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The Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill 2017-19

Published Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill 2017-19 is a Private Member's Bill that seeks to change the Rules for Redistribution of Parliamentary constituencies. This briefing summarises the main changes that the Bill would make if passed.

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The Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill 2017-19 was introduced on the 19 July 2017. The Bill was given a Second Reading on Friday 1 December 2017.

The Public Bill Committee has met eleven times to date. The first session was on 9 May 2018 and the latest on 18 July 2018 . However, the Committee cannot consider the clauses of the Bill in detail as the House of Commons has not yet agreed a money resolution for the Bill.

The Bill's sponsor, Afzal Khan, secured an emergency debate (under Standing Order No 24) on the expectation that the Government table a money resolution relating to a private Member’s bill that has received a second reading, to allow debate in public bill committee (PBC). The debate was held on 21 May 2018 (HC Deb c589-640).

Mr Khan had previously raised concerns about the Government’s decision not to bring forward a money resolution to his Bill. He did so in a point of order, following the PBC’s first meeting, on 9 May 2018; and he was granted an Urgent Question on the issue on 10 May. Library debate pack CDP-2018-0128 has more detail on the background to Mr Khan's application for the emergency debate.

On Tuesday 19 June 2018, the House debated an Opposition day debate motion entitled "The Committee Stage of the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill". The motion sought to give the PBC permission to consider the details of the Bill, and any amendments, without a money resolution being granted but stated the Bill may not be reported from the Committee until a money resolution has been passed. The House rejected the motion on division (299 votes to 284).

This paper summarises the changes that the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill 2017-19 seeks to make to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, as amended. The 1986 Act provides the legislative basis for the periodical reviews of Parliamentary constituencies. The 1986 Act was amended by the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 to introduce the current Rules for Redistribution of seats.

It also gives a brief background to Parliamentary constituency boundary reviews and the changes to the Rules for Redistribution of seats introduced in 2011.

The Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill 2017-19 is a Private Member’s Bill, sponsored by Afzal Khan MP (Labour), which seeks to amend the Rules for Redistribution in the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, as amended. The Bill will apply to the United Kingdom.

A similar Private Member’s Bill was introduced in the previous session by Pat Glass. The Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill 2016-17 had its Second Reading on 18 November 2016 but made no further progress.

The main effects of the Bill are:

  • To retain 650 constituencies (the current boundary review is required to reduce the size of the House of Commons to 600 seats).
  • Allow for constituencies to be within 7.5% of the electoral quota rather than the 5% currently required.
  • Make the Boundary Commissions use more up to date electoral registration data than is currently being used for the 2018 Review.
  • Alter the timing of reviews so that the next reports of the four Boundary Commissions would be due by 1 October 2020 and that they should be subsequently held every 10 years. The current Review is due to be reported by 1 October 2018 and then held every five years

Number of seats in the House of Commons

The Rules for Redistribution had been changed by the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 to reduce the size of the House of Commons to 600 seats. This would be achieved by a general review of Parliamentary constituencies by the Boundary Commissions.

Although the Bill would change the Rule for the total number of seats in the House of Commons to take it back up to 650, the Bill does not seek to change the excepted islands seats contained in the 2011 Act (Orkney and Shetland, Na h-Eileanan an Iar, and two seats for the Isle of Wight); these would remain preserved.

The first review to implement the reduction in the number of seats should have been the 2013 Review, but this was cancelled before it was completed. The final recommendations of the 2018 Review, which is currently underway, would be the first to reduce the House to 600 seats. These are due to be implemented at the next general election held after the agreement of the draft Order in Council to implement the recommendations. The draft Order must be agreed by both Houses of Parliament. The next scheduled general election, under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliament Act 2011, is due in May 2022.

If the Order is not agreed or an early Parliamentary election is held before the draft Order is approved then existing constituency boundaries are used. By-elections continue to use existing constituency boundaries as a general review can only be implemented at a general election.

Changing the 5% requirement

Under the current Rules for Redistribution, each seat proposed by one of the Boundary Commissions (with the exception of the preserved islands seats) must be within 5% of the UK electoral quota.

For the current Review, the UK electoral quota is 74,769. This is calculated by dividing the registered electorate in the non-preserved seats of 44,562,440 (for the 2018 review this is the electorate on the 1 December 2015) divided by the number of non-preserved seats (596).

Recommended constituencies must be within the statutory electoral range of 71,031 to 78,507 (inclusive).

The Bill makes provision to change the 5% rule to allow for a 7.5% deviation from the quota.

It does not seek to alter the requirement of the primacy of the requirement that recommended seats be within a certain range of the electoral quota, but will allow the Boundary Commissions more leeway in how far from the electoral quota recommended seats may deviate.

Before the 2011 changes, the Boundary Commissions had to take into account the electoral quota, along with other factors including local ties and geography, but there was no requirement that the electorate of the proposed constituencies should be the primary factor.

Electoral data

The Rules for Redistribution currently require the Boundary Commissions to use the electorate data published on the ‘review date’. This is defined in the legislation as two years and ten months before the final reports are due.

The final reports for the current review must be presented to the Government by 1 October 2018. This makes the review date 1 December 2015.

The Bill would require the Boundary Commissions to use more up to date electorate data from the 2017 General Election.

Timing of reviews

Changing the data that the Boundary Commissions must use and altering the number of seats the Commissions must recommend half way through a review will effectively bring the current work to a halt.

The Bill recognises this and would require the Boundary Commissions to deliver their final recommendations to the Government by 1 October 2020, instead of 1 October 2018.

The Bill also changes the timing of the general reviews, from every 5 years to every 10 years.

The timing of the reviews was last changed by the Boundary Commissions Act 1992. The Commissions were required to report every 10-15 years but the 1992 Act brought forward the deadline for the Fourth Periodical Review (that was underway at the time) and reduced the cycle of review to every 8-12 years. There had been concerns expressed during the Third Review (started in 1976 and implemented at the 1983 General Election) that the interval was too long, leading to seats being contested on electorate data over five or six years old in the case of England and Scotland. Similar concerns were expressed during the Fourth Review.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8164

Author: Neil Johnston

Topics: Elections, Parliament

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