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Local Government Boundary Commission for England

Volume 679: debated on Monday 7 September 2020

[Relevant Documents: Second Report of the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, Re-appointment of the Chair of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England, HC 626.]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will re-appoint Professor Colin Mellors OBE as Chair of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England with effect from 1 January 2021 for the period ending on 31 December 2025.—(Stuart Andrew.)

I thank the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission for its second report. Professor Colin Mellors was appointed chair of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England on 1 January. His current term of office began then and comes to an end on 31 December. I think it would be helpful for the House to hear exactly what the Speaker’s Committee said about Professor Mellors:

“Together, the responses gave us a positive impression of the way Professor Mellors had carried out the role. They suggested that he had taken an open and inclusive approach to chairing the Commission, that he had effectively maintained the Commission’s independence, impartiality and credibility, and that he had brought to the role a strong understanding of the local government sector and the wider policy context.”

The Committee

“also heard that Professor Mellors had ensured the Commission’s finances were carefully scrutinised to enable it to deliver value for money.”

We support the Government’s motion endorsing Professor Colin Mellors.

I, too, wish to support and endorse the appointment of Professor Colin Mellors. I also wish to spare him vast amounts of unnecessary work.

I wonder whether the Government might consider that, in the midst of the biggest crisis this country has faced since the second world war, it is the wisest thing to ask Professor Mellors, or indeed other parts of the state, to spend the next few years engaging with a top-down restructuring of local government, therefore focusing local authorities’ efforts not on tackling the virus or on providing schooling or care or looking after our local communities, but on looking inwardly—navel contemplating; reorganising the deckchairs on the Titanic—when instead they should be focusing on serving their communities.

I wonder whether the Minister agrees that top-down reorganisation and restructuring is always dangerous because we always find that people take their eye off the main ball and the main focus. In the midst of the biggest crisis since 1945, is it wise—and indeed in touch with public opinion and what is going on in this country— to publish a White Paper that Professor Mellors will now have to get to grips with, as he sets new boundaries in much bigger councils, and sets new electoral limits, and tell him, and indeed, the whole of the local government community, “Spend the next two years navel contemplating, talking to yourselves and rewriting the headed paper, instead of providing support for public health and fighting back against the virus and the economic consequences”?

I join the Opposition spokesman in the comments she made about Professor Colin Mellors. I will certainly make sure that the Secretary of State has heard the views of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), but I am sure that the glowing references we have heard about Professor Mellors mean that he will be more than capable of dealing with anything that is sent his way.

Question put and agreed to.