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County Constituency

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County Constituency

In the United Kingdom (UK), each of the electoral areas or divisions called constituencies elects one or more members to a parliament or assembly.

Within the United Kingdom there are now five bodies with members elected by constituencies:

Between 1921 and 1973 the following body also included members elected by constituencies:

Electoral areas called constituencies are also used in elections to the European Parliament. (See European Parliament constituencies.)

In local government elections, electoral areas are called wards or electoral divisions.

County constituencies and borough constituencies

House of Commons, Northern Ireland Assembly, Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly constituencies are designated as either county or borough constituencies, except that in Scotland the term burgh is used instead of borough. Since the advent of universal suffrage, the differences between county and borough constituencies are slight. Formerly (see below) the franchise differed, and there were also county borough and university constituencies.

Borough constituencies are predominantly urban while county constituencies are predominantly rural. There is no definitive statutory criterion for the distinction; the Boundary Commission for England has stated that, "as a general principle, where constituencies contain more than a small rural element they should normally be designated as county constituencies. Otherwise they should be designated as borough constituencies."[1] The returning officer in a county constituency is the high sheriff of the county; in a borough constituency it is the mayor or district council head.[1] The spending limits for election campaigns are different in the two, the reasoning being that candidates in county constituencies tend to need to travel further.

Elected body Constituency type
borough/burgh county
House of Commons[2][3] £7,150 + 5p per elector £7,150 + 7p per elector
Northern Ireland Assembly £5,483 + 4.6p per elector £5,483 + 6.2p per elector
Scottish Parliament
Welsh Assembly
£5,761 + 4.8p per elector £5,761 + 6.5p per elector

For by-elections to any of these bodies, the limit in all constituencies is £100,000.[4][5]


In the House of Commons of England, each English county elected two "knights of the shire" while each enfranchised borough elected "burgesses" (usually two, sometimes four, and in a few cases one). From 1535 each Welsh county and borough was represented, by one one knight or burgess. The franchise was restricted differently in different types of constituency; in county constituencies forty shilling freeholders (i.e. landowners) could vote, while in boroughs the franchise varied from potwallopers, giving many residents votes, to rotten boroughs with hardly any voters. A county borough was the constituency of a county corporate, combining the franchises of both county and borough. Until 1950 there were also university constituencies, which gave graduates an additional representation.

Similar distinctions applied in the Irish House of Commons, while the non-university elected members of the Parliament of Scotland were called Shire Commissioners and Burgh Commissioners. After the Acts of Union 1707, Scottish burghs were grouped into districts of burghs in the Parliament of Great Britain, except that Edinburgh was a constituency in its own right. After the Acts of Union 1800, smaller Irish boroughs were disenfranchised, while most others returned only one MP to the United Kingdom Parliament.

The Reform Act 1832 reduced the number of parliamentary boroughs by eliminating the rotten boroughs. It also divided larger counties into two two-seat divisions, the boundaries of which were defined in the Parliamentary Boundaries Act 1832, and gave seven counties a third member. The Redistribution of Seats Act 1885 equalised the population of constituencies; it split larger boroughs into multiple single-member constituencies, reduced smaller boroughs from two seats each to one, split each two-seat county and division into two single-member constituencies, and each three-seat county into single-member constituencies.

The House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1958, eliminated the previous common electoral quota for the whole United Kingdom and replaced it with four separate national minimal seat quotas for the respective Boundaries commissions to work to, as a result the separate national electoral quotas came into effect: England 69,534; Northern Ireland 67,145, Wales 58,383 and in Scotland only 54,741 electors.


The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 gives the Boundary Commissions for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland the power to create names for constituencies, and does not provide a set of statutory guidelines for the Commissions to follow in doing so.

Constituency names are geographic, and "should normally reflect the main population centre(s) contained in the constituency". Compass points are used to distinguish constituencies from each other when a more suitable label cannot be found. Where used, "The compass point reference used will generally form a prefix in cases where the rest of the constituency name refers to the county area or a local council, but a suffix where the rest of the name refers to a population centre." This is the reason for the difference in naming between, for example, South Shropshire (a county constituency) and Reading West (a borough constituency). [6]

House of Commons constituencies

In the 2005 United Kingdom general election, the House of Commons had 646 constituencies covering the whole of the United Kingdom. This rose to 650 in the 2010 election. Each constituency elects one Member of Parliament (MP) by the "first past the post" system of election.

The House of Commons is one of the two legislative bodies of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the other being the House of Lords.

See also

London Assembly constituencies

There are fourteen London Assembly constituencies covering the Greater London area, and each constituency elects one member of the assembly by the first past the post system of election. Also, eleven additional members are elected from Greater London as a whole to produce a form or degree of mixed member proportional representation.

Constituency names and boundaries remain now as they were for the first general election of the assembly, in 2000.

The assembly is part of the Greater London Authority and general elections of the assembly are held at the same time as election of the Mayor of London.

Northern Ireland Assembly constituencies

There are 18 Northern Ireland Assembly Constituencies: 4 borough (for Belfast) and 14 county constituencies elsewhere (see below).

Each elects 6 MLAs to the 108 member NI Assembly by means of the Single Transferrable Vote system. Assembly Constituency boundaries are usually linked to their House of Commons equivalents (which also are 18 in number, although they only elect 1 MP to serve).

The constituencies below are not used for the election of members to the 26 district councils.

Name Current boundaries Name
  1. Belfast East BC
  2. Belfast North BC
  3. Belfast South BC
  4. Belfast West BC
  5. East Antrim CC
  6. East Londonderry CC
  7. Fermanagh & South Tyrone CC
  8. Foyle CC
  9. Lagan Valley CC
  1. Mid Ulster CC
  2. Newry & Armagh CC
  3. North Antrim CC
  4. North Down CC
  5. South Antrim CC
  6. South Down CC
  7. Strangford CC
  8. Upper Bann CC
  9. West Tyrone CC

Scottish Parliament constituencies

Scottish Parliament constituencies are sometimes called Holyrood constituencies, to distinguish them from Westminster (House of Commons) constituencies. The Scottish Parliament Building is in the Holyrood area of Edinburgh, while the main meeting place of the Parliament of the United Kingdom is the Palace of Westminster, in the City of Westminster.

There are 73 Holyrood constituencies covering Scotland, and each elects one Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) by the first past the post system of election. Also, the constituencies are grouped into eight electoral regions, and each of these regions elects seven additional members, to produce a form or degree of mixed member proportional representation.

The existing constituencies were created, effectively, for the first general election of the Scottish Parliament, in 1999. When created, all but two had the names and boundaries of Westminster constituencies. The two exceptions were the Orkney Holyrood constituency, covering the Orkney Islands council area, and the Shetland Holyrood constituency, covering the Shetland Islands council area. For Westminster elections, these council areas were covered (and still are covered) by the Orkney and Shetland Westminster constituency.

In 1999, under the Scotland Act 1998,[7] the expectation was that there would be a permanent link between the boundaries of Holyrood constituencies and those of Westminster constituencies. This link was broken, however, by the Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Act 2004,[8] which enabled the creation of a new set of Westminster constituencies without change to Holyrood constituencies. The new Westminster boundaries became effective for the United Kingdom general election, 2005.

Welsh Assembly constituencies

There are 40 Welsh Assembly constituencies covering Wales, and each elects one Assembly Member (AM) by the first past the post system of election. Also, the constituencies are grouped into five electoral regions, and each of these regions elects four additional members, to produce a form or degree of mixed member proportional representation.

The current set of Assembly constituencies is the second to be created. The first was created for the first general election of the Assembly, in 1999.

European Parliament constituencies

There are twelve European Parliament constituencies covering the United Kingdom. All except one are entirely within the UK. The exception is the South West England constituency, which includes Gibraltar.[9] Each constituency elects a number of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) the d'Hondt method of party-list proportional representation.

The current set of UK European Parliament constituencies was first used in the 1999 European Parliament election.

Notes and references

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