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Clause 11 — number and distribution of seats

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill (Programme) (No. 4) – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 1st November 2010.

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Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Liberal Democrat, Ross, Skye and Lochaber 5:45 pm, 1st November 2010

I say in a genial way what a pleasure it is to follow Chris Bryant-it is a pleasure because, by definition, if I am following him, he must have stopped speaking for once. He has been difficult to avoid over the past two or three weeks in debates on the Bill, and, it seems, everywhere else. I got home on Thursday and there he was in Glasgow on "Question Time".

Having said that, we have great sympathy with many of the principles that the hon. Gentleman enunciated. I wish to confine my remarks to amendments 182 to 184, which go together. We will seek to press amendment 183 to a vote if the opportunity arises in due course. The amendments are in my name and those of hon. Friends, all of whom are present.

I wish to speak to the amendments to add to the comment that I made when the Deputy Prime Minister made the initial statement about this whole businesses. I feel that it is incumbent upon me to say a word or two, as my constituency has been put up in lights as some kind of benchmark, albeit that the lighting has been somewhat distorted and much misunderstood. I wish to clarify the matter and refer to the implications that flow from it.

Over the past 27 years, my constituency has been geographically the largest in the United Kingdom. It was the largest when it was formed in 1983, and some 10 years later, at the time of the boundary changes for the 1992 election, it remained the largest and became larger. At the last general election, it remained the largest and became larger yet again. I have looked back at one representation made to the Boundary Commission about that trend and about the sheer size of what became the Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency, and indeed I made the same point myself at the hearings on the boundary change. Although I did not oppose the proposals to increase the size of the constituency-one never wants to oppose the inclusion of communities where one might find oneself having to go to seek support-I felt that the increase was impractical and would create unique challenges, as I diplomatically put it, for whoever represented the seat.

I shall be quite honest with the House: having represented three such vast constituencies over the course of nearly 30 years now, I can say that the current one is by far the most impractical. It has to be said that the other two were gigantic and posed particular problems, but there comes a point at which geographical impracticality sets in and nobody can do the job of local parliamentary representation effectively. I would say that point has now been reached. It is no exaggeration to say that I can drive for five solid hours within the boundaries of the constituency, simply between point A and point B, to carry out one engagement, and then have to drive five hours back. That is just insane.