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Committee (11th Day)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 19th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative 7:00 pm, 19th January 2011

My Lords, it is a pleasure to support my noble friend Lord Fowler in his amendment, and to support Mr Andrew Turner, the Member of Parliament for the Isle of Wight. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a Member of a governing party, or a party in a coalition, and find that a proposal is put forward to link your constituency with a part of the mainland for which there is no logical link. He has behaved with very considerable restraint. I have personally appreciated the way in which he has briefed us about the background to those issues.

At Second Reading, I made it clear that I do not like this Bill very much. Ideally, these issues of reducing the size of Parliament and deciding on how the boundaries are achieved would have been done by a Speaker's Conference and not by a Bill of this kind. Ideally, there should not have been the two separate issues of AV and the reduction of the size of Parliament in the same Bill. That, however, is all water under the bridge. I confess I looked at the Bill with a certain degree of hostility, and perhaps because I am cynical, when I saw that there was an exception for Orkney and Shetland, I thought that that must be a bit of a deal with the Liberals, because that is a Liberal constituency. I realise that that was a wicked and improper thought. The Western Isles, of course, is a nationalist constituency. Then I had lunch today with Mr Charles Kennedy and I said, wrongly, "Of course, your seat is not affected". He quite rightly pointed out that that was a widely held mistaken belief; although his seat is the largest-Ross, Skye and Lochaber-it is, of course, not exempted because the Boundary Commission simply has that as a size. He is in the same boat as everyone else. I accept that the reason that the Western Isles and Orkney and Shetland are made exceptions in the Bill is that, quite rightly, somebody recognised that they are distinctive communities. There are many islands that form part of Argyll which have all the problem of ferries and the rest that affect the Isle of Wight, but the key point is whether it is a distinctive community. Clearly the Isle of Wight is a distinctive community.

I do not wish to detain the House, but I would like to make one other general point. I return to what I had to say about Mr Andrew Turner. All of us in this House-especially those I expect who were Members of the other place-must feel great distress at the way in which the status and standing of Members of Parliament have taken a knock of late. One thing, however, that is really encouraging in all the polls and surveys is that people still hold their own Member of Parliament in high regard, even if they have a jaded view of Members of Parliament as a group.

One of the reasons for that is because the Member of Parliament is seen to be the Member for their area or community. I was a Tory in Sterling where two-thirds of the voters had never experienced or wanted a Tory but, as such, you were respected as the Member of Parliament-their man or their woman in Parliament. Even in the days of the rotten boroughs people came to represent the rotten borough, they did not come to represent a block of so many voters on the map. I support my noble friend's amendment in the hope that the Government will listen-