Yesterday I was back in Parliament, and when I wasn’t queuing for 90 minutes voting on how we vote (!), I was in the Commons chamber tackling the Government over its dithering approach to reviewing our parliamentary boundaries. After years of delay and indecision, the Government has finally abandoned its plans to reduce the number of MPs to 600, which means the last reviews were shelved and we need to legislate again.
Under previous plans, the Boundary Commissions’ proposals would be scrutinised and voted on by MPs and members of the House of Lords. But on the face of the Bill presented this week it’s clear this would no longer be the case. Instead the changes would automatically become law with only the government, not parliament, able to stop them.
The Government also wants to base the new boundaries on the electoral register as it will stand in December this year – which will be dangerously unrepresentative of the current electorate. Choosing this electoral register as the basis for drawing new boundaries is politically motivated as it will be heavily affected by Covid-19. Elections act as a major driver of registration – but there are no elections scheduled for 2020, with all local elections postponed to May 2021. Without elections to prepare for, the priority focus of any council is the Covid crisis and not carrying out the annual canvass to update the register. This all adds up to a patchy and unrepresentative electoral register and the Tories know this. They also know that when lots of people are registered to vote, they are less likely to do well in an election.
Millions of pounds of tax-payers’ money has been wasted on shelved reviews. Given the current boundaries are 20 years old, the government must not waste this opportunity by choosing an incomplete and potentially unrepresentative register compiled during a global pandemic. And the government cannot use this bill to strengthen its own power at the expense of parliamentary scrutiny. It is an insult to the House of Commons and sets a dangerous precedent for future legislation.