decision to reduce the number of constituencies from 650 to 600 has been dropped.
  • Second, the concept of the electoral quota, and ensuring that constituency sizes are within 5% of that quota figure is retained.
  • Third, the frequency of boundary reviews is reduced from once every 5 years to once every 8 years.
  • Other detailed changes relate to the consultation procedures to be adopted for undertaking reviews, and the process of presenting the outcomes of those reviews to Parliament.

The intention is that the next round of reviews should start early in 2021 so that they will be in place in time for the next General Election, which is likely to be in 2024.

For the policy background seehttps://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2020-03-24/HCWS183/

The Bill is at https://services.parliament.uk/Bills/2019-21/parliamentaryconstituencies/documents.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

July 7, 2020 at 4:09 pm

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