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THE Portsmouth South constituency will not be merged with the Isle of Wight after the government suffered a defeat in the House of Lords.

Peers voted to retain the Isle of Wight as a distinct constituency.

Tory ex-Cabinet minister Lord Fowler’s move was backed by 196 votes to 122 amid debate on the Government’s Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, which cuts the number of MPs from 650 to 600.

Lord Fowler argued that the Isle of Wight, which faces being split into two constituencies with one linked to the Portsmouth South seat occupied by Lib Dem Mike Hancock, should remain intact as one seat.

The government may seek to overturn the defeat when the Bill returns to the Commons, but ministers are desperate for the legislation to reach the statute book by February 16 – the date which would allow a referendum on introducing the alternative vote (AV) for Westminster elections to take place on May 5 – and may seek to avoid a lengthy stand-off with the Lords.

Lord Fowler, an Isle of Wight resident, received backing from Labour and 42 coalition peers – the government’s biggest rebellion since coming to power.

He said: ‘The consequence of what is being proposed in this Bill is that a new constituency would be formed which would be part on the mainland and part on the Isle of Wight, despite the fact that the two parts would be eight, nine, 10 miles apart over a stretch of sea with only expensive ferries being a means of communication.

‘It would be, in my view, a bad deal for the island and also a bad deal for whatever part of the mainland forms part of this proposed new constituency.’

He said his amendment would allow there to be one or two constituencies in the Isle of Wight, but that they could not be linked with the mainland.

Island MP Andrew Turner said: ‘This decision is quite simply very good sense from the House of Lords. We are not quite at the end of the line because there is a chance the government could try to have the amendment reversed, but I am hopeful that will not happen.’