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Electoral Commission Committee

Volume 519: debated on Tuesday 30 November 2010

The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Alternative Vote Referendum

1. What discussions the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission has had with the Electoral Commission on its monitoring of the conduct of the forthcoming referendum on the alternative vote. (27046)

The Speaker’s Committee has had no such discussions. However, under section 5 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, the Electoral Commission must

“prepare and publish…a report on the administration of”

any UK-wide referendum. The findings of its report will be based on evidence collected from a variety of sources, including an analysis of referendum data, feedback from electoral administrators, designated organisations and permitted participants, and public opinion research.

One area where the Electoral Commission is a statutory consultee is the allocation of referendum campaign broadcasts to the designated yes and no campaigns. In a debate such as that on the alternative vote system, about which there are currently very low levels of public understanding, public engagement could be encouraged and increased by having a higher frequency of much shorter referendum broadcasts. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that the Electoral Commission takes its responsibilities seriously and moves to modernise our system of party broadcasts?

Under current law, the BBC and other broadcast organisations must have regard to the commission’s views when deciding their policy and rules about any referendum campaign broadcasts. Discussions have already taken place, and the Electoral Commission supports the BBC’s proposal to allocate broadcasts on the referendum only to those organisations designated by the commission, which will ensure a fair balance between the yes and no campaigns.

Local Government Boundaries

2. What discussions the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission has had with the Local Government Boundary Commission for England on the likely effects on its future work programme of implementation of the provisions of the Parliamentary Voting and Constituencies Bill. (27047)

The Speaker’s Committee and the Local Government Boundary Commission for England have held no such discussions. The LGBCE advises me that parliamentary constituency boundaries are not a statutory or material consideration in its review work.

But is the hon. Gentleman not worried, as I am, about the huge variation in ward boundaries in the most recent LGBCE assessments? In the last two, there has been up to a 30% difference between wards in Stoke and Cheshire in the number of voters per ward. Will that not make it much harder to ensure that wards will not be split in the new constituencies envisaged in the Bill? I think most Members would rather avoid that.

It is certainly the case that there are variations in the number of electors in certain wards, which is one reason why, in the hon. Lady’s own constituency, the LGBCE is about to start work on reforming the wards in Slough borough council. Whether the Boundary Commission for England will take those variations into account is very much a matter for itself, not for the Electoral Commission.

What recent representations and discussions has the Electoral Commission had with the Deputy Prime Minister regarding the real problems associated with second home voter registration?

I am not aware of any recent discussions about that very important matter, which perhaps afflicts hon. Members from the west country more than those from other regions, but I will take my hon. Friend’s representations to the Electoral Commission and see whether such dialogue can now take place.

Until now, local government boundaries have formed the building blocks on which constituencies are made up. It is important that local communities are understood so that electoral boundaries are easily and clearly understood by people who live within them. May I stress to the hon. Gentleman the need to make the case that local communities must take precedence in all decision making on future and current boundary reviews, which will affect parliamentary boundaries in future?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very powerful point, and the LGBCE does indeed take into account the wishes and interests of local communities in settling where ward boundaries should lie.