Lord Fowler has brought about a Government defeat in the Committee Stage of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. He moved an amendment that would add the Isle of Wight to the list of exemptions from the provisions of the Bill that redraw all the other constituency boundaries (the two exceptions in the Bill are the constituencies of Orkney and Shetland and of Na h-Eileanan an Iar). He is a resident of the Isle of Wight and attracted support from a number of other Government supporters, including Lord Forsyth of Drumlean and Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay.
The argument for the amendment was that under the terms of the Bill the electorate of the Isle of Wight was too large to remain a single constituency as at present and would have to be split with at least one of the parts being linked to a section of the mainland of Southern England to make up two constituencies with the right size of population.
Lord Fowler clearly had had discussions with the Government front-bench and, as a result, had expected the Government to offer to consider the matter positively. In his opening speech he indicated that he would withdraw his amendment, if such an offer was forthcoming. In the event, the Government realised that it had to stand firm. If the principle of equal-sized constituencies is breached for the Isle of Wight, it will be difficult to avoid other areas getting treated differently. So in his reply for the Government, Lord Wallace of Tankerness did not go anything like as far as Lord Fowler had expected. A clearly irritated Lord Fowler then forced a division and the Government was defeated by 196 to 122.
This will present some problems for the Government ….