28 September 2016
Article by Joseph Champion, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
The Boundary Commission for Wales is currently reviewing the Parliamentary constituencies in Wales, with a view to reducing the overall size of the House of Commons. This follows the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 (the 2011 Act). The current process is known as the ‘2018 Review’. The final recommendations that stem from the 2018 Review will be reported to the UK Government and its implementation will be subject to Parliamentary approval.
These changes will not affect National Assembly of Wales electoral arrangements, due to Section 13 of the 2011 Act. This amendment, to the Government of Wales Act 2006, de-coupled UK Parliament and the Assembly’s electoral constituencies.
This was important as at the time of the 2013 Review, there was a discussion around if and how the Assembly would replicate the 30 constituency seat model, and how it would it affect the political makeup of the Assembly.
Part 2 of the 2011 Act sets out the rules that the Boundary Commissions across the UK have to follow when drawing up the new constituencies. While there are a number of rules and considerations, such as traditional geographical and social boundaries, the most significant is to be the number of registered electors in each constituency.
The 2011 Act also placed a duty on each Boundary Commission to review constituency boundaries and report their findings ‘before 1st October of every fifth year after that [the date of the first review, 2013]’.
The 2011 Act was a product of the coalition agreement between the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats. This blog is only concerned with the aspects of the Act that deal with the reform of UK Parliamentary constituencies.
The 2011 Act mandated that the House of Commons be reduced to 600 members in time for the 2015 Election. In order to achieve this, it directed the Boundary Commission for each UK nation to produce a review of its constituency boundaries by October 2013. In Wales, the final findings of the 2013 review were published in October 2012 and allocated 30 seats to Wales.
However following a political disagreement between the then coalition partners, implementation of the new boundaries was delayed. The disagreement centred on reform to the House of Lords, which the Liberal Democrats were pressing for and which over a 100 Conservatives did not support.
In response the Liberal Democrats did not support the move to reduce the number of House of Commons members. Consequently, implementation of the new rules was delayed, through the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013, until after the 2018 Review.
The 2018 Review and the method used for designing new constituencies
The Boundary Commission for Wales (The Commission), as far as possible, sought to create constituencies in Wales:
- From electoral wards that are adjacent to each other; and
- That do not contain ‘detached parts’, i.e. where the only physical connection between one part of the constituency and the remainder would require passage through a different constituency.
As already mentioned, the Commission was required to follow the rules set out in the 2011 Act. This meant having to ensure that every constituency has an electorate (as at the review date) that is no less than 95 per cent and no more than 105 per cent of the ‘UK electoral quota’ (UKEQ).
The UKEQ is calculated by dividing the number of electors registered to vote at the review date by 596. The review date is defined in the 2011 Act as ‘two years and ten months’ before the Commission’s final review is due. This meant the 2018 review used data from 1 December 2015. 44,562,440 electors were registered across the UK on this date.
Consequently, the UKEQ for the 2018 Review was 74,769. This meant that there must be no less than 71,031 and no more than 78,507 electors per constituency in Wales. As a result, large changes were predicted for Wales as the median parliamentary electorate across constituencies in Wales was about 54,300 in 2015.
The House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s report What next on the redrawing of parliamentary constituency boundaries? highlighted that, based on 2010 electoral data, even if the number of electors was allowed to vary by 10% from the UKEQ, only 4 constituencies in Wales would remain unaffected.
There are four exceptions to the UKEQ in the 2011 Act, which are known as ‘protected constituencies’. In Scotland there is the Orkney and Shetland and the Na h-Eileanan an Iar constituencies. There are also two proposed ‘protected constituencies’ on the Isle of Wight.
The Boundary Commission for Wales has published its Initial Proposals for the 2018 Review. The proposals reduce the number of constituencies in Wales from 40 to 29. The Commission’s Initial Proposals Report contains a detailed view of each constituency and the electoral wards that they contain.
The new boundaries are intended to be in place for the next UK General Election, which is currently planned for May 2020. Any by-elections that take place prior to this date will be based on the current boundaries.
The future for electoral boundaries in Wales
If the Wales Bill 2016-17 goes through in its current form, then the Welsh Ministers will gain control over “the specification or number of constituencies, regions or any equivalent electoral area”, in relation to elections to the National Assembly for Wales.
This means they will be able to increase the number of seats available and seek, through the Boundary Commission for Wales, to make adjustments to the Assembly’s constituency boundaries.
In terms of Parliamentary constituencies, the Commission, having taken account of the responses of the public consultation, will have to draft and submit a formal written report to the UK Government before October 2018. The subsequent Parliamentary process needed to change the Parliamentary Boundaries is detailed in a House of Commons Briefing Paper ‘2018 Review of Parliamentary constituencies: Wales’.
In summary, once the UK Government receives the reports from the Boundary Commissions, it must lay them before Parliament in the form of a Draft Order, or Orders, of Council. The recommendations contained in the Draft Order[s] must be approved by both Houses of Parliament. If Parliament does not approve the Draft Order[s] the Government may then amend the proposals and lay a new Order[s]. Parliamentary approval will then have to be re-sought.
Public consultation on the Initial Proposals
Throughout October and November 2016, the Boundary Commission for Wales will be holding public hearings across Wales on their initial proposals. These hearings are
…intended to provide an opportunity for people to make representations about any of the Commission’s initial proposals, including the naming of constituencies and to present any counter-proposals.
To find out more about these public hearings, and about the wider consultation on the Initial Proposals, see the Boundary Commission for Wales’ website. The consultation will close on 5 December 2016.