Elections Bill (Instruction)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:35 pm on 20th September 2021.

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Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 8:35 pm, 20th September 2021

It is a pleasure to follow Brendan O’Hara.

Today, we are faced with yet another example of a Government with absolutely no respect for democracy, demonstrated both by this process and by the use of it in relation to a policy change of such huge electoral importance.

Ironically, the Minister who tabled this instruction—Chloe Smith—was the very Minister who recently criticised Chris Bryant for using this little-used mechanism himself. The irony is compounded not least because the hon. Gentleman used it as a Back Bencher, with few other options at his disposal, faced with a Government blatantly leaving the issue of suspending Parliament out of a Bill that should have included it. By contrast, in this case, the Government of the day are abusing parliamentary process in two ways: first, they did not give notice of this extension of the scope of the Bill; and secondly, there is no good reason for using this instruction mechanism in the first place.

That raises questions as to why this attempt to foist the undemocratic and unfair first-past-the-post electoral system on mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections was slipped in as quietly as possible. For example, why was this silently published on the day of the reshuffle? More substantively, why did the Government not include this issue in the Bill in the first place so that the principle could have been debated on Second Reading?

Frankly, the disrespectful nature of this instruction is compounded by the fact that this is an Elections Bill—a Bill of constitutional importance, which requires those in power to behave with the highest respect for due process in order to protect our democracy and trust in Government. Anything else looks like rigging the system to the Government’s own electoral advantage. Extending the use of first past the post, and stripping out the proportional aspects of mayoral and police commissioner elections are not changes that should be bounced on MPs of other parties with no pre-legislative scrutiny or discussion.

Since 1997, every new representative body in the UK has been elected using an electoral system other than first past the post. We have had two decades of experience with PR systems in devolved Assemblies, mayoralties and local government. Now, suddenly, we have this blatant abuse of parliamentary procedure to allow the Government to scrap the PR systems that we have. Instead of the surreptitious use of this last-minute instruction, we should have had pre-legislative scrutiny so that we could properly explore on a cross-party basis the serious concerns that first past the post is unfair, unrepresentative and undemocratic. It is unfair and unrepresentative because it regularly delivers powers to those who win only a minority of the popular vote, ignoring the number of votes cast for smaller parties, and undemocratic because it promotes voter inequality, giving disproportionate power to swing voters in marginal seats and encouraging the belief that voting never changes anything, which is dangerous for participation in our democracy.