Committee (11th Day)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 19th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 7:15 pm, 19th January 2011

I say from the Front Bench that my party's view is clear that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, should be supported. The Isle of Wight seems evident to us to be a prime candidate for exemption. It meets the island criteria of the other two preserved constituencies. It has a historic basis to its case for being looked at somewhat differently.

Many noble Lords will have received a letter from the Isle of Wight Council, to which I pay tribute for the way in which it has run its campaign. The letter informs us that there has not been a cross-Solent seat, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said in moving his amendment, since 1832-a date that regularly appears in our debates on this Bill-and successive boundary reviews have very strongly rejected any such consideration. We are in favour of his amendment.

The debate has been of interest beyond the Isle of Wight, because of the two different strands of opinion on whether the Bill is too rigid. The Forsyth/Pannick strand-I do not mean "panic", but that shows what happens when you break the rules and do not say the "noble Lord, Lord Forsyth", and "the noble Lord, Lord Pannick"-argues that the Bill is much too rigid in terms of constituencies and begins to lose common sense as a result. Then there is the purist view-although I did not think I would ever say that about the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton-that says that, if the Government mean what they say about numbers being everything, they had better keep to their word. I know which side of that argument I am on.

As the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, said, I encourage the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, to press his amendment to a vote. Whether he does so is entirely a matter for him. I never thought that I would be in a position to advise the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, with his vast experience, but he should beware of being offered something in the next few minutes by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, who I am sure will make such an offer with huge skill. The Minister will mean every word that he says, but the noble Lord should beware. If he decides to pay a visit to the ministry in order to hear what the Government have to say in the way of compromise, he should know that he has us at his back, as it were. He has our word that if he does not get what he wants we will support him in the Lobbies.