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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 6:45 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) 6:45 pm, 1st November 2010

I think I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make. Personally, I am no fan of the United Kingdom. I am not a comfortable subject of it, and, as far as I am concerned, my small nation is not represented in the United Kingdom. My small nation is divided between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. I have no doubt that that will be work for another Bill on another day.

I want to make the point that the amendment in respect of the distinct Northern Ireland quota has its own merits, even if the Government, wrongly, unwisely and unfairly combine to defeat the other sensible amendments that would entrust boundary commissions with their own discrete quotas.

The other key area in amendments 188 and 193, and particularly in amendment 193, is to do with ensuring that the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland will not just carefully have to respect things like local government wards, as Chris Bryant has spelled out, which the Bill as it stood was already providing for, but will have to have regard to the fact that constituencies in Northern Ireland are also, absolutely by statute, constituencies of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and the Good Friday agreement, it was decided that parliamentary constituency boundaries would be exactly coterminous with the Assembly multi-seat boundaries, so changing the parliamentary boundaries means changing the Assembly boundaries. Under this Bill, they will be changed every five years, according to arithmetic dictated by the UK in general. We could end up with geo-sectarian issues as a result, and with the unsettling effect of boundary reviews throughout the life of every Assembly and every Parliament. Towns and villages will feel that, because of the boundary arithmetic, they are being pushed out of their natural hinterland and perhaps split between two Assembly constituencies, and that their natural base for their Assembly seat could be lost. There could also be implications for health care and other services.