Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:17 pm on 6th September 2010.

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Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, National Security Strategy (Joint Committee) 5:17 pm, 6th September 2010

The Bill is as dangerous as it is dishonest because it is rooted in a set of false premises. My right hon. Friend Mr Straw completely demolished the argument that it is either necessary or desirable to redraw almost every constituency boundary, especially when the independent Boundary Commission has just redrawn them. He highlighted the danger of removing the previous process of scrutiny and appeal.

I want to address the second half of the gerrymander-the proposal to change our electoral system. We are told that it is necessary to change-"reform" is the word used-because our current system is "unfair"; that the reform will give greater power and influence to the people, and that that is what the people demand. I contest each of those premises. It is dishonest to say that our current system is somehow unfair and that proportional representation is fair. There is no such thing as an electoral system that is absolutely even-handed and fair in every respect. Each has its own fairness and unfairness.

It is legitimate to argue that our current system can give majority groups an outcome that is somewhat disproportionate to the scale of that majority, but it is equally true-I believe that it is even more so-that the major effect of more proportional systems is to give wholly disproportionate power instead to minorities. The views supported by a smaller number often hugely outweigh in the balance of power those of the majority of the population. There may be reasons for saying that that is desirable-I can see from their reaction that the Liberal Democrats share that view-especially, of course, for those in minorities, but I struggle to see how it is more democratic.