I'm grateful to John Rentoul's blog for alerting me to the amendment put down by the Conservatives ahead of last Tuesday's voting reform debate that set out Tory plans to reduce the number of constituencies by 10%.
The equalisation of constituency size has been a longstanding concern of ConservativeHome. We launched our 'fair seats' campaign in January 2008. In the amendment reproduced below the Tories reveal their desire for constituency size to be no greater than 103.5% of the national average and no less than 96.5% of the average. This reform would help eliminate the injustice in the current boundary distribution which sees a small number of electors in depopulating urban seats elect every Labour MP and every Tory MP needing a much larger number of votes to win in expanding rural and suburban seats. I simplify but you get the gist.
Many small 'c' conservatives will not like what this means for natural boundaries. The most obvious example of an 'unnatural seat' will be the splitting of the Isle of Wight constituency into two with part of the second seat being on the mainland.
It will be interesting to see how David Cameron proposes that MPs are readopted under this scenario. Every boundary across the country is likely to change and there will be unhappiness if existing MPs are given special treatment in being adopted for seats with very different boundaries. If they are not given special treatment the MPs will be spending more time pleasing their constituents and less time pleasing the whips.
The number of constituencies in the United Kingdom shall be reduced by 10 per cent. from the figure existing on 1 July 2010.
A constituency shall be located wholly within one of—
(a) England, (b) Wales, (c) Scotland, or (d) Northern Ireland.
The electorate of any constituency (a) shall be as near the electoral quota as is practicable, and all other special geographical considerations, including in particular the size, shape and accessibility of a constituency, shall be subordinate to achieving this aim, and shall in any case be no greater than 103.5 per cent. and no less than 96.5 per cent. of the electoral quota, except where this makes it impossible to meet the provisions of clause 2 of this schedule.
In accordance with rules 1 to 3, the Commission may have regard to— (a) local authority boundaries in England, Wales and Scotland, and (b) the boundaries of wards in Northern Ireland.
In the application of rule 3— (a) the expression “electoral quota” means a number obtained by dividing the electorate of the United Kingdom by the number of constituencies in it, (b) the expression “electorate” means in relation to a constituency, the number of persons whose names will appear on the register of parliamentary electors in force on the enumeration date under the Representation of the People Acts for the constituency. (c) in calculating this number, the Boundary Commission shall have regard to—
(i) the number of persons whose names appear on the register of parliamentary electors in force, under the Representation of the People Acts for the constituency,
(ii) official local authority population forecasts provided by the Statistics Board, and
(iii) any change in the number or distribution of the electors likely to take place within five years from the review,
(iv) in all cases, the most up to date official electoral and statistical data available.
(d) the expression “electorate” means in relation to the United Kingdom, the aggregate electorate as defined in subsection (b) above of all the constituencies in the United Kingdom.
(e) the expression “enumeration date” means, in relation to any report of the Boundary Commission under this Act, the date on which the notice with respect to that report is published in accordance with section 3 of this Act.
In this Schedule, a reference to a rule followed by a number is a reference to the rule set out in the correspondingly numbered paragraph of this Schedule.
Each Boundary Commission shall, within eighteen months of the passage of this Act submit a report to the Secretary of State under section 3(1)(a) of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986.
Section 3A of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 shall not apply to a report required under section (2).”’."