Electoral Reform (Local Elections and Miscellaneous Provisions)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th December 2016.

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Conservative, North East Hampshire 12:42 pm, 7th December 2016

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill applying to England to provide for the introduction of first past the post elections of mayors, the London Assembly and Police and Crime Commissioners;
to require elections for mayors, the London Assembly, Police and Crime Commissioners and local authorities to take place on the same day;
to abolish the election of councillors by halves or thirds to local authorities;
to allow a person to be a Member of the House of Commons and to hold any elected local government office, including that of Police and Crime Commissioner, at the same time;
and for connected purposes.

The word “Parliament” has a range of meanings. It can be a collective noun: a parliament of owls is the term used to describe those very wise birds. It can also describe the very wise Members of this House, an institution of our constitutional monarchy—a court or council summoned by the monarch. We sit in the mother of all Parliaments, a place where the democratically elected people of this country come together to govern for the country. This is a place where the people’s voice must be heard.

The principle that all Members of this House are elected by their constituents is a fundamental principle in our United Kingdom. The link that binds a Member of Parliament to his or her constituency is one of the most important in politics. Every citizen of this country knows that they have one single consistent point of contact in this House to champion the issues that matter to them, to their families and to our country. But, unlike many things in our constitutional settlement, this link is not an accident. It is a product of our voting system to this House. It is the first-past-the-post system that gives our constituents the certainty of knowing who their representative in this House will be. That is widely understood by the people of this country.

In the 2011 referendum, first past the post was strongly supported by the British people by a margin of more than 2:1. Its greatest strength is that every person has one vote and the candidate who gets the most votes wins. It is quick and simple to count and does not unnecessarily burden the taxpayer with equipment and administration costs. The results are declared quickly, providing certainty during turbulent times. Most importantly, voters know that the candidate for whom they voted must be sure to deliver their objectives and stand by their manifesto and will face the test of the ballot box in five years’ time.

While many in this House appreciate the benefits of first past the post, that appreciation is sadly not replicated across our country. Some say that the effect of PR can be mitigated through, for example, the additional member system, but it does no such thing. While people may know their constituency Member, they are less likely, through no fault of their own, to contact their regional Members, so the latter have all the powers of their counterparts who were elected by first past the post but, having been appointed from a party list, have less accountability and connection to the people they represent. With systems such as alternative vote, one could even find that the person who wins actually ends up losing, which happens across the world from Irish presidential elections to elections to the Australian House of Representatives. Preferential voting means that people who should be elected are not.

As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Sri Lanka, I was surprised to find that a version of an electoral system invented by the Labour party is used for that country’s presidential elections. The supplementary vote system is also used for the election of police and crime commissioners and mayors across England. Once again, the candidate with less support in the first round can still end up winning. Take Lord Prescott, a candidate in the 2012 police and crime commissioner elections, he won the first round but was beaten in the second round. While I may be delighted that the Conservative candidate won, it was a day on which democracy was thwarted. The only purpose of that system is to give someone a second chance to steal votes from those who did not vote for them. In all, eight police and crime commissioners who should have been elected were not, including in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

Across England, we expect the very best. We want the best candidates, elected through the best system, to give us the best representation, but alternative systems of voting mean that some local areas have been stripped of their right to choose who is best. What is worse, the wishes of local people are being ignored, allowing candidates who lose to win. That will become ever more prevalent as more powers are devolved to local authorities and as more elected mayors are created through devolution. The public shall grow ever more dissatisfied with our political system. First past the post gives voters simplicity. It gives decisiveness. It gives voters constituency representation. Burke said:

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement”.

Each and every citizen has a right to know what judgment will represent them. If that is true for this place, why should we expect the public to accept second best in public offices across our land?

Similarly, we elect every Member of this House on one day, so why is it not the same for our local authorities? In this House, the Government are able to plan for the long term, acting in the best interests of the people for the long term. Local authorities that elect by thirds are often in a constant state of electioneering. Every May, new councillors come on board and have to settle into a new committee structure by July, before breaking up for August, working over the autumn months, only to be back in election mode in the new year. The best interests of the people are not served by that short-termism. If all local elections were held on a “super Thursday”, voters would know that their vote would make a difference, leading to greater engagement and public interest. Such a change would also save money. The estimated saving in one of my local authorities is some £57,000 in three years out of four. If we scale that up to the 120 authorities that do not have all-out elections, that is over £20 million over a four-year term. That would be not only a boon for local taxpayers, but a commitment to strong, stable local government, which would then be free to plan for the long term.

Democracy means that the people should decide who represents them. The former Member for Manchester Central was forced to stand down in 2012, even though he had secured a strong mandate in 2010, in order to stand as a police and crime commissioner. Let us just think of the cost! By-elections can cost up to a quarter of a million pounds, so surely it should just be left up to the people to decide who is best placed to represent them at any level of government, at any given time. Surely we want the best mayors, the best PCCs, the best Assembly Members and the best councillors. The people should be able to have their say and their voice must be heard.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Mr Ranil Jayawardena, Chris Evans, Jim Fitzpatrick, Robert Flello, David Mackintosh, Christian Matheson, Mr David Nuttall, Chris Philp, Robert Neill, John Penrose, Andrew Rosindell and John Stevenson present the Bill.

Mr Ranil Jayawardena accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 13 January 2017, and to be printed (Bill 110).