Effect of Orders in Council under the 1986 Act on NI Assembly constituencies

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 30 June 2020.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

Clause 10 makes a different kind of provision, and it will take me a little while to explain the detail of it, so I trust that the Committee will bear with me while I do. This clause makes specific provision in relation to Northern Ireland and how boundary review recommendations are brought into effect there. I shall make a couple of preamble points that outline related legislation.

First, existing legislation—the Northern Ireland Act 1998—dictates that constituencies in Northern Ireland automatically mirror UK parliamentary constituencies. Therefore, when a boundary review is brought into effect for the United Kingdom, the constituencies for the Northern Ireland Assembly, each of which has five Assembly Members, will automatically change. Currently, that change happens at the next Assembly election. By the bye, this is not the case in either Scotland or Wales, where the boundaries used for the devolved legislatures are not linked in law to UK parliamentary constituencies, and are devolved matters.

The other point to bear in mind at the outset is that the Northern Ireland Assembly has scheduled elections, so we can predict when there will be moments when a UK parliamentary boundary review will finish close to an upcoming Stormont Assembly election. One of those moments, we can foresee, is in 2031/32. In addition, if, as there has been in the past, an unscheduled Assembly election were to be triggered close to the end of the boundary review, it would be important for there to be clarity about the boundaries to be used.

The clause creates a buffer period between new UK parliamentary constituencies coming into force and them being used for elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly. It amends the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to ensure that if the period between the boundary review recommendations coming into force and the notice of election for an Assembly poll is less than six months, that poll will be conducted according to the old constituencies. The notice of election that I referred to must be published at least 25 working days ahead of an Assembly election, so in effect, if there is a Stormont election within six months and five weeks of the new parliamentary constituencies coming into effect, that election will be run on the old boundaries.

One exception to that is if, during the six-month period, the UK Parliament was dissolved prior to a general election, the new constituencies would also be used for a subsequent Northern Ireland Assembly election. It would clearly not make sense, and would cause some public confusion and complication for the administrators, to have a general election in Northern Ireland on one set of new boundaries and then revert to an older set of boundaries for an Assembly election following shortly thereafter. That is the exception to what clause 10 does more generally.

Clause 10 is a sensible provision. It has been developed in close consultation with the Northern Ireland Office and others, and it takes into account the specific nature of Assembly elections in Northern Ireland.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.