Publicity and consultation

Part of Parliamentary Constituencies Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 25 June 2020.

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Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham 2:45, 25 June 2020

I am sorry that I did not call you “Sir David” earlier. I was not trying to de-noble you and I apologise.

I support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Glasgow East. We are in a curious situation with this clause. On the one hand, the Government are saying, “Step back, set the parameters and let the boundary commission get on with it,” but when we get to this clause they become prescriptive. The clause limits the scope of the boundary commission to consult and to set up consultations with an area in a way that meets the reaction they are getting from a local community. It says that there can only be five consultations in an area. That does not seem to me to be stepping back, allowing the boundary commission to get on with its job, and reacting according to representations from the community.

The Bill sets a rigid timetable, which is acceptable, but subsection (12) says that we will have only six weeks for the second stage and four weeks for the third, because we have a rushed timetable. In the evidence, we were told time and again that this will be a major upheaval because the boundaries are 20 years out of date. Rather than truncating the consultation period in the coming boundary review, we should at least stick to the length of time we are setting for subsequent boundary reviews. Apparently we are not doing that and we can rush at this one, like a bull at a gate.

This is a substantial review that will bring about major changes because of the age of the boundaries we have, which is quite right. I am not arguing about the fact that these changes have to be made and that we have to achieve some sort of equilibrium, which at the same time recognises communities, but it will be a difficult exercise that the Government are making even more difficult because of the timescale they are setting.

Saying that the second stage of the review will have only six weeks and the final stage only four does not seem to be consistent with the idea that we set parameters and let the boundary commission get on with its job. All of a sudden we are starting to put difficulties in its way. I would support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Glasgow East if it were put to a vote. It is important that we give flexibility to the boundary commission so that the public have confidence in what the commission is doing and that their views can be heard. Even if the outcome is not the boundaries that the public support, at least they will have had the right to have their voices heard in a way that is convenient and in a location that enables them to participate. Putting restrictions on the boundary commission is a step in the wrong direction. I fundamentally disagree with the bit in subsection (12). On a boundary review that is well overdue and is going to be difficult, the Government have set a tougher timescale. The game is up. This really does expose the political considerations. This is all about the timing and choice of a general election date from 2023 onwards. It has nothing whatever to do with doing an efficient job in reviewing parliamentary boundaries.