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Parliamentary Constituency Boundaries

Volume 456: debated on Monday 29 January 2007

23. When the Commission expects the new parliamentary constituency boundaries to be laid before the House. (111475)

The Electoral Commission is responsible for conducting reviews of English local authority ward boundaries, but not parliamentary constituency boundaries, which are the responsibility of the respective boundary commissioners. Statutory responsibility for laying their reports before Parliament, and for laying draft orders to give effect to any proposed new boundaries, rests with the respective Secretaries of State to whom the boundary commissions submit their reports.

The hon. Gentleman will know that under sections 16 and 17 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, it is in the Government’s power to transfer boundaries to the responsibility of the Electoral Commission. Has he any view on that, in the light of the report that was published recently?

My hon. Friend is right that that is a matter for the Government, who made it clear when the provisions were enacted that they did not intend to take such steps before the current general reviews of all UK parliamentary constituencies had been concluded. My hon. Friend also rightly points out that the Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended in its recent report on the Electoral Commission that the provisions should be repealed, as part of a wider series of recommendations aimed at ensuring that the Electoral Commission no longer has any involvement in electoral boundary matters.

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to do so.

I put it to my hon. Friend that even if the Electoral Commission does not have formal responsibility in this matter—which is a source of some surprise, and also disquiet, to me and a number of my hon. and right hon. Friends—it will have a view about the transparency and accountability of the democratic process. Is it not unsatisfactory that instead of the changes having been laid in a timeous fashion, they have not yet been laid at all and we have had too much procrastination and delay? Is it not a good thing that the Leader of the House is present in the Chamber so that he can at least witness our protests and seek to ensure that something is done to address them?

The Committee on Standards in Public Life made some robust comments about the timeliness of the reviews of the boundary commissions. I noted that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House said that he thought that the Committee’s report should be debated by the House, and I am sure that that is one of the aspects of it to which Members will wish to give consideration.