“As soon as reasonably practicable”.
This refers to the requirement for Ministers to lay the draft Orders in Council giving effect to the recommendations of the Boundary Commission reports. Without repeating those arguments, I will say that this lack of precision could enable the Government to delay implementing those recommendations, thereby negating the objective of the Bill, which is to put this issue out of reach of political mischief.
We debated this further in Committee in relation to my amendment to require the Order to be laid within three months, in my case, and in a more exacting six weeks in a similar amendment from my noble friend Lord Cormack. The principle was supported by all those who spoke, and my noble friend the Minister made an emollient reply while reiterating the Government’s preference to leave the words as originally drafted. We had further discussions, as promised, in the interval between Committee and Report, the outcome of which are Amendments 6, 7 and 8.
I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for listening and then seeking and ensuring collective agreement to the amendments. They are a compromise and, like all compromises, each side ended up with slightly less that they would have liked but enough to be satisfied with. May the negotiations on the EU treaty have a similar outcome.
Amendments 6 and 7 make changes to Clause 2 and provide that
“a draft Order in Council implementing the reports of the Boundary Commissions must be submitted to Her Majesty in Council no later than four months after they have all been laid before Parliament unless there are exceptional circumstances.”
This is in addition to
“As soon as reasonably practicable” after the reports have been laid before Parliament, so it is a sort of backstop.
My noble friend persuaded me that there should be some elasticity in my original three months, and this updated amendment provides for a four-month limit. The period of four months is deemed by the Cabinet Office to be sufficient to allow the necessary work in drafting the Order in Council bringing the recommendations of a boundary review into effect to be completed. It also provides a measure of flexibility to ensure that a meeting of the Privy Council is held during the specified period within which the Order must be submitted because, at certain times of the year, it does not meet regularly.
My noble friend also persuaded me that we needed an “exceptional circumstances” clause to deal with, for example, a global pandemic or the death or prolonged illness of the sovereign, when it would not be feasible to submit the Order. Without this clause, if those circumstances arose, it would not be possible, without further primary legislation, to lay the Order once the circumstances returned to normal.
Amendment 7 inserts new provisions into Section 4 of the 1984 Act to provide that
“If the draft of an Order in Council is not submitted … before the end of the four month period, the Secretary of State or the Minister for the Cabinet Office must lay one or more statements before Parliament … specifying the exceptional circumstances.”
This regular reporting requirement would prevent any delay being quietly swept under the carpet.
Amendment 8 inserts new subsection (7A) into Section 4 to define “sitting day”, which, surprisingly, means:
“a day on which both Houses of Parliament sit; and for that purpose a day is only a day on which a House sits if the House begins to sit on that day.”
I hope I have explained the background to the amendments as well as their key details. My noble friend the Minister, whose DNA is all over the amendments, will be able to answer any detailed questions that arise during the debate. I beg to move Amendment 6.