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The Parliamentary Boundary Commissions

Volume 413: debated on Thursday 23 October 1980

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3.17 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to expedite the deliberations of the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions.

My Lords, the four Parliamentary Boundary Commissions are independent statutory bodies, and the Government have no power to intervene in the conduct of their reviews.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that somewhat austere reply. I should like to ask whether he is not aware of the fact that we have already reached a situation in which an elector in Buckingham, for example, has only one-quarter or one-fifth of the voting power of an elector in some of the city centres. That surely brings discredit upon representative democracy, and will not my noble friend confirm that the Government are at least on speaking terms with the Boundary Commissions and could pass on this novel idea to them?

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend that, owing to discrepancies in the sizes of the electorates in constituencies, the reviews of the Boundary Commissions are of the very greatest importance. Perhaps I may remind my noble friend that the commissions are statutorily required to report by the spring of 1984, at the latest.

My Lords, are they not also independent bodies, not subject to pressure, even from this House?

My Lords, while the Boundary Commissions must report by the spring of 1984, they can report up to five years earlier. My noble friend has indicated on previous occasions that the reports will be ready by 1982. However, have the Government yet decided whether to propose amending the 1978 Act in order to allow the corn-missions to complete their reviews of the Westminster constituencies before having to review the European Parliamentary constituencies? Is it not more important that the general election, when it takes place, should be based upon constituencies which do not contain the present great disparities?

My Lords, the Government have been considering the matter which my noble friend has just raised, and the result of our deliberations will be announced in due course.

My Lords, will the noble Lord assure me that he will not foist upon the overworked British public a system of electoral colleges?

My Lords, is it not a fact that the local government Boundary Commissions, having completed their review of electoral areas so that the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions can do their work, will then have to look at the boundaries of local authorities? Therefore, could we not once again have a situation where, if we have an early report from the parliamentary commissions, we shall find the parliamentary constituencies out of step with local government areas? Therefore, would it not be best to try to unite the work of the two commissions and delay the report of the Boundary Commission as long as possible?

My Lords, the noble Lord has raised this matter before and I have checked on it again. I understand that the interrelation between the work of the local government and the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions is not causing any delay in the present review of parliamentary constituencies.

My Lords, I should like to ask whether the Minister will not consider any delay. It is already getting difficult for political parties of all persuasions to choose their candidates when they do not know whether the constituency concerned will be entirely wiped out or changed.

My Lords, I understand that the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are likely to have completed their reviews during 1982, and although the commission for Wales has not yet begun its review it is expected to do so very shortly indeed. That is the state of play and I can add nothing further in answer to my noble friend.

My Lords, granted that the Boundary Commissions are independent statutory bodies, if the Government can properly tell magistrates' courts to be realistic in sentencing policy, is there anything really inappropriate in their telling the Boundary Commissions to hurry up?

My Lords, does the noble Lord not realise that there is a precedent, not for Governments talking to Boundary Commissions, but for representatives of all parties speaking to them on such matters as are worrying the parties? In fact, I was a member of such a delegation to the Boundary Commission in 1948.