Taking account of local government boundaries

Part of Parliamentary Constituencies Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 25th June 2020.

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Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 3:30 pm, 25th June 2020

I thank my right hon. Friend for presaging something that it is very important that we shall come on to. I do not wish to dance on the head of a pin, as it were. She is absolutely right that those points are made in the rules, and the factors are a subset of the rules that govern a microscopic element of the conduct.

Within that set of parameters, we alight on the debate as between polling districts and wards, which this amendment addresses. If I may, if the hon. Member for Glasgow East says “cheeky chappie”, I will say agent provocateur, because he well knows that this does not apply to the boundary commission that serves his constituents and the nation he particularly argues for in everything else that he does. But I welcome the debate that provides. It is right that we think about that.

The evidence we heard from witnesses showed that some boundary commissions already do this and others do not. We have heard good arguments that the Boundary Commission for England, which was the one in particular focus, could use polling district data more freely and often, as well as how that relates to the argument about ward sizes. We heard the Boundary Commission for Scotland talk about how it takes a different approach, not wanting to see a one-size-fits-all approach to polling district data. The Boundary Commission for Wales then takes a different approach, using community ward data rather than polling district data.

From those discussions, we learned that boundary commissions already used polling district data where they wished to. The commissions then have valuable discretion to use different data where that suits their context. The 1986 law—through its 2011 changes, and as it is in the Bill—allows for that flexibility and variety, and it does not preclude the use of polling district data where it is relevant.

The Government and I come down on the side of those who have argued today that it is not necessary to specify that in the law, because it can already be done, and it is being done as a matter of practice in parts of the United Kingdom. On that basis, I ask the hon. Member for Glasgow East not to press his amendment.

At this stage, I will add that I think that all the boundary commissions ought to listen carefully to the arguments that have been put, very capably, across all parts of the Committee on how that microscopic conduct of the reviews can be done to the benefit of communities. Is that not the point that runs through this? We should try to make a common-sense review that will best serve communities. That is an outcome we all look for.

There is an opportunity for the boundary commissions to think about this. There is also an opportunity, as highlighted by those evidence sessions, for the boundary commissions to learn from each other. Indeed, we saw different practices among the different commissions. I think they already hold discussions among themselves and I encourage them to continue doing so.

On what the Cabinet Office can add to that, I am open to looking at arguments for how it might be possible to facilitate such better use of data. For that, like other members of the Committee, we require that note from the Boundary Commission for England, as was promised, and then to look at the entire situation in the round. That is to say, I do not think this is necessarily something suitable to specify in a Bill, but it can be achieved through working practice.

I will come now to new clause 9 and then pause on the question that the clause stand part of the Bill, in order to come back to those—