Reports of the Boundary Commissions

Part of Parliamentary Constituencies Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 25 June 2020.

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Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 2:15, 25 June 2020

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, because she allows me to move on to the matters in clause 2. They are very important, and she presages what I am going to say.

Clause 2 changes the way in which the recommendations of the boundary commissions are brought into effect. This is the meat of the debate. The purpose of the change is to bring certainty to the boundary review process and give confidence that recommendations of the independent boundary commissions are brought into effect without interference or delay. The boundary commissions develop their proposals through a robust process involving extensive public consultation over a two to three-year period.

The right hon. Member for Warley made a very thoughtful point about checks and balances, and what he called a new set of priesthoods. Aside from the fact that this is not new—this commission has been in existence for many decades, and rightly so—the point that I want to make is this: the public are the check and balance on that body. By way of example, more than half the recommendations made by the Boundary Commission for England in the previous cycle were changed. This morning, examples were exchanged of where change was desirable or not desirable, and where it was proposed or rejected, but the fact is that that level of responsiveness to the public has been shown to be there in what boundary commissions do, so the need for check and balance is met by what the boundary commissions do in their public consultation. That is very important. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West eloquently touched on that.

It is important that the boundary commissions’ impartial recommendations are brought into effect promptly and with certainty in order to avoid wasting public money and time and to underline the independence of the process. Clause 2 provides for proposed constituencies to be brought into effect automatically. It does that by amending the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, which provides for the recommendations to be brought into effect through an Order in Council made by Her Majesty following approval of the draft order by both Houses of Parliament.

As happens now, the Secretary of State would be required to give effect to the recommendations of the boundary commissions. Let me say a little about the wording that hon. Members will see in the Bill. Professor Sir John Curtice also noted this in evidence. The wording has been updated over time. In the current legislation, a Minister must submit the draft order

“as soon as may be”.

The new wording used in the clause is:

“as soon as reasonably practicable”.

I do not think that is of great interest to the Committee, but I just want to make the point that that is more up-to-date wording. There is nothing more to be read into that change of words.