My private members bill has its second reading on Friday 1st December. Constituency boundaries may seem a technical issue, but they are essential to the public’s ability to hold Members of Parliament to account. They should reflect communities and stay stable over time, so that residents with common issues and existing ties can be properly represented in Parliament.
I have no self-interest here. Under the current boundary proposals, my constituency would stay exactly the same. I simply believe it is what is best for our country.
My bill is simple, it has four clauses which do five things. It retains the number of MPs at 650; reviews the boundaries every ten years; ensures that all constituencies have the same number of voters within a margin of 7.5%; makes sure the 2 million people who registered to vote since 2015 are included in the boundary review; and fixes the number of constituencies in Northern Ireland at 18.
The Government has said that reducing the number of MPs will save money. Yet at the same time they have increased the number of unelected Lords and special advisers. Clearly saving money was not the real motivator here.
Our job as MPs is divided between Parliament and our constituencies. The current boundary proposals would impede our work in both places.
In Westminster, we scrutinise legislation passing through Parliament. We hold the Government to account and represent our constituents on a national level. The Government is proposing to reduce the number of MPs without getting rid of any Ministers. This would tip the balance towards the executive, and weaken the voice of Parliament. As we navigate Brexit, MPs’ workload will inevitably increase. We are scrutinising the most important constitutional change in decades, meanwhile MEP’s constituency workloads will pass to MPs in Westminster. This is not the time to reduce democratic representation.
In our constituencies, we form close ties with our communities. This link is unique and fundamental to our democracy. In order to form organic relationships and representational legitimacy, constituencies must reflect geographical and community boundaries. Reducing the number of MPs will make constituencies bigger, and weakens the link between the MP and the communities they were elected to represent. My bill delivers the Government’s aim of equal sized constituencies, but increases the variation in electors to maintain stability and close links with our communities.
Representation is very important to me. That is why I am deeply concerned about the ‘missing’ two million voters who are not being included in the current boundary review. My bill would make sure their voices are heard, by using the electoral register from the 2017 General Election as its starting point.
Finally, there will always be exceptions. In many areas, Northern Ireland is given special status. Northern Ireland has only a small number of MPs and Brexit has already introduced enormous uncertainties there. My bill would maintain the status quo and fix the number of MPs at 18.
Our current situation is a mess. The unpopular attempt to reduce the number of MPs does not have support in Parliament, but the Government refuses to ditch their plans. My bill has been designed to build a cross party consensus to retain the best of what we have. All the opposition parties are united, and some Tories are on side as well, because ultimately representation and accountability matter, not just to the electorate, but also to the many MPs who value their role and responsibility in assuring both.
Afzal Khan is the Labour MP for Manchester Gorton