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Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill — Committee (14th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 26th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 9:30 pm, 26th January 2011

My Lords, I have two questions. First, in Clause 11, rule 7(1)(b) states that if the Boundary Commission,

"consider that having to apply rule 2"- which I understand is the electoral quota-

"would unreasonably impair ... their ability to take into account the factors set out in rule 5(1)", which are,

"special geographical considerations ... local government boundaries ... any local ties that would be broken by changes in constituencies", and,

"the inconveniences attendant on such changes", it is entitled to apply those factors, and in effect downgrade rule 2. What is the thinking behind the Government treating Northern Ireland differently, particularly having regard to the principle, stated and restated, of the need for equality in constituencies? We have not referred to that either at Second Reading or in any other debate. I ask of course because I am interested in Northern Ireland, but also to probe the principle underlying the Bill.

The second question relates to the review date. During the debates about electors who are missing from the electoral register, it was said that the date on which the register would be taken was December 2010. I assume that this comes from rule 9(2), which states:

"For this purpose the relevant version of a register is the version that is required by virtue of subsection (1) of section 13 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 to be published no later than the review date".

Rule 9(5) on page 12 states:

"The 'review date', in relation to a report under section 3(1) of this Act that a Boundary Commission is required ... to submit before a particular date, is two years and ten months before that date".

Is it because the Government assume that the Boundary Commission will submit a report in October 2013 that the relevant register is that of December 2010? If the commission submits a report before October 2013, will the relevant register be a month earlier; and, equally, if it is submits it after October 2013, will it be a month later? The significance of this is that I understood from answers given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, that the relevant date of December 2010 was rigidly fixed, whereas I understand that the way that the Act will work is that the register of two years and 10 months before the date of the report will be taken. If I am right in that surmise, how will the Boundary Commission know when it submits its report what the relevant register is? Those are my only questions on Clause 11 stand part.