Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:43 pm on 6th September 2010.

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Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills 8:43 pm, 6th September 2010

When it comes to electoral systems, the question that I am most concerned about now, in this later phase of my membership of this House, is what system best secures the sovereignty of the people as expressed through Parliament. There is only one.

Since 1997, the extraordinary development of the constitution-often unconsidered and, in many instances, certainly without pre-legislative scrutiny-has been rammed through by a majority, and we now have, somewhere in the United Kingdom, one of the following systems of election: the single transferable vote system, the additional member system, the closed party list system and the supplementary vote system. If this Bill gets through Parliament, we will then have the alternative vote system in place of the first past the post. We have had all those developments, but there is no satisfaction.

Over a lengthy period, I have watched the parading of princes in this House of Commons. I have seen Governments come and Governments go, so my objective is the system that best protects the sovereignty of the people. I profoundly believe that it is first past the post, for the simplest and most obvious reason of all-you know how to get rid of the Member of Parliament. [ Laughter. ] No, I do not find that funny. It is one of the most important features of an electoral system. Furthermore, we best know how to get rid of a Government. To me, that is the conclusion of the whole argument on voting systems.

I remember fighting the then Conservative Government -Mr Major's Government-over Maastricht. I watched a political class across Europe assert that it was a matter for the political class and not for the people. That is very much a German position. I watched as subsequently Mr Kohl lost his constituency seat, but still remained a member of the Bundestag because he was head of his party's list.

That was the fault and the difficulty that confronted Roy Jenkins when he looked at electoral systems for this country. He found that the alternative vote system could be less proportionate than first past the post, so he came to the conclusion that alternative vote-plus was the answer, which meant that there would be an element of the party list system-the very thing that most throttles the dynamics of democratic expression in the European continent, yet that was the system he promoted. He spoke in Westminster Hall to try to seduce members of the Conservative party; he was singularly unsuccessful.

I will, without hesitation, vote against the Bill on that issue, if that is what I am required to do. There is no dancing around about supporting the coalition. I believe that the coalition was supported in my constituency when it was formed, as it was by me, because it had in its charge one central purpose: to restore the public finances and reduce an unsustainable burden of debt. That is what it was about. I was party to some of the discussions, only in the sense that we were hastily convened at odd hours to be told the latest draft of where the coalition was going. This measure was not part of that, so I shall vote against it.

On boundaries, as was well said by my hon. Friend Mr Walker, what is central is that the power of the Front Benches is increasing unstoppably. We now have a greater concentration, through that device, on our Front Bench, as well as on the Labour Front Bench. We can see that the free radical Back Bencher is an endangered species. That is why there is sourness across the nation, and that is why I will not vote for a reduction that would lose the continuity of counties, cities, towns and boroughs-the distinctiveness of the United Kingdom.

Finally, this measure is no constitutional process, it has not been seen in the round and it does not relate to what will happen in the House of Lords in four, five or six years. But we have been through all that. I urge colleagues to remember that we are all elected representatives. How can it be right to say, "I vote for this because of loyalty to the Fuhrer, the leader of a party"? Our loyalty is to the people who sent us here. That is in first place, so it seems to me inconsistent to say, "I damn the Bill, but I will vote for it in the hope that something turns up."