By Jonathan Isaby
Last night during the latest proceedings on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, Isle of Wight MP Andrew Turner pleaded for his constituency to remain intact and not be linked with part of the mainland. As it stands, the Bill will mean two thirds of the island being one seat and the other third being linked to a mainland constituency if the quotas on seat size are to be fulfilled. An all-party campaign, One Wight, has also been making the case for the retention of a single island seat
Mr Turner told the Commons:
"The needs and interests of the people of the Isle of Wight are different from those of people living on the mainland. However, it is not only on behalf of the islanders that I oppose the change; my proposal makes better sense for the mainland as well. The island needs local representation, whether by one or two Members of Parliament. What will not do is the creation of one whole constituency with an electorate of 76,000, with the remaining 34,000 forming part of another constituency extending across the sea to the mainland.
"On 15 July, the Deputy Prime Minister told the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform that we must "come to terms with the need for extensive political reform in order to re-establish public trust in what we do here".
"I agree with the Deputy Prime Minister's words, but it is hard to reconcile them with his actions. His aim is the establishment of 600 constituencies of more or less equal size. He says that he wants greater public trust and transparency, yet he has arbitrarily decided that exceptions will be made for some Scottish islands and not others. That is it: no discussion, no consultation, no justification. I am not criticising the Deputy Prime Minister for what he said, but he has not satisfactorily explained why Isle of Wight residents are not entitled to the consideration that is given to Scottish islanders. Like the Scottish islands, we on the Isle of Wight are physically separate from the mainland, but our uniqueness is totally ignored."
"What we have is a limited and sometimes eye-wateringly expensive ferry service. It is necessary to live on an island to understand how limiting that can be. Some islanders rarely or never travel to the mainland, and there are times when it is impossible to reach it because of weather or sea conditions. Ferries themselves provide evidence that the interests of electors on opposite sides of the Solent are very different. The Lymington River Association is vehemently opposed to the new ferries on the Yarmouth-Lymington route, while islanders who do travel to the mainland need the improved services that the companies are trying to offer.
"As well as the two Scottish island constituencies, there are other arbitrary exceptions to the principle of fair votes. However, it is not all about fairness or unfairness. It is about allowing people to be consulted and to have the representation that they want, even if that means keeping a larger constituency. That is why the decision should be made by the independent Boundary Commission, rather than according to the diktat of the Deputy Prime Minister.
"My constituency is the largest in the United Kingdom, with 110,000 voters. I am happy to continue to be judged by those people when it comes to whether I represent them effectively. The Deputy Prime Minister paid me the compliment of saying that I was well known as an "outstanding constituency MP". If that is the case, why is he determined to fix something that is not broken, particularly when his reforms are unwanted by the people who are affected by them?"
A division on amendment tabled by Charles Kennedy that would have given protection to the Isle of Wight and Angelesy, and stopped any part of Cornwall, Argyll & Bute and the area covered by Highland Council being shared with other areas, was defeated by 315 votes to 257.