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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 7:15 pm on 1st November 2010.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 7:15 pm, 1st November 2010

This large group of amendments reflects a range of views about representation in the nations and the way in which the boundary commissions should go about the task of drawing up constituency boundaries.

Let me start with a simple statement of principle. In a single-Member constituency system, there must be broad equality in constituency size so that one elector means one vote between, as well as within, constituencies. I do not think that is a particularly controversial remark. Chris Bryant calls it an attitude that is "crazed" and "desiccated"-it is interesting that one can be both simultaneously-but I do not accept that. My concern about the amendments in this group is that they would all compromise on equality for a range of motivations, some entirely understandable, others less so.

The amendments seek to make exceptions for, variously, the Isle of Wight, Cornwall, Ynys Môn and the highlands of Scotland, and we recognise the pride and sense of history that underpins each of these claims for special treatment. The Minister with responsibility for political and constitutional reform, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend Mr Harper, visited the Isle of Wight on 1 October and Ministers at the highest possible level have met campaigners from Cornwall to hear their arguments. However, it is not the case that the only argument that was made was in favour of the status quo; I think Mr Turner recognised that in a previous debate. For example, a cross-Solent constituency might have advantages. The Isle of Wight council has recently made a submission to the Government to create a Solent local enterprise partnership covering the economic area of south Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Where appropriate, therefore, the island is clearly willing to develop its long-term interests in conjunction with its mainland neighbours. There are a number of shared opportunities between the island and the mainland and I believe this willingness to engage could also be demonstrated in a cross-Solent constituency.