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Clause 11 — number and distribution of seats

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill (Programme) (No. 4) – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 1st November 2010.

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SDLP Spokesperson (Treasury) 6:30 pm, 1st November 2010

I want to speak to several amendments that I tabled in this group. Amendments 188, 193, 189 and 192 all refer to issues that arise in the context of Northern Ireland. This group includes other amendments that address issues that arise in the context of Wales and the Scottish islands, and constituencies that include such areas. There is also an amendment relating to the Isle of Wight.

My amendments are not about "ferrymanders" for constituencies with many islands, nor are they about "valleymanders" because of the geography of Northern Ireland, but they address two points. One is the principle of having a distinct quota in Northern Ireland. Amendments 9, 200 and 202 would give the four boundary commissions four discrete electoral quotas for the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. I have no issue with that, and I agree with it in principle, although I am not here to legislate for other parts of the United Kingdom.

I tabled amendment 192 because the Government seem to have set their face against separate electoral quotas for constituent parts. It calls for a distinct Northern Ireland quota. If the seat reduction goes through, we will end up with about 15 constituencies. Because the boundaries will be changed every five years, according to the UK quota arithmetic, it could be that under the Sainte-Laguë system for distributing seats to the four constituent boundary commissions the following boundary review might reduce the number of seats in Northern Ireland to 14, and the boundary review after that, depending on what happens with registration, might raise the number again.

Chopping and changing the number of seats in Northern Ireland every five years without any regard to either a sense of equality or a quota that relates to Northern Ireland's particular circumstances has difficulties. My amendments, which are specifically about Northern Ireland, could stand so I ask the Government to consider them even if they combine to defeat the other amendments, which sensibly and correctly call for discrete quotas. If separate boundary commissions are to be given particular tasks for particular areas, they should at least be mandated to produce a specific quota for those areas.