|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 2, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 3, 27, 28 and 51. When I first tabled this amendment I wanted to debate two aspects of the commission: first, the kind of people who might be appointed commissioners or, perhaps more appropriately, those who might not; and, secondly, the chairmanship of the Boundary Commissions for the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. It so happens that the Government have now tabled a raft of amendments to deal with the qualification of commissioners and, therefore, I can leave that matter until the Committee comes to government Amendment No. 5.
I should like to hear the views of the Minister on the relationship between the Boundary Commissions and the electoral commission. This is one area in which the Government have decided not to follow the recommendation of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen. As to the Boundary Commissions, on page 154 of the report of the committee one sees:
I freely concede that the committee did not take a firm position on the matter. As the report makes clear, the committee had not taken evidence on the issue. However, having given it a little thought, that was the conclusion at which it arrived. The Government have decided that the Boundary Commissions should transfer, so to speak, to the electoral commission.
The question arises: who on the electoral commission will sit on the Boundary Commissions for the constituent parts of the United Kingdom? That question is addressed by my Amendments Nos. 27 and 51. Amendment No. 51 makes clear that the Boundary Commissions for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland should continue to be chaired by judges. I have only one reservation as to that. Occasionally, the chairmen of Boundary Commissions have not quite managed to get the constituencies in far better numerical balance. I have been over this matter before. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, smiles because she has heard the same speech before. I promise that I shall not make that speech again, other than to say that I live in hope that one day it will be realised that in our first-past-the-post electoral system it is quite important to achieve, as near as possible, parity one constituency with another.
I accept that there are a few areas where, for sensible geographical reasons, that is not possible, but by and large it should be done. One of the reasons that people complain that election results show a mismatch with the total vote is the disparity between seats. Although that is not the only reason, it is a contributory factor. I simply put in a little plug in the hope that the judges appointed in future will at least be qualified in higher mathematics, or something of that nature, so that they take into account that important point. I still believe it is important that the appointee should be someone who is trained to be as obviously neutral as a judge. That is why I have tabled Amendments Nos. 27 and 51. I appreciated that if I made it compulsory to have judges as commissioners in order that they could chair the Boundary Commissions, the five appointments as proposed by Neill, and the five to eight as proposed by the Government, would not be enough. For that reason I have proposed an increase in the minimum and maximum size of commission to accommodate Amendments Nos. 27 and 51. In Amendment No. 27 at least four members of the commission are to be drawn from categories a little wider than just judges. I have lighted upon the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life as part of the pool from which at least four members of the commission should be drawn.
My principal objective is to ask the Government why they decided not to follow the Neill recommendation, albeit a mild one, and give this responsibility to the electoral commission. I should also like to hear how the Government intend to deal with the interrelationship between the members of the commission and the chairmen of the Boundary Commissions. Are they to be deputy commissioners or full commissioners? Is the deputy commissioner the way to get round the problem? I am not sure I agree that that is the best solution. I believe that it is better if the chairmen of these important commissions are members of the electoral commission itself. Those are the main reasons for tabling the amendments.
It is important that we properly understand the Bill and know exactly what is happening with regard to the Boundary Commissions. I believe I am right in saying that the Bill contains a rather relaxed timetable when it comes to giving the electoral commission responsibility for boundary matters. If I am right, the next Boundary Commission round, which will take place within the next Parliament, will not be caught by the provisions of the Bill. The Boundary Commission of the next Parliament will be self-standing. It will not be involved with the electoral commission. I may have got that wrong. I shall be happy if I can have the Government's advice on that.
If I am right, can the Government explain why this arrangement will not be started immediately after the Bill is enacted? Why will not the Boundary Commissions to the next Parliament be subsumed into the procedures provided in the Bill? Why shall we have to wait perhaps another 12 or 15 years, depending on the length of Parliaments, before the arrangements come into place?
I hope that I shall receive satisfactory answers so that I shall not have to bother the Committee to divide again within the next half hour. I beg to move.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page