Draft Local Government Commission for England (Transfer of Functions) Order 2001

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Mr. Fisher: I am sure that the Committee accepts that explanation, but will the Minister assist us by finding out what the budget is and writing to us—[Interruption.] I am asking the Minister. He might also put the figures in the Library. We should know what the budget is, and it would be helpful if we were informed.

Dr. Whitehead: I am happy to write to all members of the Committee about the results of deliberations by the Speaker's Committee on what the budget will be. I must, however, emphasise that I would have the same standing as any other member of the Committee. The details should be reported to the House, and all hon. Members should have equal access to them. None the less, I am happy to assist hon. Members by writing to them with the information.

Mr. Moss: I am grateful that the Minister is prepared to write to us to clarify the financial issue. Will he confirm that the budgets of the Local Government Commission and the Parliament Boundary Commission come from the budget of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions? Will that money be transferred to the Consolidated Fund or will it represent a pure saving for the Department?

Dr. Whitehead: The budgets for those commissions come from the Consolidated Fund. There will, therefore, be no change in where the Electoral Commission budget comes from. The change that we are discussing has nothing to do with the source of the budget: it is about the route by which determinations are made for periodic revisions of boundaries. As I emphasised before, the difference is that the Secretary of State will no longer direct, but instead will request whether a boundary change should be made.

I am informed that the Local Government Commission is funded by a departmental budget. I may have slightly misled the Committee in that respect and, if so, I apologise. Although it might have been thought that the workings of the commissions previously in place could have been influenced by party-political considerations—that is indeed the point of our discussions today—Governments of all political persuasions have endeavoured scrupulously to ensure that their deliberations have not been so influenced.

I can give the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire brief assurances on the questions that he raised. He may already have gathered the answer to his question about the possibility that the Electoral Commission may spend part of its budget on pro-European propaganda, as he put it. As the Electoral Commission is responsible not to the Government but to the House, how it spends its money is determined by its charter. However, it must spend its money in a non-party political way, and direct expenditure solely to the functions that it is charged to carry out, one of which is to provide information about the electoral process and related matters. That is a far cry from suggesting that the commission could or would engage in pro-European propaganda as the hon. Gentleman suggested. I am sure that it would scrupulously avoid any such charge or suggestion in the work that it undertakes.

The other matter that the hon. Gentleman raised was the target date for the transfer of the Parliamentary Boundary Commission to the Electoral Commission, for which he suggested 2005. I cannot give an assurance that that will be the target date. The Parliamentary Boundary Commission will finish its present round of changes and reviews by around 2005, and the House will be given a report immediately afterwards. When the report has been considered, the final transfer of the commission can be undertaken. As it is impossible to give an exact date for the conclusion of the commission's work and the receipt of its report, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand that it is impossible for me to be entirely accurate about the date consequent on it.

The concerns that hon. Members have raised have been properly aired in the Committee, and the assurances that were asked for have been given. As I said, I will write to hon. Members on one or two topics that were aired but on which it was impossible to provide clarification. However, I do not believe that those concerns detract from what I believe is all-party support, on both sides of the Committee, for the changes proposed. I hope that the Electoral Commission, in its new role, will independently and scrupulously discharge its function for many years to come.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Local Government Commission for England (Transfer of Functions) Order 2001.

        Committee rose at nine minutes past Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Cummings, Mr. John (Chairman)
Anderson, Janet
Corbyn, Jeremy
Fisher, Mr.
Gilroy, Linda
Grogan, Mr.
Marshall, Mr. Jim
Moss, Mr.
Sanders, Mr.
Smith, Mr. John
Whitehead, Dr.
Woolas, Mr.

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Prepared 28 November 2001