Parliamentary Constituencies Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee on 25th June 2020.

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[Ian Paisley in the Chair]

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 11:30 am, 25th June 2020

You are all very welcome. Before we begin, a couple of preliminary notices: jackets can be removed, obviously, as it is incredibly hot. If I told you to keep them on and that it would make the Bill Committee go away quicker I would, but that would not be fair. We must respect social distancing rules at all times, and I will issue a quick reminder if anyone breaches them. More copies of Hansard are being brought up so that Members can check details of previous sittings. I remind Members that electronic devices should be set to silent. Plenty of warm water has been supplied, to make you wish that it was cold water. Given the intolerable heat in which we are working, if you want to bring in refreshments I am happy with that.

We now begin line-by-line consideration of the Bill. The selection list for today’s sitting is available in the room. I hope you are happy with how the selected amendments have been grouped for debate. Amendments grouped together are generally of a same or similar nature. Please note that decisions on amendments do not take place in the order in which the amendments are debated, but in the order in which they appear on the amendment paper. The selection list shows the order of debates. Decisions for each amendment are taken when we come to the clause that the amendment affects. I hope that is clear.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley

On a point of order, Mr Paisley. I seek your guidance before we start to move to details on the clauses. During one of the evidence sessions, we were given evidence on a matter that came up elsewhere. Mr Pratt quoted the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s observation that

“in a majority voting system, the size of the electorate should not vary by more than approximately ten percent from constituency to constituency.”––[Official Report, Parliamentary Constituencies Public Bill Committee, 18 June 2020; c. 36, Q64.]

The officials helpfully provided us with the documentation of the OSCE report and of the Venice commission on which that is based, and I thank them for that. The “Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters” produced by the Council of Europe’s Venice commission states that the

“The maximum admissible departure from the distribution criterion…should seldom exceed 10%”.

I think we should ask the officials to seek a full definition of what the “distribution criterion” is. Is there is a fixed figure from which one can deviate either side by up to 10%, or must it lie in the middle of that 10%? It would be enormously helpful to get clarification on that.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Thank you for making that point, Mr Spellar. Unfortunately, it is not a matter for the Chair, and I cannot give a ruling on it. However you have made the point and it will appear in Hansard. No doubt you will be able to receive some updated material from Mr Pratt if you contact him directly.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley

Further to that point of order, Mr Paisley. Could we ask the Clerks to seek clarification on that? It is a very important factor on which we might be making our determination.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

All I can say is that the point has been heard. You have it on the record, and that is the important thing for you at this point.

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell

Further to the point of order, Mr Paisley. Just for clarification, as you rightly say it is not a matter for the Chair; it is a matter of debate. I have the same document that the right hon. Member has before him and it is opaque. Therefore I would say that, for your guidance Mr Paisley, it is a matter purely of debate. In order to help the Clerk, you may struggle to find the information sought by the right hon. Member.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Thank you very much, Mr Shelbrooke. I do not think the Clerk needs any help. I thank you for trying to help me, but as you say, these matters are not for the Chair. We have had three sittings already and some of the matters have been touched on anyway. They are subjects for discussion and debating points.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

On a point of order, Mr Paisley. Last Thursday, 18 June, when we were taking evidence from the Boundary Commission for England, an undertaking was given to provide evidence to the Committee about the collection of data. We gave the commission two weeks to give that evidence. Has there been any indication of when it might be forthcoming?

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Thank you, Mrs Miller. I thought that that was the point that Mr Spellar was going to make. It is an important one. We have asked for the evidence to be delivered here by 29 June, which is Monday, so you will have time on Tuesday and Thursday next week not only to consider it but to appeal it.