We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:00 pm on 26th January 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lords Spokesperson (Attorney General's Office), Lords Spokesperson (Wales Office), The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Scotland Office) 11:00 pm, 26th January 2011

Amendments 91AA and 91B would change the process of consultation as set out in the Bill. The Government believe that it is important that there should be a good flow of information between the Boundary Commissions and the public so that people can be informed about the review and have their say. That is why we have extended the period for representations to 12 weeks from the four weeks currently provided for.

Amendment 91B, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, would, as he said, require the commissions to take into consideration any comments that they receive on representations made on their recommendations-that is, the ability of the public to make counter-representations to those of other individuals, if that is not too convoluted. He referred to the British Academy study, which made that recommendation.

I reassure the noble Lord that our thoughts are very similar to those during yesterday's debate on the issue of wards-yesterday or the day before; anyway, earlier this week-and their use in making recommendations for constituency boundaries. That is that we are open to considering improvements to the process of public consultation on recommendations for boundary changes that do not compromise the key principles of the Bill. Adding an opportunity for counter-representations would not compromise the key principles, particularly that of dealing with boundaries that are as up to date as possible. We will consider the details of how the process set out in the amendment might function and come forward with our amendments at Report.

The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, would require the Boundary Commissions to publish all written representations received as part of the consultation process online, in a very environmentally friendly way, within 24 hours of receipt. That is a helpful and useful suggestion which we will certainly want to consider carefully before Report. We question one element. The commissions made extensive use of the internet in the course of the previous general review and, although it is for them to decide, I am confident that they would do likewise this time.

The practical problem with the noble Lord's amendment is the requirement to publish those representations within 24 hours of receipt. Our experience of consultations is that many people submit their representations very shortly before the deadline. If the commissions have received thousands of representations just before the end of the period, they might find themselves overwhelmed if they are then required to publish them online within 24 hours, especially if a number of representations were received in paper form that had to be turned into a version that was electronically presentable. The secretaries to the respective Boundary Commissions told the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee that they have sufficient resources. I do not doubt that the commissions will act to publish the representations in good time following the end of the consultation period, but I fear that there may be occasions when it would be impractical to do so within 24 hours.

I thank the noble Lords, Lord Lipsey and Lord Kennedy, for highlighting these issues by way of their amendments and reassure them that we will bring our proposals to the House at the next stage of the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House. On that basis, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.