Orders of the Day — House of Commons (Redistri Bution of Seats) Bill
Mr Herbert Morrison (Hackney South)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The object of this Bill is to provide standing machinery for adjusting constituencies to changes in the distribution of population, so as to prevent a position arising in which there would be a grave maldistribution of Parliamentary seats. The Bill is based upon a unanimous recommendation of the Committee on Electoral Machinery, which contained representatives of all the main political parties, including those highly-skilled and technical persons known as the principal or national agents, and I am indebted to the Committee for giving me their very valuable advice on a number of fairly complicated problems.
This Committee not only pointed out that a system of representative government involves standing machinery for the registration of electors, but also took the view that it involved standing machinery for the determination of local areas as suitable constituencies for the election of Members to this House. The adjustment of both constituencies and the registers is essential, they said, for the same reason, namely, that population is always in a state of movement—and at no time has that been more true than during the present war. The Committee said that machinery for the adjustment of constituencies ought to be a normal and regular part of the equipment of the British Parliamentary system. In the absence of such equipment, experience in the past suggests that it requires a positive upheaval to secure any adjustment by means of a redistribution of seats. The subject remains in abeyance indefinitely, history teaches us, until the maldistribution of seats is so notoriously bad that at last something has simply got to be done. Indeed, the argument of the Committee is supported by the history of redistribution in the last 100 years. In this period redistributions took place in 1832, 1867. 1885 and 1918, in each case in connection with extensions of and alterations in the qualification for the franchise.
Redistribution has previously been looked upon as an exceptional operation linked with changes in, or extension of the franchise. There is, however, no necessary or essential connection between changes in the franchise and redistribution, for it may well be that extension of the franchise might not upset materially the balance of electors between one constituency and another. There is no essential connection between the qualifications for the franchise and the distribution of Parliamentary seats. Nevertheless, redistributions over the last century have taken place in connection with, or as a consequence of, extensions or changes in the franchise. The principle is now accepted that so far as it is practicable each Member ought to represent an equal number of constituents. The existing maldistribution is due not to design—there is no wicked plot on the part of any Government as far as I know—but is simply the result of the fact that there has been no machinery for making changes in the distribution of seats to correspond with extensive changes in the distribution of the population. In any scheme of distribution, the object to be aimed at is not exact mathematical equality but a reasonable approximation to equality. Substantial margins of toleration are necessary. If we run the doctrine of equal electorates too far, we shall find ourselves divorced from reality and from the particular circumstances of, for example, sparsely populated areas. All we can aim at is an approximate equality, and in doing so we must allow for substantial margins of toleration and recognise that that should be so.
After all, Members of Parliament do not represent mere aggregations of individuals, bundled together in mathematically equal groups. They seek to represent areas which are identifiable and, if possible, have their own traditions, and, moreover, it is the duty of Members not only to represent their constituencies but to try and speak their minds about what is best for the interests of the nation as a whole. The Speaker's Conference of 1917 recommended toleration where the electorate was 30 per cent. below, or 70 per cent. above, the standard figure. Those were the limits of toleration recom- mended by that Conference. By 1941, no fewer than 164 constituencies were outside those fairly wide limits of toleration. In some cases electorates amounted to only 30 per cent. and 40 per cent. of the standard and others had three and four times more than the standard.
No one defends these anomalies and the recent Conference under Mr. Speaker shows the general agreement on the view that arrangements ought to be made to check maldistribution in its early stages, and to prevent the growth of such gross inequalities as have accumulated during the past 25 years. What happens, of course, is that a Government recognise that redistribution has become due or overdue, and then it is a matter of finding Parliamentary time. In the judgment of the Committee and in my own judgment it is far better to have standing machinery so that we can steadily adjust as we go along, and the issue can be put before the House of Commons so that the House and the Government of the day have to face it automatically, as changes occur.
The provision of standing machinery for securing periodic redistribution as and when adjustments are required, is not difficult. It is agreed that there ought to be in existence standing Boundary Commissions, charged with the duty of reviewing the state of constituencies periodically, preparing schemes of redistribution in accordance with certain principles prescribed by Parliament itself, and submitting such schemes for the approval of Parliament. It has been agreed by the Government, in accordance with the recommendations which were submitted to us, that the Chairman of this series of Boundary Commissions should be the same Chairman, and that that Chairman should be the Speaker of the House of Commons. I wish, Sir, to express the Government's thanks to you—and I am sure the thanks of the House also—for your willingness to undertake this task, and also once more to thank you warmly for presiding over the recent Conference and to congratulate you on the high measure of agreement which you were able to get from that well-assorted body of political personalities. Anyway, they were a good mixed representative bag, representing the House of Commons and their Lordships' House. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) asks me to say they were a very distinguished body of gentleman. I willingly do so. I think they did a first-class job of work and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend made his contribution, and that he was heard from time to time.
Clause 1 of the Bill provides for the setting up of four Boundary Commissions, one for England, one for Scotland, one for Wales and Monmouthshire, and one for Northern Ireland. There has never yet been a separate Boundary Commission for Wales, but with my well-known sentimental regard for Wales and the Welsh people, I willingly accepted this proposal for a separate Boundary Commission for Wales and I hope it goes well. The Government are glad to accept the recommendations which were made to this effect by the Speaker's Conference. There is no question of any paid post being created by the appointment of the Boundary Commissions themselves. The Commissioners themselves will be, generally speaking, persons already holding offices in the public service and they will receive no payment beyond expenses necessarily incurred. The officers serving under them may, however, be remunerated as provided for by Part II of the First Schedule. The duty of the Commissions which is laid down in Clause 4 will be to keep under review the representation in the House of Commons of each of those parts of the United Kingdom, and to submit to the Home Secretary, or to the Secretary of State for Scotland, as the case may be, periodical reports, stating either that in their opinion no alteration is required in the distribution of the seats, or that an alteration is required, in which case the report will show what changes they recommend. But these recommendations will not, of course, be binding upon Ministers. It will be competent for Ministers to accept, or reject or amend the recommendations of the Boundary Commissioners, subject always to two points, first, that they will have to explain the reasons for their decision, and, secondly, that Parliament must at all times be supreme in the matter.
Special provision is necessary as regards early steps to correct the existing maldistribution, but subsequently, unless the distribution of population should change suddenly, the periodical reports are likely to recommend only comparatively small changes in the distribution of seats. If Parliament accepts these recom- mendations after review by the Government, this machinery will prevent the growth of gross maldistribution and will, by a series of changes, keep the distribution of constituencies in step with changes in the distribution of the population. That should be possible without an enormous loss of Parliamentary time, and without the Government being worried as to whether it can afford the time for a major Redistribution Bill.
Parliament, in the first place, must give the Commissions guidance on the principles to be followed in deciding whether redistribution is necessary, and how the schemes of redistribution shall be effected. Rules for this purpose are set out in the Third Schedule to the Bill. These rules follow generally the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference. We have settled, and the Bill carries out the idea, that at all stages of the procedure Parliament must be on top. It would be quite wrong either for the Boundary Commissioners or for the Government to be able to influence the distribution of seats without specific Parliamentary approval at all stages. Therefore, Parliament will settle the principles, Parliament will deal with the recommendations of the Boundary Commissioners as modified or not and submitted by the Government of the day, and at no stage will there be any situation which is not entirely under Parliamentary control. I am sure the House will attach importance to that.
The first point to be settled is, of course, the total number of Members to be elected to the House, and how they shall be divided between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Speaker's Conference recommended that the total number of Members for Great Britain should remain substantially as it present, that is to say, 591 Members, excluding the university representatives, and it was also recommended that there should be no reduction in the existing total representation of either Scotland or of Wales. Effect is given to this recommendation in the Third Schedule to the Bill. The provision is, of course, favourable to Scotland and to Wales. The figures are that in 1939, again disregarding the universities, the number of electors per Member was for Scotland 44,642; Wales 47,220; England 54,775. But these differences are not excessive, taking account of all the circumstances of the case, and bearing in mind that our aim is not an exact mathematical equality, but a reasonable approximation to equality.
Mr Herbert Morrison (Hackney South)
I have not, but in any case I understand that the position of Northern Ireland is a separate issue because there, the numbers are fixed by Statute. I imagine they would be greater than any of these, and for the very good reason that Northern Ireland has a Parliament of its own.
Mr Herbert Morrison (Hackney South)
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend. The differences fall within the proposed limits of toleration, and they can be justified as things are. They can be justified, for example, on the ground that particular account should be taken of geographical factors. The constituencies of the Highlands of Scotland and the Western Isles, and the constituencies in North Wales, have some claim to special consideration in view of the sparseness of the population and the size of the areas concerned. These arc points that will always have to be taken into account. But I must make it clear that whilst we have, and quite properly I think, carried out the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference in respect of Scotland and Wales, it does not mean, and of course it cannot mean, that the Government or the House are committed to the view that figures of not less than 71 for Scotland, and not less than 35 for Wales, should stand for all time. There may in the future be such changes in the distribution of population that some alteration of those figure will in fairness be required. Unless and, until, however, such substantial changes take place and fresh legislation is passed, these provisions which I have mentioned will operate. There cannot, of course, be any commitment beyond that. It must be for future Parliaments and future Governments to decide what is right at the time—and I wish them luck.
As already stated, special arrangements are necessary for correcting existing mal- distribution. The Speaker's Conference recommended that the first step should be to divide those constituencies which are abnormally large, that is to say those in which the 1939 electorate was not less than, approximately, 190 per cent. of the quota, which quota amounts to approximately 53,110. That 190 per cent. of the quota produces a figure of 100,909. There arc 19 such constituencies with not less than 100,909 electors and there is one with an electorate of 100,834. All these constituencies are in England. This scheme will involve a temporary increase in the membership of the House, and the Conference recommended that the total temporary increase should not exceed 25 Members. The division of the 20 constituencies in accordance with the Conference formula will as it happens produce this maximum of 25 additional seats. There are, however, six other constituencies with over 95,000 electors, but as I have said taking the basis which I have indicated and which the Conference indicated that produces 25 Members. Evidently, there was some intelligent work done somewhere, either in the Speaker's Conference or the Home Office. I am prepared to give the credit to the Conference but I think it was probably done in the Home Office.
As I have said, there are six other constituencies with over 95,000 electors. Whether, on a legal interpretation, the word "approximately" covers electorates which are two per cent. or more below the standard is by no means clear. In any case it would obviously be extremely difficult for the Boundary Commissioners to formulate any principle on which they could properly decide that one of the contituencies with an electorate of over 100,000 should, for the purposes of this scheme of immediate redistribution, be displaced in favour of a constituency with an electorate of under 100,000. To place on the Boundary Commissioners the responsibility of discovering what grounds, if any, there may be for preferring one or more of the six smaller constituencies to one or more of the 20 larger constituencies, seemed to the Government to be an inappropriate course, which would place a burden on the Boundary Commissioners not suited or fair to them.
So we came to the conclusion that the best way of giving effect to the object which the Speaker's Conference had in mind would be to limit the proposed scheme of immediate redistribution to the constituencies with electorates of over 100,000. We had to draw a line somewhere. We so drew it, and have produced nameable, specific constituencies. We thought it best to take that question away from the Boundary Commissioners and that Parliament should settle it, and, therefore, schedule in the Bill the 20 constituencies with electorates exceeding 100,000. The Boundary Commissioners could then go straight ahead with the redistribution of these divisions. In this respect, the Bill departs from the precise recommendations of the Speaker's Conference, but I hope, with confidence, that the House will recognise that the provisions of the Bill, on the whole and in the light of the facts, provide the best method of giving effect to the object which, undoubtedly, the Speaker's Conference wished to further. All these 20 constituencies are in England, and therefore Clause 2 of the Bill, which provides for the immediate division of these abnormally large constituencies, refers only to the Boundary Commission for England.
I come now to the recommendations in regard to double Member constituencies. I think it would be fair to say that such constituencies have not commended themselves for some time to Parliamentary opinion as a whole, but, somehow or other, quite a number of them have survived over the years. The Speaker's Conference proposed—reflecting this general body of Parliamentary opinion—that constituencies at present returning two Members should be abolished, except where, after local inquiry by the Boundary Commissioners, it is found, in any particular case, that abolition is undesirable. It added a proviso that no county or borough shall continue to return two Members if the electorate falls short of double the quota by more than, approximately, 15 per cent. This would mean the automatic abolition of double-Member constituencies below the limits of toleration as recorded in the electoral registers of 1939. As regards the others, there is a presumption in the Speaker's Conference recommendations in favour of the abolition of double-Member constituencies, unless there are good reasons why they should be preserved.
Mr Herbert Morrison (Hackney South)
I would not like to define them. Possibly one good reason would be the physical difficulty of making a division. I should think that would be the main consideration, but I do not think it would be wise to fetter the judgment of the Boundary Commission. The Boundary Commission should have a fair field in which to reach a judgment, but I should have thought, as I have said, that the main consideration would be some peculiar physical difficulty in dividing up an area. Discretion in exceptional cases, as I have mentioned, will remain with the Boundary Commission to recommend the continuance of double-Member constituencies if, after local inquiries, there are grounds for making exceptions, and Rule 3 of the Third Schedule, gives effect to the proposal which I have indicated to the House.
That brings me to the ancient City of London. A resolution in favour of the retention of two seats for the City of London was passed by a majority of 15 to 13 by the Speaker's Conference—a pretty close affair, as one can quite imagine it would be. In considering the City of London, weight has to be given to other considerations than the number of electors, that is to say, as regards the maintenance of a separate identifiable constituency for the City. It is always possible to get excited about the City of London and my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) and I have had our Share of it in past days. But this is always to be remembered, that the City of London has a great place in municipal history. It has a great place in Parliamentary history also, and on the issue of the abolition of the City, as a separate identifiable Parliamentary constituency—I am not talking about one or two Members at this point—the Government think it right that it should be preserved. I, as a good Londoner and a student of the City's history—centuries ago the City of London played a great part in the establishment of British constitutional usage—would be sorry to see the separate Parliamentary representation of the City abolished even though the figures make a strong case for consideration the other way. We therefore lay it down that the City of London as a constituency shall be preserved.
Mr Thomas Naylor (Southwark South East)
May I put a question to my right hon. Friend on that point? Will he give the House the reason why the City of London is allowed to have two Members? Is it not the case that it is not on the grounds on which my right hon. Friend now defends that representation?
Mr Herbert Morrison (Hackney South)
That is a separate issue with which I shall deal. There are two issues, one, whether the City should remain as a separate Parliamentary constituency, and the other, what number of Members it should return. It is felt that to merge the City—and I think I shall carry the House generally with me—or any part of the City with adjoining constituencies, is not a proposal likely to receive wide support. There is, however, room for argument whether, having regard to the comparatively small number of electors, and, on the other hand, to the historical and sentimental considerations, there should, or should not be two Members representing the City of London. The facts are that the 1939 Parliamentary electorate of the City of London was 38,022, as against the quota for one Member of 53,110.
Mr Herbert Morrison (Hackney South)
I do not know. The last figure I remember having for the resident population of the City, was 9,000. The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) is probably not far wrong when he says 6,000. I am talking about the electorate, and the figure I mentioned was the actual Parliamentary electorate in 1939.
Mr Herbert Morrison (Hackney South)
If the House should, in due course, make changes in the franchise of the business voter, whereby the spouse will not vote, then the City electorate will be smaller still. Obviously there will be a prima facie case—I go no further—for consideration at the appropriate time whether the City should return its present two Members, or one Member. It seems to us that as regards the first ad hoc redistribution it would not be right to put the City of London in this Schedule, because there are many other constituencies with anomalous representations, some in the County of London and same elsewhere. Some of them are on the big side, and some on the small side, and, in the interest of smooth working and in order to avoid embarrassing all of us, my advice would be that this point should be argued in relation to the general distribution, and not in relation to the redistribution of the abnormallly large constituencies.
We thought that the right course was to deal with the matter on the lines of Rule 3 in the Third Schedule. This provides that the City of London, as constituted at the passing of this Act, shall continue to be a separate constituency, but also that the question whether the City shall return two Members or only a single Member shall be settled by Parliament when the Bill for giving effect to the first general scheme of redistribution has been debated. Of course, in the first general redistribution it will be dealt with by a Bill. We do not think it right to put the burden of settling whether there shall be one or two seats on to the Boundary Commission. It is not a matter like many of the ordinary double Member constituencies. It is a matter which ought to be settled by the Parliament and the Government of the day, and, if this proposal is accepted by Parliament, the Boundary Commission will have no function at all in relation to the City of London. The question whether the City shall have one or two Members will, as I have said, be left to Parliament to settle when the first general scheme of redistribution is before them. We are not asking the House to prejudice that issue one way or another at this stage, and I am certainly not in a position, although I have my own views on the subject, to commit His Majesty's Government to a view on whether the City should have one or two Members. I think I have now dealt with all the provisions of the Bill; it is not a very difficult Bill.
Sir Joseph Lamb (Stone)
Before the right hon. Gentleman finishes, would he say something with regard to the right of application to the Boundary Commission? I understand that the first 20 constituencies are in the Schedule, but, after that, who will have the right of application to the Commission for consideration?
Mr Herbert Morrison (Hackney South)
There is a well established procedure about that. Political parties, agents, Members of Parliament or indeed, any bona fide citizen or body of citizens must have the right to put their views to the Boundary Commission, and, when the general redistribution comes, it will certainly be the duty of the Home Secretary of the day to provide that all parties should have a reasonable opportunity of being heard by the Boundary Commission.
Mr Arthur Woodburn (Clackmannan and Eastern)
Mothers are used to reckon the passage of time by the dates on which their children were born, and nations have very largely measured their history by the periods over which kings have reigned, or by the bloody milestones of war. Parliament seems to have measured its progress by redistributions of seats or extensions of the franchise. We are concerned to-day with what appears to me to be the final and permanent redistribution scheme, which, if passed and carried into effect, will make changes in the distribution of electorates and Members an automatic reflection of the changes in the electorates themselves and will bring about an evolutionary process in the development of our Parliaments of the future. That, to some extent, is a substitution for allowing the pent-up feelings of changing electorates to bring about a periodic revolution, and to that extent it seems to be an indication of the development of our times—that we are emerging into a period of progressive improvement in administration, instead of the dramatic clashes that took place when there were great and violent issues between contending parties and the State.
This Bill realises to a large extent one of the main points of the great reformers of a hundred years ago, the establishment of equal electoral districts, but, as the Home Secretary has said, that of course must be approximate. It follows closely the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference and, as one of those who were privileged to receive Mr. Speaker's invitation to take part in that Conference, I am proud that his recommendations have been accepted almost en bloc. Experience of the Conference associates itself in my mind with the passage of the War Damage Act, as two of the best examples of the Parliamentary system working in its most harmonious and most effective mood. In the passage of the War Damage Act, there was concentration on getting the job done, and the amount of give and take that took place will stand out in the future as a testimonial to the common sense of this nation when it is up against a job. The complete elimination of scoring points for points' sake was a triumph of Parliamentary procedure on such a long Bill, and in the Speaker's Conference there was a purposefulness in getting agreement which illuminated the spirit of the Conference from the very beginning.
There were two issues on which give and take were impossible. The questions of Proportional Representation and plural voting are matters which can only be settled by the answer "Yes" or "No." On some of these questions, people with political predilections can either decide that they have to make a declaration in favour of the principle and allow themselves to be defeated, or agree to a unanimous decision which is against the principle. On these points, of course, decisions were taken. On most other issues it was possible to achieve a considerable measure of give and take between the contending points of view, but that was achieved and the Speaker's Conference was able to make practically unanimous recommendations. This, to my mind, contrasts favourably, in reviewing our Parliamentary procedure, with what appear to be sometimes the filibustering tactics that are employed for delaying the passage of legislation merely because of contentious points of view on somewhat trivial points.
I have a feeling sometimes that the great issues on which we have almost complete agreement are overshadowed by the search for points of disagreement on which we get violent arguments. That is a defect in our Parliamentary system, perhaps due to our working of it, rather than to the system itself. I would seriously ask the House if the experiences of the war, when we have been able to achieve a speed of legislation not hitherto possible, by reaching common sense agreement on fundamental points, and endeavouring to secure their achievement at the earliest moment, cannot be carried into the working of our Parliamentary system after the war, and whether it will not be possible to avoid the tremendous waste of time that takes place in marching backwards and forwards to the Lobbies casting votes on things which were already clearly decided. We ought to learn by experience and take an example from some of the things that were done during the war. The last Speaker's Conference was abortive, because the Members and parties which took part in it, took the view that they must have all or nothing, and this philosophy of "all or nothing" is really the philosophy behind dictatorship. That is that, whether it is a majority or a minority, it is going to bind its will on the rest of the people. It is an essential of democracy that there should be consideration of and acceptance of the reasonable propositions of minorities, and that compromise is the essential result of discussion. Our discussions would be quite futile if the majority were always to dictate its will and suppress the minority. We might as well abolish the Parliamentary system. Therefore we must give effect to the views of minorities when they are reasonable, otherwise democracy itself will break down and we shall get dictatorship.
When people talk about compromise in a sneering voice they are talking about a system which is the method by which this country has progressed for many years to its present high standard of civilisation. The court of law, the highest form of discussion and dialectics, is an example of compromise and arbitration and that, in the last resort, is the method of the House of Commons. It is something to be proud of that we are able to do that and can settle things by reason and the counting of heads rather than by smashing them, as they like to do in other parts of the world. This Bill is the first fruits of the Speaker's Conference and, of course, we expect that the Home Secretary will be producing, in the near future, other Bills to carry out the other recommendations of the Conference, because if an election takes place without many of the recommendations—the improvement of the Corrupt Practices Act, the question of its expenses and many other parts of the machinery of election which need tidying up and improvement—it is not going to be as satisfactory as it might otherwise be. We hope, therefore, that the Home Secretary will be able to give us some assurance that these Bills are on the way.
As a Scotsman—I think I can also speak on behalf of Wales and Ireland in this respect—I am glad that the Government have seen their way to accept the unanimous recommendation to leave well alone as far as the representation of those countries is concerned. On purely mathematical grounds, there might be justification for changes but it is not, as the Home Secretary says, a mathematical problem but a human one. In Scotland, we are, at one and the same time, a part of the British Parliament and yet regard ourselves as a separate nation with, I believe, our special contribution to make to the cultural progress of our common nation. Scotland— I think it applies to other countries too—will resent any demand to reduce us all to a dull uniformity of a proportion of 45,000,000 population. The English are a great and generous race and, for some unaccountable reason, they seem to like us Scottish people and give us a very generous and hospitable welcome when we come to their land. Unfortunately, it is frequently the Scot who has come South, or the Scot who, like my right hon. Friend, has been born in the South who, with meticulous justice, wants to reduce things to a legalistic aspect and forget the more important factor of the human spirit. We wish no injustice to England but we shall demand no less than justice for ourselves, and any in the future who may feel tempted to rash action infringing Scottish rights I would remind of our motto:
Nemo me impune lacessit.
We are glad that the Bill leaves open the question of the City of London seats. I am not deaf or blind to sentiment, and we appreciate that there is a sentimental and traditional aspect in the City of London which it might be wise to respect. I only hope that, if the City should ever progress intellectually and politically enough to return a Labour Member, it will not be considered that that tradition has been destroyed. If London ever becomes Socialist, we shall regard its tradition as being effectively represented in a progressive way, and not merely by a reminiscence of the past in representing something which has long since gone. We can see no justification at all for it re- quiring two Members to represent this tradition. As a matter of fact it would possibly give a great many Members some difficulty to think who are the representatives of the City of London in the House. I think the tradition, if it is to be represented, could well be represented by one Member, and I hope the House will be accordance with public sentiment.
With regard to the universities, I should say that the general opinion among my friends is that they need no separate representation and, from my own point of view, so far, they have not justified it—because of the backwardness of their political intelligence. The fact that at this time of day the universities of this country have not achieved the distinction of sending one Socialist Member to the House of Commons is, surely, a condemnation of their political intelligence. The Speaker's Conference came to a decision that it was not worth while breaking any bones or heads about it and that it was not worth while causing disagreement on these little points because we were satisfied that, though the universities have not achieved the distinction I have suggested, there has been in recent years an improvement in the Members which they have sent to the House and we are hoping for the best for the future.
Mr Arthur Woodburn (Clackmannan and Eastern)
That is just the point I am making; they have improved to the extent of being independent. I am not reflecting on their medical or architectural or artistic or legalistic skill but on their political intelligence which is not related to their other abilities There are other points which the Speaker's Conference put forward, in regard to election machinery, corrupt practices and expenses, about which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us some assurances. Generally speaking, we accept this Bill as a reasonable and genuine agreement on the urgent problem of abnormal constituencies. If we went beyond the abnormal constituencies we would get into a partial scheme of redistribution which, as far as can be judged, would result in genuine unfairness and grievance throughout the country which would not be confined to one party. It would muddle up a lot of constituencies and would not be satisfactory. Therefore, the Speaker's Conference recommended a strict adherence to the division of the abnormal constituencies with the least possible interference with any other part of the Parliamentary system. There is one exception, in regard to certain constituencies in the County of London, where obviously, with the number of contiguous or adjoining constituencies it is desirable to make a good job of it right away and not have to have readjustments later on.
Mr Arthur Woodburn (Clackmannan and Eastern)
Yes, I meant Greater London. There was a suggestion that a common-sense latitude should be given in order to make one good job of it. Indeed, the word "approximate", which was introduced into the Speaker's Conference recommendations, was put in because, in the business of redistribution, there ought to be a common-sense latitude and discretion allowed to those who are to do the job of redistribution. It should not be so mechanical and automatic as to result in some stupid differentiation that could not be justified on reasonable grounds. We, therefore, welcome the Bill and shall give it our support. The question of Proportional Representation will be for later discussion in the House, and my right hon. Friend will probably have some contribution to make about it. In the meantime, we give our blessing to this Bill and wish it a speedy passage.
Sir Austin Hudson (Hackney North)
I am glad of this opportunity of saying a few words in blessing this Bill, as one who had the honour and pleasure of sitting under you, Sir, for many weeks threshing out the questions of redistribution and elections to Parliament. I should like to support what my hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) has said about the spirit of that Conference. Everyone of us there was determined that the Conference should not be abortive as the last Speaker's Conference was, but that we must try and come to decisions, if possible unanimously, which we could give to the House as the common pool of our knowledge and what we considered to be best for the country as a whole. I think that we have succeeded in doing that. Every Member of this House has his rights as a Member of Parliament to speak as he likes, and to vote as he likes, but I hope that, when controversial subjects come up, the House will remember that these recommendations are the result of a great effort made by men who themselves are party men and who will not overturn an agreement which has been honestly come to as the greatest possible amount of agreement which we could get together.
The Home Secretary mentioned the fact that there will be 25 new seats in 20 constituencies dealt with in this first Redistribution Bill. As he said, there are others which come very near the 100,000 mark but we have not made a recommendation about those. The reason was that we wanted, as far as possible, to do something quickly to deal with the difficulty of overgrown constituencies. If we had taken these other constituencies as well we should, instead of adding just 25 seats temporarily to the House, have got into a much more difficult position. If we try to divide some of these big constituencies, we must consider dealing with the county constituencies which abut upon them. We felt that if the House would agree to set up a permanent Boundary Commission, the Commission could look at the country as a whole and make recommendations which would bring in bits of outlying county constituencies which now, owing to the growth of cities and towns, have been separated for Parliamentary purposes from their own cities and should obviously be joined again to them when a proper redistribution takes place.
As to the City of London, this is, as other speakers have said, a very controversial subject, and one which we shall have to deal with at the proper time. We decided at the Speaker's Conference that the least we could do quickly was to divide up the big constituencies, and we did that with our eyes open. We knew that we were leaving open the question of the very small constituencies, particularly in London, which will have to be dealt with before long. We decided not to touch these constituencies, although some of them are so small as to be miles below the quota which would give them separate representation. We thought that they should be dealt with by the permanent Boundary Commission in time to come. As we did not touch the smaller constitu- encies, I hope that it will not be found necessary to move an Amendment to the Bill about the City- of London. I agree that that is a small constituency, but the Conference proposed, as the Bill proposes, to leave it as it is during the first redistribution. If we start touching that small constituency, Members will begin to ask about other equally small constituencies which we have deliberately left out in order to get agreement and to do something quickly. I wish this Bill well, and hope it may pass quickly, so as to deal with some of the major anomalies in our Parliamentary system.
Mr Hugh Lawson (Skipton)
I take it that the object of this Bill is to remove some of the anomalies which exist in the representation in this House. Its purpose is to split up some of the very large constituencies which, for one reason or another, have grown up to such an extent that some Members are representing a much larger section of the population than others. I agree that the Bill is a step in the right direction, but, having tackled this subject, we should not deal with it in such a piecemeal manner. There are much greater anomalies in the representation in this House than are touched by this Bill, and if all that we are going to do before the next General Election is to pass this Bill, I am sure that there will be greater anomalies still. First, those who are in the Armed Forces will not be able to get fair representation if this Bill is our only contribution to a solution of the anomalies. Secondly, even if this Bill is passed, and we retain single Member constituencies, large sections of the population will not have fair representation at the next election. All these matters were covered by the Conference over which the Speaker presided, and this Bill is the result of such recommendations of the Conference as affect Members of the House and the parties represented on the Conference, but this Bill is a Measure, very largely, for the convenience of this House and of the political parties. In the letter which you, Sir, addressed to the Prime Minister in July, this year, the following words appear in paragraph 19:
The Conference attached great importance to the exercise of the franchise by members of the Services and merchant seamen, and asked the Government to keep the whole matter under constant review (including the
possibility of arranging for postal votes by Service voters overseas or for elections in the field).
It went on to say that the Conference considered that automatic registration of Service voters should also be given great consideration. If the House does not tackle this problem, but deals only with those recommendations of the Conference which are for the convenience of the House and leaves out those which are in the interests of Service men and women, I shall oppose the Bill. We agree that it is practicable and feasible to give effect to the recommendations for splitting up big constituencies. If I can show that it is practicable and feasible to give effect to the recommendation in paragraph 19, we should not proceed to the Second Reading of this Bill without an assurance that that recommendation will be carried into effect.
I will not describe at length the position of the Service voter. It is well known that each man can apply for a form and send it to the returning officer, and that in an election he can vote by the proxy he has appointed or by postal ballot. This may look all right in theory, but I would remind the House that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport told me only last week in reply to a Question that only 2½ per cent. of the personnel of the Mercantile Marine had so far registered, and that we have not so far had any figures from the other Services. It is clear that if a General Election, as is quite possible and indeed probable, should take place soon, now is the time for the House to take action in this matter. There are difficulties about automatic registration. You cannot automatically make people appoint proxies. I suggest that an election in which people voted without proxies could not give them a chance to vote, even if they had automatic registration, unless very special steps were taken to see that the election was conducted at the place where the men were serving at the time, and that is referred to in the Report of the Conference.
It may be asked if it is practicable to have an election in the field during a war. I am quite sure it is, and I want very briefly to submit evidence of what the British Dominions have done in that matter during the war. No one will say that the contribution, in proportion to their size, made by the Dominions to the war effort has been any less than the contribution of this country. So do not let anybody say that to allow the men and women in the Forces actually to take part in an election, in the field, during the war, would have any detrimental effect upon the war effort. I would remind hon. Members that a General Election took place in New Zealand in 1943. Returning Officers from New Zealand went to the various theatres of war and there tried to compile electoral rolls. In some places they succeeded, but where they did not succeed they issued instructions to commanding officers that everyone was to be allowed to vote, whether his name was on the electoral roll or not. To assist in this, maps showing constituency boundaries were sent to the various units. Thus, anyone, not only those who were in the units but auxiliaries such as in the Y.M.C.A. was able to vote, irrespective of age. The persons who were registered in New Zealand voted for their own constituencies. If a person was not registered, or was under age, he voted for the place where his last address was. To show that this is practicable I would point out that votes were allowed to be cast any time between the receipt of the list of candidates and polling day, and all that was necessary was—
Mr James Milner (Leeds South East)
I hope the hon. Member will soon be able to relate his arguments to the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill. I understand him now to be dealing with the question of Service voters, which does not arise.
Mr Hugh Lawson (Skipton)
The point I am trying to make is that this House should not proceed to give a Second Reading to a Bill, if it deals with only one section of the recommendations of Mr. Speaker's Conference and not with others. If we are to pass only some portions of the recommendations and not those which are for the convenience of Service men, I propose to oppose the Bill, and I am giving my reasons for so doing.
Mr James Milner (Leeds South East)
The hon. Member is quite entitled to state his reasons, but he should not go into details about the practice of Service voting followed by the Dominions. That is going too far.
Mr Hugh Lawson (Skipton)
With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, my submission is that it would not be a ground for rejecting the Bill if the arguments for conducting elections in the field were only theoretical. I am entitled to show that it is practicable to conduct elections in the field, and I am entitled also to ask that some such proposals should be included in the Bill.
Mr Hugh Lawson (Skipton)
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and will not pursue the point any further. I must be content to say, having described the procedure in New Zealand, that very similar procedure has been followed by other Dominions. In Australia the very same thing has happened. In Australia, indeed, a referendum to amend the constitution took place and each man in the Forces was issued with proposed alterations in a pamphlet in which the case was stated both for the Government and for the opposition.
Mr Francis Bowles (Nuneaton)
On a point of Order. You ruled the hon. Member out of Order for going into details, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but may I point out that when you were not here, the first two speeches which were made argued that the City of London should retain two seats on grounds of sentimentality, and both speakers went into tremendous detail?
Mr James Milner (Leeds South East)
In reply to the point of Order, I can only assume that the speeches to which the hon. Member referred were relevant to the Bill. The speech of the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. H. Lawson) was not relevant to the Bill.
Mr Osbert Peake (Leeds North)
Further to that point of Order. May I point out, for your convenience, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the position of the City of London is dealt with in the Schedule to the Bill, whereas the position of the Service voter does not appear in the Bill at all?
Mr Hugh Lawson (Skipton)
To continue. There is absolutely unimpeachable evidence that the three Dominions, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, either have conducted, or are proposing to conduct, elections in the field in the coming year. It is idle for any Government to maintain that that cannot be done, and because it is a practical thing which can be done, I feel that this House should not proceed to give a Second Reading to the Bill without these provisions being inserted. With that remark I will leave the first objection that I have to the Bill, which is its lack of comprehensiveness.
In speaking on a Bill which seeks to tackle the problem of redistribution of seats, I am entitled to consider the problem of constituencies growing, the shift of population, and so on, and to try to give a more equitable distribution of seats to Members such as is embodied in the fundamental idea of the quota. I think I am entitled to say a few words in respect of alterations to our electoral system. An earlier speaker has said that this is not just a matter of mathematics. I have not been in this House very long, but I know that when it comes to making decisions, it is arithmetic that counts, and not the eloquence of the speeches, or the logic of the arguments. What counts is the number of Members who go through the Division lobbies. If we can decide great issues in this House upon a mathematical basis, I can see no reason why we should not do exactly the same in the country.
I feel that we must try to get the Members of this House representing, as truly as possible, the political opinion of the country. That cannot be done while we retain the single-Member constituency, whatever the method of voting may be. Just consider how illogical our electoral system is. Suppose that at a General Election one party were able to capture all the seats by a very small majority of one or two. For instance, you might have 10,000,000 votes cast for the Government and exactly 10,000,000 cast for the Opposition, but spread so evenly in straight fights that the Government got all the seats, with a one-hundredth-of-one per-cent. majority. I appeal to hon. Members opposite who fear the great changes that we are trying to make on this side of the House, to say whether they are prepared to see the present economic system altered out of all recognition by such a majority. That can happen under our present system. It could not happen under a system of Proportional Representation with the single transferable vote. Parliament being a matter of mathematics, we must place these affairs upon a mathematical basis.
Some hon. Members raised objections in a previous Debate to Proportional Representation; I would like to answer one of the main objections now. It is alleged that a Member cannot manage a large constituency. There are two points of view to be put on that matter. First it is said that the Member cannot go round at election times and meet all the voters if he is to have a constituency four times as large as at present. I have been in more elections during the last five years than many hon. Members and therefore I am entitled to speak on the matter. I think hon. Members will agree that an election candidate never has personal contact with more than 10 per cent. of the electors, the remaining 90 per cent. being reached only through canvassers or through the printed word. If a constituency is to be extended to four times the present size the percentage difference will be very small and as under the new procedure an election will take two to three months, there will be plenty of time.
A further point is that in a constituency returning 4 or 5 Members there would not be the same contact between the Member and his constituency, but once the election had taken place, chunks of the large constituency could be allocated to each of the Members for him to deal with its little complaints. It is said in this House that we cannot legislate unless we know the views of our constituencies, but on the big problems such as questions of peace and war, economic security, equality for all, and freedom, we know already the views of our constituents. We do not need constantly reminding what the views of our people are on those matters. One of the best lines of escape for the bad legislator the man who has stood for mistaken policies is to make up for it by being the guide, philosopher and friend of all those in his constituency who come to him, but that function can be fulfilled quite well by a lord mayor or by the chairman of an urban district council. This country has not made mistakes in high policy in the past because Members of Parliament were slow in coming to the aid of their constituents.
This House has made mistakes because high policy and broad principles have been wrong, and they have very largely been wrong because this House has not represented the real voice of the people. Therefore, I maintain on the two grounds I have put forward—first that we are dealing with a Bill which is leaving out what should be done for those in the Forces, and secondly because we are dealing with this problem and refusing to face the main issue—the issue of Proportional Representation—that this is a bad Bill. Though one can give it a small welcome because it is doing something to cut up these very large constituencies, I feel that the House, before this Bill passes into law, should see that at least some of the points I have raised, if not brought into the Bill, are made the subject of an assurance from the Government that they are considering this whole matter, and that before the next General Election we shall have something more than this very small Bill.
Lieut-Colonel Sir Assheton Pownall (Lewisham East)
I am one of those who give a warm welcome, not a slight welcome, to this Bill, and I do so for this reason: I happen to have represented for a long time by far the largest electorate in the County of London, and one which, not under the present scheme but in the near future, might expect to be redistributed. Also I am in the almost unique position of having seen my electorate more than doubled since I was first elected. I give way entirely, however, to the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) who, I see, is in his place. He has over 100,000 electors, but he has had 40 years in which to see his electorate multiply twofold. Mine has doubled since 1918. Some years ago, feeling that this question should be dealt with, I assembled, on my own initiative, a committee which I called the Redistribution Committee—I acted as its unofficial chairman—with a view to considering what should be done with regard to redistribution. My rough-and-ready solution just before the war—there was a great deal of inertia on the part of the party machines and a balancing of the pros and cons regarding distribution, quite naturally—was to take 40 or so of the larger seats and make them into two, and in some cases three or four, different seats, which is almost the lines on which Mr. Speaker's Conference has acted.
There is one feature which I do not admire in the Bill, and which was recommended by Mr. Speaker's Conference. That is as regards the actual membership of this House, which is going up now to about 640 from 615. I daresay that many hon. Members do not remember that prior to Mr. Speaker Lowther's Conference there were 670 Members of this House; from 1885 to 1918 we had 670, roughly ten per cent. more than we shall have in a few years' time. Then, in 1918 the number was put to 707. Mr. Speaker Lowther's Conference was apparently not afraid of increasing the membership to slightly over 700. Then in 1921 ninety-two Irish Members left the House, and we were reduced to the present figure of 615. I for one cannot see anything sacred in that figure of 615. I do not want very greatly to increase it but I ask hon. Members to remember that we have quadrupled the electorate in these 25 or 30 years. When I first started to fight elections in 1910, there were, roughly, 7,000,000 electors in the United Kingdom. Then came the extension of the vote for women, the broadening of the franchise, and we now have slightly over 30,000,000 electors. The normal constituency figure 30 years ago was 10,000. It is now about 50,000, the Scottish and Welsh figures slightly bringing down the English figure. My own view is that in the new reconstructed Chamber, presumably not smaller than the Chamber to which we were accustomed prior to 1941, there will be room for at least as many as in the years 1895–1922.
I cannot myself quite see why this cutting down to 615 from 640 will be necessary. In regard to that I ask the Government to consider whether it is wise to put up the figure from 53,000, plus 25 per cent.—which I think is almost exactly 65,000—in view of the very heavy burdens placed on individual Members. Those of us who sit for big constituencies know how difficult it is at election time, with regard to correspondence and ex- penses involved by elections. The only thing I take exception to with regard to this Bill is that apparently it perpetuates the 615 as the figure to be aimed at if this present Redistribution Bill goes through.
There is one other small point. In the course of my investigations before the war I found that two Dominions at least, Canada and Australia, had Boundary Commissioners, who sat as it were from day to day, or from year to year, when Parliament was assembled, with a view to periodical redistribution. In Canada there are much bigger fluctuations of population than in this country—the big moves out to the west, the doubling of the Canadian population in 20 or 30 years. This method was more necessary there, but we have in this Bill taken a leaf out of the Dominions' book as regards this excellent precedent, and it is one of the things which I welcome in this Bill—that we have learned something from the Dominions. Broadly speaking, I welcome the Bill, with the one exception to which I have referred.
Mr Francis Bowles (Nuneaton)
I think the House listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for East Lewisham (Sir A. Pownall). He has raised a point of some substance in putting before the Government, at this early stage, a view held not only by himself but I believe by other people as well, that there is nothing sacrosanct in the figure of 615. Also, when the time does come for the subsequent redistribution to take place piecemeal, I think the Boundary Commissioners themselves and the House, in due course, may feel grateful to him for making that point. May I say to my hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn), who made a very interesting speech, that to my mind he also seemed to justify certain things on the wrong grounds. For instance, he justified the retention of the City of London with two Members, or even as a single Member constituency, on the grounds of sentimentality. Quite frankly, I do not see why any Labour Member should have any feelings of sentimentality towards the City of London. I am sure that the City of London has no sentimental feelings either towards him or towards the people who return him to this House. We all have a great respect for the traditions of the City of London, I no less than any- body else, but surely that is not to influence us as hard-headed legislators, when we are dealing with the proper representation of people in this House. I ask such people to think again, and to try to place their arguments on a basis more fitting to the subject.
I would like particularly to refer to the question of whether it would not be possible to extend the powers of the Boundary Commissioners, in so far as the interim distribution is concerned, in certain cases. Perhaps I might be allowed to refer to my own constituency, which is involved in this interim redistribution. My electorate is 112,000 and of that total, something like 50,000 are within the municipal boundaries of the city of Coventry. They therefore vote in the Nuneaton Parliamentary Division when it is a matter of Parliamentary elections, and in the city of Coventry when municipal elections are concerned. That is the result, largely, of Coventry extending its municipal boundaries, as it did sometime between 1935 and the present day. Coventry itself is not a constituency that is referred to in the Bill as abnormally large, and therefore as the Bill is drawn, it is a constituency, I understand, to which the Boundary Commissioners will not be allowed to pay any regard. Therefore, if I can make it clear to the House, we have a position in which Nuneaton, with 112,000 electors, comes into Coventry, and on the West of that is Tamworth, with, I think, 120,000 electors, also going to some extent into the municipal area of the city of Coventry.
It is proposed that there should be two Members for Nuneaton and two Members for Tamworth. Therefore, with Coventry, there will be five Members of Parliament. I should like the Under-Secretary to consider this if he would Is there any objection to altering the Bill in such a way that the Boundary Commissioners can say that Nuneaton shall lose those electors who are in the municipal area of Coventry, and can decide to make two seats in Coventry, one seat in Nuneaton and two seats in Tamworth, which would be the same number as the Speaker's Conference recommended? I hope none of my electors in that part of the area will think that I am being in any way disparaging, but I do feel, and I know them fairly well, that they would rather vote in the Coventry area, where they feel they are citizens, rather than have this kind of duality—voting in Coventry for municipal purposes and Nuneaton for Parliamentary purposes. I hope the Home Office will consider whether it would not be possible, say at a later stage in the Bill, to give permissive power to the Boundary Commissioners, if they deem it right, to pay regard to the actual peculiarities that may arise in certain parts of the country.
I understand quite well that the Speaker's Conference and those Members who sat with you, Sir, realised the dangers of what one might describe as the pebble in the pond. I well realise that they were on pretty good ground, but would it not be possible for the Boundary Commissioners, in their wisdom, to see that an area could be sealed off for some 10 or 20 years, without any more risk of being disturbed? The electors would like to know which constituency they are to be in. If the Bill goes through in its present form, it seems to me that the people who are at the moment in Nuneaton Parliamentary Division, will for some time be in South Nuneaton Division, if it may be called that; later on they will quite rightly and logically be in the Coventry area, changing three times in three elections. I do not think the electors like that kind of thing. They like to think they are Coventry people, or Nuneaton people, as the case may be. They do not want to be fiddled about with in this way. I put it to the House that, possibly, at a later stage, the point I have been trying to make might receive the consideration of the Government. I ask only that it should be permissive to the Boundary Commissioners and not a compulsion on them.
Sir George Broadbridge (City of London)
I want, in the first instance, to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary for the complimentary things which he said about the City of London, and also to thank one or two other speakers, who have paid compliments of the same kind. But there is evidently an impression among some Members that the City of London should not be treated as a separate constituency, and it is to that matter that I desire to confine my remarks. I think it would be appropriate if I offered a few remarks, concerning the City of London and the unique position that it occupies in the general framework of our country and the Empire and the rest of the world. It is true that the actual area of the City is small, but surely its influence as the capital city of our country and Empire must count, especially with its world-wide ramifications. The daily population of the City of London reaches approximately 500,000, and its nightly or residential population at present runs into many thousands. Whatever happens in any part of the world, be it for good or for ill, reverberates in every part of the capital city.
In 1284 the City of London had six representatives in Parliament; for 500 years, from 1355 until the Redistribution of Seats Act, 1885, it never had fewer than four Members; and for 59 years the number has remained at two Members. One may ask: Why that special treatment? I think it is obvious. The City of London has received it, because it is the financial and commercial centre, not only of this country but of the Empire and the rest of the world. Why do the universities receive special treatment? Obviously, because they are the seats of research and learning. It has frequently been said that London is constantly the purse of England, often the brains, and, time and time again, the sword. The City of London has always championed the cause of freedom and liberty. May I give one example? Until 1772 Parliament was a secret assembly; by that, I mean that its proceedings were not allowed to be reported in the public Press. But it so happened that some of its proceedings did appear in a section of the Press, which resulted in warrants being issued for the arrest of the editor and printers. Then the City of London stepped in. Those men had to appear at the Mansion House justice room, before Lord Mayor Crosby, who set them free; and, for doing that, was himself committed to the Tower of London. The public uproar at that was so great that he had to be released; and, from that time onwards, Parliament has remained open to the public Press.
I referred just now to the City's influence and strength in all parts of the world. The recent financial adviser to the Treasury, the new Governor of the Bank of England, spoke a few days ago in the City of London. I would like to read a small extract from his speech. He was talking mainly about the country's recovery after this great war. He said:
Recovery will need a resurgence of that individual initiative, that resourcefulness, and that spirit of adventure"—
I want hon. Members to note, "that spirit of adventure"—
which, in war and in peace, have ever of old contributed to our country's prosperity and to its greatness. In that respect the City of London must give a lead and play a major part. I do not need to tell you that her position in world commerce and world finance is unique—I would ask you to note that I say 'is,' and not 'was.' And that comes not from wealth, not from stocks of gold or foreign investments but rather from something more lasting; something that even war cannot destroy or take from us; and that is the city of London's generations of accumulated experience, the integrity of her institutions, and her reputation for fair dealing. That is a precious heritage. It is still intact, and it is this heritage that will inspire leadership of the City of London in providing financial sinews so that the vast manufacturing output of our country and the unsurpassed technical skill of our people may be given full scope.
That is a great testimonial to the capital city. It is, indeed, the most valuable square mile in the world. In 1931, speaking in this House on the Budget, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Philip Snowden, made the statement that the City of London was the largest Income Tax collecting centre of the world; and he added that one-sixth of the total Income Tax revenue of the country came from the City of London. That is not a bad contribution for this small area of the City of London to make to the national revenue. It may not be generally known that the City of London is the issuing house for all Government big loans, and also for the Dominions.
Sir George Broadbridge (City of London)
For instance, when the Treasury want to issue a loan, what do they do? They do not go to other metropolitan constituencies to place this loan. Of course they do not. They go to the capital city. [Interruption.] I did not disturb any of the other speakers, and I hope they will give me a hearing.
Sir George Broadbridge (City of London)
In April, 1939, the rateable value of the City of London was £8,300,000. After the enemy's air raids and devastation, it had dropped in April, 1942, to £6,385,000. [An HON. MEMBER: "The same sort of thing happened in
Bethnal Green."]What did the City Corporation do? Like a good many other similar local government authorities, they borrowed £750,000 from the Ministry. They need not have paid back all that money for some time: a good deal of it could have remained as a long-term loan, and some of it interest free. But by October, 1943, they had paid back every penny; and the City Corporation hold a most complimentary letter of thanks from the present Minister of Health. One of the best testimonials to the City comes, strange to say, from the right hon. Gentleman who moved this Second Reading. In his book "How Greater London is Governed," published in 1935, he made this statement:
Despite the fact that most of the people engaged in the public affairs of the City of London are Conservative, in name or in fact, I never go to the Guildhall or the Mansion House without being conscious of that democratic and revolutionary past of the City of London Corporation to which the democracy of our local self-government and the rights of the people against kings and governments owe a great deal. I never speak in the City without reminding the members of the Corporation of that revolutionary past and they almost seem to like it.
I can assure the House that the authorities of the City of London do like to have compliments paid to them.
Viscount Turnour (Horsham and Worthing)
On a point of Order. I am loath to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I would like your guidance, Sir. If those of us whose constituencies are affected by this Bill, as mine is, go into a long history of the merits of our particular constituencies, I suggest that the discussion will be interminable. May I ask whether the history of any particular constituency has anything to do with this Bill?
Mr Charles Williams (Torquay)
I fully realise the strength of what the Noble Lord has said; but I feel sure that this is one of the occasions on which the Noble Lord will not follow the example of any hon. Member who has spoken too long.
Viscount Turnour (Horsham and Worthing)
My point of Order is whether the rest of us will be entitled to go into long dissertations on the merits of any constituencies which are affected. This is not a question of the City of London.
Commander William King-Hall (Ormskirk)
Is it not a fact that the City of London is receiving special treatment in the Bill, and that the hon. Member is giving reasons why it should receive special treatment?
Sir George Broadbridge (City of London)
I have, as a matter of fact, nearly finished, but, on the point raised by the last two speakers, as the City of London is specifically mentioned in this Bill, and as there has been an Amendment put down for the Committee stage—
Sir George Broadbridge (City of London)
There is only one other matter to which I want to refer. Centuries ago, it was from the City of London that the merchant adventurers went forth to seek new trade and new lands. In those days, all kinds of transport were primitive compared with the present time, and, therefore, the risks taken were much greater. When, in January, 1938, I was in Australia as the guest of the New South Wales Government at the celebrations of the centenary of the foundation of Sydney, I was able to witness the tremendous homage which was paid to the gallant founders who went out from this country and I suppose that we all ought to be proud of that great Dominion, with its capital, Sydney, now with a population of about 1,250,000. I do not think it is too much to say that, if it had not been for these merchant adventurers of centuries ago, the outer boundaries of the British Empire to-day might still be the cliffs of Dover. The long and glorious history of the City of London would take many hours to tell, and might even take days. But we might say this—that, when the City of London comes to take its place before the Bar of Judgment, it will never be found to be wanting in all those things which we admire—fortitude, courage and leadership.
Mr Thomas Harvey (Combined English Universities)
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That", to the end of the Question, and to add:
this House, whilst welcoming this Bill as a step on the road to electoral reform regrets
that the Bill, by providing that each constituency shall return one or at the most two Members, gives no assurance of securing fair representation in this House of the electorate in proportion to the votes cast.
I ask the House to turn from the glowing picture it has had from the hon. Baronet who has just spoken, and which he painted with such pride in the glory of the history of the City of London throughout, the ages, to the Bill itself, what it is and what it might have been. This Bill very fairly represents a selection of the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference, and I agree with all that has been said hitherto about the friendly spirit that prevailed in that Conference, and the happy atmosphere to which the revered and honoured chairman of the Conference so largely contributed himself. But I profoundly regret, and I am not alone in regretting, that the Conference, while producing such valuable minor reforms in our Parliamentary system, left untouched the great evil, that is felt in the country by a large and increasing section of the community, that Parliament itself, from the very methods by which it is elected, fails to be, and must fail to be, fully representative of the electorate of the nation and of the thought and considered judgment of vast numbers of electors, who wish to play their part as citizens in the Government of their country.
It is true that the Bill does—and I gladly recognise it—redress certain grievances. It gets rid of the unfairness of the abnormally large constituency, and it sets up, for the first time, this permanent machinery for the revision of constituencies, so that they may be adjusted, as they should be, to at least an approximate equality. That is all to the good, and I welcome it, but this is a time when we need to go further than that if we are to have a Parliament in future which can face the immense tasks before it, and feel that it really represents the nation as a whole.
When the Prime Minister, a year ago, announced the forthcoming Speaker's Conference, he made it clear, in his statement to the House, that the Government wished for consideration of various plans, schemes and proposals, so that there might be the assurance that the result of a General Election should be fully and truly representative of the views of the people. That, I am afraid, is what we have failed to do. We have no assurance in our existing system that the result of a General Election will be fully and truly representative of the views of the people. Turn to our history in the last 50 years, and you have convincing proof that, at every General Election, there has been some distortion in the representation in Parliament of the views of the electorate. Sometimes, it has been a gross distortion, monstrously unfair: sometimes, it has been small; but, in no case—and we can look at the analyses prepared of the representation in Parliament in the last 30 years—has this electoral system given a membership of the House of Commons truly corresponding to the bodies of electors responsible for its election.
We cannot get any assurance that it will happen in future. It might happen by an accident, but we know that, in certain parts of the country, they could not have it, under the present single-Member constituency arrangement. You will have large areas of the country where there will be substantial minorities of convinced and understanding citizens who could never hope to return a Member, and it is no answer to their grievance to say that there is injustice to other bodies, in other parts of the country. Two injustices to different parties, in different parts of the country, do not add up to make justice. We need a system which will secure, as it has secured in other countries, fair representation for each considerable body of opinion.
Truly, it is one of the tragedies of our history that our system involves, again and again, the loss to Parliament of some of the finest minds in the country. I do not think of the personal loss to the leader—a brave man will bear it bravely, as brave men have in the past-but I think of the loss to the country. Was it right that Mr. Arthur Balfour should be missing from the opening of the 1906 Parliament? [Interruption.] Was it right that Mr. Asquith, at a later time, should be absent from the sittings of this House? The country wanted them both. There is no question that the country, as a whole, did not wish to see the best representatives of large sections of the community excluded from Parliament, and I do not believe for a moment that my hon. Friend who interrupted would want it. He would not wish to see the leaders of parties with whom he disagrees, excluded from this House by an electoral accident.
Mr Thomas Harvey (Combined English Universities)
The loss is a loss to the nation. We need the best men and women, the best minds in every party, if we are to get the best results out of Parliament. If we are going back to the old days of acute party divisions, you need a strong Opposition as well as a strong Government, because the Government suffers when the Opposition is entirely weak. [AN HON. MEMBER: "It is suffering now."]It is not a question of the individual; it is a question of the interests of Parliament and of the whole country. It is for that reason that I ask for a system based on justice. Justice has never been a popular political cry from the days of Aristides onwards. But we know that it is right that there should be fair representation for every point of view in the House of Commons, and we have the advantage of having seen this system work. Is has been working in Tasmania for over a generation, and in the troubled land of Eire, and we have the testimony of a Member of the old Unionist minority to the healing influence that Proportional Representation has brought into the politics of Eire. Political differences there would have been far more bitter had it not been known that there was a possibility of every view being heard.
Mr Thomas Harvey (Combined English Universities)
My hon. Friend is very clever in interruptions, but he knows that this has nothing whatever to do with the point I have just made. I would like him to read a letter which Canon Luce, a Trinity College professor in Dublin, wrote to "The Irish Times," about a year before the war, on the effect of Proportional Representation on the politics of Eire. Anyone who reads it would see how it has brought a healing influence and hope to a minority that felt very bitterly. We can go further, and say that, throughout Europe, where Parliamentary institutions have been working with success, they have been working on a basis of some form of Proportional Representation. The best and most successful Parliamentary institutions in Europe, outside this country, are in Scandinavia, and in all those countries they have Proportional Representation. It is true theirs is not the system we know in England, but they have a form of Proportional Representation.
The country where Parliamentary institutions were in danger before the war is France, and France is the country which has never had a form of true Proportional Representation. Many parties existed in a Parliament based on single member constituencies, and just at the last moment. when the war was at hand, they realised too late the need for change. The Chamber had just passed a Measure in favour of Proportional Representation when its progress was interrupted by the coming of the war. But no one can say that Proportional Representation does not work and least of all members of His Majesty's Government. They themselves have recommended it, not for this country yet, but as the method by which selection could be made of representative Indians in framing the Indian Constitution. We have passed it in our English form in repeated Acts of Parliament. It has been applied to the Senate of South Africa; it has been applied to Eire. It was applied in the Government of India Act, 1935, for the election of the Central Legislature. It is now recommended by the Government in what is known as the Cripps Plan for India. If we recommend this for other countries and for the Dominions, why cannot we apply it ourselves? Surely we ought to be able to do that. We have to remember that every one of the objections raised against it have been answered n practice by the way in which it works.
I would like to deal briefly with one or two of them. The first one is that it is not practicable. That is an absurd objection. It is practised in Europe and America increasingly. The next is that it makes for instability of Government, and yet in Eire, in the last 20 odd years, there have only been two Governments, while we in our own country have had a whole succession of Governments of one party or another, and different kinds of coalition. It is clear that the mere existence of Proportional Representation does not involve instability of Government. Stable government has been going on during the war in Sweden under Proportional Representation, with the holding of elections and the same Government remaining in power, and Proportional Representation has made it possible for the election to be carried through between the different parties without bitterness. We have had the objection that there would be too many parties. The number of parties, in more than one case, has diminished when this system has been applied. In Tasmania there are only two parties although they have had it for some 30 years. The system will not itself create parties but it will, where a division really exists, make it manifest, and that is right.
Mr Thomas Harvey (Combined English Universities)
A small number. It has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. A. Greenwood) on another occasion that we ought all to get under one of two umbrellas, that there ought to be only two parties. One of the objections to Proportional Representation is the belief that there is a national opinion in this country in favour of two parties only. That is not true. If you read the history of the 10th Century, you will see that right down from the days of the Reform Bill there were more than two parties. The Radicals were very different from the Whigs. At one period Mr. Disraeli felt himself very much nearer to the Radicals than he did to some other political parties. The Peelites were a separate party, and, apart from the existence of the Irish Party, it can truthfully be said that throughout these long years, we never had a two-party system in the sense of their being only two parties in this House.
Why should we have this political colour-blindness in persisting that there are only two political colours in existence? There are a whole series of colours. I particularly dislike the colour-blindness that desires to be infectious, as in the case of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield. He wants us to be compelled only to belong to one of two parties. If that disaster should happen, the immediate consequence would be the break-up of one or both of those two parties, because there would be so much difference of opinion amongst them. Proportional Representation would not create new parties, but it would allow a real difference of opinion to come to the surface, and it would help all that is best in the party system. It would free opinion very much more than is at present possible from the power of the caucus. It would enable members of one party who were dissatisfied with the official choice of a little caucus to vote for somebody in their own party and not throw their vote away. The single transferable vote would give them an opportunity still to vote for the official nominee as a second choice, after voting first for the man or woman of their own choice. That I think would have a beneficial effect on the inner life of parties and would help in the choice of the very best candidates when constituencies were contested. It is said that this departure would involve corruption. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) has painted a delightful picture of the way in which he could work it corruptly. The answer to that is that in America it is this very system which has been used successfully to destroy the corrupt influence of Tammany Hall. The effect in New York has been the purifying of municipal life and the breaking of the terrible power of Tammany.
The last point with which I want to deal and the one which touches members most is that it would interfere with the personal connection of a Member with his constituency. We have no right to consider our constituencies as personal possessions. It would interfere, I freely admit, in some cases with existing relationships. It would make a difference, but it would make for a better relationship in the country as a whole, and it would not prevent Members from giving their best services. At present no Member who is worthy of the name confines his service exclusively to his constituents. If a man lives on the other side of the street adjoining your constituency, would you refuse to help him because he is in an adjoining constituency? Sometimes someone writes from a part of the country with which you have no connection, and you agree to take up his case because you want to do the right thing for your countrymen. I am sure that that would continue under Proportional Representation, and there would still be the link that really matters—the link of affection, love and admiration which is given by constituents to one whom they feel has really worked honestly and in accordance with his deepest convictions.
Mr Thomas Harvey (Combined English Universities)
That is a perfectly simple matter. It has been suggested that in a multiple constituency immediately upon an election each Member in the area in question should choose the section of the constituency with which he would specially be associated. The senior Member would have first choice, and would naturally choose the part where most of his supporters would be. In the case of the death of one of the Members the ensuing by-election would take place in that section of the constituency. The alternative is to have the election for the whole area which would be more expensive, and would not perhaps correspond in every way to the result that we get at present from a by-election.
I want, in conclusion, to ask the House to face the fact that this is not a matter which can just conveniently be put off to a happy day in the future when we or our successors reconsider the improvement of our Parliamentary institutions. There is a special reason why we ought to think of this now. It is the need of Europe, the need of this poor world of ours, our own need at Home, the need, in facing the international problems that are before us, and-our own internal and social problems, that we should have the very best contribution that every section of the community can bring to the common good. It is surely a terrible mistake to think, as some do, that when the fighting in Europe ceases, we shall be entering into a calm and quiet haven of peace. When that day comes—and may it come soon—we shall be going forth into a stormy troublous sea with dangerous reefs in its waters, and hidden rocks. We shall need all the unity that we can command. We shall need the very best services that every party and all citizens of every party can render to the common cause. If we can get that, as we may, by such a reform as this, we shall be helping not only the well-being of our country, but we shall be giving an example to other countries in Europe that need it even more. Think of the divisions that will happen in some of the countries that are being liberated or are about to be liberated from Nazi tyranny, of the need for national unity and co-operation, and how that might be helped forward by a just system of Proportional Representa- tion. If we are willing to go forward with such a reform, we shall not only secure a better basis for our own progress in the future, but be able to hand on all those advantages of the civilisation that is past and go forward to build securely the foundations for a nobler civilisation for our children in the days to come.
Mr Bartle Bull (Enfield)
May I ask the hon. Gentleman a question? Apart from the fact that I disagree with everything he has said—although I realise that does not necessarily damn his case—how would he draw up the lists of these candidates we are to have under Proportional Representation? Where does the list come in? Is that a matter of democracy or not?
Mr Thomas Harvey (Combined English Universities)
My hon. Friend will realise that the list of candidates suggested in the Amendment would be drawn up in the ordinary way, and they would be nominated as they are at present. The provisions of seven different British Acts of Parliament provide for the system of Proportional Representation and the Regulations for working it can be prepared by Order in Council.
Mr Thomas Harvey (Combined English Universities)
If my hon. Friend would look at the Order Paper, he would see that the suggestion is that seats should consist of not less than three, and not more than seven Members, except in the case of constituencies where geographical circumstances make it desirable or necessary to have only one Member; that is, the sparsely populated country districts would still retain one Member, but in the big cities and urban areas where there is a dense population you would have constituencies of from three to seven Members.
Miss Megan Lloyd George (Anglesey)
I beg to second the Amendment.
Reference was made earlier in the Debate to the spirit of conciliation and compromise which prevailed under the wise guidance of the Speaker over the Conference which has just concluded its labours, and this Bill is a high tribute to the harmony which prevailed, in the main, on the matter of redistribution. I would like to refer to a matter upon which the harmony was not quite so evident. I share the disappointment of my hon. Friend who has just spoken that the Government, in providing for single-Member constituencies, have made it abundantly clear that they do not intend to use the opportunity provided by this Bill to alter the electoral sytem.
It is a principle, I think, accepted by all hon. Members of this House, and it was again enunciated this morning by the Home Secretary, that each vote should, as far as possible, command an equal share of representation in this House. That is common ground, and the Redistribution Bill of 1918 and this present Bill are based upon that principle. It is thought that to have an electorate of 36,000 or 40,000 people in one constituency represented by one Member in this House, and to have a constituency of 19,000, 120,000, or running up to 200,000 in another constituency is quite indefensible. I think we say that with justice and yet, having said that, we pass over and leave quite untouched an instance, even more glaring, of this same inequality. We have said this cannot be tolerated. All parties of the House have said that this injustice, which is represented by the maldistribution of the population and the electorate at the moment, must be put right without delay, and for that purpose the Bill has been brought in.
I would like to point out the inequalities of the present system. If you take the figures of the last Election you will find that the supporters of the Government of the day—that is, in the main, the Conservatives—secured a seat for every 25,000 voters; the Labour Party secured one seat for every 40,000; and the Liberal Party one seat for every 68,000 voters. Hon. Members will observe that, though few in numbers, we represent individually a far larger share of the electorate. Those are the figures at the last Election. Is that any more defensible than this anomaly of which the Home Secretary spoke with such feeling this morning and which the House of Commons is at this. moment trying to remedy? Yet no attempt is to be made to put this right. The thing is to be passed over as something which really does not matter.
We talk about giving, as far as possible, an equal share of representation in this House to every elector, and yet there are large and substantial blocks of electors in this country who are virtually unrepresented in this House. You have large numbers of Conservatives in Durham and in South Wales, Socialists and Liberals in the Home Counties, and Socialists in Cornwall. What becomes of this principle that we have enunciated? I think the House will agree that perhaps one of the most disturbing political features in recent years has been the apathy of the electors. One can see it in the polls of elections before the war—perhaps it is not very fair to judge on war-time elections. But it is a little difficult, is it not, if you are a Conservative in Durham, or a Labour elector in the Home Counties—where you are virtually as disenfranchised as if you were in Birmingham—before the Reform Bill it is a little difficult to feel that you have any share in formulating the policy of the country. I think it will be very unfortunate indeed in the times which we are about to face and about which we are none of us under any illusion at all—they are going to be about as difficult as anything we have had to face in this country hitherto—if there are large blocks of electors in this country who feel that the chances of their having any share in formulating policy will be as remote as it will be in these particular districts.
There is an even more serious aspect of this question. The Prime Minister pointed out in 1933, that there is a very grave danger that the whole economic system of this country could be changed by a Government having a large majority in this House, which had received, as he said, slightly more than one-third of the votes cast in the election. That is a very serious situation to contemplate. The Home Secretary said this morning that you do not want to have what he called mathematical equality; you want rather an approximate equality. I think that is absolutely right, but that is a very different thing from the situation which the Prime Minister contemplated in the speech which he made in 1933, and in which he envisaged that far-reaching changes might take place in our economic and social structure—whether from the Right or from the Left—against the wishes of the majority of the people of this country. It was not a hypothetical question which the Prime Minister was putting at that time. There have been two occasions since the last war when a considerable majority in the House of Commons, capable, as far as the Members went at any rate, of carrying out very radical changes in our social and political life, represented only a minority of the electors.
Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
Does my hon. Friend really claim that people are not represented in the House of Commons—that because a Member of Parliament for their Division does not exactly hold their political views, they are not exactly represented? I represent, for instance, the hon. Lady's father, and she represents many Conservatives. She is not a delegate; she is a representative of her constituency.
Miss Megan Lloyd George (Anglesey)
I am not talking about a small issue of that kind. What I say is that the Members of this House should represent the majority of the electors of this country, and that a Member for a constituency ought to represent the majority of its electors. I do not say that it can be mathematically done, but I do say that we ought not to have large numbers of Members in this House who represent minorities of electors in their constituencies. I am not talking about individuals, I am talking about the mass of the electors.
My hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey) made a very sincere plea for the adoption of Proportional Representation. I do not defend it as a perfect system—I have no doubt it has its defects—but it is infinitely preferable and more equitable and just than the present one. There are many arguments used against the system of Proportional Representation which have been very adequately replied to by my hon. Friend, and I shall not go into them, but there are one or two things I would like to say. Broadly speaking, this system has been tried in a great many countries in Europe and with marked success, and it has not had the effects which the gloomy prophets have predicted. Perhaps, however. the most formidable argument against Proportional Representation is that it militates against a strong stable Government. That is an argument which has to be considered. May I say here that I do think there is a very great danger of confusing a Government having a large majority with a strong Government—the two may have absolutely nothing in common, as we well know, and with the exception of about three years we have had Governments with large majorities for over 20 years in this country. I know that we hold different views, even in retrospect, about the years before the war but I do not know that any hon. Member of this House would be bold enough to get up and defend the people in power before the war, as examples of what they would like to see as strong stable Governments.
Miss Megan Lloyd George (Anglesey)
I believe myself, and I think, historically, it is correct, that in the main the Governments which have achieved most in this country have been Governments with small majorities, who have been perhaps more sensitive to public opinion outside.
Miss Megan Lloyd George (Anglesey)
It was a very good one, but the 1910 Government was an even better one. They both had small majorities; in fact, as the majority became smaller the Government became better.
There is one other point I would like to make. There are, evidently, people who believe that, indefensible as the system may be, the solution lies in a return to the two-party system. My hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities referred to a speech made in a previous Debate by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), in which he said that he thought the moment had now arrived when those people outside the two pre dominating parties should make up their minds under which umbrella they would come.
There is, furthermore, an autocratic ring about that statement which I do not like. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not approach the solution of the problems of the minorities in Europe in that same spirit. I would like to point out that 30 or 45 years ago the Labour Party were in that position, the position of a minority party standing outside the big battalions of that day. Who can tell what future developments there will be? Who can tell what new forces will arise in this country after the war? I do not think it lies with the right hon. Gentleman or any of us; it lies with the electors of this country. So long as there are those who believe in a particular faith, it is the duty of democratic statesmanship to see that that faith is adequately represented in the House of Commons.
I believe that we are moving away from the two-party system: I believe that that is the tendency in the world, whether we like it or not. As my hon. Friend pointed out, we have not had the two-party system in this country for the past 30 or 40 years, or, indeed, well before that. In America, the Labour Party is intervening to break down, if possible, the two-party system there, and in Canada it looks as if the same kind of thing will happen. Therefore, I believe that a return to the two-party system is not a solution of this problem, because it is not likely to happen and, therefore, is impracticable. We here profess our belief in the democratic system. We are fighting for it today, and this Bill sets out to remedy some of the defects and anomalies which have grown up, during the years, in that system. The Home Secretary said that no one could defend the anomalies that we are seeking to remedy by this Bill. I maintain that neither he nor any other Member of this House can in his heart defend the anomalies which are represented by the present electoral system. We shall not face up to our full responsibility in this matter until we tackle that electoral system in the proper manner.
Mr Herbert Williams (Croydon South)
While I listened with interest to the last two speakers I felt a little cynical because the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. E. Harvey) explained that Proportional Representation ought not to apply to constituencies of a geographical nature which, of course, lets out the hon. Lady the Member for the Isle of Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George). On the other hand, the hon. Lady was in favour of abolishing university constituencies, so on that score she was not very kind to her colleague. That is why I was a little bit cynical. We have heard to-day the arguments in favour of Proportional Representation. We are told that it is applied in Tasmania. What is the use of talking about an island whose total population is something like that of Croydon, with a Parliament half the size of the Croydon Borough Council, and saying that an example like that is of any importance in judging its effect in this country? We are to have seven Member constituencies and we have the fantastic proposal, that if you are elected you pick out certain wards and say, "They are my constituency," leaving the people in the other wards to say, "We voted for you, and now you are throwing us overboard." It is a monstrous thing; it is the grossest form of ingratitude to the unknown people who have supported you at the election not to represent them afterwards. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is this an argument against Proportional Representation?"]It is an argument against what has been stated by the supporters of Proportional Representation.
The hon. Member for the Combined English Universities said that the Solution of the multi-Member constituency problem was that the elected person would say that he would represent part of the constituency which had elected him. But I would remind him that the decision has to be made at the time of the election. It could not be made with the man who is dead. He would no longer be in a position to select his constituency. The Proportional Representation Society only invented this argument during the last 12 months. Only since then have they seen the fundamental difficulties of the system and have they come forward with this fantastic proposal, in which hardly any one believes. There will be long discussions on Proportional Representation on the Committee stage. I devoted a little time to this subject during the Debate on the White Paper, and I will not repeat the arguments I used on that occasion.
I rejoice in this Bill because it represents an enormous measure of agreement. I think the House owes a great debt of gratitude—and I can say this all the more freely as he is not in the Chair at the moment—to Mr. Speaker for the patience, skill and courtesy he displayed in presiding over the Conference. Here, in this Bill, great changes are being made. There will be controversy on only three points—on Proportional Representation, which is not in the Bill, on the continued existence of the university constituencies, which is in the Bill, and on the question of the City of London. With regard to all the rest, we are making great changes which will go through without dissent, so far as I can make out. I have particular satisfaction in the fact that there is incorporated in the Bill a principle which I have been advocating for 30 years, namely, the principle of a permanent Boundary Commission to deal with redistribution. Ten years ago; I presented a Private Bill for the purpose of that object. I achieved no result then, but when a Committee was set up to deal with these matters some three years ago I sent to the chairman a copy of my Bill, and that Committee recommended in favour of the principle of a permanent system of redistribution. Now that has 'been endorsed by the Speaker's Conference and I am proud to think that something I was the first to sponsor is likely to become law.
As I have said, we shall have in Committee a battle about Proportional Representation. I do not think the advocates of that system will win. Their cause has made no progress in the country during the last 25 years. It has gone back. Its advocates will vary from time to time, according to whether they think they will stand a better chance under it or otherwise. There is nothing high-minded about it—nothing at all.
Let us go on to something controversial, which is in the Bill. It is the proposal to retain the university constituencies. I am glad, although I twice stood for a university constituency and was both times rejected. Let us look at our university representation at the moment. I think it is very good. It certainly does not furnish a majority of Conservatives in this House. For the Scottish Universities we have a Conservative professor of zoology, who enlightens us from time to time with questions about camouflage, a Liberal, who is a former schoolmaster, and an undefined example, who is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That team is not too bad. Then we move South to Oxford, where we have a petty-officer, who is an author, and who calls himself an Independent but in his heart is a good Conservative. Associated with him is a civil servant, obviously a Liberal, who has recently resigned from U. N. R. R. A. Then we come to Cambridge, where we have a professor of history who is a good Conservative, and another Member who is secretary of the Royal Society, the most distinguished scientific society in the world. When we come to the University of London we find another independent Member, who is a protagonist of good doctoring, and whose chief enemy, as I understand it, sits on the Front Bench.
Then we come to Wales, where we have a Radical of the Radicals, who has an English name and insists on spelling it in Welsh. Last of all, where should we be without the robust voice that comes from Queen's University, Belfast? He is a good Conservative. [AN HON. MEMBER: "What about the Combined Universities?"]Yes, I had forgotten them, perhaps because they rejected me. From there we have a Liberal who calls himself an Independent and who has already addressed us, and a lady who, as a spinster, has always been an ardent advocate of family allowances for other people's children, paid for with other people's money. She is also a Liberal who calls herself an Independent. So I think the universities are sending us a good mixed bag which contributes greatly to this House. Further, they are the only form of Sovietism we have in this country, because the Soviet system is essentially a representation of interests rather than districts. It is a curious thing that we have two Members, who apparently represent Soviet interests in this country, who are proposing to leave out of our Constitution the only Soviet element we have in it. They are the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) and the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), who, according to the Order Paper, want to see every element of the Soviet system eliminated from our electoral law. We shall have a Debate on that in due course.
The last item is the controversial issue of the City of London, at the moment represented by one Conservative and one Liberal. The City occupies an extraordinary position in our national life. Some people regard it as the great place for what they call "vested interests"; but the City is much more than that. If the history of our country is properly examined, you will find that throughout the ages the City has acted as a curb on the autocratic use of power by monarchies or by Parliaments. There is a tradition of freedom in the City of London which is such that its position ought to be exceptionally represented. It is foolish to regard the City merely by the number of people who happen to sleep there overnight. The City is something which matters throughout the world. I am perfectly certain that if there were a decision of Parliament at this moment to diminish the status of the City of London, it would do great harm to our interests throughout the world. The City of London is quite different from any other organisation in this country. It is a small body. I am satisfield that two intelligent persons could run the whole affairs of the City Corporation in a few minutes every morning, so far as policy is concerned. Instead of that, they have a magnificent Common Council of 200 members and, I think, 36 aldermen, doing a little job in one square mile. If you ask any person from any part of the world who he would rather be received by, the Lord Mayor of London or the Chairman of the London County Council, there is only one answer.
Mr Herbert Williams (Croydon South)
I am a member of the London County Council, but I know what the attitude in this matter is. I do not suppose one-tenth of the Members of this House could name the present chairman of the London County Council. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Or the Lard Mayor of London. Tell us who he is."]That is quite easy. He is Sir Frank Newson Smith. The whole tradition stands out. London is unique among the great cities of the world and, therefore, to get fussed about whether that place has one or two Members, is not really worth while. It is not the result of legislation in this House; it is traditional. There is one Member who is, in fact, selected by the Board of Aldermen and the other Member is representative of the general commercial interests of the City. It is a well recognised tradition. Why destroy it? What advantage is gained by striking a blow at a tradition famous throughout the world?
Commander William King-Hall (Ormskirk)
I hope the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down will not mind if I do not follow him because it seemed to me that most of his speech had no relation to the Amendment we are at present discussing. and was really dealing with matters—Amendments are down on the Order Paper—which will be brought up in Committee.
Commander William King-Hall (Ormskirk)
I did not make any remark which suggested I did not know that fact. I merely stated that we had a reasoned Amendment on the Bill, and that I propose to address my remarks to it. The hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) ended her speech with the remark: "Who can tell what the future is going to bring about in the development of our country?" I wish to make a few observations on that point and, in supporting this Amendment, I recognise that I shall be doing so for reasons which will not, I think, recommend themselves to the majority of Members of this House. Indeed, many of the reasons which make me like this Amendment would not, perhaps, be wholly supported by the hon. Members with whose names I am associated with the Amendment itself on the Order Paper. I am not unduly distressed at finding myself in rather a lonely position in this matter. Good ideas have often been in that position in this House and if they are persevered with and are really good ideas they generally get through in the end. If I may I will very briefly state one example. It is a fact that the first Question I ever asked in this House was on the subject of our OFFICIAL REPORT and was treated with a certain amount of laughter, and, indeed, some sneers. Frankly, as a new Member, asking my first question, I was upset, and I went up to the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton)—that man who is always so friendly to new Members and whom I hope we shall soon see with us again—and he said "Do you believe in this thing?" I said that I did, and he said "If you believe in it and persevere with it you will be all right in this House." Events have proved him right.
The substance of this Amendment is to regret that this Bill does not contain at least an instalment of that electoral reform now known as Proportional Representation. In previous Debates on this subject and in some of the speeches made to-day, what I shall describe as the statistical and historical case in favour of Pro- portional Representation has been mentioned by a number of Members, and I do not think there is any need to repeat the various examples or to illustrate again by statistical arguments the case of the present system which does not give the minorities adequate representation.
I think I can summarise the traditional arguments for and against Proportional Representation as follows. It is argued against Proportional Representation that it would result in making it very unlikely that any one party would have a great majority—and certainly this view is held by many of my hon. Friends on this side—that it is good, if possible, to have only two parties, and that a strong Government is achieved when one of these parties is in a large majority. But I agree with everything the hon. Lady said about the undesirability of accepting the views put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. A. Greenwood) in his example of the two umbrellas. That is a very unsatisfactory prospect. For Proportional Representation it is said by many of its supporters that it would be more representative, and then they say "And we are prepared to prove that in fact it will not be able to produce splinter parties. You can still get large parties under the system." In nearly every case the opponents and supporters of Proportional Representation are broadly agreed that we cannot work our Parliamentary system without the party system as it has been understood for, at any rate, the past century or so, and the difference, therefore, between the disputants about Proportional Representation is whether or not it will make parties more or less representative.
I believe that the position—and this is where, I realise, I am possibly quite alone in this House—is rather different from that. I disbelieve, firmly and sincerely, that the traditional party system is essential to the working of the Parliamentary machine. I go further than that; I say that the pre-war party system which existed did Parliament a great deal of harm and was not essential to its operation. I am concerned—and, of course, I realise that hon. Members on all sides are with me in this matter—with the institution of Parliament, with its effectiveness as a legislative machine, and, in particular, with its prestige with the people. I know that is common to all Members of this House. Those are the essential things. The reputation of Parliament depends, in the last resort, on the character and personality of the Members of Parliament. Parties are really administrative conveniences. They should only be a convenience of that character, but parties at the present moment rather remind me of war-time soup. They surround the little bit of meat in them with a great deal of water.
I, frankly and openly, wish to support this Amendment, because I believe it would tend to disintegrate and loosen up the parties, and make it easier for independently-minded people to get into Parliament. It would give the electors a wider choice of candidates. Having made a statement for which I do not expect to find much support for in this House, I would say something which I think the House will agree with, and that is that if democracy is to work we must have the clash of mind in this House. That is absolutely essential because without it democracy is quite meaningless, and the Opposition to the Government—I think it should be a constructive Opposition—must exist. Without that there is no democracy. People say, "Well, if you are going to loosen up this party system and break the stranglehold which it has got, how are you going to get that clash if you have not got your traditional parties?"
I suggest to people asking that, that they should look back into history and see what happened in the eighteenth century. They will find that the party leaders of those days used to draw up lists of hon. Members whom they believed to be their supporters, but so uncertain were they of what the attitude might be on various issues by hon. Members that you will find in the book that some names often appeared on both lists. The party leaders were not at all certain in many cases whether they could get support from Members until they had heard their case on the Floor of the House. [Interruption.] They were ordinary Members of the House of Commons who were not prepared to tie themselves to one particular group. The right answer to the question how you are to get the necessary clash without your traditional parties will be found if Members will apply their minds to what are two essential parts of our political constitution. There is, on the one hand, the Executive, the Government, which is chosen by the Crown to govern the country, and, on the other hand, there are the Members of the House of Commons, who are chosen by the people, and that is where the clash comes, and that is where the clash ought to come, between the Executive on the one hand and Members of the House of Commons on the other. It is the business of the Government to bring forward legislation, because they cannot rule without legislation, but, broadly speaking, it is the historic function of Members of the House of Commons to stop the Government bringing in legislation or, to put it in a milder form, to make the Executive convince the House that further legislation is needed because the Government of the country cannot be carried on without it. The reason is that practically all legislation introduces restrictions of some kind on the subject and also usually involve taxation, and, therefore, it is our job, as the House of Commons, to say that the hon. and right hon. and very amiable looking gentlemen on that Bench do not become tyrannical and get away with it by calling it a blessing in disguise. They look amiable enough to-day but who knows? It is up to them to convince us that we, as a House, should give them legislation, without which they cannot carry on the King's Government, and it is our business to watch over that and make them produce good sound reasons because we, as Commons men, ought to know where the shoe pinches on the foot of the common man, and it is our business to put forward that view. That is the historic purpose and reason of the House of Commons.
Therefore, I support the Amendment, because I believe it will result, if carried, in the introduction into the House of an increasing number of Members who would, in fact, be the despair of the party machines. They would be very good House of Commons men and women but they would not be very good party men and, in fact, in the short time that I have been in the House, on both sides Members who reflect the greatest credit on the general active working of the House of Commons are Members who are not good party men. Without them our proceedings would be very dull indeed. As the people of the country become better educated and informed, I believe they will revolt, I hope in ever-increasing strength, against a state of affairs in which they are often obliged to return to Parliament the type of Member who tramps through the Lobbies over and over again on strict party lines. This Member is a kind of walking rubber stamp. The dilemma that faces the electorate at the next General Election, for which this Bill is part of the preparation, is in my judgment a very cruel one, because I honestly believe that a large number of the electorate wish to see this great institution of Parliament tackle our very difficult postwar problems as this Parliament has tackled the war problem, as a Council of State.
I believe history will say that this has been a great Parliament. I believe the activities of this Parliament since 1940, when seen in proper historical perspective, will fill a very honourable place in the history of various Parliaments because it has been a Council of State. They want to see it function as a Council of State. But they are threatened with a class party political election. In short, the election machinery of Great Britain, at present, is not capable of giving the people what they require. It is out of date. If the Amendment were accepted, instead of having a sham battle we should have a real battle, a battle in which in many constituencies the personality of the candidates, rather than the label round their necks, would be the real governing factor. In any case, probably, the personality and character of the candidates at the next Election will play a large part in the results.
I hope, and believe, that we shall divide on the Amendment, and I shall be very glad to vote for it. I expect we shall be defeated, because the organised parties know perfectly well that Proportional Representation would loosen the stranglehold that they have on our political bodies. I think it is an evil strangle-hold and an undemocratic thing and something that does no good to Parliament in the eyes of the people. But suppose the Amendment were carried, I ask the House whether the Government would treat this as a Vote of Confidence? Would the Leader of the House tell us what a comfort it would be to Goebbels to read that the Government had been defeated on this matter. [Interruption.] There is no question of backing a winner. I hope, and believe, I shall have every oppor- tunity of voting for the Amendment, but I am interested to know whether, if the Government were defeated, we should be told that after this great blow they found it impossible to carry on the war with Germany, that they could not beat Japan, that they could not proceed with their programme, all because Members of the House of Commons told them that they wish that Proportional Representation should be introduced at the next election. In any case, if they did tell us that, what a bluff it would be.
One of these days that will happen and the House of Commons will call the Government's bluff and, unless the issue that is being discussed is one in which, such as in the Norwegian Debate, the whole administration of the Government is called into question, they will accept the defeat and they will carry on. They may possibly lighten the ship by jettisoning a Minister in certain cases. When that happens, the House of Commons will have asserted itself and we shall be a stage nearer the day when free votes in the House will be a common occurrence, and free votes would do more to put the House of Commons on the map with public opinion than anything else. In commending the Amendment to the House I recognise that the arguments with which I have supported it are not those acceptable to most Members at present, but I am very confident that future students of HANSARD—and they will be a great deal more numerous than at present—will see that in what I have said I have given a pretty accurate picture of the shape of things to come.
Mr Robert Young (Newton)
I find myself in very full agreement with the hon. Members for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey) and Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George). When I last spoke on the matter in February I was speaking for myself. The vast majority of my party are not among those who favour Propor- tional Representation. On this occasion I should like to ask myself, as well as Members of the House of Commons, one or two questions. I rise to support the Bill and, at the same time, to criticise it. I support it because it is as the Amendment says "a step on the road to electoral reform," and I criticise it because it does not, as the Amendment also says, secure fair representation in this House of the electorate in proportion to the votes cast.
I am all in favour of "one man, one vote," and each vote, as far as possible, being of equal value. I am glad those responsible for this Bill have not called it an Electoral Reform Bill. It is a Redistribution of Seats Bill. The large consituencies are to be divided up into two or three. In that connection, I think that my hon. Friend the member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) was not altogether fair to the hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. E. Harvey). He quited the hon. Member for the English Universities about the sub-division of large constituencies after members had been elected, but the hon. Member gave an alternative, which was that the vote could be taken over the whole constituency. I find no great difficulty about that. Even if the population of my constituency were increased to the huge totals which appear in one of the Schedules, it would not cause me an extra political meeting. It might cause me a great deal of extra work in this House by correspondence, etc., but it would not cause me one extra political meeting. A Member who represents a populous constituency is fortunate. He is often within a tram ride of either end of his constituency, and when he holds one or two meetings, he covers the whole constituency. In my constituency during a General Election, I start in one place and the only place in which I speak twice and in which I am able to speak twice is the place where I started. All the other parts are able to see me only once; electors have the opportunity of coming to my meetings or staying away. Sometimes it does not suit them, or the night is wet, because our elections are usually held in November. I therefore say that if I am given 100,000 voters in my constituency, it would not mean one extra meeting to me. That is the answer that I would prefer to give to my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon. I was rather surprised at the interruption of an hon. Gentleman opposite who said that he represented the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). Really, he cannot do that.
Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
The hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) kept on saying how monstrous it was that the Conservatives in Durham or the Labour people in the Home Counties should not be represented, and that the Members for those places do not regard themselves as representing these people. If the hon. Lady's father wrote asking for my help in any matter, I should help him as conscientiously as I should help a Conservative. Let us not forget that we are not delegates, but representatives. I represent my whole constituency, men, women and children.
Mr Robert Young (Newton)
I do not think the hon. Gentleman has met the position. I represent my constituency in the sense that if anybody sends a grievance to me I attend to it, but I do not represent my political opponents. This is a political House and I am sent here on a political basis. I do not presume to represent the Conservatives in my constituency in relation to their political opinions, and I do not suppose that any member sitting on that side can represent my views.
Mr Douglas Clifton Brown (Hexham)
I must deprecate these continual interruptions. A Second Reading Debate is a matter for speeches and not Committee interruptions. If an hon. Member does not understand or agree with the argument of the hon. Member who is speaking, there will be a chance of answering later. This is a tine for speeches and not for Committee points.
Mr Robert Young (Newton)
I do not represent the Conservatives in my constituency and I tell them that at elections. I go further, and tell them that if that does not suit them they must vote for the other person. My hon. Friend the Member for, Clackmannan and Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) gave us a full resume of the Speaker's Conference and said that a good deal of give and take between parties took place during the Conference. To me this question rises above that. This House should regard the rights of the people's representation in this House as above party interests so far as their voting goes. It is not for me to make, a bargain with anybody as to how they shall vote and as to what shall be the Value of their vote. The wisdom of those who drew up this Bill as expressed in the first. Schedule paragraph 7, should have been applied to the Speaker's Conference. There are to be four Boundary Commissions to determine the size of Parliamentary constituencies. Their recommendations will be accepted or rejected by the Government, but the House must be told why. May I read the provision in the Schedule to which I have referred?
A Member of the House of Commons, or of either House of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, shall be disqualified for being appointed a member of any of the Commissions by the Secretary of State or Minister of Health, and a member of a Commission so appointed shall be disqualified for being a member of the Commission on his becoming a Member of any such House.
That will raise the issue above party give and take when it comes into operation. The Commissions are not to be appointed to arrange between parties or party interests. Hon. Members on that side of the House have been advantaged by the present system and Members on this side have been very much disadvantaged. They may be advantaged in the future as Members opposite have been in the past, but let them not put any great reliance on that. I agree with the Secretary of the Labour Party when he said that a British election was a gamble. It has always been a gamble. Even coupons cannot determine entirely the representation in this House. My own seat was a Conservative seat up to the coupon election, and then it became a Labour seat. I congratulate my hon. Friends sitting on the other side on the continuance of the old
method which will give them the advantage. I commiserate with my hon. Friends on this side on the disadvantage which will probably accrue to them in the future. I have no doubt that there will be one or two elections yet, after which Members sitting on this side of the House will find themselves with a minority of seats and yet they will sit here with a majority of votes in the country. It is absolutely unfair and immoral. If the country has given us a majority of votes our place should be over there, and not simply if the country has given us a majority of seats in the House.
Let us look at this matter a little further. I have sometimes asked myself whether leaders of Opposition parties speak with their tongues in their cheeks in relation to representation in this House. If they do, it justifies the taunt outside of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Let me give the House a quotation or two from 1935, in relation to representation in this House. Here is an extract from the speech of the Secretary of State for Air. At the beginning of this Parliament he said:
There is the Prime Minister, with his great majority, obtained partly through the capricious working of our electoral system, which distorts instead of reflecting the true opinions of the electors which ought to be reformed in this Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1935; col. 78.]
We are invited now to continue that distortion into the days that lie ahead. The Secretary of State for Air felt it then; he will probably feel it also in the future. Let us take the leader of my own party, Mr. A. Greenwood. In the course of an argument in which he was pointing out how the Conservative party had lost a great number of votes in the constituencies, he said:
It is quite possible that a small turnover of votes not more than 250.000, might, through the accidents"—
"accidents," mark you,
of our electoral system, have put us there, and you here."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1955, Col. 150.]
We are not doing fairly by the people of the country and are not making their votes effective. We are not encouraging them to take an active interest in political thought and work but are discouraging them. It is no use talking about the two-party system. I remember many long years ago when I backed-up our leader at that time, Keir Hardie, in breaking
down even the Liberal-Labour combination in this House at that time. We did not believe in a two-party system then. Why should our friends the Communists believe in a two-party system now? If they think they can get a majority or have a fair chance of getting a majority in this House let them try to achieve that object, but not as representing minorities. We are proposing to add 20 or 25 to the number of the constituencies. The ultimate result may be that we are adding an additional number of minority constituencies in this House. That would be altogether wrong.
We should have expected better of the Conference if it had remembered the Prime Minister's words, which were:
The Government are fully conscious of the importance of giving attention to all measures designed to secure that whenever there is an appeal to the country the result shall be fully and truly representative of the views of the people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th October, 1943.]
To add another 20 or 25 minority Members to this House is not making it truly representative of the views of the people. The Prime Minister went on to say:
The Government recognise that full consideration ought to be given to various proposals for change in the existing franchise laws designed to try to secure the maximum of fairness in the conduct of elections."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th October, 1943.]
I welcome the Bill, for certain things that it does, but I regret that the Government are losing a golden opportunity of making this House a truly representative institution. I have never belittled this House in my constituency but have always said that in many ways it is the best representative assembly in the world, but that does not prevent me from saying that it is not fully representative of the constituencies of the country. Every man's vote should be of the same value, as far as possible and every opportunity should be taken of making the voting such that the man who records his vote realises that he is doing his duty as a citizen. The Home Secretary said something about maldistribution of seats but I want to remove the maldistribution of votes so that this House of Commons shall give the people true representation.
Mr Thomas Magnay (Gateshead)
I never felt so proud to be a Member of this honourable House, as when I was a member of the Speaker's Conference. The experience of the score or more of meetings that we had made me proud of the tempo and the temperament of my colleagues. They took every care to try to meet the other side, and, so far as I could judge—I think most of my colleagues at the Conference will agree with me—they were all more concerned that Parliament should become truly representative of the people, than with the interests of their own parties. As respects one of the parties—very good in potential worth and ability, if I may say so, if not in numbers—I was exceedingly pleased to be able to see that sort of thing happen—
Mr Thomas Magnay (Gateshead)
The Liberal Party does not need any advertisement. I welcome these interruptions. I will not say—I never did say—that every Liberal was a reasonable man, but I do say that every reasonable man is a Liberal. If they think it over, that will keep my colleagues going for a while.
There are many things in this Bill which I think are worthy of the admiration and support of the House, but I intend to confine my remarks, short as they will be, to this question of Proportional Representation. I suggest to this House that it is like everything else that comes before the House, a question of the balance of advantages to this country. That is what politics are, of course, the balance of advantages. One must consider whether it would be advantageous to this country. It does not interest me in the slightest what happens in Sweden. I thought the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. E. Harvey) used a very unfortunate illustration when he talked of Eire. I think I should have shown a true economy of speech and never mentioned Eire in this connection, because if ever there was a bad example to me of what democracy could or would be it is just that unfortunate country.
I am reminded of a friend of mine to whom I spoke at the Liberal Summer School in 1922, when we considered this scheme. I was rather enamoured of it, being younger then and not so wise. I said to this friend of mine, "How is Jim getting on?" The man I mentioned was an administrator in a big company. My friend said "Jim is doing all right. He is not concerned at all about the business. He is very much concerned about his pet system, and his system is doing very well." Since then I have always been of the opinion, and I thought it was a very typical illustration, that the Proportional Representation people are more concerned about the system than they are about the political business of the country. It seems to me that we might remember this; it is what decides the matter for me at any rate.
This is the question I answer for myself, as every Member of this House must do in connection with Proportional Representation. "Do we here in this country want responsible parties, or cliques?" That is the question I put to myself. I put it on one occasion to the late Lord Grey. I had often wanted to ask his opinion upon this, and I got an opportunity one day at a luncheon in Newcastle. I said to him, with his great experience in foreign affairs as well as in political affairs in this country and in the light of the great opinion people had of his prestige, what he thought of Proportional Representation. Did he think it would make for cliques and all sorts of small parties, and consequent arrangements between the parties, as it had done on the Continent? He said, "I am quite sure it will make for cliques and arrangements between parties." I said, "That is exactly what I wanted to know. That is the end of Proportional Representation for me."
In this country, as I see it, the political genius of the people is for the straight political issue. It is governed first, last and all the time by these two Lobbies, and when people speak to me of huge majorities on one side on one occasion and of huge majorities on the other side on another occasion I say "That is the natural expression, if you like, of the emphasis of their views. They want to emphasise their views." I have never voted for the man who exactly represented to the full my political requirements. I have never yet discovered such a man. I dare say no one in this House has ever met a Member or candidate who exactly represented to the full his political requirements. One takes the general trend of a man, his character, personality, what he is likely to do in an emergency, whether he is a sort of man one would appoint one's trustee for everything one has got. It is just that one has to get a man of good trend and character. That is what the electors do now.
What would Proportional Representation mean in actual practice? Let me take as an illustration the place I know best, Newcastle-on-Tyne. There are four Members of Parliament now. Under Proportional Representation there would be candidates of all three different parties for them, making 12 candidates for Newcastle, if it was confined to Newcastle only and not applied across the river to Gateshead. There would be one, two and three alternatives, all sorts of alternatives. I suggest that you are not getting a straight issue in that way. Who would be the Member for the Central Division, for example? The only thing that worries me about elections is the scarcity of the number of voters. To get 50 per cent. nowadays is indeed an achievement. We would get less not more voters if we had this extended franchise. In politics as we know it the whole genius of our people is for the straight issue, and for everybody who votes to know who their Member is.
I have no doubt that when I get back to Gateshead on Saturday morning, there will be half-a-dozen people waiting to see me in my home. On Saturday morning, it is like a doctor's consulting room; no appointments are made, they naturally come to see me in their trouble, as steel filings come to a magnet. I have never asked a man yet—it is no business of mine—whether he voted for me. It would be gross impertinence. I represent every one of them, and I would do everything I could for them, as every one of us would do for any constituent. I would not say, "Did you vote for me? Did you address envelopes for me, or canvass for me?" What business is it of mine? We want the straight issue, and a straight vote, and on the balance of advantages it seems to me—I end as I began—that what is proposed in this Bill is what we require.
Mr John Leslie (Sedgefield)
The hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir G. Broadbridge) gave us a very interesting history of the City, dating back some 500 years, to show why the City of London should have special treatment. He mentioned the spirit of adventure, as being so essential. We all know how the financiers of the City of London helped the Nazis; but I think that what the hon. Member said about the spirit of adventure in the City of London could apply only to the old days. The spirit of adventure is not much seen in the City now, when they leave the City every night to the care of firewatchers. The City of London is only one square mile in area, and it has two representatives; while my constituency covers 220 square miles, and has only one representative. I think that that is unfair.
The decisions of the Speaker's Conference were, to say the least, disappointing in some respects. Proportional Representation was discarded, despite the growing evidence of its efficiency in the most democratic countries on the Continent. Denmark, Norway, and Sweden have had Proportional Representation for over 20 years; and where, with the exception of the British Dominions, are there more democratic communities? Local government elections may be very necessary in the liberated countries very soon. They will be held under Proportional Representation in Belgium and in Holland. Contrast that method with the method here. Let me give an illustration from one local authority. Six representatives are elected for one ward—two representatives each year. 1,000 votes secure the whole six seats, while 950 votes do not get a single one. Proportional Representation will certainly put that right. In Canada, it can be seen what Proportional Representation is doing in the elections for the Provincial Legislatures at Winnipeg, Calgary, and Edmonton, for all of which there is Proportional Representation. The Dominions have often set an example to the Mother Country in democratic outlook, while we retain such anomalies as plural voting and university representation. Election after election has shown the fallacy of the present system, by which a Government get into power on a minority vote. I know that some people fear that Proportional Representation may bring in a motley crowd of candidates, but I imagine that the chance of losing their deposits will have a deterrent effect; and, in any case, if it means more candidates in the field, it will certainly mean more money to the Treasury from forfeited deposits. Proportional Representation would certainly mean fairer representation for the electors than is given by the present system.
Sir Edward Keeling (Twickenham)
Neither the hon. Member for the Combined Universities (Mr. Harvey), in his very sincere speech pleading for Proportional Representation, nor the hon. Lady who seconded, nor the hon. Member for Newton (Sir R. Young), in an equally passionate appeal for that lost cause, nor, I may say, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay), who opposed Proportional Representation, dealt with what I regard as a fatal practical objection to Proportional Representation. Under Proportional Representation, you will have five-Member constituencies. Every Member will represent about 270,000 electors. Will not the inevitable result be that that one of the five Members who is the most active, the most energetic, the most successful in protecting his constituents from the bureaucracy will get all the correspondence? As a Member who already has 110,000 constituents, I am appalled at the prospect of having 270,000.
I welcome this Bill, and I think that the House and the country will have good reason to congratulate themselves on setting up permanent machinery which will result in a semi-automatic periodical redistribution. It was mentioned by the Committee on Electoral Machinery that this is already in existence in all the Dominions. I happened to be in South Africa last year a few months before the general election there, and I saw this semi-automatic redistribution going on. It seemed to work very smoothly.
The rest of my remarks I want to confine to the proposal for temporary redistribution. I am one of the 20 Members whose constituencies are to be divided at once, under Clause 2. Each of us, for the last five years or more, has represented about double the ordinary number of constituents; and, in some cases, three or four times the ordinary number. That is not only bad democracy, but also a very severe strain on the time, the energies, the petrol, and the pocket of the overburdened Member. We all welcome the prospect of early relief. While, however, we agree with the proposal of this temporary scheme, most of us think that it could be improved in one respect. We suggest that, where a municipal borough or district council is contained partly in one of the abnormal constituencies which are to be divided, and partly in a contiguous constituency which is not to be divided, the Boundary Commissioners should have discretion it would be entirely for their judgment in each case) to throw the contiguous constituency into the area to be divided, so that, where they found it to be convenient, the Parliamentary boundary might be made to coincide with the municipal one. No addition to the number of extra seats would be involved—that would remain 25. I believe this has been advocated already by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles), whose speech I was, unfortunately, unable to hear, and I would like to support what I understand he said.
The advantage of making the Parliamentary boundary coincide, where possible, with the local government boundary has long been acknowledged, and it is acknowledged in this Bill. It is recognised in the permanent scheme for comprehensive redistribution. Rule 5 of the Third Schedule expressly gives directions to the Boundary Commissioners about that. It is also recognised even in the temporary scheme: paragraph (b) of Sub-section (1) of Clause 2 contains a provision that two or more contiguous abnormal constituencies may be treated as one for the purposes of sub-division. The object of that is, quite clearly, to enable the Boundary Commissioners to make the Parliamentary boundary coincide with the municipal one. I hope the House will consider giving discretion to the Boundary Commissioners to apply this principle a little more fully, in the way I have suggested.
In seeking to justify this proposal, I confine myself to Middlesex, and do not attempt to speak for the abnormal constituencies of the country as a whole. Every one of the four Middlesex Divisions to be divided includes one part of a borough or urban district another part of which is in a contiguous constituency which is not to be divided. Take the single example of Heston and Isleworth. That municipal borough is for Parliamentary purposes partly in the Twickenham Division, partly in the Spelthorne Division, which is not to be divided, and partly in the Uxbridge Division. To put the matter the other way round, the Uxbridge Parliamentary Division includes parts of no less than eight local government areas—three boroughs and five urban districts. Of these eight, four are partly in constituencies which are not to be divided. If the Bill gave the Boundary Commissioners discretion to throw a constituency which adjoins the abnormal one into the area to be divided, almost all the overlaps in Middlesex could be eliminated. That could be done without any great upheaval, for apart from the four Divisions to be divided, only four of the other 13 Middlesex Divisions would suffer any alteration of boundary. Nor would the adoption of this suggestion involve any delay. On the contrary, I think it would facilitate the Boundary Commissioners' task, which without this change, would, I am perfectly certain, be extremely difficult in Middlesex; indeed, I go so far as to say that it would be impossible for the Boundary Commissioners to give satisfactory boundaries to some of the seats to be divided. I am sure that there will be great dissatisfaction locally if advantage be not taken of this Bill to get rid of overlaps and to give each borough or urban district, or group of boroughs and urban districts, one or more Members of its own. The same is probably true of other areas, and the change is supported by a large majority of the hon. Members whose constituencies are to be divided; in fact, by all of them with whom I have been able to get in touch.
I am well aware that, in some cases, any attempt to make Parliamentary boundaries coincident with municipal ones in a temporary scheme may prove impossible. For instance, if the constituency to be divided contains part of a large city, it may be that the Boundary Commissioners will find that to get rid of the overlap of the municipal boundaries will cause more anomalies than it will cure. That is why we propose that the inclusion of a contiguous constituency should be left to the discretion of the Boundary Commissioners, who can be trusted to act wisely and fairly, using their power where it is obviously convenient, as in Middlesex, but not using it where it appears inexpedient.
Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh East)
In regard to the exceedingly interesting points just put before the House by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling), I should like to say that they are, of course, as my hon. Friend will recognise, largely Committee points, and no doubt he will have an opportunity of putting his views on this matter in Committee. So far as I am concerned, I shall listen with the greatest attention to what he has to say, with this single reservation—that, if any scheme such as he adumbrates, involves a really substantial widening of the principles recommended by the Speaker's Conference, I should be definitely against it, because it is of the essence of the scheme we propose that, for the purpose of an immediate election, the changes in constituencies shall be extremely small.
I want to speak mainly, however, on the Amendment which is at present before the House. The hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey) is a very persuasive orator, who never says anything to cause offence and always puts his case in the kindliest possible way, as he has certainly done to-day. The hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) is also a very capable and effective debater, and the House listened to her speech with very great interest. I doubt whether we shall have the arguments for Proportional Representation put very much better than they have been put by the advocates who have spoken already. No doubt, the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) will introduce the pungent irony for which he is always noted but, in the arguments, statement and analysis of the case for Proportional Representation which we have already heard, I think we have had what can be said in its favour.
A great many of those who oppose Proportional Representation base their main claim on the electoral difficulties and disadvantages which Proportional Representation involves. They say, in effect, that, whatever may be the merits of Proportional Representation, the price that would have to be paid is too great. In my view, in so doing, they allow the main case in favour of Proportional Representation to go unchallenged. I take a different view. I challenge the basic argument in favour of Proportional Representation. Those who want Proportional Representation claim it as a great reform and tell us that the present system is to be condemned because the House of Commons does not meticulously reflect the multi-coloured views of the country. They suggest that that is an axiomatic desideratum, and that the nearer the House of Commons comes to reproducing in miniature the electorate the more perfect would be our system of Parliamentary representation.
That seems to me to be entirely fallacious. It is not my view of the Object of democracy. Our democracy is designed, not to achieve some mathematical proporportion sum, but to create a Parliament that will work, a Parliament that will sustain a Government in the prosecution of a settled and consistent policy. I will add this further—that our democracy, as we know it, depends upon a firmly-knit Opposition, and I do not believe that either of these objects will be equally well achieved by Proportional Representation as by our present system, and it is for that reason that I have a fundamental opposition to it. As to whether the House of Commons is less representative if it is returned by single-Member constituencies, as against its return by seven-Member constituencies, that is a contention which I could not accept; and I do not believe that many people, looking at the matter fully and fairly, will accept it either.
Why do I think that Proportional Representation will work less well than our present system? Without going into detail, I will just go through several main reasons which influence me in coming to that conclusion. In the first place, it will make a more likely that you will not have a Government with a majority. If you do not have a Government with a clear Majority, you will either have a succession of coalitions or you will have a Government in office without power, Those who have been in that position know the very great inconvenience that involves. The House of Commons never knew, on one of those occasions, whether the Government would survive the day. It never knew that the proposal the Government put forward would in fact be put into effect, and the Government themselves were constantly subjected to all those currents of partial opposition which made their promotion of a steady and consistent policy very difficulty to achieve.
In the next place, my own view is that Proportional Representation would make it more likely that a multiplicity of parties would be returned in which the main issues which ought to be put before the House would become blurred. Thirdly, Proportional Representation would make it less easy to have a Shadow Cabinet, with that sense of responsibility in opposition, which the knowledge that they may at some future time become the Government of the country carries with it. In the fourth place, it will make not merely for more parties in the House in the political sense, but it will make for more sections and factions.
Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh East)
I do not think that you can compare those countries with this country and I will leave that to the hon. Member to develop in his own way. I say that it is likely to make for more sections and more factions. It is not at all impossible that there might become a religious faction in this House, and there might be sections returned to promote various nostrums, all of which might be inimical to the proper running of this House. It is claimed for Proportional Representation—I think with a certain amount of truth—that it will tend to reduce the swing between one election and another. And a very likely result of this is—and in fact in some of the countries which at present have Proportional Representation it has produced this result—that you will have in successive Parliaments one party practically in continuous government of the country. The only difference between one Parliament and the next will be that you will have a slightly larger or a slightly smaller majority and a slight change of personnel. This tends to produce one continuous policy. Some may think that to be a good thing, but I do not take that view. In my opinion it is good that a Government should run the risk of suffering defeat at an election, with the possibility that an entirely different Government composed of new men with new ideas might come in and fake their place and justify an entirely different policy. That is a more healthy state of affairs than is the case in those countries where the Government know well that as a result of an election there may be a little swing this way or that but that broadly they will remain in office, and will have the conduct of affairs for several years to come. That is why I find myself in fundamental disagreement with the objects of those who are in favour of Proportional Representation. A good many other objections will no doubt be developed in the course of this Debate. I turn to the other side of the question. What is the price to be paid for this alteration? The first and main price that will have to be paid is the bringing into existence of unwieldly constituencies and a complete loss of personal touch between the Member of Parliament and those whom he professes to represent in this House. We are all aware that the large numbers of our existing electorates present a difficulty in representing them individually in this House, but those of us who do our work carefully and thoughtfully manage to a large extent to come into touch with our people, and if they have individual grievances we are to a very large extent able to represent them in this House and in private correspondence with the Minister. Now it is suggested that our constituencies shall, in effect, be multiplied five or sevenfold, and there can be no question whatever that that is going to remove all the sense of personal relationship which exists at the present time. It would be impossible, both at the election and afterwards, for the great majority of candidates to get their personality across in their constituencies. It is true that some national leader, coming into one of these multi-member constituencies, may become the figurehead of the election but he will not be the one to do the donkey work so necessary when he is elected.
This difficulty is not met by the suggestion of those who favour Proportional Representation, that M.Ps. can choose that part of the constituency for which they regard themselves as Member after the election has taken place. Some hon. Member very truly said that a man elected by a seven-Member constituency might be met by someone who would say, "I am one of your supporters; I voted for you but you cannot represent my grievance because you have chosen to represent another part of the constituency, but not the part in which I live." That is impossible. Sitting for part of Edinburgh I am frequently approached by persons from other parts of Edinburgh with grievances which they bring before me. I make this division. I say, "If your point is a general point on a large political issue I will deal with it." But if they come about a particular grievance, such as that a pension has not been paid or that a husband or son is in the Army and there is something they want done about it, I say that they must go to their own Mem- ber, and because they are not my own constituents I have the right to say that. But if the whole of Edinburgh was a single constituency, and I had selected East Edinburgh as the part for which I chose to regard myself as the Member I do not think that I could take that line, and if I did, it would be considered a getaway by the constituent.
The second price to be paid is that there is no real solution in Proportional Representation for by-elections, and again, no proposal which is made by its advocates actually meets that difficulty. Even if some such scheme of sub-division were brought about as I have referred to and a by-election held in one past of the constituency, it would be throwing over the whole basis of Proportional Representation because it would be a single-member constituency. Further, the main advantage of a by-election as we know it is that, by comparing the result of the by-election with the result of the preceding general election, some idea of the change of public opinion in that constituency is reached. But if the previous election has been fought on Proportional Representation and the by-election in a single constituency, no base for comparison will exist.
Finally, another great disadvantage that I see is the wangling that will go on in these large constituencies. First of all, there will be a good deal of rivalry between members of the same party as to which of them is to be regarded as the principal candidate, and their fight, to some extent, will be between themselves and the members of their own party. If the electorate put, say, myself at the head of the poll of my party in the constituency, I shall get in; my colleagues in the same party who get perhaps only a slightly smaller number of votes will be kept out. Therefore, one of my objectives will be to thrust myself in front of my own colleagues at elections. I think that will be bad. In the second place, there will be wangling between myself and the members of some other party. I shall want them to see that their supporters give me their second preference. That, also, I think will be bad. Therefore, instead of having the clear-cut issue you have at the present time in a single-member constituency you will have a good deal of wangling before and during the election, and it will be a great disadvantage. All these disadvantages and difficulties cannot be as lightly brushed aside as the advocates of Proportional Representation suggest. But if the objects they have in view were in my mind extremely desirable, I might be prepared to pay the price, and endeavour, as best I could, to face these difficulties. The essential point of my argument, however, is that I do not think their object itself is good. I regard their main argument as quite unsound, and I regard the price they ask us to pay for this change in our political system as exceedingly high, and both the change itself and the price they are calling upon us to pay for it would, I think, be subversive of the long-established traditions of our Parliamentary representative system. For those reasons I hope this House will to-day give an overwhelming vote against this Amendment and give the quietus to this false idea which has so long possessed a small number of the people of this country.
Mr Denis Pritt (Hammersmith North)
I had in the course of the Debate prepared myself to answer a good many things said by hon. and right hon. Members, but the right hon. Gentleman who sits for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) has put what case can be made against Proportional Representation so fully, clearly and fairly that, having regard to the fact that we do not want to talk too long, I think I shall best serve the House and the interests I represent by simply confining myself to his speech, and answering it without undue length, if I am capable of doing so.
His speech consisted of a preamble on four defects of Proportional Representation in working and of three or four—according to how one looks at it—prices one would have to pay for Proportional Representation even if one thought that it was a good thing, and I will model myself on what the right hon. Gentleman has said. The preamble is, in effect, that it is undesirable really to have a mathematical reproduction in the House of opinion in the country, but surely we want the House substantially to rerpesent the country. That seemed almost to frighten the right hon. Gentleman. I was going to quote speeches and articles by the present Prime Minister strongly advocating Proportional Representation for that very reason, and I think the House in general will at any rate accept this, that on quite broad lines the nearer the House represents the country, the better far the House, the better for the country and the better for democracy. I think the reason why most opponents of Proportional Representation rather slide away from that is because they know that the House does, in fact, grotesquely misrepresent first one part of the country and then another. The only other thing the right hon. Gentleman said in his preamble, and certainly it is important, is that it is very good to have as a result of your elections a Government which can really set about the task of government, and a firmly knit Opposition. I am going to suggest that Proportional Representation will, in fact, do that pretty well. I am going to suggest also that the present system does it extremely badly. I think I can do both those things best by going straight to the right hon. Gentleman's four points one by one, because they really involve what he said in his preamble and those are the points he was using to support the broad assertion made in that preamble.
He said that you are no more likely to have a clear majority under Proportional Representation than under the present system. I do not know why. I should have thought that if the country is broadly divided, say, 10,000,000 to 8,000,000 at the next General Election—I will not tell you which way—you will have a House which is broadly zoo of one side for every 80 of the other, whereas under the existing system the most probable result will be that instead of no to 80 you will have 130 to 50, which in itself is unjust and gives you a bad and weak Opposition. There is quite a chance, however, that your 100 to 80 one way will actually find its representation in this House 105 to 95 the wrong way. It is pure chance. When the right hon. Gentleman seemed to assume that one of the great virtues of our system now is that we normally achieve a Government with a clear majority, let me remind the House that there has not been one single moment in the last 25 years in which this House has had in it a party forming a Government in this House and having the majority of votes in the country. When the right hon. Gentleman says that one of the evils of Proportional Representation is that it produces coalitions, how about the continuous coalition in this country in the last quarter of a century? We have had very many examples of Coalition Government and two examples of a Government in office without power, so that while I do not say that the evils he attributes to Proportional Representation are inherent in the present system, I do say it has delivered a fine crop of these in the last quarter of a century.
Then he said that you are more likely, under Proportional Representation, to get a multiplicity of parties. That is often said and, superficially, it looks a reasonably plausible argument. I do not propose to injure it by enumerating the number of parties that we have already in this House under the present system—the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) had some difficulty in remembering precisely to what party he did belong—but I defy anybody to produce any solid argument to show that Proportional Representation applied to this country would produce any new parties. Let anybody suggest what it could possibly produce. It cannot produce the Liberal Party because the Liberal Party has a very definite and clear existence. In countries that have suffered from multitudinous groups and parties, Proportional Representation brought to bear on them has not increased the number of those parties. There is not an instance in history where the result of applying Proportional Representation to any country has resulted in the emergence of any party that did not exist before.
So there is no evidence to support this charge on actual experience. I think the Weimar Republic gave an illustration of what happened with Proportional Representation with a large number of groups. The groups, which were ridiculously numerous, diminished by about 40 per cent., as a result of which they were still ridiculously large. But, at any rate, Proportional Representation did not prevent them getting a little less bad, and did not create any new parties. Then the right hon. Gentleman—I know he will not think I am attacking him—said it is less easy, under Proportional Representation, to have a shadow Cabinet with a sense of responsibility. I quite understand that argument, which is sometimes put another way and is very much the same thing: that it is less easy to have a good and strong Opposition—