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Constituency Boundaries

Volume 584: debated on Tuesday 8 July 2014

5. What plans he has to discuss constituency boundaries with the Boundary Commission; and if he will make a statement. (904712)

Ministers do not generally meet the independent boundary commissioners to discuss the setting of parliamentary constituency boundaries, and I currently have no plans to meet them.

I am grateful to the Deputy Prime Minister for that reply, but does he agree that there is a serious, pressing need for fewer MPs, sitting for constituencies with fairer, more equitable boundaries? Will he in future push for that reform as hard as possible?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the legislation on the statute book will lead to a further review in the next Parliament, ahead of the 2020 general election, and it sets out the basis on which those decisions are made. There is an interesting discussion, not least in the academic survey published recently— just last week, I think—about precisely how such a review will be conducted in future so that communities are not split up and the integrity of wards is maintained.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister commit to look again at further boundary revisions? If, at a time when individual voter registration is being introduced, it turns out—it might or might not—that there has been a substantial fall in registration, will he commit not to press ahead immediately with further revisions?

As the hon. Lady knows, we are confident that we are doing everything we can—we are taking a belt-and-braces approach—to ensure that registration levels do not fall. We have learned from the experience of Northern Ireland and have worked on a consensual, cross-party basis to get this right, because all parties accept that we need to move to individual voter registration. I do not anticipate that the situation she predicts will arise.

Assuming that the next boundary review will be—we hope—on a UK basis, will the Deputy Prime Minister look at the unhappy experience of this Parliament and the exceptions that were granted for the Isle of Wight, and the northern and western isles? The manifest absence of any such willingness to appreciate the vast geography of the several constituencies of the highlands and islands of Scotland means that my constituency has one Westminster MP and no fewer than eight Members of the Scottish Parliament serving it. That cannot make sense.

I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend that, as the reviews occur in future, we shall need to be mindful, first, of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham), ensuring that there is enough latitude in the rules so that boundary commissions are not forced to split up naturally formed communities; and, secondly, of the need not to create such unfeasibly large constituencies that it is almost impossible physically to represent them in this place.