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Members of Parliament (Change of Political Party Affiliation)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:44 pm on 23rd November 2011.

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Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West 1:44 pm, 23rd November 2011

Edwina Currie had the bright idea of having equal numbers of men and women in the House by pairing constituencies and saying that the man who go the most votes and the woman who got the most votes each became a Member of Parliament. I asked her what would happen if someone went in for gender reassignment between one election and another, and she thought I was not being sufficiently serious.

When I first started taking an interest in politics, I do not think we had party labels on the ballot paper. I think it would not be a bad thing if we removed them and showed only candidates’ names and addresses. Incidentally, I do not know whether my hon. Friend would suggest that if I changed my address between one election and another I should have a by-election, because that was on the ballot paper as well.

I do not think many of us would get elected without parties, but the key point is that we have a duty to our constituents and to our party, and we have international obligations as well. In my view the trust comes from what we do, not from whether we decide to change our party. We are at present in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats include people who were Social Democrats. The Social Democrats, in the main, unless they were political virgins, came from the Labour party, so there has been significant moving around.

We could approach this matter from the point of view of narrow self-interest. Do we as the Conservatives, or we as the coalition with the Liberal Democrats, expect to get more people from the Labour party to come and join us, or do we expect to lose more people? If we expect to gain more people, which is what I hope we are going to do, we should not support the Bill. We should say, “Come across and perhaps we’ll see if we can look after you at the next election as well. It may mean changing your seat, as one or two Conservatives who switched to Labour did, but we can have a go.”

Then we come to Burke. Edmund Burke is quoted far too often. He bears the penalty of fighting his great campaign against Warren Hastings for five years, tying up Westminster Hall and stopping the visitors having a good look round. But we forget that having made his declaration of the duties of a Member of Parliament, at the next election he lost his seat. Losing the seat at the election is what such a Member should take the chance of doing.

We have had voluntary by-elections. Our right hon. Friend Mr Davis caused a by-election to say that he still agreed with what he had said at the previous election so could he be re-elected, and he was. We had the time when the Ulster Unionists, who do not seem to be present at the moment, had by-elections en masse for some reason that we have now forgotten. We ought to recognise that although my hon. Friend Chris Skidmore is absolutely right—there is no better historian in the House now than he—in saying that the matter ought to be debated, the idea that it should be the subject of a Bill that should be enacted is controvertible, and I would say that it is wrong.

The House should not be delayed by too many of the greater arguments on this, except of course if we wanted to return to the glory days. Was there not a time when if someone elected as a Back-Bench Member of Parliament was invited to become a Minister, a by-election had to be held? It would be a real test of popularity, especially if a reshuffle came, to make it a requirement that any Back Bencher who became a Minister had to fight a by-election, and anyone who stood at a general election as a Minister and succeeded, but then lost their ministerial position, should also be required to fight a by-election. If by-elections are a good idea, let us have more of them.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Chris Skidmore, Dr Sarah Wollaston, Mr Robert Buckland, Zac Goldsmith, Mr Aidan Burley, Conor Burns, Gavin Williamson, Bob Stewart, John Healey, Mr Philip Hollobone, Mr Tom Clarke and Steve Brine present the Bill.

Chris Skidmore accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 March 2012 and to be printed (Bill 252).