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Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill — Committee (14th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 26th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 9:30 pm, 26th January 2011

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for raising his questions in the debate on Clause 11 stand part. It is worth reiterating that the clause reforms the arrangements for drawing constituency boundaries for the House of Commons. It provides that in future the Commons will be reduced to 600 seats, and that the rules for the distribution of seats will be recast so that seats will be more equal in size and allocated to each part of the UK in proportion to the electorate.

As the clause points out, two constituencies are specifically excepted from the parity rules. We know what they are and have discussed them at length.

The noble and learned Lord asked about the role of Northern Ireland. As he pointed out, the rules make special provision for additional flexibility to allow for constituencies outside of the parity range in Northern Ireland in the event that simple rounding effects make it difficult for the Boundary Commission in that part of the UK to recommend seats within the quota. That could arise if Northern Ireland only just missed out on being allocated an extra seat. I hope that that explains the thinking behind that.

It has also been suggested that the provision is flawed and that the Bill should provide for national electoral quotas. However, that approach would give rise to more variation between constituencies. A single UK electoral quota has the advantage of simplicity and clarity, and that provision will be triggered only in the event that rounding causes difficulty. It has also been suggested that the provision ignores a similar issue that may arise in Wales. However, as Wales has about twice the electorate and will therefore have about twice the number of seats, the problem is half of that in Northern Ireland. As such, there is no need to make similar provision.

As the noble and learned Lord pointed out, the boundary review will be based on the electoral register in force at the time of the review, and the first review will be based on the register in force on 1 December 2010. Previous boundary reviews have used the electoral register. The Bill's provision is no different. As we have discussed, the registration rate in the UK is between 91 and 92 per cent. Work is under way to ensure that the electoral register is as complete and accurate as possible-for example, freeing local authorities to identify people not on the register using existing public sector databases. The date of the register to be used is fixed because it is calculated by reference to the date on which the commissions are required to report, not the date on which they actually report, hence the difference.

In summary, these proposals make a modest reduction in the size of the Commons and will ensure that the principle of equality is given its proper weight in the commission's considerations, while ensuring that local factors can still be taken into account.

Clause 11, as amended, agreed.

Amendment 91

Moved by Lord Falconer of Thoroton

91: After Clause 11, insert the following new Clause-

"Variation in limit of number of holders of ministerial offices

(1) The House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 is amended as follows.

(2) For section 2(1) substitute-

"(1) The number of holders of offices specified in Schedule 2 to this Act (in this section referred to as Ministerial offices) entitled to sit and vote in the House of Commons at any one time, whether paid or unpaid, must not exceed 95 if the number of constituencies in the United Kingdom is 650."

(3) After section 2(1) insert-

"(1A) If the number of constituencies in the United Kingdom decreases below 650, the limit on the number of holders of Ministerial offices entitled to sit and vote in the House of Commons referred to in section 2(1) must be decreased by at least a proportionate amount."

(4) In subsection (2), after "subsection (1)", insert "or subsection (1A)"."