MPs set to debate changing Britain’s voting system to proportional representation

Jon Stone
MPs during a vote in the House of Commons: AFP

MPs are set to debate scrapping Britain’s “First Past the Post” voting system and switching to a form of proportional representation.

The debate has been put on the cards after a petition on the Parliament website calling for electoral reform reached 100,000 signatures – meaning the subject will automatically be considered for discussion by MPs.

Petition founder Tim Ivorson, said that the Government’s original official response to the document had been “riddled with falsehoods” and that a debate would offer the opportunity “to correct some misunderstandings and for all MPs to explore the issue in more detail”.

After the petition had hit 10,000 ministers had said that they were “concerned that proportional voting systems would weaken the direct constituency link which is a key feature of our parliamentary system, and under a proportional system the voting process is more complicated for the voter”.

Many proportional representation systems maintain a constituency link, however – with most developed countries using some form of PR.

Mr Ivorson said: “Minister for the Constitution, Chris Skidmore, said the Government is ‘committed to ensuring fair and equal representation for the voting public across the UK is in place by the next general election.’

“The government should live up to its rhetoric by urgently reviewing our unfair and unrepresentative voting system.”

A cross party group of MPs including Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, Labour’s Stephen Kinnock, Plaid Cymru’s Liz Saville-Roberts, and the SNP’s Tommy Sheppard welcomed the expected debate.

Mr Kinnock said that Britain “democracy is in crisis” and noted that the Government had been elected by less than a quarter of registered electors.

Parliament’s petitions committee will now consider whether and how to schedule a debate on the petition, which has now reached 101,675 signatures at the time of writing. A vote is not expected to be held after any debate.

Katie Ghose, the chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society said the petition was “a sign of the strength of feeling among voters to ensure their voices are heard in Parliament” while Klina Jordan, co-founder of Make Votes Matter said the petition’s signatories were demanding “real democracy”.

“Every developed country that uses First Past the Post has a major grassroots campaign to abolish it,” she said.

“For example, in Canada a similar petition recently gained well over 100,000 signatures in response to PM Justin Trudeau’s attempt to row back on his promise of PR.”

In 2011 the UK held a referendum on changing the voting system to the Alternative Vote system, which is not proportional representation.

PR systems are used in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the London Assembly, and the Northern Ireland Assembly. The UK also sends MPs to Brussels and Strasbourg using a PR system.

The House of Commons however continues to be elected by First Past the Post, which gives seat results wildly out of kilter with votes cast: at the 2015 general election Ukip won 12.6 per cent of the vote but only won one seat out of 650; the SNP meanwhile won 4.7 per cent of the vote and won 56 seats. The Liberal Democrats won 7.9 per cent of the vote and won just eight seats.

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes