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Parliamentary Constituency Boundaries: Review

Volume 739: debated on Tuesday 9 October 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how much it has cost to conduct the review of parliamentary constituency boundaries in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the four Boundary Commissions spent about £5.8 million up to the end of August 2012 on the boundary review. They expect to spend about £3.8 million from September 2012 to the end of the review.

I am sure that I am not alone in believing that that money would be better spent keeping disabled people, like the Remploy workers, in a job, but we are where we are. We remember that the Conservative and Lib Dem Peers were united in their enthusiasm to pass the Bill to reduce the number of parliamentary constituencies. Does the Minister expect both coalition parties to be equally united and enthusiastic to vote for the final report of the Boundary Commissions when it comes here next year? Furthermore, will the Minister be voting for it?

My Lords, we are a coalition. We have our open disagreements. I recall well the official who said to me last year that it was really rather easier working with this coalition than with the Blair/Brown coalition because we have our disagreements in the open whereas they plotted against each other. When it comes to the vote next year, we will consider our views.

My Lords, would the Minister agree that perhaps any further public spending would be better aimed at making sure that some of the millions of people in this country who are entitled to vote but are unable to do so because they are not on the voting register are included in those registers, so they can participate in the democracy of our country, rather than on the Boundary Commission review process, which is now clearly, simply, an academic exercise?

My Lords, we will be returning to the question of why people resist registering to vote during the Committee stage of the individual electoral registration Bill, and I commend to Members of the House the Electoral Commission study on it, which was published in June.

On how much has been spent, the previous boundaries review cost £13 million. This review was estimated to cost £11.5 million and it is now expected to cost £9 million. Much of the remaining £3.8 million has already been committed, so even if we said “stop” now, the possibility of saving very much money would be small.

My Lords, the Deputy Prime Minister has said that Liberal MPs and Liberal Peers are going to vote against the boundary changes. Is it not crazy to continue with it? Surely, we are going to waste nearly £4 million which could be better used. Why are we going ahead with it? I understood that the new chairman of the Conservative Party said that the plan is to withdraw these proposals. Can the Minister make it clear? Are they really pressing ahead with these proposals, given that the Deputy Prime Minister has said that they are effectively dead in the water?

I am glad to see that the noble Lord reads the Daily Mail which, I think, was where the report came from. Primary legislation requires the commissions to report to Parliament before October 2013, and it would require primary legislation to stop that. It would then be for Parliament to consider the recommendations. There is precedent for Parliament voting against the acceptance of a Boundary Commission review; it was done by the Labour Government in 1969.

My Lords, do Her Majesty’s Government consider that the 221 hours and 24 minutes over 35 days spent in your Lordships’ House and the other place on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill was a wise and mature use of precious parliamentary time, in view of the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister has suggested that Liberal Democrat Ministers and MPs will vote against the secondary legislation when it comes before this Parliament?

My Lords, I think that it would be a little brave of me to say what I thought was a useful use of the time of this Chamber or of the other Chamber and what I thought was not. I have sat through a number of debates over the last 15 years that I have felt were not useful uses of this Chamber’s time.

My Lords, is it not necessary that we have some certainty here? It is not just about money. There are candidates to be selected and party organisation to take place. The Prime Minister can bring certainty now by introducing primary legislation, or by making it absolutely clear that these boundary changes will not be going ahead, which will save money and enable people to get on with the existing boundaries.

My Lords, I take that point and I simply reiterate that in all matters of political and constitutional reform and order, it is much the best if we can achieve consensus among all the parties. However, we have to remember that one of the reasons why we are not proceeding with House of Lords reform is because the Labour Opposition in the House of Commons voted down the programme Motion.