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Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014

Section 6: Reduction in Size of the Assembly

36.The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement 1998 (the “1998 Agreement”) provided for a democratically elected Assembly in Northern Ireland which would be inclusive in its membership, capable of exercising executive and legislative authority, and subject to safeguards to protect the rights and interests of all sides of the community.

37.The Assembly was to be made up of 108 members elected by PR (STV) from existing Westminster constituencies. Section 33(1) of the 1998 Act provided that members of the Assembly would be returned for the parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland (of which there are 18), while section 33(2) that each constituency would return six members.

38.The Government consulted on the size of the Assembly in August 2012, noting that in serving a population of around 1.8 million people, there appeared to be a reasonable case for a reduction in the numbers of MLAs. However, as the size of the Assembly flowed from the 1998 Agreement, the Government has been clear that any changes would require sufficient agreement amongst the Northern Ireland parties. While there seem to be reasonable prospects for such agreement at some point in the future, at this stage the parties have not signalled that they have agreed on a reduction in the size of the Assembly.

39.The provisions in section 6 make the reduction in size of the Assembly a reserved matter, meaning that the Assembly could legislate to reduce the number of members returned to it for each Westminster constituency. Section 6 also ensures that any Assembly legislation that reduced the size of the Assembly could not make provision for different numbers of members to be returned for different constituencies. Section 6 limits the extent of any change in the number of members of the Assembly returned for each constituency to not less than five and not more than six members per constituency.

40.As a reserved matter, any legislative provision put forward by the Assembly in this regard would require the consent of the Secretary of State. Should that consent be given, the Government would need to lay a draft Order in Council before Parliament amending section 33(2) to give effect to the Assembly’s decision. Section 6 requires that a Bill brought by the Assembly making provision for such a change must have cross community support at the point at which the Bill is passed in the Assembly. If any such Bill does not have cross community support, the Secretary of State is prohibited from submitting such a Bill for Royal Assent.

41.The operation of section 7A of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 is not affected by the provisions of section 53 (Agreements etc. by persons participating in Councils).

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