My Lords, before I comment on this amendment, can I pick up on what two noble Lords have said? When I spoke in Committee, I referred to automaticity and its derivation in this particular context. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, pointed out that the trade unions had got there first. I have mentioned to her since that, while we were in Committee, I was doing a search on the word “automaticity”, as was one of my noble friends, who managed to come up with an even earlier use of it. Shall I say, he was “cycling” through the web, which may indicate who found this wonderful piece of information. It is a study of the
“Effect of adenosine on sinoatrial and ventricular automaticity of the guinea pig”.
My noble friend Lord Blencathra talked about the years 1969 and 2011. Of course, he missed out 1983. I know that he, like the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, does not have a direct interest in 1983, but it affected some of us very strikingly and was the third occasion when this occurred.
I welcome this amendment, because in effect it achieves a declaration of full time. When this legislation originated, there were no timescales in it. I pointed out in Committee that the 1986 legislation introduced the first timescale, which was not that useful because it just said when the reviews would start, which was wonderful, but it did not say when they would finish, giving no timescales whatever. In the process of legislation we have now seen, each different process has a timescale of four months.
However, like my noble friend Lord Cormack, I would like to have seen a much briefer timescale, because the amount of work involved is overdone. Here I might correct myself and apologise, because in Grand Committee I said:
“As the noble Lord, Lord Young, has said, it is just 27 lines with vast quantities of pages thereafter. The argument made to me on previous occasions was”— this is in relation to the need to prepare the orders—
“‘Well, the maps have to be prepared; we have to ensure that we have’”—[Official Report, 8/9/20; col. GC 180-81.]
got them complete. I have done some research on these orders since and, in fact, there are no maps, so I apologise for misleading the Committee. I thought you would need laptops, websites, et cetera; in fact, all you need for the orders is a photocopier, because you lift it straight from the reports of the Boundary Commissions, which give the details of the wards.
On the question of returning officers, all you need is a list of them. I can stand here now and say that there will be two constituencies in Richmond borough and therefore who the returning officer will be. Some 90% of all returning officers can be identified now. It is almost the reverse of the game “Pointless”, where in one round they give you a few letters and you have to fill in the blanks. In this process, in relation to returning officers, it is only in those constituencies which cross borough boundaries where you have to wait until the final decision. As I say, I know how many there will be in Richmond, Bristol, Manchester or wherever, give or take one or two constituencies.
There is justification for this and I hope, as my noble friend Lord True has identified, that that is the maximum necessary period. It should be possible to do it in a shorter period. As I think a number of Members know, I had discussions with him because, as well as this issue about the end of the process, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, identified on Second Reading the question of what happens if there is a general election. I tried to find the phraseology for an amendment which would be operable if all the reports had been received. Unfortunately, due to time pressures and other events, I was unable to find a satisfactory amendment, or else I would have done so, because this is another issue that has not been touched on at any point and could apply—and did actually apply in 1983, in those very circumstances.
Therefore, I regret not being able to put down an amendment. I accept and welcome this amendment, but I hope there will be recognition that the vast majority of these processes are not lengthy, complicated and unnecessary post-drafting processes. The vast majority can be undertaken at a much earlier stage.