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Lewis Baston: Evidence for Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill

Posted on 12 October 2010 by admin

I am currently senior research fellow with Democratic Audit and it is under the auspices of Democratic Audit that I offer these observations on the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill. Previously I was Director of Research at the Electoral Reform Society (2003-2010) and I have been author and co-author of several books on political geography, most notably The Political Map of Britain. I am grateful to the Committee for inviting me to submit evidence.


  • There are no serious problems with the provisions on a referendum.
  • The timetable for the Bill itself, and the proposed boundary review, are both too rapid and prevent consideration of workable alternatives.
  • The purported ‘problem’ addressed by the Bill is not a serious one.
  • The electoral register is too incomplete and the totals too volatile to serve as a fair basis for the allocation of parliamentary constituencies, and these problems are likely to worsen over the next few years.
  • An exception has been made for some islands and constituencies with large land areas, but there is no acknowledgement of other factors that impinge on the practicality of constituency representation (population, local identities, administrative complexity).
  • A Commons size of 600 is arbitrary and seems not to reflect any analysis of the capacity and functions of MPs and the House in general.
  • The banning of public inquiries is a severe and deplorable downgrading of public participation and transparency in the boundary process.

(Excerpt from) Evidence of Lewis Baston, Democratic Audit
24 August 2010

Read Lewis Baston’s full submisson here (.doc) Please note that this material is the property of the Select Committee.

Excerpts from Third Report of Select Committee (Download the full Third Report of the Select Committee here (pdf))

68. The House of Commons, at 650 Members, is not much larger than the German Bundestag (622), the Italian Chamber of Deputies(630) and the French National Assembly (577). Lewis Baston, of Democratic Audit, has written that any international comparison fails to take account of the unique nature of the United Kingdom’s political structure: “Most comparisons with other countries with smaller lower houses and larger population miss the points that the US and Germany, for instance, have federal and state tiers of government, and the legislature in some countries like the US and France does not supply the ministerial bench.” In both the Bundestag and the French National Assembly, members of the Government do not occupy seats as Members of Parliament. Germany, as a federal republic, also has 16 state parliaments, with more than 1,800 members between them.

88. We have not as a Committee attempted to determine the precise level of variation from the electoral quota that would be appropriate  to achieve this goal: this is a matter for further political argument.  Before the 2010 general election, the Conservative Official Opposition tabled amendments  to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill which would have limited variation to 3.5% from the quota. Lewis Baston in his evidence suggests that 10% would be a more appropriately flexible figure.

122. Despite these reservations, many of our witnesses believed public inquiries serve a useful function. Lewis Baston of Democratic Audit, while acknowledging that proceedings can “sometimes become political theatre”, told us:
The public inquiry, at its best, can be a forum for testing the strength of arguments for the provisional recommendations and alternative schemes under the Rules, and how they correspond with other (possibly less self-interested) representations from the public. Assistant Commissioners often take pains to discount self-interested pleading and ascertain which plan best fits the constraints and the realities on the ground…In terms of gaining consent and a sense of ownership of the proposals in the locality, the level of scrutiny of the broad pattern and local detail gained from a public inquiry is sometimes indispensable.

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