Friday, 10 September 2010

Less equal than others

The primary argument used for the stricter enforcement of constituency size when drawing future boundaries is to ensure votes are "equal" across the country.  Two constituencies were exempted from this but what has gone unnoticed is that the principle will most likely not be applied to Northern Ireland.  The legislation gives the boundary commission here greater flexibility to go outside these limitsThe special provisions state:

"7 (1) In relation to Northern Ireland, sub-paragraph (2) below applies in place of rule 2 where—
(a) the difference between—
(i) the electorate of Northern Ireland, and

(ii) the United Kingdom electoral quota multiplied by the number of seats in Northern Ireland (determined under rule 8), exceeds one third of the United Kingdom electoral quota,"

This sub-paragraph states:

"(2) The electorate of any constituency shall be
(a) no less than whichever is the lesser of - N - A and 95% of the United Kingdom electoral quota, and
(b) no more than whichever is the greater of - N + A and 105% of the United Kingdom electoral quota,
where—N is the electorate of Northern Ireland divided by the number of seats in Northern Ireland (determined under rule 8), and A is 5% of the United Kingdom electoral quota."

The basis for this legislative provision is that the 2009 figures would indicate that this situation is likely to arise in Northern Ireland and unlike the other constituent parts of the UK it has less seats to spread any remainder over once the number of seats has been allocated.  In December of last year Northern Ireland would have had 15.3 parliamentary quotas. 

More recent research by the House of Commons Library (pdf file) has confirmed that on the updated registration figures in May 2010 that Northern Ireland now had 15.35 parliamentary quotas.  The HoC Library research predicted on the May figures that while the rest of the UK would have boundaries limits of 72,371 to 79,989 in Northern Ireland they would be 72,371 to 81,755.

Since then a further 15,365 people have been added to the Westminster register (pdf file) in Northern Ireland (about a fifth of a parliamentary seat quota).  This potentially increases the differences between the mainland and NI quotas even more but still not large enough to justify an extra seat.


slug said...

Isn't it true that individual voter registration, already in NI but yet to be brought in in GB, will be done in advance of the decision on constituencies, and that this is likely to reduce the electorate in GB?

Lee said...

Yes a new system was mentioned in Clegg's speech with the promise it'll be done "properly"ter ie bet it'll better than they did here. The new constituencies will be drawn on the basis of the December 2010 registers. I'm not clear whether individual registration will have been implemented by then or not. The issue of individual registration may more be an ongoing issue because there is a commitment to more regualr boundary reviews than previously.