Proportional Representation: House of Commons — [Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:08 pm on 23rd April 2019.

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Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives 5:08 pm, 23rd April 2019

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. I recognise that there is a need to look at our electoral system and to explore electoral system reform. Why do I believe that?

I first stood for election in 2009, in the midst of the expenses scandal. We cannot blame this system for the expenses scandal but, despite having never been in this place before, I knew what it was to face people who had completely lost trust in MPs and the system that elected them to this place. As a result, ever since I was elected, it has been important to me that we find ways to restore trust in politics. The problem is that that has not been very successful; since that time, we seem to have continued to erode trust in British politicians and the democratic system. We have a job to do and we need to look at whatever is necessary to restore trust in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with all our history and heritage and all that we stand for, for the future.

I say to my hon. Friend the Minister and the Government that they would do well not to ignore this issue. I have tried to raise it a few times and, although I do not want to be unfair, it is kind of dismissed because there are more important things to be doing. However, we exist at a time in this place when huge chunks of our constituents have almost given up on us and what we stand for. It is really important for the United Kingdom that we do something about that. I urge the Government not to ignore the issue and to look at what can be achieved.

As has already been said, it will not be for the main political parties to come up with the answer; that will not restore trust either. I recommend that the Minister and the Government find a completely independent means of looking at what answers, options and opportunities there are, and to consider them when the time arises. As we are in the middle of Brexit, I suggest that that time is not now.

I agree that votes should matter. Since I have been elected, an organisation called Make Votes Matter has sent representatives—in fairness, not a huge number. As they have spoken to me, I have recognised that they do not feel represented or that their voices are being heard. In Cornwall in 2017, sadly, many of the smaller parties, which did reasonably well in 2015, felt that there was no purpose in even putting forward candidates, so they refrained from even standing. That meant that the three main political parties shared about 98% of all the votes that were there to be had. It was a shame to me that people across Cornwall, including my constituents, felt there was no point in engaging in the 2017 election.

People must have the opportunity to feel that they have a stake in their democracy, as well as a voice. Once we are elected as MPs, we must work to make sure that people have a voice. I never use the word “Conservative” in constituency work—not because I am ashamed of it, but because I know full well that I represent every single person. I work hard to get that message across to people who might think I would have no interest in what they care about or what affects their lives. I work hard to make sure that I am approachable and accessible, and I want to make sure that my constituents’ voices are heard.

I met representatives of Make Votes Matter to under- stand what an alternative voting system could and would look like. I agree that serious consideration should be given to electoral system reform. When I discuss the subject with people, I make it clear—and it has been made clear here this afternoon—that we must retain the local constituency link. We could jump from a situation where people have lost trust in their politicians for whatever reason, but at least they still can go and see them on a Friday or Saturday, to a point where they no longer have access.

We have referred to MEPs this afternoon. Since the Brexit referendum, very few MEPs have been anywhere near Cornwall; when they have been, some—although not all—have taken part in anti-Brexit meetings. At the moment, we have lost access to some of our MEPs, which is a real shame. It is important that if we move to another system we maintain that constituency link and the ability for people to come and speak to us, and effect change.