Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
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
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.