National and Devolved Politics

14.05.18

Bercow: ‘No obvious means’ of allowing MP to vote against Dorset council merger

The House of Commons speaker has reaffirmed the decision to prevent a Christchurch MP from voting against an upcoming merger of Dorset councils, arguing there is no clear route of action to reverse the decision.

House speaker John Bercow told MPs that although there is “nothing whatsoever” to prevent Christchurch MP Sir Christopher Chope from attending the Delegated Legislation parliamentary committee voting on a planned merger between Christchurch and surrounding councils, because the MP does not sit on the panel, he cannot vote against the merger.

This argument comes after weeks of backlash from Christchurch Borough Council to plans that would see the authority merged with local Bournemouth and Poole authorities into a unitary council. The proposals were approved by former communities secretary Sajid Javid in February.

The plans for the new council structure would replace the current nine Dorset councils with two authorities and could save up to £108m over six years.

Christchurch council, the leading authority against the plans, put forward an alternate proposal in January to exclude the area from the plans, and came out earlier this month with a legal bid against the merger, arguing Javid had acted “beyond his powers.”

The MP for Christchurch has been leading calls to abolish the plans, speaking yesterday in the Commons in the attempt to reverse the decision to not allow Chope to vote against the merger.

He said: “Because this affects Christchurch exclusively, I applied to serve on the committee that will consider it. I hoped that I would then be able to raise the criticism that has been made from the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.

“It is surely right that minority interests, particularly when one constituency is uniquely affected, should be able to be fully represented on a committee. What can be done to reverse the selection committee’s decision that I should not be allowed to be a full member of the committee?”

Yet speaker Bercow said that although the Christchurch MP can sit in on the meeting, he cannot vote: “There is nothing whatsoever to prevent the member for Christchurch from attending the Committee. I accept that the non-appointment of the MP is an important detriment so far as he is concerned, but it simply means that although he can attend and speak, he cannot vote if he is not a member of the committee.”

The speaker added there were “no obvious means” to which the decision could be reversed, although he urged Chope to “have a cup of tea” with the leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom in an effort to make an arrangement to have Christchurch’s voice heard.

Image Credit: PA

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