Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Boundary review - next stage of consultation on Parliamentary boundaries begins

Last year the Boundary Commission for England consulted on the shape of constituencies to be used for the 2020 parliamentary elections. The second phase of the consultation is now starting.

Almost every parliamentary constituency in the UK will have to change, partly to reflect changes in where people live and partly because as a result of legislation passed by the coalition (but not implemented because Nick Clegg changed his mind) the size of the House of Commons is coming down from 650 MPs to 600..

It's worth pointing out that the reason we have a boundary commission and regular reviews is to avoid getting into the situation the House of Commons had reached by the time of the great reform act of the 1830's when constituency allocations had not been updated for centuries.

This had the unfortunate result that major cities which had sprung up in the past couple of centuries sometimes had no representation, while MPs continued to be returned by "Rotten Boroughs" which were often under the control of a local magnate or had negligible population/ Examples included Old Sarum which had "not three houses" or Dunham, most of which had disappeared beneath the sea.

Last year the boundary commission put forward proposals which would see the number of MPs for Cumbria come down from six to five.

Under these proposals Carlisle constituency becomes coterminous with the local authority, Penrith and the Borders moves North West becoming Penrith and Solway, taking in some of North Allerdale including Keswick. South Copeland becomes part of the same constituency as Barrow, while the rest of Copeland including Whitehaven combines with Workington to become one West Cumbria seat.

The boundary commission published these proposals last September and consulted on them for twelve weeks. Yesterday they published all the submissions received during that consultation, which you can read via their website here, and started a further four-week period of consultation which will last until 27th March during which you can comment on the responses other people have made.

The Boundary Commission will then consider all the responses and decide whether to change their proposals. If they keep the same proposals, they go to parliament. If the Boundary Commission change their proposals, there is a final round of public consultation to let people comment on the new proposals, consider those comments, and then make a final report to parliament.

It used to be the convention that all MPs were bound to back the impartial report of the boundary commissioners. In this cynical age that may make people laugh, but most of the time the system has worked pretty well - certainly better than in the USA where both parties shamelessly gerrymander congressional boundaries.

The old tradition was ignored in the last parliament and the commission recommendations did not go through. Whatever those recommendations are, I think it would be a bad mistake if that happened again. If we keep leaving the boundaries unchanged we are starting down a road which leads to the return of the Rotten Boroughs.

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