Constituencies

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2.3The Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, s 11 provides that for parliamentary elections, there shall be the county and borough constituencies, each returning a single Member, which are described in Orders in Council made under that Act.

The same Act provides for four permanent Boundary Commissions, one each for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; each Boundary Commission is to keep under review the representation in the House of Commons of the part of the United Kingdom with which it is concerned. The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 amended the 1986 Act, so that boundary reviews take place on a five-yearly basis from 2013. It also amended the second schedule to the 1986 Act to give primacy to equalising the size of constituencies and set the number of constituencies at 600. Section 14 of the 2011 Act also provided for a review of the effects of the reduction in the number of constituencies, to be established in 2015, with a majority of the members of the review committee to be Members.

The boundary review due in 2013 was postponed by the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013, s 6. The Boundary Commissions were required to report before 1 October 2018 but not before 1 September 2018, and at five-yearly intervals thereafter. The 2013 Act also provided that the review of the effects of the reduction in the number of constituencies should be established in 2020.

The Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 made further changes. It removed the duty to implement the 2018 boundary review; required a new boundary review to be completed by 1 July 2023; and required subsequent reviews to be completed by 1 October 2031 and every eight years thereafter. It specified that there shall be 650 constituencies and cancelled the requirement for a review of the reduction in the number of constituencies, provided for in the 2013 Act.

The Speaker is nominated Chair of each Commission but all other Members of the House of Commons are excluded from membership of a Commission.

Under the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020, the Boundary Commissions submit their reports to the Speaker of the House of Commons and send a copy to the Secretary of State. The Speaker must then lay them before Parliament. After all four reports have been laid before Parliament, the Secretary of State must submit to Her Majesty in Council a draft of an Order in Council giving effect to the recommendations of the four Boundary Commissions. The draft of an Order in Council must be submitted to Her Majesty as soon as reasonably practicable and within four months of all four reports having been laid before Parliament. If the draft Order in Council is not submitted within four months, the Secretary of State must lay a statement before Parliament specifying the exceptional circumstances.

Modifications, to correct any errors they find, can be proposed by the relevant Boundary Commission before a draft Order in Council is submitted to Her Majesty. Such modifications must be given effect in the draft Order in Council that is submitted to Her Majesty.

Once the draft Order in Council is submitted to Her Majesty, Her Majesty in Council may make an Order. Parliamentary approval of the Order is not required. The Order in Council has no effect until after the dissolution of the existing Parliament.

The previous rules were as follows. Before the passing of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020, a Secretary of State had to lay before Parliament a report from any of the four Boundary Commissions recommending changes in the boundaries of constituencies as soon as might be after its submission.2 After the submission of all four reports, the Secretary of State had to lay before Parliament a draft of an Order in Council for giving effect to the recommendations within them as soon as might be; modifications could be made only on the recommendation of the relevant Boundary Commission. If modifications were made, a statement of the reasons for the modification had to be laid at the same time.3

The draft of an Order in Council for giving effect to recommended boundary changes had to be approved by both Houses before it could be made by Her Majesty in Council. If the motion to approve the draft was negatived or withdrawn in either House, the Secretary of State could lay an amended draft before Parliament. The Order in Council had no effect until after the dissolution of the Parliament which approved the draft.4

The Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 provides that the validity of any Order in Council purporting to be made under the Act shall not be called in question in any legal proceedings whatsoever.5

Provisions in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, s 16 (to transfer the functions of the Boundary Commissions to the Electoral Commission appointed under that Act (see para 2.26 )) were repealed by the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 (c 20), s 61, without having been brought into force.

Footnotes

  1. 1. That Act consolidated the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Acts 1949 to 1979. The 1949 Act substantially re-enacted the provisions of the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1944 so far as concerned the creation of Commissions for the regular re-examination of constituency boundaries. Previously, such Commissions had been set up ad hoc, consequential on a change in the franchise.
  2. 2. Under the Transfer of Functions (Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986) Order 2018 (SI 2018/780) the functions of the Secretary of State are exercisable concurrently with the Minister for the Civil Service.
  3. 3. The Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, as amended by s 10(6) of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011.
  4. 4. Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, s 4. For details of earlier provisions for Boundary Commission reviews see Erskine May (24th edn, 2011), p 21, fn 10.
  5. 5. Section 4(7). For actions under superseded legislation, see Erskine May (24th edn, 2011), p 21, fn 11.