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Local Government Commission For England

Volume 591: debated on Thursday 2 July 1998

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asked Her Majesty's Government:When they intend to announce the outcome of the prior options study of the Local Government Commission for England. [HL2501]

We are today publishing the report on the "prior options" study of the Local Government Commission for England (LGC). This is Stage 1 of the Financial Management and Policy Review of the commission which we announced in November 1997. We have arranged for copies to be placed in the Library of the House.The report concludes that the core function of the LGC, to review periodically the electoral arrangements of every local authority in England to reduce electoral imbalances, is essential and that the LGC is the right and most cost effective body to carry this out. It also concludes that the LGC is well placed to undertake individual structural and boundary reviews of local government.Other key findings of the report are that:

  • it should not be asked to undertake nationwide structural reviews in future;
  • the Secretary of State should be able to direct the types of review the LGC undertakes;
  • electoral review should be undertaken on a rolling basis and not on the basis of the current 10–15 year programme;
  • better co-ordination is needed between the Local Government Commission and the Parliamentary Boundary Commission (PBC);
  • the two commissions should be merged.

Under current legislation, the LGC in planning its review programme is obliged to follow a review cycle of 10–15 years which allows it neither to prioritise those areas where electoral imbalance is worst nor to have regard to the needs of the PBC. The PBC is, therefore, faced with conducting its reviews using ward data which are often very much out of date.

The report recommends the longer term option of a merger of the LGC and the PBC. It also makes a number of more detailed recommendations about the role of the LGC.

We agree that it is important for there to be as effective co-ordination as possible between the two commissions and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, and we will be considering what steps can now be taken to achieve this.

We are also minded, at the next legislative opportunity, to amend the 10–15 year periodic requirement to enable the LGC to plan the programme better, addressing the worst electoral imbalances first and having regard to the work of the PBC.

As to a merger of the two commissions, we recognise that there is a case for this. We also recognise that such a merger could raise important constitutional issues and have wider implications for the administration of our electoral arrangements. Accordingly, we are proposing now to consult widely on this proposal for merger before taking any final decisions.

We have arranged for Stage II of the Financial Management and Policy Review to take place over the coming months. It will look at the detailed operation of the LGC, and in particular its management structures, financial controls and arrangements for undertaking its reviews.