The Constitution Unit


Alan Renwick and Robert Hazell give evidence on the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill

24 June 2020

Dr Alan Renwick, the Unit's Deputy Director, and Professor Robert Hazell, its founding Director, have given expert evidence to the House of Commons public bill committee that is examining the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill.

Map of Pontefract constituency, 1832

Alan Renwick and Robert Hazell gave oral evidence to the public bill committee on the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill on 23 June. This built upon their post on the Unit’s blog and written evidence submitted to the committee.

They strongly supported the proposal in the bill to remove from government and parliament the ability to block implementation of boundary reviews. This provision caused some controversy during the bill’s second reading in the Commons, but they argued that allowing politicians any role at this crucial stage runs counter to basic democratic principle. It has allowed MPs to block implementation three times in recent years, at least in part for partisan reasons. As a result, the current boundaries are seriously out of date: in England they are based on electoral registers from 2000. While it is wholly proper for politicians and political parties to make submissions to the boundary reviews, they must not be able to influence the final decisions. 

To ensure that the Boundary Commissions remain independent and impartial, however, Dr Renwick and Professor Hazell recommended that the bill be amended in order to provide new safeguards. They emphasised four key points:

  1. the Commissioners should be appointed for a single, non-renewable eight-year term
  2. they should be subject to requirements of political neutrality
  3. the deputy chair of each Commission (a High Court judge) should sit on the appointments panel for other Commissioners
  4. the appointing minister should be required to appoint only from the names recommended by the panel.

Committee members also asked about the parameters within which the Boundary Commissions should conduct their reviews, particularly whether the 5% margin around the average constituency electorate should be widened. Later the same day, the committee conducted a further evidence session focusing on this with Charles Pattie and David Rossiter, who set out their analysis on the Unit’s blog.

Evidence in full:

Watch the oral evidence session here

Read the written evidence here

Further links:

Blogpost by Alan Renwick and Robert Hazell

The evidence on draws on previous work by the Unit. Robert Hazell conducted a quinquennial review of the Local Government Commission in 1998 [Unit report no 30] which recommended merger with the Parliamentary Boundary Commission. The Unit has also done work on the independence and accountability of constitutional watchdogs [Unit reports nos 100 and 144], and on improving parliamentary scrutiny of public appointments [Unit report no 175]