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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Parliamentary Constituencies (Northern Ireland) Order 2008

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Bill Olner
Allen, Mr. Graham (Nottingham, North) (Lab)
Blackman, Liz (Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty's Household)
Drew, Mr. David (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
Gilroy, Linda (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op)
Goggins, Paul (Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office)
Knight, Mr. Greg (East Yorkshire) (Con)
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian (Bridgwater) (Con)
Linton, Martin (Battersea) (Lab)
McDonnell, Dr. Alasdair (Belfast, South) (SDLP)
Mactaggart, Fiona (Slough) (Lab)
Marris, Rob (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab)
Morgan, Julie (Cardiff, North) (Lab)
Reid, Mr. Alan (Argyll and Bute) (LD)
Robertson, Mr. Laurence (Tewkesbury) (Con)
Soulsby, Sir Peter (Leicester, South) (Lab)
Watkinson, Angela (Upminster) (Con)
Wilson, Sammy (East Antrim) (DUP)
Celia Blacklock, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee

Thursday 15 May 2008

[Mr. Bill Olner in the Chair]

Draft Parliamentary Constituencies (Northern Ireland) Order 2008

8.55 am
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Parliamentary Constituencies (Northern Ireland) Order 2008.
Welcome to the Chair this morning, Mr. Olner.
The Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland is responsible for reviewing the number, names, designation and boundaries of Westminster parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland. Reviews are carried out every eight to 12 years. In September 2007, the boundary commission concluded its fifth periodical report and submitted its recommendations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The report was laid before Parliament on 31 March 2008 with this draft order in line with the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986. It recommends that 18 constituencies should be retained for Northern Ireland with revisions to the boundaries of 12 constituencies. The recommendations seek to balance improvements in electoral equality with the preservation of community identity, as required by the statutory rules for the redistribution of seats.
The commission’s proposals have been consulted on extensively. In spring 2004, the commission published its provisional recommendations as well as maps illustrating the proposed boundary changes. Those were made available for public inspection at district council headquarters, the electoral office and area electoral offices, public libraries and the Northern Ireland offices of the Electoral Commission and the boundary commission. As a result of that consultation, three public, local inquiries were held, all of which took place in September 2005. The commission has sought to keep faith with recommendations of the local inquiries, and in doing so it has recognised the importance of preserving established local ties.
In May 2006, the commission published its revised recommendations, which recommended that Northern Ireland should have 18 constituencies with revisions to the boundaries of 12 constituencies. Those recommendations became the commission’s final recommendations, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has accepted them. If Parliament were to approve the order, any changes would take practical effect at the next general election.
In conclusion, I am satisfied that the Northern Ireland parliamentary boundary commission has carried out its statutory remit diligently and that all affected parties have had the opportunity to consult the commission and to raise any concerns. On that basis, I support the recommendations of the commission, which form the basis of the order. I commend the order to the Committee.
8.57 am
Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Olner.
There is not an awful lot to say about this order. I have spoken to one or two hon. Members, and while everybody would like to see some changes, overall the order has attracted general support. It always causes some consternation when part of a constituency is moved, and sometimes it takes a while for a constituency to settle down—some constituencies never settle down, but that is the nature of attempting to keep constituencies to a fairly standard size. Constituencies in Northern Ireland are considerably smaller than those in Great Britain, but I understand the difficulties in attempting to make them a standard size. The order seems to have quite a bit of support across Northern Ireland, so I will not seek to detain the Committee.
8.58 am
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Olner.
The boundary commission is an independent body, and I see no reason to challenge any of its decisions. I will vote to approve the order today.
8.59 am
Dr. Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast, South) (SDLP): I want to make some brief comments. I am concerned that few or none of the opinions expressed in the original boundary proposals were taken into account. We were told that the matter was not that important, that the boundary changes were only temporary and that we would have a full review after the review of local government boundaries.
I am concerned about the lack of consistency. Some large constituencies have been left large, while some medium constituencies have been reduced and adjusted. That is fine in some ways, but it is inconsistent with large constituencies being left untouched. I want to put the concerns in my constituency on the record, because I have found it impossible to connect with the boundary commission. Part of my constituency in Dunmurry, which is naturally, socially and geographically part of Belfast, South has been put into Belfast, West, and nobody can understand why. Parts of Hillfoot in Belfast, East, with which the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) is familiar, have been put into Belfast, South. That does not suit either of those communities, because it disconnects them from their social and geographic hinterland.
Having made those points, I will let the matter rest, because I recognise the need to make changes, but I hope that in future the boundary commission will be more attentive to detail and more sympathetic to the views expressed, because it is not satisfactory that the boundary commission conducted a consultation that it totally ignored.
9.1 am
9.2 am
Paul Goggins: I thank the hon. Members for Tewkesbury and for Argyll and Bute for their welcome for the order and for recognising that the process is independent and thorough. Extensive consultation has taken place. As the hon. Member for Tewkesbury has said, individual constituencies are affected in different ways, which has been reflected in the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South and the hon. Member for East Antrim.
I was interested in the comments by the hon. Member for East Antrim, who enjoys motorcycling around his constituency. This morning, all roads seem to lead to Glasgow, from my own fair city of Manchester in particular.
We know that the commission faces a difficult task in balancing electoral equality with community links and ties, and I am content that it has done a thorough job. It has listened to the representations, and I commend the order to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Parliamentary Constituencies (Northern Ireland) Order 2008.
Committee rose at five minutes past Nine o’clock.

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