Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill - Procedure Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 57-59)


27 JULY 2010

  Q57 Chair: Good morning, Mr Gray and Professor Johnston. It is nice to see you. Welcome to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. As you know, we are looking at the Government's Bill pre-legislatively in an extremely short timetable, the Bill on voting and parliamentary reform. We are delighted that you can both join us here this morning. I know Nick has some general opening questions. Is there anything specific you would like to say initially or can we crack straight on with the questions?

Professor Johnston: I would just say initially I am agnostic about the issue of the number of MPs and in general accept what is being done with regard to revising the rules and giving equality primacy, but there are many other issues that follow from that.

  Mr Gray: One thing perhaps I ought to say at the outset is although I was obviously a member of the Parliamentary Boundary Commission for England, I am not here today speaking on behalf of them, I am very much here in my own right speaking as an individual. It would be silly not to say, of course, that the last two or three Boundary Commission Reports, the third, fourth and fifth ones, said that we had concerns about the rules. I also have feelings about the need to change the rules and some of the things that are being done are very much in accord with what we said in our recent reports.

  Q58  Nick Boles: Good morning. I have just a couple of general questions at first. I am not entirely clear how the Boundary Commission is likely to go about this. In those seats which are already pretty close to what will be the quota, will you nevertheless expect that there will be significant change because they will be starting at one end of the country or will there be substantial numbers of seats that remain roughly as they are?

  Mr Gray: It is a very difficult question. I suspect there will be massive change because if you are reducing the number of seats in England by roughly 30 constituencies, as it were, that means you are going to be doing a lot of shifting around particularly as if the provisions in the Bill are enacted you are going to be much closer to the electoral quota so you have got less room for manoeuvre. There is going to have to be, I think, a lot more movement. Even if it is done on a regional basis you are within those regions, without doubt, going to have to pair counties in a way that has never been done before. It has been done in London with the London boroughs and it has been done in the large metropolitan areas with the metropolitan boroughs but never with the shire counties. I do not see any way that is not going to happen next time, so I think there are going to be a lot of changes.

  Professor Johnston: If you are the Member for St Ives or the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed you can be fairly sure that you will more or less have the same constituency, but if you are the Members for many parts of England you may find that very large percentages have gone somewhere else simply because of the size and the need to pair.

  Q59  Nick Boles: Last week we had evidence from various others, including Dr Pinto-Duschinsky, and he made a very strong suggestion that the rush to timetabling this legislation was a result of the Boundary Commission process and was suggesting that we move to an Australian style approach to Boundary Commissions which would then give us a lot more time and would still be ready for an election in five years' time. What is your view of that?

  Professor Johnston: The big thing that the Australians do not do is public inquiries and nor do the New Zealanders. Of course, New Zealand has politicians on the Commission so the deals are done before the proposals are made. In terms of the timetabling, if you have public inquiries they will take more time. It is still feasible to do it in the time, and Robin can say more about it because he has been in there doing it, but it will be very tight and will undoubtedly mean plenty of resources being given to the Boundary Commissions to do it. I do not think adopting an Australian approach would make that much difference to the timing.

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