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

In Cornwall, the Conservatives polled about 49% in 2017 and the other two parties each had about half of the remainder, so I agree with the hon. Lady. There could have been a different way of representing Cornwall, although I probably would not have been elected if that had been the case.

If there were a general election in a few weeks’ time, it would be interesting for us on both sides of the House to find out what we could agree on in a manifesto. When people say to me, “Do you think there will be a general election?” I say, “I hope so, because at the moment I don’t know what the manifesto would even look like.” The hon. Lady is right; we need to clarify again what we stand for and give people a reason to believe. I agree with her and I welcome her intervention.

It is important to maintain the constituency link, and I will give an example of that. As a Back-Bench Member, I was encouraged early on by one of my colleagues in Cornwall to get as many Back-Bench debates as I could, mainly in this Chamber. I have done that. Every single debate that I have sought to secure has been driven by a conversation with a constituent who has come to see me. It has been a privilege to meet someone 300 miles away and talk about an issue that matters to them, and then bring it to the Floor of this House.

I am talking about important issues: community pharmacy, which was raised by a pharmacist who told me about changes to funding that would affect rural areas and which became my first ever debate; the post office network, which is a big issue for rural communities; fuel poverty, which is a concern in my constituency; the environment, which as we know from the last couple of weeks is important to many people and about which I have recently secured a debate; horse and rider safety, which was raised with me early on because where I live people on horses take their lives in their hands when faced with cars coming around corners; and employment opportunities for people with disabilities. We need to maintain the opportunity for people to turn up and say, “Can you raise this on my behalf?” and for us to get on and do that.

Our system encourages conflict and aggression; people are shocked to see the adversarial nature of this place. I agree with my hon. Friend Vicky Ford that proportional representation or any type of electoral system reform will not be the silver bullet that some believe it would be. However, something must be done to secure a more constructive and productive, and less adversarial, Parliament. I would love that: as a Back-Bencher, I find that working with colleagues across the House, through Select Committees or all-party parliamentary groups, can be really constructive. The idea that we sit opposite each other, trying to pull the most curious faces that we can, seems peculiar to me.

As I have said, it is not for the main political parties to sort this out. I suggest to the Minister that the Government find an independent means to review our current system and see what opportunity exists to improve public trust and public engagement through electoral system reform. It is right that we look at this seriously, that we take voters seriously and that we listen to what they have to say. I believe there is a sea-change in Great Britain and a desire to find a different way of moving forward. The time is not now, but I imagine that in the near future we will be forced to look at doing things differently. It would be better for the Government and the main Opposition parties to be ahead of the curve.