Examination of Witness

Part of Parliamentary Constituencies Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 23rd June 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Peter Stanyon:

Certainly, Minister, and thank you. The key point is that these are the building blocks of the democratic system. The hard work is not necessarily directly to do with the elections process, but is more to do with the production of the electoral register. In terms of how the process works for administrators, the actual involvement in whether the proposals are right, wrong or whatever is not quite at the same level as that for local government boundary reviews. It is more about providing support to elected representatives and others regarding statistics and the like, to make sure that all the relevant needs are met so that the boundary commissions can come forward with their proposals, and councils and the like can make representations through the various processes available to them.

When presented with the final outcomes, the task starts. The key point is to revise the electoral register, so a lot of work goes on to ensure that the building blocks are correct. That does not just mean the parliamentary constituency boundaries—how they interrelate with local government ward boundaries, council divisions, parishes and the like—but, following on immediately from the constituency boundary changes, there is a need to look at all the polling districts, polling places and polling stations for the elections themselves. A lot of technical work goes on behind the scenes to make sure that on polling day, the elector arrives at their polling station in the correct area, with accessible venues and things like that.

One of the huge challenges—this goes back to the outcome of the previous review, which obviously is being effectively terminated—is the fact that each individual registration officer works in the individual building block of their local authority, but parliamentary constituencies do not follow those boundaries. One of the dangers of the previous review was that an awful lot of cross-boundary work needed to take place, which means liaising with neighbouring local authorities. That sounds reasonably straightforward, and in most instances it is, but it often means that different software systems are used for the electoral register and there are different working practices.

Although we all work according to the same legislative background, there are different ways of interpreting that locally. That means trying to ensure consistency across the piece, with the electors and candidates at elections receiving the right level of service and being able to be involved. Where there is more cross-boundary work, more elements of risk come in. Effectively, when it is under their self-control, it is a lot easier for local authorities to deal with those sorts of things. It is really a communication beast between individual registration and returning officers once the actual boundaries are agreed.