Local Referendums: Local Government Reorganisation

Electoral Commission Committee – in the House of Commons on 22nd April 2021.

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Photo of Ian Liddell-Grainger Ian Liddell-Grainger Conservative, Bridgwater and West Somerset

What assessment the Electoral Commission has made of the potential merits of using local referendums to inform local government reorganisation.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

There are mechanisms in law for holding referendums on a number of local matters. Decisions on whether to deploy such a mechanism are political and not for the commission. It has therefore made no assessment of the merits of using local referendums to inform local government reorganisation.

Photo of Ian Liddell-Grainger Ian Liddell-Grainger Conservative, Bridgwater and West Somerset

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and I do not disagree at all, but we have a problem in this country when a body like Somerset County Council, which wants to go unitary, has asked the Government to do a consultation using the citizen space, which is not a consultation—anybody in the world can take part. Surely a referendum is the only way to truly hear what the people of Somerset want to say—under the auspices of the Electoral Commission, so that we have proper democracy, proper accountability? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is the way that government should work? Is that not the way the House should work?

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

The hon. Gentleman has a long history of promoting his concerns on local government in his area, and the House will respect the persistence in his campaign. However, under current legislation, local authority accounting officers would be responsible for running local referendums. The commission’s role would be limited to providing guidance to accounting officers on some aspects of the administration of local referendums, particularly where they are concerned with other events. If we were to achieve what the hon. Gentleman was hoping for, I suspect and fear that a change in legislation would be required.