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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:30 pm on 26th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 11:30 pm, 26th January 2011

I am very grateful for a very positive response. I shall deal with a few points so that people can read them in Hansard.

First, the noble and learned Lord is right to say that Professor Johnston, who is an expert in this field, has expressed scepticism from time to time about the public inquiries in some contexts, but he has said that the scale of the proposed changes in the first boundary review is an argument for having public inquiries this time because you are drawing a totally new map. Without being unfair, or selecting out of context, Professor Johnston is in favour in this context. He also referred to Robin Gray, the former chairman of a Boundary Commission, who has a rounded view of public inquiries and recognises problems with them. Robin Gray says:

"Particularly with this first round I can see there is a real need for public inquiries".

Therefore, the two witnesses that the noble and learned Lord cites both unequivocally favour public inquiries in this context.

Secondly, the way that this amendment is put is not as an alternative to written submissions, because it accepts that in the appropriate case written submissions would be sufficient. I draw attention to subsection (3) in the amendment, which says that the Boundary Commission can say no to a public inquiry if it raises no substantive issue that might benefit from further comment or representation from other interested parties or individuals. So the Boundary Commission would have to decide that there is some specific benefit in an inquiry. In relation to the timing, we have dealt with that already.

It is, with respect to the noble and learned Lord, difficult to see-and I am not going to press this too hard-why an inquiry should not be in the armoury in the appropriate case. He mentioned the fact that it is often about political parties vying in their own political interest. I am sure that is true. One of the things that we have often discovered in our system is that hearing two competing parties often produces the right result more easily through oral representations than through any other process. It is the process-without in any way saying that this should be exactly the same as a court process-that many of our courts have found the most effective way to come to the right answer.

I very much hope that when the noble and learned Lord considers it, he will come back and either suggest how it might be improved or accept the amendment. On the basis of the helpful and constructive commitment to consider the amendment, I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment 93 withdrawn.

House resumed.