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By Tim Montgomerie

In the Commons yesterday, Labour's Jack Straw quizzed Nick Clegg's Tory deputy, Mark Harper, on whether the reduction is seat numbers would respect historic boundaries and whether the Isle of Wight would be broken up as a constituency with a second seat covering people on the island and the English mainland.

Mr Jack Straw: "Will the Minister confirm that under the Bill, local boundaries, including county boundaries, can be completely ignored and that the only boundaries required to be observed are the national boundaries? Will he also confirm that under the Bill the Boundary Commission will be required, by law, to begin the process of redrawing the boundaries for the whole of the United Kingdom in the Isle of Wight-to transfer 35,000 voters in that constituency across the Solent into Hampshire, and then to work up the United Kingdom in an equally arbitrary way, with no public inquiries?"

Mark Harper Mr Mark Harper: "There were so many questions in there that it is not clear which one to answer. First, we are not proposing to move anybody who currently lives on the Isle of Wight; I think that they will continue to live where they are. The right hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. We do not lay down a prescriptive method for the boundary commissions to draw the boundaries; they are independent, and they will continue to draw the boundaries."

Mr Straw: "The Minister has obviously not read his own Bill. If community cohesion is good enough for separate seats on the outer isles of Scotland and for the invention of an entirely artificial rule to protect the seat of a former leader of the Liberal Democrats, why is it not good enough for the rest of the United Kingdom?"

Mr Harper: "The right hon. Gentleman knows that there are two exceptions, which are the two Scottish seats that have unique geography. There is not an exception for the seat of the former leader of the Liberal Democrats; it is simply a rule to prevent the boundary commission from drawing an extraordinarily large seat, and his boundaries are able to be redrawn in the same way as anybody's else's. All this bluster simply highlights the fact that Labour Members do not believe in seats of equal size and votes counting equally across the whole of the United Kingdom."

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