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Valedictory Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:33 pm on 5th November 2019.

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Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton Conservative, Truro and Falmouth 5:33 pm, 5th November 2019

Ian C. Lucas made some serious allegations in his speech today, but I will not comment on them and will leave it to the Leader of the House to respond.

I start my contribution, as so many colleagues have done, with thanks to my constituents for sending to me to this place and for putting their faith and trust in me. Serving my home community—the town where I grew up and the school I went to—has been the greatest privilege of my life. Of course, like so many other Members, I want to thank my staff who have helped me so well, so efficiently and so kindly in all the work we have achieved together for my constituents.

Like my right hon. Friend Sir David Lidington, in the few minutes available to me today I will not talk about what I have done in this place. I want to talk about something for the next Parliament to think about.

Blazoned across the walls of Parliament today are banners promoting Parliament Week with the slogan, “It all begins with you.” Our democracy begins with, and indeed depends on, engaged and well-informed citizens. For citizens to make informed choices, they need easy access to accurate and impartial information about the work of their elected representatives in Parliament, including their voting record. Although our work in our constituencies is just as important as our work in this place, it is the actions taken here in this Chamber and in Committee that have the greatest impact on our national life.

We arguably live in an age in which it is easier to access information than ever before, but the owners and editors of media channels, including the social media platforms from which many people gather information and shape their opinions, have no responsibility or incentive to provide accurate and impartial information about our work and voting records. There are no real deterrents to misrepresentation.

Citizens often base their opinions about MPs on how they vote on particular issues. We all know that not all votes are equal and that some of the most important decisions taken in this House have been taken without a Division, but most people simply do not know that. As there are few adverse consequences for authors, publishers and social media platforms, there is widespread misrepresentation of MPs’ voting records. I believe that is contributing to the poisoning of our politics, corroding people’s trust in MPs and threatening the very foundations of our parliamentary democracy.

We have all been on the receiving end of communications from constituents that misrepresent the facts, derived from the far from perfect reporting of our voting records on websites such as TheyWorkForYou. Democracy does begin with the citizen but, right now, there is no trusted source of impartial, accurate information about the voting records and actions of MPs in Parliament to help citizens make informed choices.

In his passionate speech to the House yesterday, Mr Speaker said:

“I hope that this House will be once again a great, respected House…
I hope that once again it is the envy of the world.”—[Official Report, 4 November 2019;
Vol. 667, c. 619.]

We all share that hope, but action will be needed to turn that hope into reality. I would like Mr Speaker to take one action today and agree to work with Hansard to develop a new service, in addition to its excellent verbatim reporting of parliamentary proceedings, to provide impartial contextualised information on MPs’ voting records. This will need careful consideration and cross-party support, but I hope it will be a challenge he accepts. Based on my conversations with Hansard, it is up for it. If Mr Speaker takes up this challenge, he will do a great deal to shore up the foundations of our parliamentary democracy and, over time, restore trust in our politics.

I thank the thousands of volunteers who, over the next few weeks, will participate in the forthcoming general election campaign. They play an immensely important role in our democracy, too. I thank three particular volunteers, the three chairmen of the Truro and Falmouth Conservative Association who have worked hard to support me over the years: Nick Straw, Bob O’Shea and Alan Davey.

Finally, my most heartfelt thanks go to my husband, Alan, and our three wonderful children, Emily, Harriet and James, who have enabled me to be in this place and have the best job in the world.