Northern Ireland

No deal on how to cut MLA numbers

Members of the committee considering changes to the number of MLAs at Stormont have been unable to come to an agreement on the way forward, the assembly has been told.

Speaking for the assembly and executive review committee, the DUP's Stephen Moutray said that the Secretary of State had announced his intention to bring forward a Northern Ireland Bill.

As part of this process the assembly had agreed to consider the future numbers of executive departments and assembly members.

Sinn Fein's Raymond McCartney said his party wanted to see an assembly with inclusivity, equality and representativeness at the heart of it.

Decoupling

He called for the decoupling of the number of MLAs from Westminster constituency boundaries.

The present system sees six MLAs elected for each Westminster constituency, a total of 108 members.

Roy Beggs of the UUP rejected the idea of decoupling from the Westminster boundaries.

He noted that under forthcoming changes Northern Ireland would have only 16 Westminster seats, meaning an automatic reduction of 12 seats.

The SDLP leader, Alasdair McDonnell, said his party would accept a reduction to 96 members and were open to persuasion on a further reduction.

He said the assembly and executive review committee's report was "very good in so far as it goes".

Chris Lyttle of Alliance said it was a matter of record that his party favoured reducing the number of members per constituency from six to five, giving a total of 80 MLAs.

He noted that in a public opinion poll, "seven out of ten wanted the number of MLAs cut".

Defence

Simon Hamilton of the DUP observed that "not a single person" had made a defence for the retention of the current 108 members.

Jim Allister of the TUV described the report as "whitewash", insisting that there would be no decision taken on the matter in the assembly.

Steven Agnew of the Green Party spoke in favour of the Scottish system of regional members elected on the basis of party strength.

The motion to take note of the committee's report was carried on an oral vote.