Electoral Reform

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:46 pm on 8th June 2020.

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Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 10:46 pm, 8th June 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to welcome Wendy Chamberlain to her place as her party’s spokesperson on these issues. I look forward to working with her in that role, and as such, I thank her for raising these important issues in this Adjournment debate. I will take the time available to me to address as many of the issues she raised as I can. She clearly spent most of her time focusing on the method of counting votes in the first-past-the-post system, so that is what I will focus on in my remarks.

If I may, I will just set the scene with a few additional things that we are also focusing on in this Parliament that we think are important in stewarding our electoral system and our democracy. I certainly think that how people cast their vote goes to the heart of our democracy, and it is from that that the Government made an absolute priority in our manifesto, and through much of the action I take when I have the privilege to speak from this Dispatch Box, of protecting and upholding our democracy and our elections by means of electoral integrity. We are taking forward a programme of work that seeks to make our elections secure but also fit for the modern age. Importantly, one of those points is the need to bring our electoral laws up to date for the digital age, which I think the hon. Lady and I both agree is a necessary move. I want to help citizens to make informed decisions by increasing transparency in online political campaigning, and with that I also seek to make sure that rules on campaign donations and spending are effective.

I really look forward to working with the hon. Lady on the forthcoming policy of putting imprints on digital electoral material, which I think will help to strengthen trust and will help people to be informed about who is behind a campaign, so that they can choose and decide. She will be aware of my intention to introduce further measures to reduce fraud in elections, including by introducing identification requirements to vote and by tackling postal vote harvesting and potential proxy fraud.

The hon. Lady already mentioned updated and equal parliamentary boundaries, so I will not dwell on that—we will have plenty of time to do that in Committee sessions in the next while—but it is linked to tonight’s subject matter. It is important, because every voter needs to know that their vote carries equal weight, no matter where it is cast in the UK. I start at this point, because it came up in the debate last week on Second Reading. There is simply a difference of view here. She would say that, for example, an STV system or a PR system would be better than a fixed-term—[Interruption.] I have too many acronyms with F, T and P in them; I meant to say first past the post. She will support one; I will support the other. However, that said, it is possible for us both to agree that, whichever system is used, voters’ voices ought to have the greatest possible equality within that system. From the perspective of first past the post I argue that, within that system, we should ensure that every vote has a chance for its voice to carry equal weight wherever it is cast.

Let me turn more specifically to the first-past-the-post electoral system. I understand the points raised by the hon. Member for North East Fife. She gave a good run down of the principal arguments that are often given against the first-past-the-post system, and I suspect that underlines the point for other hon. Members—we are kept company tonight by a few, including, no less, Jim Shannon who attends every Adjournment debate. As he, and others, will know, this debate is not perhaps new, so I will run through some of the principal arguments in favour of first past the post, to balance the discussion.

For me, the first point is always the constituency link. There is something important to be said about the politics of place, and it is harder to achieve that in some designs for a proportional representation system. The politics of place are important. For example, the hon. Member for North East Fife speaks for Fife; I speak for Norwich. The hon. Member for Strangford speaks for Strangford, and my hon. Friend Eddie Hughes speaks for parts of Walsall. All those places have different needs that can be well represented by a Member who speaks when grounded in those communities.