Guide to the 2023 Review of Parliamentary constituencies
Developing proposals – process
The BCE obtained the electorate figures from Electoral Registration Officers in local authorities, either directly, or indirectly through the Office for National Statistics. When all the figures had been received, the four Parliamentary Boundary Commissions agreed the UK electoral quota and the number of constituencies allocated to each part of the UK, applying the formulae set out in the Act (see above for the actual figures that have been agreed for the 2023 Review).
As explained above, the BCE has further allocated constituencies among the nine regions of England using the same distribution formula, and has determined that, in the absence of compelling reasons to the contrary, no constituency should cross a boundary between two regions.
The mandatory nature of Rule 2 in the legislation – concerning the statutory electorate range for constituencies – means that it will be necessary for a number of constituencies to cross external local authority boundaries: the electorates of many local authorities make it a mathematical impossibility for them to be allocated a whole number of constituencies. However, the BCE has sought to minimise the extent to which this happens. In order to meet the requirements of Rule 2, the BCE has found it necessary to combine some county and unitary authority areas together into sub-region groupings, but will then propose not to cross the boundaries between these sub-regions. The sub-regions used for the 2023 Review will be explained in the initial proposals.
Within each ‘sub-region’ grouping, the BCE identifies the appropriate number of constituencies to fit within the area that the sub-region covers. This is done by dividing the total electorate within that sub-region (as at 2 March 2020) by the UK electoral quota, with appropriate rounding applied to any fractions.
Taking into account all the considerations mentioned above and using wards as default building blocks, the BCE then works in detail on how to divide the sub-region into the relevant number of constituencies.
While the BCE uses a particular pattern of sub-regions for its initial proposals, this does not preclude an individual from submitting a counterproposal during the consultation stage that is, for example, based on a viable alternative pattern of sub-region groupings.
When the BCE has decided on its initial proposals, it publishes information on its website (including a series of reports to explain the proposals), together with detailed information about how and when views on those proposals can be submitted. At the same time, it sends hard copies of the proposals to various local ‘places of deposit’, where the public may view the proposals.
The places of deposit where the public may inspect the proposals are usually the offices of the relevant local authority, although other places such as public libraries may be used instead. There will be one hard copy deposited in each proposed constituency, and a full list of where these are will be published on the BCE website at the same time as the proposals.
In addition to the initial proposals and its reports on them, in order to help the public better to understand the proposals, the BCE also places on deposit and on its website detailed maps showing, among other information, the name, designation and boundary of each proposed constituency.
To publicise the initial proposals, the BCE also notifies all interested parties (for example, local authorities, MPs and academics) that it has published and is consulting on them. The House of Commons library also receives copies of the detailed maps. In advance of the information being sent out, the BCE also issues a press release about the initial proposals, the consultation period and the subsequent procedures of a review.
Copies of the initial proposals, reports and accompanying maps, and all other material published by the BCE, are placed on its website –
For the 2023 Review, the BCE plans to publish its initial proposals in June 2021.
Those who respond to the consultation are requested to say whether they approve of, or object to, the BCE’s proposals. In particular, objectors are advised to say what they propose in place of the BCE’s proposals. An objection accompanied by a viable counterproposal is likely to carry more weight than a simple statement of objection. In this respect – and particularly in light of the importance of Rule 2 (statutory electorate range) – a counterproposal setting out the composition of each constituency in an area will generally be viewed as more persuasive than a proposal for the composition of only one constituency which does not address any knock-on effects on the electorate figures of neighbouring constituencies.
The BCE is required to consider all written representations made to it within a statutory eight-week period commencing with publication of the initial proposals. Details of how to make written representations, including the last date for receipt of representations, will be published alongside the initial proposals themselves. The BCE will be encouraging all interested parties to contribute views through its consultation website.
Following the eight-week consultation on the BCE’s initial proposals, the BCE prepares and then publishes on its website all of the representations that it has received for each region. Once the representations have been published, there is a further statutory six-week period during which people can submit to the BCE written comments on those representations it received during the initial consultation period, for example, challenging or supporting assertions made in a representation. There is also the opportunity during this six-week consultation to make representations at public hearings (see below).
The BCE attaches just as much significance to representations made in writing and through its website as to those made orally at public hearings – the content of the representation is more important than the form it takes. There needs to be careful management of the conduct of the hearings, since they are strictly limited by statute to last for no more than two days each. However, if there is not time for someone who wishes to speak to the BCE to say everything they would like to, representations can still be made in writing within the six-week consultation period.
The BCE is required to conduct a minimum of two and maximum of five public hearings in each region of England. These must take place during the six-week secondary consultation period. The precise number and location of public hearings in each region will be determined by the BCE specifically in relation to the nature of the responses it receives to the consultation on its initial proposals, i.e. targeting the holding of hearings to areas where there is particular contention over the proposals and cases being made for competing alternate proposals. The details of venues and dates for the hearings will be announced on the BCE website in due course, although with a reasonable period of notice prior to the start of the secondary consultation period. While public hearings are currently required by law to be physically held at a venue in each region, the BCE is actively exploring how to make them as accessible as possible, including the possibilities for supplementing a physical hearing with remote live viewing and/or participation: this work was being undertaken in any event, but will be particularly relevant in the context of any legal restrictions on large gatherings, such as those implemented to restrict the spread of COVID-19 (which remain in place at the time of writing this guide).
A public hearing is intended to provide an opportunity for people to make representations about any of the BCE’s initial proposals for that region, present any counterproposals, and comment on counterproposals that may have been put forward by others during the initial consultation period.
Presentations at each public hearing are likely to focus on proposals for the area closest to the location of the hearing, but this does not preclude giving a presentation that relates to any part of the region in which the hearing is located. However, a representation should not be made that relates to an entirely different region.
Each hearing is chaired by an independent Assistant Commissioner selected by the BCE, who controls proceedings and may ask – or allow to be asked – questions of an individual giving a presentation. Questions should generally be asked through the Chair and should ordinarily be seeking clarification rather than trying to ‘cross-examine’ the speaker on their views.
Once details of the dates and locations of the public hearings have been published, individuals wishing to make an oral presentation at one of the hearings are encouraged to book in advance with the BCE. Details of how to book a speaking slot at a public hearing will be published on our website. At each ‘lead’ hearing – the first in the region – the four political parties with English seats in the House of Commons will be allocated a longer speaking slot at the start of the hearing to set out their proposals for the whole region. This longer speaking slot allows the political parties to address the whole region – however, it should be made clear that the BCE otherwise places no more weight on the representations from the political parties than from anyone else.
The BCE should make it clear that the duration of speaking slots is likely to be very limited, so presentations will need to be clear, concise and focused. Those intending to speak at a public hearing will also need to be reasonably flexible about when exactly they are asked to start and finish their presentation.
It will be for the Assistant Commissioner chairing the public hearing to decide when to call on speakers and the amount of time to be allocated to them. To aid the Assistant Commissioner in this task, it will be helpful if a synopsis or outline of the points the speaker wishes to make can be provided in advance. Guidance on how and when to do this will be published alongside the details of hearing dates and venues.
The BCE encourages the use of visual aids during the making of oral representations at public hearings. The BCE will have a laptop and projector available at each hearing to provide for an electronic presentation using MS Office software (for example, PowerPoint) or Google Apps (for example Google Slides). Where given sufficient notice, the BCE will also seek to facilitate the use of other visual aids as far as reasonably practicable.
Each public hearing will have a written record taken of all the representations made, and any visual aids used at a presentation will be attached to that record on subsequent publication.
The BCE staff and Assistant Commissioners consider all the written
representations received in the initial consultation period, and all the written representations and oral representations made at public hearings in the secondary consultation period. They then write a joint report on each region for the Commissioners, summarising and considering the representations, and recommending whether – and, if so, how – the initial proposals for that region should be revised in the light of those representations. The Commissioners then consider each report and determine whether and to what extent revisions should be made to their initial proposals.
The BCE then publishes a report for each region stating whether or not revisions have been made to the initial proposals for that region. Alongside these reports, it publishes all the written representations received – and transcripts from public hearings – during the six-week secondary consultation period.
If the proposals are revised, then the Act provides for a further period of four weeks for written representations to be made to the BCE on the revised proposals for that region. There are no public hearings at this stage; nor is there a repeat of the six-week period for commenting on the representations of others.
Publication of any representations received during the four-week consultation on revised proposals will take place alongside publication of the final report (see below).
The BCE wishes to stress very strongly that any person or organisation interested in the proposals for their area is encouraged to exercise their statutory right and make written or oral representations to the BCE, whether for or against the proposals.
A particular problem is to elicit such a response at the right time. For example, in previous reviews there were several occasions when people who had not made known their support for the initial proposals were surprised when the BCE subsequently published revised proposals. It was only at that late stage that they then made known their support for the initial proposals, often in very large numbers.
Full and timely participation ultimately assists the BCE in gauging more accurately local opinion on its proposals, and consequently increases the likelihood that its final recommendations will be generally acceptable to the majority of those who will have to live and work with them.
The BCE takes into consideration any written representations made in the four-week consultation period about the revised proposals, and then makes its final decisions about whether further modifications need to be made in light of those representations.
When the BCE has decided on its final recommendations for the whole of
England, it then drafts and submits a formal written report to the Speaker of the House of Commons. The report, which is also published once the Speaker has laid it before Parliament, contains a description of the review in each region, a textual description of all the final recommendations, and a set of maps to illustrate the existing boundaries and those proposed by the final recommendations.
The submission of the formal final report concludes the BCE’s involvement in the constituency review process. The procedure to subsequently implement new constituencies is the responsibility of the Government but is set out below for information.