To ask the hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, what proposals there are to allow further and wider community participation in the procedure for the review of local government ward boundaries; and if he will make a statement.
Later this year, the boundary committee for England will complete its programme of periodic electoral reviews. I understand that the Electoral Commission will then undertake a comprehensive appraisal of its review processes and policies, which will include consideration of community participation in the process.
I advise the House that from my experience of schemes for changing the ward boundaries of local authorities, local individuals and groups may come up with perfectly good ideas, but because they do not have the ordnance survey, the electoral details or the projected housing for the next five years, and cannot supply that information to the boundary committee, their scheme is not considered. That is unfair and unreasonable to the people involved and changes will have to be made. When will the House have the opportunity to debate the recommendations of the boundary committee and the boundary commission?
The boundary committee asks local authorities being reviewed to make available locally all relevant electoral data so that any interested party should be able to access exactly the same detailed information on which to base their proposals as does the council. The committee also provides a wide range of information to interested parties about its electoral review work through the press, media, its website, council offices and local libraries. I am advised that the Electoral Commission and its boundary committee then give equal consideration to all submissions that are received, with the main consideration being the level of argumentation and advice that accompanies any submissions. Later today, the House will have an opportunity to consider some aspects relating to Electoral Commission work.
I declare an interest, inasmuch as the Vale of York came into being in 1995 and is due to expire when the next boundary commission takes effect. Is it the case that in their representations on local government boundary changes, parish councils carry more weight than individuals? Is the Speaker's Committee mindful of that, and should not individuals be heard in the same way as parish councils and others?
The advice I have been given is that the Electoral Commission and the boundary committee review the level of argumentation and evidence that accompanies any submissions, and they seek to be scrupulously fair.
Might there not be more interest in the review of local government boundaries if there were more candidates coming forward in local government elections, especially in parish areas where there are often hosts of unopposed returns? Might there be added interest if there were a television campaign at about the time of the elections to encourage people to stand? There would then be greater interest in what was happening in the community, which might affect boundary reviews.