I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Any Member of this House must regard it as no small privilege and honour to submit a Bill further to extend the freedom and the power of the people with regard to their representation in this House. We have in the lifetime of middle-aged men now living made a great advance along the road of political freedom, and it may be admitted that there is now no very great gap in the condition in which people may proceed to elect their representatives in this House. But there are many difficulties and many anomalies in our electoral law and this Bill is designed to remove them. It is a Bill in the main of short and understandable Clauses, which, I think, will commend themselves probably, if for no other reason, for their simplicity and brevity.
There is a question as to whether the Government which is now responsible for introducing this Bill can found its action upon previous statements and public declarations of any intention to do anything of the kind. I go back to the King's Speech when this Parliament was opened on the 2nd July, 1929. In that Speech the following statement will be found:
At the recent General Election an extended franchise placed in the hands of the whole of My people of adult years the grave responsibility for guarding the well-being of this nation as a constitutional democracy, and My Government propose to institute an examination of the experiences of the Election so that the working of the law relating to Parliamentary Elections may be brought into conformity with the new conditions.
During the Debate on the Address on that occasion the Prime Minister explained the scope of the proposed inquiry, and made it quite clear that the inquiry would embrace the question of the desirability of altering the present electoral system. There followed what we may term
the Lord Ullswater Conference. It is following upon that declaration in the Speech from the Throne, and upon the consideration of the question by the Ullswater Conference, that we now proceed with this Bill to remove at least a number of our electoral anomalies.
It is true that the Ullswater Conference did not result in agreement, as it is equally true that there are many who gibe at the idea of any Conference undertaking anything; but the truth is that the world in the main is governed by conferences and by all manner of committees, consultations and interviews in an endeavour to get agreement upon points which are in dispute, and if, on any question, a conference fails to reach agreement, obviously it becomes the duty of a Government fully to accept its responsibility, and to proceed to remove by law the wrongs that we conclude are in existence. It is, therefore, our obligation to go ahead with this work, even though there was no agreement through the medium of the Ullswater Conference.
The House has already been informed of the reasons why the original Bill, which was presented before the House rose for the Christmas Adjournment, was withdrawn, and the present No. 2 Bill substituted. At the time of the presentation of the original Bill, many proposals were still under consideration by the Government, and it was decided, therefore, that the long Title should be framed in terms wide enough to enable the Government to include all the proposals which were then under consideration. The Government eventually decided that it was desirable to omit certain proposals referred to in the long Title, namely, proposals for facilitating the recording of their votes by electors who change their residence, for making provision in respect of speakers at election meetings, and for restricting the purposes for which the funds of political organisations might be applied; and, soon after the House met after Christmas, the Government announced its intention to withdraw the original Bill and to reintroduce the Bill with a long Title appropriate to its contents.
The proposals mentioned in the original long Title, but deleted from the Bill, might have been found to give rise to considerable controversy, and would cer- tainly have taken up more Parliamentary time than we could possibly afford. I have seen allegations to the effect that right hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway were responsible for this change. I can say without any qualification that any such view is wholly inaccurate and untrue, and that right hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway are in no way responsible for any of the changes which have been made in regard to this matter. It was solely for reasons of time, because of the highly controversial character of many of these proposed Clauses, that the Government concluded that this Bill covered quite as much as it would be likely that this Parliament could deal with, and that is the sole reason for making the changes to which I have referred.
These changes of themselves, though falling short of what we should have liked to carry through, would effect a really far-reaching instalment for the better in our electoral system. The conditions of democratic practice have long been accepted by all of us upon every side of the House, and the Labour party regard it as essential that the system of plural voting, under which one rich man is treated as the equivalent of several of his poorer neighbours, shall forthwith be abolished. That is not a declaration made for the first time. It will be found on page 50 of the publication known as "Labour and the Nation." On that same page will be found the further statement that more stringent legislation against corrupt practices ought to be introduced—[Interruption.]—I take that interruption as an indication that that proposal at least will have an easy passage—and that the law relating to elections should be amended in such a manner as finally to end the influence, at once unjust and corrupting, which is exercised by wealth over the political life of the country.
In "Labour and the Nation" the Labour party did not commit itself to any specific system of voting, but it is indicated in certain paragraphs that the party stands for the systematic and unremitting use of political powers and processes designed to achieve its programme, and, by implication, the party has reserved to itself the right to promote legislation to secure a more fitting political instrument to implement the party's programme. At the general election this party polled more than 8,300,000 votes. That poll was for its political and social policy; and the National Executive, which is in close touch with the organised workers of the country and with the electors in the constituencies, has registered its agreement with the proposals of this Bill. It is, therefore, held by us to be the duty of this House to estimate and translate into action the latent but obvious will of the people.
Few as are the Clauses of this Bill, I shall not take up the time of the House this afternoon in any attempt to deal with all of them. Clause 1 proposes to amend the existing system of voting by introducing the principle of the alternative vote at Parliamentary elections where there are more than two candidates. The existing system has been described as single-member election by relative majority. Notwithstanding the anomalies due to the existence of a number of double-member constituencies, the fundamental characteristics of our present system are that it is based upon the representation of constituencies by single members, and that election is by relative majority and not by absolute majority. In favour of the system it is argued that it is simple for the electors to understand, rapid and economical in its operation, and straightforward in its results, and that it goes a long way in the direction of giving representation to a variety of separate interests and pursuits. On the whole, it may be claimed 4.0 p.m. that our system has been good, but good must give way to better, and this Bill, we believe, proposes a still better system along the line of advance in democratic franchise. The alternative vote is simply an expedient for ensuring that the intention of our existing system of single-member constituencies shall be carried out. Clearly, the intention is that Members in this House shall be returned by a majority of those who cast their votes. Without some such provision as the alternative vote, the existing system breaks down in the constituencies if more than two parties are in the field. The alternative vote aims at giving the electors an opportunity of expressing a second choice should their first choice fail to give any candidate an absolute majority such as he ought to possess, and should it therefore become necessary to decide between two candidates remaining in the field. It thus has the advantages of a second ballot, but without the inconvenience and trouble of holding a second election.
It is not claimed for the alternative vote that it is an absolutely accurate method. Even in this matter, as in so many other matters, a Labour Government must fall short of absolute perfection. It does, however, prevent the election of a candidate against the wishes of the constituency. Whatever its theoretical disadvantages, it cannot be denied that the alternative vote is the best method of removing the most serious defect which our existing system of single-member constituencies possesses, namely, the return of minority candidates. I have been in this House continuously for 25 years, and I have frequently heard the gibes directed sometimes from this and sometimes from that side of the House against both Members and Governments who have been returned here by the votes of minorities. The more reason is there for doing something to remove the taunt that anyone is returned by a minority of votes in the future.
The alternative vote was unanimously recommended by the Royal Commission of 1910. The question of the desirability of reforming the electoral system was again considered by the Speaker's Conference of 1917. That conference recommended that in the large boroughs the experiment of proportional representation should be tried, but a majority of the conference also recommended that the system of the alternative vote should be applied to all constituencies returning a single Member. As is well known, the Bill which subsequently became the Representation of the People Act, 1918, contained proposals for the adoption of the alternative vote. Those proposals were carried by narrow majorities in the House of Commons, but were rejected by the House of Lords in favour of proportional representation for the larger boroughs. We all know that proportional representation has many adherents on the ground of its apparent simplicity and attractiveness, but the view of the Government is that it is inapplicable, that it is unsuitable within the English Parliamentary system of government. It works well, and indeed has been accepted, and probably will be permanently retained, in regard to certain non-political elections which have a business and commercial, and sometimes even a trade union character. Parliamentary Government is a different affair, depending, as we all know, in practice upon majorities, upon ability to reach decisions, and that, we imagine, would not be likely in our English system of government under any plan of proportional representation.
I intend to say only a little on the method by which this alternative voting system will be applied, and to say even less at this stage on the machinery that will govern that method. We had the opportunity to choose between one system or the other. Indeed, there are many systems, but, as hon. Members know, in the main our contests are fought with but three candidates representing the three parties, and this Bill is designed, not with a view to covering the rare and exceptional case, but to cover, in the main, the general conditions in which our Parliamentary elections are fought. We, therefore, decided in favour of limiting an elector's choice to two candidates. That does him no wrong, for it gives him an alternative vote, but not alternative votes for several candidates who may be standing in any exceptional contest. There are in the main, as I say, only three parties, as far as they are parties which can at any time in the immediate, or even remote future, hope to form a Government. The Government are, of course, aware that there are other methods of giving effect to the system of the alternative vote. We have decided that the method proposed in the Bill is fair and reasonable to the electors, that it is the simplest, the best and the easiest to work, and, therefore, on all grounds, compared with others, I hope that it will commend itself to the favour of the present House of Commons.
This system of the alternative vote has necessarily led us to try to achieve results proposed on other occasions, but not followed in the manner now proposed. I refer to the necessity, under a system of the alternative vote, of dividing the double-member constituencies into two constituencies. There will be one exception, as I shall show. The Bill, therefore, proposes to divide existing double-member constituencies into two,
each one of the two returning a single member. It has long been the practice of the Legislature to substitute single-member constituencies, and since 1885 the number of double-member constituencies has been very small. Indeed, as the Royal Commission of 1910 pointed out, it was only the personal sentiments of Mr. Gladstone which, in the last resort, saved any of the then existing double-member constituencies in 1885. He defended this exceptional treatment in the House on the ground that
In many towns there is undoubtedly a unity of municipal life which, except for some great object, it is not desirable to violate or to impair by severance.
Very largely as a result of his persuasion at that time, 24 double-member constituencies were retained under the Redistribution Act, 1885. This number was modified by later legislation until now there are only 12 double-member constituencies in Great Britain. These will be found set forth in a Schedule to the Bill. The application of the alternative vote to double-member constituencies presents insuperable difficulties and complications, and we, therefore, have reached the conclusion that the time has come when the existing double-member constituencies must be divided. As I pointed out, this decision is in harmony with the recommendation of the Royal Commission of 1910. The proposal to divide double-member constituencies has in the past received the support of all parties in the House, and will, I believe, commend itself to the House on this occasion. The Bill provides that schemes for the division of double-member constituencies shall be prepared by commissioners appointed by His Majesty as soon as possible after the passing of the Act, and any scheme so prepared must be laid before both Houses of Parliament. Therefore, on future occasions the House will have an opportunity of detecting any defect that may be revealed in the action of the commissioners to whom I refer.
Whatever else hon. Members will expect to find in a Bill of this kind, submitted from this side of the House, they will expect, I am sure, to find a proposal to abolish plural voting, for those votes are the symbol of wealth, of good fortune, of position, of vested interests. I say nothing whatever against those who happen to possess them, for to any one of us might have befallen an accident of that kind. But this Bill is, as I have said, a Bill to remove anomalies, to make the conditions more equitable, if not absolutely even, as between one elector and another. The Bill, therefore, provides for the abolition of plural voting by proposing, in Clause 3, the abolition of the business premises qualification, and, in Clause 4, the abolition of the university constituencies. The abolition of plural voting is the last stage in equalising the suffrage between all members of the community, and its disappearance will, therefore, establish the franchise on a thoroughly democratic basis. It would be quite improper, however, to remove from the existing register the names of any persons at present registered in respect of a business premises qualification, and the Bill therefore provides that a person, at present registered in respect of a business premises qualification, may vote in respect of that qualification during the currency of the present year, that is, until 15th October of this year. But if he does so at a General Election, he will not be able to exercise at that election any other vote which he may possess.
It is true that plural votes may not, in relation to the total number of electors, constitute any very large part, but they have been large enough in a number of constituencies, according to our own experience, to be the deciding factor in circumstances where they ought not to have had the power to do so, and, in these days, where conditions of equality are accepted with an increasing measure of readiness, I ask the House to agree that in no single constituency shall it be within the power of men of a favoured class to come in by virtue of their property and settle the issue for the electorate as a whole. The House is, therefore, being asked to complete the process of putting the franchise upon an absolutely democratic basis. This process was begun a century ago by the Reform Act. 1832. The term "Representation of the People Act" occurred for the first time in that Act of 1832. It was then regarded, indeed, as a very novel term to use. Representation originally meant, not representation of the people, but of the local corporations, and the method by which those corporations appointed their representatives was considered a matter rather of local than of national importance. We had in this country, as we all know, Parliamentary government for centuries before we had any kind of really representative government. Having once begun to tread that road of representative government, there is no obstacle in the way of our making it absolutely complete.
The modern conception of the right of the common people to have a voice in the election of their representatives was first mentioned in 1429 only to be most emphatically rejected. Disraeli's Act of 1867, which introduced the household franchise in boroughs and also admitted £10 lodgers to the borough franchise and made certainly similar alterations in the county franchise, added about 1,000,000 people to the electorate, of whom 800,000 voters were in respect of boroughs. The percentage of the electorate to the population, as a result of that, rose to about 9 per cent. So little confidence was felt in the extension of the franchise then effected that Disraeli's reform was frequently alluded to, even by many of his own supporters, as a leap in the dark. Mr. Gladstone's Act of 1884 extended to the counties the household franchise conferred by the Act of 1867, and the increase of the electorate made by that Act was about 2,500,000, raising the percentage of the electorate to the population to about 16 per cent. The Act of 1918, although making an enormous advance towards the democratic principle, was nevertheless a compromise Measure based upon an agreement arrived at by the Speaker's Conference which preceded it. While greatly simplifying the basis of the franchise, and admitting a qualification based purely on residence, it also admitted a qualification based on the occupation of business premises, and even extended university representation. Once you lay down a wrong principle, you either have to wipe it out altogether or extend it further and further. Small wonder, then, that, with the extension of universities and the growth of our provincial systems of education, they claimed the right which Oxford and Cambridge have long enjoyed.
As I say, with the growth of the democratic idea, one of the burning topics in recent times has been this question of plural voting. The Act of 1918 was a great advance, but even those who at that time were not prepared to go further will probably recognise that the continued existence of a property qualification for voters, and the possession by any elector of more than one vote, is an anomaly which cannot be justified upon any reasonable ground. The law now assumes the right of every adult person to have a voice in the election of a Member of Parliament, and it is an inevitable corollary that, while everyone should be entitled to a voice, no one should be entitled to more than one voice in the election of a Member. The number of electors registered in pursuance of a business premises qualification is something in the neighbourhood of 500,000. The existence of these electors entitled to this special privilege on account of the possession of property is a survival from ideas which ought no longer to be accepted in any quarter of the House of Commons.
As I have said, there is to be, as we propose, one exception, though if exception be taken to this exception, we should be willing to confer with hon. Members in all quarters of the House. After giving a great deal of thought and time and consideration to the problem raised by the City of London, our proposal is to leave the City of London, with one exception quite undisturbed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I shall give the reason. The City of London from the earliest times has occupied a quite exceptional position in the kingdom. It has had a determining influence, not only upon the economic, but upon the political history of our nation. The attitude of the City of London in the political struggles throughout the centuries has been of vital consequence to Kings and to Parliament itself. One of the first acts of William the Conqueror was to make a compact with the City. Local self-government is now accepted by all of us as a very ordinary thing, but it was secured by the City of London at a time when the separate existence of a local unit, independent of the county organisation, was regarded as almost unthinkable, and London's independence has since been maintained, although its constitution has on more than one occasion been suspended. The lists of Members for the City goes back to 1284, and on this ground alone it is almost inconceivable that the City should cease to be repre- sented in the House of Commons. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] The importance of London has been increased rather than diminished by the expansion of the British Empire. Throughout the ages it has thus maintained its independent and separate place in the nation and its peculiarly close relations with the Government. Even now representatives of the City of London claim the right to sit on the Treasury or Privy Councillor's bench at the opening of a new Parliament—a right which we all concede. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] At present the position of the City of London in the Empire and in the world is such as to make it more inconceivable than ever that the City should not be represented in this House. In order to enable the City of London to be represented, it is necessary to preserve the business premises qualification; otherwise, the electorate would be confined to a few thousand small shopkeepers and caretakers. At the same time, it would not be right to allow a voter in the City to exercise another vote as well, and accordingly provision will be made to prevent an anomaly of that kind. I do not mind admitting that, in our consideration of this part of our subject, a certain degree of sentiment entered into the decision and to the consideration of it. We are capable even of some manifestation of sentiment where the City of London is concerned, for we can see the day when even some part of that historic centre will be as much ours as yours. It is a proposal which we regard as absolutely harmless in relation to the general scope and purpose of this Measure.
I come to another part of my subject. Transport conditions have altered many phases of our life and the incoming of the motor in Parliamentary contests has made changes and has enabled the wealthy to use money and power for their own advantage. The House has recently had an opportunity of expressing its views upon this subject. It was debated as late as 10th December last, and, although attention was called to the practical difficulties in making any restriction of the use of private vehicles, it was shown from both sides of the House that there were abuses and inequalities which ought to be brought to an end if it were practically possible to do that. It will not be denied that in the past candidates with more prosperous support and with wealthy friends have been in a favoured position, and no one can fairly find fault with any scheme that may be devised for equalising the opportunities of candidates. I admit that the question is a difficult one, and probably the contentious character of this subject and the administrative difficulties which it presents will be brought clearly to the front in the Committee stages of the Bill. It provides that a vehicle cannot be used unless it is registered in the prescribed manner with the returning officer.
The relation between the candidates and those who conduct the election and the returning officer is a very close one. The returning officer, if not supreme, is certainly a very potent officer in the conduct of our elections, and we can see no reason why the use of vehicles should not be brought into touch with the authority of the returning officer. Therefore, what is contemplated is that he should have power, after consultation with the candidates, and after becoming possessed of all the facts, to allot whatever vehicles or motor cars are placed at his disposal on an equitable and a fair and reasonable basis. [Interruption.] Probably hon. Members would suggest that the allotment should rest with the Conservative agent, but we imagine that the returning officer should not be left our, of account. I am certain everyone would agree that in these Parliamentary contests the balance of advantage must rest always with those who possess most money and resources of every material kind that can be brought into play in the course of an election. Many of these contests have, therefore, been conducted on most unequal grounds. For our part with the handicaps and limitations under which often we have fought, we have been astonished at our success. There have been cases, indeed, where the balance has been so uneven that it might be said to answer to same such bout as between, say, Camera on the one side and Jimmy Wilde on the other. Presenting, as it does, great administrative difficulties, it is still a problem which we must face wth a view to overcoming the injustice of which we rightly complain.
May I say a few further words on the question of university constituencies? Their origin goes back to 1603 when James I granted by Charter a right of representation in Parliament to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. That was the introduction of a very novel principle into the Constitution and the representation of the personnel of the House of Commons at that time. The grounds upon which the grant was based, or, at any rate, upon which it was defended, were these, that it was in the interests of the universities to be represented in Parliament since these educational institutions were affected by the enactments of Parliament, and that it was in the interests of Parliament to have representatives of the seats of learning where there were to be found men of approved loyalty, wisdom and doctrine. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am certain that hon. Members will at least agree that it was not the intention of James I to introduce at that time, or by that means, any popular or democratic element into the Parliament of the day. Indeed, the universities at that time were already becoming more aristocratic and less inclined to respond to popular movement.
In 1832 university representation does not seem to have been exposed to any serious attack by the franchise proposals which were then so long discussed. The retention of university seats at that time was justified, not only on the ground that universities represented the interests of learning, but on the novel plea, introduced by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said:
It has been deemed expedient for Oxford and Cambridge to retain their present electoral system as a means of protecting the interests of the Established Church.
In 1867 the continuance of university constituencies was attacked by many notable Radicals, and, most notably of all, by John Bright. In fact, however, a member for London University was added. Disraeli defended this addition on the ground that it was desirable that the interests of education should be represented. In 1884 an attack upon university representation was led by Bryce, who urged that the representation of universities was bad for them, because it introduced political considerations into educational questions. That, surely, will be accepted as a statement of fact from the experience of all of us in this House. He also objected that there were no con-
stituencies less independent than the universities.
The time has now arrived"—
when it becomes desirable to dismiss this device of the Stuart Kings to the limbo to which so many other of their devices have been relegated.
Finally, the Act of 1918 preserved the representation of Oxford, Cambridge and London, grouped the other English Universities into one constituency, and gave to the University of Wales some representation. I need not trouble the House with a list of figures. I will only, therefore, say that for a university electorate of less than 120,000, 12 Members are returned to this House, and, with all respect, I have failed to observe these high and approved qualifications to which I have already alluded—independence, a depth of knowledge, wide educational range. In so far as they are in possession of these qualifications, I would like to have seen them more abundantly expressed in their Parliamentary services. It will not do in these days when, say, we have an average constituency of 60,000 electors for one Member, to give a round dozen of members, in the main Tory Members—
I did not expect that the truth, so tersely stated, would have evoked such hilarity. It is just the truth. Of course, hon. Members with a closer acquaintance know the truth of what I say. Accordingly, the view of the Government is that this is a privilege which can no longer be justified, for, whatever else most of these university members may have exhibited as qualities for work in the House of Commons, they have shown a most deplorable ignorance on most occasions of what are the public needs. If we are longer to tolerate special representation in the interests of educational advance, are we to give representation in this House specially, say, to a very great democratic and popular national party like the Workers' Educational Association or like innumerable trade unions? [An HOH. MEMBER: "You have got it!"] Let the gentlemen of the universities come through the same gateways a ourselves. If the trade unions have representatives on these benches it is because, in a popular way, they secure the approval of a constituency. There is no special structure built up for them. There is no gateway made wide and safe for them and closed to others.
I conclude by saying that we have seen in our time a gradual but continuous and an approved advance towards the ideal of complete democratic practice. I am not one of those who would sneer loftily at the very idea of governing a country like ours upon a democratic basis. In recent weeks I have had several suggestions from different quarters proposing special privileges and fanciful provisions for electoral systems on the grounds of wealth, services, education, and for many other reasons. But I think that it is fortunate for us that we have come more and more in recent years to accept this plan of democratic government. It has its defects and electors may sometimes go wrong and majorities may not always be in the right, but in the main it is better to accept that rough-and-ready plan of governing the people by counting their heads rather than by trying to govern them by breaking their heads. This Bill goes a long way in that direction. The rise of democratic practice has been rapid in recent years, but it is still unfinished; there is something yet to be done. I count it a piece of good fortune that I am now able to ask a Second Reading for a Bill which will take into account the complete freedom of choice of the individual elector and tend completely to remove, or very largely to remove, the anomalies to which I have referred.
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
As I listened to the Home Secretary, particularly at the beginning and at the end of his speech in which he described this Bill as a further step in the march towards greater freedom and greater power for the people, I rubbed my eyes and I thought to myself:
Do I sleep? do I dream?
Or is visions about?
I thought that month by month the Government and the party behind them were getting out of touch with the
realities of the world outside, but to-day the Home Secretary has turned back the receiver, and has stopped all contact with any British broadcasting station at all. At the present moment there are only two subjects which are interesting the man-in-the-street outside. There is the question of employment, and there is the question of economy. And yet to-day we are asked to ignore these grave and insistent needs of the world outside and to devote our time to a discussion which will take weeks and months upon a question for which the Government have no election mandate at all, for which there is no national demand, for a Bill which never would have been heard of it it had not been for a bargain between right hon. Gentlemen opposite and right hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway.
Could there be a more cynical contrast between the House of Commons to-day and the House of Commons the Prime Minister pictured to us when he first came into office? We were to make ourselves into a Council of State. [An HON. MEMBER: "You refused!"] Not at all. We were to pool all our efforts to solve the grave problems with which the country is faced. To-day, instead of that, we are asked to begin upon a bitter partisan discussion of a Bill, for which, as I say, there is no national demand and which is gratuitously forcing us to waste the time of the House at a moment of great national crisis.
At the time of the General Election, very little was heard upon Socialist platforms about electoral reform. As far as I know the Prime Minister never mentioned it at all from one end of the Election to the other, and certainly, when this Parliament commenced its labours, there was no sign of any enthusiasm either upon his part or upon the part of the party behind him upon this question. It is true that he gave it a perfunctory mention in the King's Speech, but he needed several prods from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) before he took any interest in it at all. Eventually, under pressure, there was started the Ullswater Conference, of which I was a member. We sat for many months, and we failed to come to any agreement. It is disclosing no secret when I say that during all that time the Socialist Members of the Conference showed no marked desire for any change at all. At the end
of the Conference, the organ of their new allies, the "Liberal Magazine," for August, thus described the activities of the Labour representatives in the Conference:
The Ullswater Report must be reckoned as one of the most discreditable marks against the Socialist party. The Conference was set up by the Prime Minister, but it is clear that this act had no other motive than to save his face and having set it up, he has been at pains to prevent it accomplishing anything.
That was in August last. Yet, suddenly, in these later days a new revelation has been vouchsafed to the party-opposite. When we ask ourselves why it is that this sudden change has come about in their attitude towards electoral reform, we can be grateful to the Prime Minister for very explicitly explaining the process and giving us the reason for the change. So recently as last Friday the Prime Minister spoke at Watford and, speaking with remarkable clarity, precision of expression, he said—I am paraphrasing his words, and I think he will say that I am not misrepresenting him—
We are not going to have an election until 1934.
I am not surprised that he should have made that statement. If I were in his position, I think I would have said 1954 instead of 1934. He went on to say, and here I am quoting his very words:
We have got to get our majorities in the House of Commons, and we are going to get them.
In order to get his majorities in the House of Commons he must have 50 votes from below the Gangway, and in order to have those 50 votes from below the Gangway he must introduce a Measure of electoral reform. What process could be simpler or easier? The only thing that surprises me about it—[Interruption]—the Prime Minister did say:
We have got to get our majorities in the House of Commons, and we are going to get them.
I was venturing to put my comment upon his words, and I was saying that it all seemed so simple. I am only sorry that he did not think of it 18 months ago. If he had thought of it 18 months ago the members of the Ullswater Conference would have been spared months of perfectly fruitless discussion while he and
his colleagues and right hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway were settling this question behind our backs. We have to-day the fruits of this new alliance, a baby that has taken a long time to come into the world, and a baby about whose christening there has already been a good deal of trouble. As the Home Secretary told us, this is not the Bill that was introduced a few weeks ago. In the Bill that was introduced a few weeks ago the baby was given a number of names that do not appear in the new register. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that there was a sub-title concerned with the publication and control of party funds. I was not surprised to see that subject included in the original version of the Bill. I remember very well that at the Ullswater Conference Lord Arnold and the Socialist delegates laid great emphasis on the need of bringing party funds under public audit and public control. I wondered why this very interesting subject has now been excluded. The Home Secretary gave us the Government's reason. He said that it had been excluded solely on the grounds of Parliamentary time. I congratulate the Home Secretary upon the fact that the exigencies of Parliamentary time so accurately coincide with the exigencies of Parliamentary tactics. The Government will be spared a Debate which might have been very awkward and tactless for the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George).
I am only sorry that this subject should be excluded from the Bill, because we are barred from a discussion which would have cleared up points of that kind. To-day, we must take the Bill as we find it. When we come to examine it we find that the principal proposal is the introduction of what is called the alternative vote. The Home Secretary has described that proposal this afternoon. In a sentence, it means that when there are more than two candidates, if the first candidate does not get a clear majority of the votes, the second choices of the third candidate are allocated to the other two candidates. That all sounds very fair and very simple until you come to analyse it. Let me try in a sen- tence or two to investigate it a little further. If second choices are to count, why should the last candidate be knocked out? It might well be that if he were left in the second preferences of the first and second candidates might in the end have made him the winner. Why, again, are the first two candidates not to be allowed to exercise their second choices at all?
Again, when you come to work out the way in which the alternative vote will affect elections it will be found that it will be the third candidate who will really control the election. That is to say, it will depend upon which party the third candidate belongs to and how his second choices, are given as to who is eventually elected. I would suggest that hon. Members should go through the list of candidates in the last election and ask themselves whether what I am saying is not strictly accurate. They will find cases, for instance, where the three candidates were very close together and where it was just a chance as to which candidate came in first, second or third. Yet it will be the second choices of the third candidate that will eventually decide the election, and very likely quite a few second choices. It may be taken for granted that many voters will not exercise their second choice at all, and many who do exercise their second choices will exercise them upon personal or perhaps sometimes quite haphazard reasons. Nevertheless, it will be this small body of voters who will eventually decide many of our elections.
Theoretically, the alternative vote is vulnerable in every direction—and I am sure when we discuss the question in greater detail in Committee we shall find it to be so—and practically I am quite sure that it will lead to innumerable anomalies and injustices. So far from ensuring the representation of minorities, the alternative vote can be used and has been used to destroy minorities. It is perfectly easy for two parties to combine together to destroy a third party. The alternative vote has been adopted nowhere in Europe. In the only country where it has been adopted on a comprehensive scale is Australia—I think there is one minor exception in Canada—and we find that in 1925, in an election for the Australian Senate, the National and Country parties combined against Labour, and although Labour polled 1,250,000 votes as against 1,500,000 polled by the National and Country parties, the National and Country parties obtained 22 seats and Labour no seats at all. Facts such as this should be borne constantly in mind when we consider the position with which the House is faced this afternoon.
The origin of the demand for electoral reform sprang, I think, mainly from the Liberal party. Under our present system, it is said, the Liberal party have in this House representation far less than that to which a mathematical calculation of its votes would entitle it. It is calculated, taking the mathematical sum, that the Liberal party in this House should have something like three times as many Members as they have at the present time. It is also calculated 5.0 p.m. that we on these benches should have a representation somewhat in excess of hon. Members opposite. But the fact is incontestable that we should never have been discussing this Bill, electoral reform would never have become a question of interest upon our public platforms, if it had not been for the demand of the Liberal minority to greater representation in this House. The alternative vote, unless there is to be a permanent combination between hon. Members opposite and hon. Members below the Gangway, is not going to ensure in any way a readjustment of that balance. Let me give the House an instance taken from the last election. The Liberal candidate was the last in no less than 241 constituencies. Under the alternative vote in all these 241 constituencies—all that would have happened would have been that the Liberal vote would have been divided up between the Conservative and Socialist candidates; in other words, in all these 241 constituencies the alternative vote would have given no help of any kind to the Liberal candidate.
I have not finished even yet with my criticisms of this proposal. Not only would it not ensure the representation of minorities but it would inevitably lead to log-rolling of the most objectionable kind. Candidates would be looking anxiously round to see who is likely to be the third candidate, whose votes were most likely to be divided up amongst the other two. Parties would be angling and watching each other to obtain the
second choice of this or that other party. I cannot do better than quote the wards of a very acute student of our public affairs, Professor Ramsay Muir, who was and is chairman of the Liberal party organisation. In his last book, published only last year, he wrote these words about the alternative vote:
Though it is attractive on the surface the alternative vote would not do anything to cure the defects of the electoral system. Instead of encouraging an honest and straightforward presentation of his real beliefs by every candidate it would have the reverse effect. Every candidate would ask himself which of his rivals was most likely to be at the bottom of the poll, and would, be tempted to angle for the second preference of his supporters. Every political leader would be placed in a dilemma when he was asked to advise his followers as to the use of their second preference.
I agree with every word of Professor Ramsay Muir. If we are thinking about the representation of minorities, surely the effective way is not by the alternative vote but by a system of proportional representation. I am not going to argue the question for or against proportional representation; let me only say this, that whatever may be its disadvantages it is a means of ensuring the representation of minorities, and, indeed, in the Ullswater Conference all the Liberal and Conservative Members were agreed that, if there was to be any change in our electoral system, proportional representation ought to form a part of it. A resolution was actually proposed by the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) in these words:
Any change in the present system of Parliamentary elections should include the adoption of proportional representation with the single transferable vote.
I will leave the right hon. Member for Darwen to read the whole resolution later on. The Conservative and Liberal delegates agreed to that resolution. Why have the right hon. Member for Darwen and his friends abandoned proportional representation? Why has he now accepted the alternative vote, which everybody who has looked into the question agrees is mutually contradictory from the very start to proportional representation? Why has the Home Secretary, who is still, I understand, a vice-president of the Proportional Representation Society, abandoned it? The right hon. Gentleman and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary of State for the Dominions, a great galaxy on the Front Bench, are all still vice-presidents of the Proportional Representation Society. Why is it that with this almost parricidal action they are destroying their child to-day? If we want to ensure the better representation of minorities proportional representation is a way of doing it, and the alternative vote certainly is not.
I come now to my last objection to the alternative vote, and I am not sure that this last objection is not the strongest. The ordinary elector does not want it at all. He is not very much interested in politics. He is much more interested in the Derby, in the Cup Ties, in the weather, than he is in our proceedings here. He regards a General Election as an inevitable nuisance, and the sooner and simpler it is over the better for him. What he wishes to see is that the man who comes first past the post is declared the winner. Our main object should not be to confuse the elector by a system which he will not understand and which he might resent, but to keep the system as simple as possible and keep him as closely interested in politics as we can. There was a by-election close to my own constituency a little more than a year ago, and a canvasser I know was trying to get one of the voters to promise to give his vote. He said, "Will you vote for the Conservative candidate?" The elector said, "No." The canvasser said, "You had better vote for someone. Will you not then vote for the Socialist." The man said, "No. There is only one man I shall vote for to send to the House of Commons." When the canvasser asked, "Who is that," the man said, "Guy Fawkes." I am not at all sure that the answer of this voter does not represent the feelings of a good many others towards our distinguished selves in this House, and if we adopt the confusing system of the alternative vote and the electors see the man who comes out second suddenly for no apparent reason coming out top he will feel a little more sick of politics than he does now and will have less interest in our proceedings than he has at the present time. For all these reasons I maintain that the alternative vote, theoretically, cannot be defended and in practice that it will lay us open to every kind of injustice and anomaly. Further, I maintain that it does not ensure the representation of minorities, and, lastly, that it is the last thing in the world that the ordinary elector desires.
I pass from the alternative vote to the other principal subject of this Measure, the abolition of the university seats. The Home Secretary gave us a history of university representation and told us that for more than three centuries the universities, through their representatives, had maintained close contact with our affairs in Parliament. But I think the right hon. Gentleman in the criticisms he made of the representatives which have been sent here by the universities was not altogether fair. If he will look at the list of those representatives for the last 50 years he will not be able to deny that they have been men of independent judgment and intellectual distinction. They have added distinction to our Debates, and their presence here—and I attach great importance to this fact—has given a much needed emphasis to the value that we put upon sound training, intellectual distinction and a high standard of educational efficiency. There was a time when university representation was open to the criticism that the universities were a close borough and that the voters were almost always Conservatives.
That charge can no longer be made against the universities. Their doors today are open wide; their franchise has been greatly extended. If the Home Secretary will study the details of the history of the universities, not only of the newer universities but of the older universities as well, he will find that anything from half up to two-thirds or three quarters now come from the elementary and rate-aided schools. It can no longer be said that the universities are the close boroughs of the rich. Indeed, the case for university representation has never been as strong as it is to-day. In 1918 it was so strong that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs actually added to the number of university representatives in this House. Why has he now changed his mind? What justification is there for making this great break with tradition and depriving us of some of the most valued representatives that the House possesses? It seems to me that this proposal is a mixture of the spite of mid-Victorian Radicalism and the dull and drab monotony of modern Socialism that wishes to impose a stupid uniformity on every variety of activity and institution in the country.
I come now to the business vote, and I will deal with it in a sentence or two. In 1918 a large amount of plural voting was relinquished as a result of compromise. But what was known as the business vote was still left. It was considered at that time—I see no reason why we should change our view now—that in a business country such as ours it was of value to this House to have this strictly limited measure of business representation. My friends and I see no reason why this measure of business representation should now be abandoned. It seemed to me that even the Home Secretary was in some doubt about the merits of his case, for at great length and in some detail he gave us a eulogium of the City of London, the very centre of business representation, and showed, to the satisfaction indeed of hon. Members on this side, that the representation of the City of London should still be retained. I hope that when we go into Committee he will extend that eulogium to the other business centres in the Provinces, and that we shall be able to have the representation of the business centres of Manchester and Liverpool and Glasgow and other great cities as well.
Lastly, I come to the comic turn in the Bill, to the Clause about the use of motor cars. I do not think I have ever seen so ridiculous and so fantastic a Clause in any Bill ever introduced into this House. I do not think I have ever seen a Clause so remote from any of the realities of the world outside. It might be imagined that the only people who use motor cars are wicked Tories. It might be imagined that the object of the Bill is to make it more difficult, not more easy, for voters to vote. I should have thought, from my experience of election eering—I should imagine that other hon. Members will agree with me—that the great problem to-day in an election is to get the voters to vote, and that any modern instrument, whether it be a motor car or anything else, that helps to achieve that purpose, ought to be encouraged. Yet in spite of that this progressive Government looks upon motors as people looked upon them 30 years ago—as a rare means of conveyance owned only by multi-millionaires, and it wishes virtually to stop their use in elections altogether.
I am looking forward to the time when this Clause will be dealt with in Committee. We have several questions that we want to put to the Home Secretary about it. In order that he may have full notice of some of them, let me suggest to him certain problems to which the Clause gives rise. It would appear that a car owner may drive his son to the poll if he is living with him, but that he may not drive his mother who lives next door. He may drive a member of his family. But who is a member of his family? Does it mean only his sons and daughters? Does it mean his aunt or cousin or step-mother or even his mother-in-law who is residing in his house? Does "residing" mean one who is in permanent residence with him, or does it cover temporary residence of a day or two? What, again, does conveying to the poll exactly mean? May I drive a friend a part of the way? If so, how far from the polling station must I drop him? It will be noticed that the restriction applies only to journeys made to the poll. There appears to be no objection to having a car waiting to take persons from the poll—this is a very serious point—to have a car waiting to take persons from the poll, whether they are relations or friends or not.
That is another question. All these questions will have to be investigated in Committee. Though I am very chary about political prophecy, I venture to make the prophecy that when this Bill comes up for Third Reading this ridiculous Clause about the use of motor cars will have gone out of it altogether. I hope I have said enough to expose to the House the type and character of this Bill. The Home Secretary spoke of it as if it was one of those great emancipating Bills that for generation after generation had been introduced into this House. So far from being an electoral reform Bill, it is nothing of the kind. It is merely a petty, vindictive, electioneering Measure for scoring off the Opposition. It remedies no great grievance. It does not even touch such minor grievances as the Conservative delegates raised at the Ullswater conference. There is nothing in the Bill to stop what is a grave abuse of our present system of electioneering—the breaking up of meetings by organised rowdyism. There is nothing to deal with another evil which has become more prominent in recent times than it was in the past—political libels on a candidate so near the election day that he has no means with which to defend himself.
The only thread upon which this Bill hangs is the conception that wherever you see a Conservative head you must hit it. It is assumed that motor cars are mainly used and mainly owned by Conservatives. Therefore the House is to be asked to stop the use of motor cars. It is assumed in the Bill—for what reason I do not know—that university representation means Conservative representation. On that account we are asked to abolish university seats. It is assumed that under the alternative vote more Liberal votes will go to the Socialist candidate than to the Conservative candidate. I know not whether that is true; I am very doubtful whether it is. But on that account we are asked to adopt this novel and complicated principle, in the hope that it, will "dish" the wicked Tories.
As I said earlier, the elector is thinking about none of these things. He is thinking about employment; he is thinking about economy; he is thinking about the next general election, and he wishes it to come as soon as possible and to get it through as simply as possible. He wishes to see the man who comes first past the post declared the winner. And he wishes to see no gerrymandering with the election rules in order that a feeble Government and its over-cunning allies shall escape the retribution that they have so well deserved at their country's hands.
I have listened with care and attention to the speech of the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), but I did not detect in it any recognition or any suggestion that our electoral system to-day is other than perfect. That there should be any grievance, any injustice, in the working of our existing system found no admission from him. After all, he told us, what does it all matter? The average Englishman, he said, does not care about these things at all; the British people are not interested in Parliament or in the methods that elect it. I took down his words. He said that the people are interested in the Derby, in the Cup-ties, in the weather—a characteristic declaration from the spokesman of the Conservative party on a great Parliamentary occasion, a declaration worthy to rank with the historic observation of Lord Salisbury, that "the people did not want parish councils; they wanted circuses." Why then, if that is the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman as to the interest taken by the nation in Parliamentary institutions, should he threaten to spend weeks of our time in resisting a Measure of this kind? What does it all matter, from his point of view?
The right hon. Gentleman has forgotten that immediately after the last General Election there was a widespread realisation through the country that our system was not working satisfactorily. The impartial Press fully recognised that fact, and there were many declarations by leading politicians, not only of my party, that the system was not working well. At the last General Election in three quarters of the constituencies of this country, there were more than two candidates. A system which may have worked well, when the normal state of things was the presentation of two candidates at an election, does not work well when that state of things has passed away, possibly for all time or for a very long period of years. The outcome, as far as the Liberal party is concerned—and our grievance is the greatest at the present time, though in future years others may suffer in the same way—was that, having obtained nearly one quarter of the votes of the country in our support, we find ourselves with less than one-tenth of the representation in the House of Commons. I have said that
the realisation, the admission, that this system did not work well was not limited to members of our own party. There is a distinguished occupant of the Front Opposition Bench above the Gangway—still an occupant of it, I believe—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who, in an article in the Press, immediately after the General Election used these words:
The Liberal party will be obliged to demand an amendment of the electoral law. … From a wider standpoint, no one can pretend that the present system is satisfactory. … Clearly here we have a problem full of perplexity but nevertheless deserving earnest thought. It is not a question to be settled by gangs of men struggling for office. It is one to be maturely considered by those who wish to see British institutions conform ever more closely to the highest standards of tolerance and fair play.
That was the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, and I trust that he will give voice to it in this Debate, and perhaps repeat some of those convictions which he held so strongly and expressed so clearly during the 20 years when he was a member of the Liberal party. Perhaps he will still act upon the motto which is to be found in the coat-of-arms of the Churchill family, and which he has illustrated so often and so conspicuously during his career—the motto, "Faithful yet unfortunate."
Naturally, hon. Members above the Gangway are strenuously opposed to this Measure. In 1924, having polled a minority of the votes in the electorate, they nevertheless secured a large majority of the seats in the House of Commons and spent five years in passing Measures, many of which were contrary to the desires of those electors who voted against them by so large a majority. The reason why they are so angry with us now is because they had confidently anticipated that the same thing would occur again at the next General Election. At the last General Election they secured a poll of 8,600,000 votes. In order to secure a majority of the electorate, if the same numbers voted as voted at the last Election, they would have to add nearly 40 per cent, to their poll. Possibly, they may achieve even so great an increase as that, and, if they do, then they are entitled to carry out their policy, but in candour they must admit that it is not likely that they will increase their vote by 40 per cent. Although they might increase it by 1,000,000 or 2,000,000 votes, still they would remain in a minority of the whole electorate. Still the majority of the people would have declared against them and their policy at the polls, and, yet they would not scruple to use such authority as they might obtain by a majority in this House to carry out a policy which was condemned by both parties of their opponents at the Election.
I will give an example, and I will not take an imaginary constituency and an election in which A, B and C are the candidates, but an actual example which occurred only three months ago, a by-election in a great industrial district, namely, the Shipley Division of the West Riding. The facts will be admitted on all hands. There were three candidates. The Conservative candidate advocated a policy of Safeguarding. He made it the most prominent issue at the election. He told the people that, if they voted for him, he would support a policy of Safeguarding, and that, if they wished for a policy of Safeguarding, they must vote for him. In saying so he was quite right. The Labour candidate was a Free Trader and the Liberal candidate was a Free Trader. Every elector who went to the poll knew that if he wished to vote for Safeguarding he must vote for the Conservative candidate and that if he voted for one or other of the remaining two candidates, he voted against Safeguarding. As the outcome of the election, the Conservative candidate, the present hon. Member for the Shipley Division (Mr. Lockwood) secured 15,200 votes. The Labour candidate secured 13,600 votes and the Liberal candidate 12,800. Therefore, there were 26,000 votes for the Free Trade candidates and 15,000 for the Protectionist candidate, upon which the chairman of the Conservative organisation, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) sent a telegram to the Conservative candidate saying:
Your victory has made it plain that the workers of the country are determined to have Safeguarding.
Now, I ask hon. Members above the Gangway, can that be defended on the Floor of the House? Can the right hon. Gentleman say that that election in which there were 26,000 votes for the Free
Trade candidates and 15,000 votes for the Safeguarding candidate showed that the people of that constituency wished for a policy of Safeguarding?
Precisely. If the right hon. Gentleman says that that election is a proof that the people want Safeguarding, is not that the strongest possible argument for the reform of our whole system? I quote that case, not because it is exceptional, but because it is typical. There will be at the next Election, perhaps 100 constituencies, each with a precisely similar result, and therefore there will enter this House after the next Election perhaps 100 Members, a majority of whose constituents have voted in favour of Free Trade and who will yet use their power here to impose a protective tariff upon the country. Would hon. Members above the Gangway, in those circumstances, after the next Election say, "We forego our policy. We recognise that we have no moral right to carry it out"? That is an act of self-abnegation which we cannot expect from them. I could understand some hon. Members who care more for a tariff than for self-government saying, "Protection is so obviously necessary to this country and so urgently required to relieve the country from its present economic distresses, that, by hook or crook, a protective tariff should be established even if the country is against it." That would be frank and honest, but I cannot understand hon. Members saying that they propose to enact in the next Parliament a protective tariff, even though at the previous General Election a majority, possibly of millions of the electorate, declared against it.
The hon. Member would be entitled to ask that question if this House were asked to pass any specific Measure which was definitely Socialist, but the continual complaint which we hear from right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Bench is that it is the wicked Liberals who prevent them from carrying out the full-blooded policy of Socialism which they are eager to achieve. That is my answer to the hon. Member. It is for this reason that we are the objects of the displeasure, to use no stronger word, of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea. It is for this reason that rancorous articles have been written against this party in the Press. It is because hon. Members of the Conservative party saw the delicious prospect before them, after the next Election, of carrying out a Protectionist policy and establishing a tariff even though the electorate by a great majority was against them. We on our part will welcome any Measure which is likely to prevent that perversion of democracy, whether in this instance or in any other similar instance, in the near or the distant future, and we accept the proposal contained in this Bill of the alternative vote.
Let me remind the House of the history of this Measure. It is no new proposal hastily adopted to meet the existing situation. The Liberal Government soon after it came into power in 1906, now long ago, appointed a Royal Commission to examine the whole question of electoral reform. That Commission was appointed in 1908. It reported in 1910 unanimously in favour of the alternative vote. At that time great political controversies were facing the country and occupying the time of the Government and Parliament. There were two General Elections in that year; there was the question of the House of Lords, the problem of Ireland, and a great Measure of national insurance, and no progress was made with any Measure of electoral reform before the War broke out. Then there came, after the War or towards the end of it, the Lowther Conference which unanimously recommended a Measure of proportional representation. That Conference did not say that there was no grievance, that everything was working smoothly and that there was no need to take any action, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea has said to-day. It recommended, unanimously, proportional representation for a large number of boroughs, and it recommended, by a majority, the alternative vote elsewhere.
A Bill was introduced by the Government. I took an active part in the Debates in 1917 and 1918, and we carried in this House three times the alternative vote. Looking back at my speeches in support of that Measure 13 years ago, I must confess that they seem to me still quite convincing, almost as convincing as the speech made at the same time by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) strongly in favour of the alternative vote. In those Debates Members of the present Government spoke in the same sense. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Dominions and the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary spoke and voted and acted as tellers in Divisions in favour of this reform, and the Prime Minister himself voted for it on 31st January, 1918, so that there is no inconsistency on their part. However, both Measures miscarried. Owing to disagreement between the two Houses neither was ever carried into effect.
Then came the recent General Election with the results which I have mentioned, and, after the General Election, we pressed strongly for a three-party conference to inquire into this matter. The Government in their first King's Speech, before there was any question of any arrangement or anything of the kind, announced that they were about to hold an inquiry into the results of the election, and, in their second King's Speech, they mentioned that they would introduce a Bill for electoral reform. At that Conference—the Ullswater Conference—the Conservative representatives refused to commit themselves in favour of any reform of any kind. Let it not be said that they announced their willingness to carry out a Measure of proportional representation. They did not. They definitely refused to commit themselves. All they said was that if there were to be any Measure of electoral reform, it should take the form of proportional representation. The representatives of the Labour party also did not commit themselves, but they said they would not be hostile to a Measure which included not only electoral reform, but such proposals as the abolition of the plural vote and university representation, and if there were to be such a Measure, it should include the alternative vote rather than proportional representation.
The Liberal representatives strongly urged the need for electoral reform, and we proposed, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, that there should be propor- tional representation applied over the greater part of the country, but that in the more thinly populated constituencies of large area they should remain as single-member constituencies; and this is what the right hon. Gentleman omitted to mention: We urged that there the alternative vote should be applied. We saw no inconsistency between applying proportional representation where possible and the alternative vote elsewhere. We defended the alternative vote as right in principle. We answered, or endeavoured to answer, the arguments such as those which the right hon. Gentleman has addressed to us to-day, and one of our number in that Conference, Lord Craigmyle, whose former name of Lord Shaw may be more familiar to this House, issued a Memorandum, which was afterwards published, defending strongly the principle of the alternative vote, explaining its working, and asserting its justice. He did that with the full approval of his colleagues in that Conference.
We agree that, on the whole, proportional representation is the better system. Not that it is without disadvantages. Every system has its disadvantages, but you have to balance the advantages and disadvantages and choose whatever appears to be most likely to secure the expression of the opinion of the electorate. I need not go into the disadvantages of proportional representation, in the large constituencies of from 150,000 to 250,000 electors and the difficulties with regard to by-elections. In our view, real as those objections are, they are outweighed by the advantages, and we do not deny that the alternative vote over the whole country is to us a second best policy. It is said that the second best is the enemy of the best, but it has also been very well said that although the second best is the enemy of the best, it is also the enemy of the third best, of the fourth best, and of the worst of all; and this second best is the enemy of the present system, which, in our view, is the worst of all.
The right hon. Gentleman has said that at all events proportional representation does ensure the representation of minorities. That is true. The alternative vote, however, ensures another thing, and that is that majorities shall not be flouted; and that is the evil of the existing system. As for the actual working of the alternative vote, I confess that, dealing with the rarer cases of four or five candidates in a constituency, I am not quite sure that the scheme in the Bill is really the best. It is a question of detail, which is open for consideration in Committee, and I do not propose to speak upon it now.
In the main, the alternative vote does enable the electors to do that which they want to do, and that should be the aim of any electoral system. Whenever there are three candidates, there are vast numbers of our fellow-citizens, millions of them taken in the aggregate, who are faced by this dilemma: They want to support the candidate of the party which in the main they favour, but from the history of the constituency they know that their own candidate has practically no chance of success, or at all events his success may be very doubtful. In those circumstances, what are they to do? Above all, they are against a particular party, and they would regret most of all to see their constituency represented by the member of that party. They want to keep him out. Are they to vote for the candidate of their own choice, knowing that he will be at the bottom of the poll, or are they to vote for the candidate most likely to defeat the one to whom they most object?
This is not a mere theory. This is the dilemma which actually faces millions of conscientious citizens who want to do their duty by their country at every General Election. They want to say, "I want C; if I cannot get C, I do not want B, and I would much prefer A." Now, at the present time, they cannot express that view. If they vote for C, they know they run the risk of seeing the election of the man whom they most dislike. The alternative vote enables them to escape from that dilemma. Anyone, of any party, whether he be Liberal, Conservative, Labour, an Empire Crusader, or a member of the Independent Labour party, may be able to feel that they can vote for the man of their real choice, and yet at the same time not imperil the representation of their own constituency in the way that they would not wish to see it imperilled.
The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken says that this will not help the Liberal party. That is not our concern. We wish to see a fair chance for all parties. The right hon. Gentleman counts the votes at the last election and says that if those votes had been given in exactly the same way, so many Liberal candidates would never have been among the first two in the second count. That may be true. We take our chance of that, but, as a matter of fact, it is not a very right assumption that every vote under the system of the alternative vote would be given as it has been given in the past, under the system that we now have. On the contrary, our view is that great numbers of electors would be more ready to support the candidate they really wished to support if they thereby did not run the risk which I have described.
Then the right hon. Gentleman has said—and his argument apparently carried weight with a number of hon. Members behind him: "This is an unfair system, because you are allowing the second preference of the third candidate to count and to influence the result, and you do not allow the second preferences of the two candidates who are highest on the poll to be counted. Why not count all second preferences equally?" For the reason that they are second preferences and not first preferences, and you count the first preferences of the supporters of the candidates who are first and second on the poll. This idea that some privilege is conferred on the supporters of the candidate lowest on the poll is a delusion—absolutely a delusion. This suggestion that his votes count more in the final count than, those of other parties is not true. [Interruption.] If I may explain to hon. Members, I am sure I can convince them that that is so.
Take the first count. One candidate, C, is at the bottom of the poll, and you then come to the second count. Do you count only the votes of the candidate C, his second preferences? Of course not. You count the votes on the second count of A and B. You count their first preferences. Of course they carry their weight in the election. If the second preference only of the third candidate were counted, it would be a tiny minority in the election, and the bulk of the support of candidates A and B are the first preferences for A and B, which are counted in the final count by the returning officer when he declares the result of the poll. Why should you count the second preferences of A and B? You count their first preferences in the final count, and you add to them the votes which are also given for those candidates A and B as second preferences by those who have given their first preference to C.
That notion that it is the second preferences which decide the result of the election is incorrect. They no more decide the result of the election than an equal number of first preferences to either of the other two candidates; just as in a division in this House you may say that it is the last voter, if it is carried by one vote, who decides the result of a division. It is any one voter who decides the result of that division, and so, in counting the alternative vote, when the returning officer gives the result—15,000 for one candidate and 14,000 for another, or whatever the figures may be—in those figures are counted the first preferences for each of those candidates, and the second preferences for each as well of voters who have previously given their votes to another candidate. Therefore, they are in the final count all exactly on a footing of equality.
Supposing the result of the final count is that the second candidate is elected and not the first, would it not be the second preferences alone which had resulted in that way?
The second preferences alone might be a handful. The reason why the one candidate is not elected is because a vast number of the electors have voted for the other candidate with their first preferences. The fact that A is elected and not B is due to the fact that the first preferences plus the second preferences of A are more than the first preferences plus the second preferences of B.
It has been suggested in this controversy that the prestige of the House of Commons will suffer in some way from maintaining three parties in the House. I would point out, in the first place, that it is a delusion to suppose that there is any simple British system which in normal circumstances gives to the Government of the day a homogeneous majority faced by a homogeneous Opposi- tion. It is not in accordance with historical facts. If you go back over a long period, if you go back to the year 1885, when our whole system was reformed by the extension of the franchise and by redistribution, you will find that the majority of Parliaments in the last 45 years have been Parliaments in which the Government of the day has not had a homogeneous majority consisting of members of its own party. The first was a Liberal Government, which in that first Parliament was dependent upon the Irish vote, and frequently it was reminded of the fact. The second was a Conservative Government, dependent upon Liberal Unionists, before they combined into one party. The third was a Liberal Government, again dependent on the Irish vote.
Then there were three Parliaments, in 1895, 1900, and 1906, which had clear majorities, but in 1910 the Liberal Government of that day was again dependent upon the Irish and Labour votes. In 1918 there was a Coalition, in 1922 there was a clear majority, in 1923 the Government of that day had not a majority of its own, in 1924 there was a clear majority, and in 1929 we have a situation that we all know so well. So that out of 12 Parliaments, in seven this supposed simple system of a majority Government has not existed. For 26 years the country has been governed without an Administration resting upon the support of a homogeneous majority of its own. I could present an argument to the House, but I do not wish to detain it on this occasion, as to the advantages that there may be to the prestige of the House in it not being a foregone conclusion that every Measure introduced by the Government of the day will be automatically accepted by a docile majority and automatically opposed by an Opposition which regards it as the prime duty of an Opposition to oppose.
But worst of all, I submit, for the prestige of the House of Commons and for the authority of Parliament would be a situation in which the people had voted one way and Parliament had acted in the other way, and that is the danger which is before us now, and it may be the danger before the House in even larger and more important matters in the years to come—the danger that the jury may cast a verdict in the one sense and the judge pass judgment in the other. I will ask hon. Members who represent the Conservative principle whether they think that that is a sound basis for our Constitution to rest upon. Do they not see that in a moment of crisis, perhaps in a moment of revolutionary feeling, it would be an intolerable strain on the British Constitution to have a Parliament in existence which all the world knew represented no majority of the electorate in the previous election?
I pass very rapidly over the other portions of the Bill. We 6.0 p.m. support those proposals in the main. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea said that this was an electioneering Bill designed to damage the Conservative party. In spite of all the changes of recent years, the present Constitution of this country is heavily weighted in favour of one party, and that is the party above the Gangway. There is the House of Lords, a permanent incubus upon any progressive administration. There are the Ulster Members, a strange anomaly. I do not suggest, in view of the circumstances in Ireland, that it is possible to reform it, but the fact remains that there are 13 Members in this House with the right to vote on all Measures, although hardly any of the legislation which we pass affects them, and although they have a Parliament of their own. In the cricitical Division of last week, on which the fate of the Administration probably depended, although the Trade Disputes Bill does not apply to Ulster, except in so far as it relates to a small number of civil servants who are not employed by the Ulster Government, the Ulster Members attended in this House, and by a majority of 11 to one cast their votes against the Measure, with all the consequences that might have ensued. That is a heavy weight which it is difficult to defend.
With regard to plural voting, the Home Secretary has told us that there are 500,000 electors, including the wives, with twice as much power as their fellow-citizens, and able, no doubt, to turn the balance in a number of constituencies. It is indefensible, in our view, that this business premises qualification should continue. The Government have, in the kindness of their hearts, saved the separate identity of the City of London. We do not quarrel with such measures as they may think necessary, but that also must be regarded as a serious anomaly. There is this difference between saving the City of London and the university representation, that no elector in the City of London is allowed to use two votes, while that is not the case with regard to university representation, which is an instance of plural voting. An active propaganda is being carried on in favour of university representation. There are, on the average, 200 university electors in every constituency, and if even half of them write to their local Member of Parliament, as they have been adjured to do, it will give the impression of a very widespread movement. On this matter some of my hon. Friends around me have some doubts, and therefore I am speaking for myself when I say that I hold the view, which I have always held, that our constitution ought not to allow any fancy franchise or any privileges for one section of the community as against another.
Furthermore, when it is recalled that this is an instance of plural voting, as the Home Secretary has said, in his introductory speech, each vote for a university seat has an enormously greater weight than any other vote in an ordinary constituency. There are 120,000 university electors. If they were ordinary electors, they would be entitled to the return of two Members, the average of a constituency being now 50,000 or 60,000. They return 12, however. We used to hear from hon. Members above the Gangway a great deal about the importance of one vote one value. How can they defend a system which gives this greater value to one vote as compared with another. I remember when I first came into this House that there was a very distinguished Member sitting on this very Bench—Mr. Lecky. His name has been quoted in the Press in the present controversy. So far as I recollect, he took no very great part in our affairs in the House, but he was a good, straight party man, as the vast majority of the University Members always have been. As a party man, he made a statement defending university representation, but as a historian, as a recorder of actual facts, I remember reading in his History of England these words:
The political influence of the universities has been almost uniformly hostile to political progress.
I am exceedingly sceptical regarding all these claims as to the non-party character of university representation, and the independent and enlightened judgment which is to be expected exceptionally from the university representatives.
With respect to the other provisions of the Bill, the division of double-membered constituencies is, obviously, right. I do not think that that will be disputed in any quarter of the House. The Royal Commission of as long ago as 1908 recommended the division of the double-membered constituencies. They give rise to every possible bargain, pact and understanding between parties. That has been a grave objection. I have never been a Member for one of those constituencies, but I imagine that they must give rise to a very uneasy partnership when the two Members belong to opposite parties, and to, perhaps, an even more uneasy partnership when they belong to the same party. As to the use of vehicles, we agree with the purpose of the Clause, but it is clear that the working of it will be attended with very great difficulties, and we shall have to consider in Committee whether it can be made into a really practical working Clause. We also support the diminution of election expenses as being legitimate, and indeed necessary in present circumstances. [Interruption.] We have always favoured it.
With regard to the dropped Clauses, the right hon. Gentleman has hinted, though he did not state it, that there may have been some representations from us to the Government, which induced them to drop the Clauses of which they had previously given notice, with regard to expenses of speakers and the funds of political organisations. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) has inquired on more than one occasion whether these lost Clauses disappeared below the Gangway. The Home Secretary has already replied to that, and I should have thought that it was not necessary for me to repeat it, but evidently, from what has been said by the previous speaker, it is necessary. There was no representation of any sort or kind, directly or indirectly, from representatives of the Liberal party to the Government with regard to these Clauses. In the Ullswater Conference we declared—and the fact is on record—that we supported these Clauses, and would be prepared to support them in the House. We declared that we supported all these Clauses in principle, and that it was only necessary to see that they were put into a really workable form. I resent the action of the right hon. Gentleman, after the statement or the Home Secretary, in hinting, though he did not assert, that it was some action on our part which had led to the disappearance of these Clauses. They were omitted by the Government entirely on their own action, without any consultation with us of any sort or kind, solely—so I was informed at the time—for the reason that they had to be very voluminous in character, and would have made the Bill exceedingly lengthy; the Government therefore thought that it would have given rise to prolonged discussion before the Bill passed through Committee and Report stages.
The right hon. Gentleman asked at the end—I come back to the point with which I began—why should we waste weeks of Parliamentary time over this Measure? Why should we? We do not propose to waste weeks of time. The Government do not propose to waste weeks of time. If weeks are wasted, it will be by the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends. If he is so eager to get on to Measures of social and industrial reform, he can curb his own activities and those of his supporters so that this Bill can pass rapidly and smoothly through the House. He has said that the Government are inviting Parliament to spend its energies upon a matter of mere electoral machinery, and that it is the product of machinery that really matters. But the character of the product depends upon the character of the machine. If we have attained during the last 100 years in this country vast progress in many of the aspects of life—economic, social and cultural—I believe, and I think many others believe, too, that it is mainly due to the establishment of democracy in our Government, to the great Reform Bill of 1832, and to all the Measures that have followed in a long series since, that have set the tone of our national life, and have secured that the interests of the whole people, and not of any particular class, shall be the care of Parliament.
In each stage of that process, the organised workers of this country have given their support to every effort that has been made in that direction. Even when they were disfranchised, even when they were denied the protection of the secret ballot, they resisted all pressure, they used their authority, limited as it might have been, they used the power of their numbers to support every Measure which tended in a more democratic direction. There is no inconsistency in a Government such as that which we have to-day in introducing one more Measure to complete our system of democracy; rather, it would have been inconsistent if they had refused to do so. It is in accordance with the whole history of the Labour movement in the past that they should now take this step to carry one stage further the evolution of our democratic system.
I should like to congratulate the Home Secretary on introducing this Bill, and on the very fair exposition with which he accompanied it. While many of us would have been glad if the right hon. Gentleman had been introducing a Bill to amend the Factory Acts, we feel that the moment this Bill is out of the way he will be able to provide us with what in some of our industrial centres we have long waited for, and are very anxious to see. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Measure seemed to omit from his catalogue of important things one very important thing. He said that the general public were concerned with employment and with economy. That is perfectly true, for they have little of the one, and have to practice the other. I think that they are concerned, too, very much with the whole question of Parliamentary government. We hear a great deal just now about the decline of the Parliamentary machine, about the failure of Parliament to express the will of the people, and about a general falling into disrepute of the whole institution of Parliamentary government. In view of the present difficulties, economic and otherwise, I should think it would be an important contribution if we made it more difficult for any Government to come into office as a minority Government. A very great deal of the difficulty and the confusion which exist, not alone in the country, but in this House, about the capacity for legislation of the present Government is due to the position in which we find ourselves as a result of the election, and any Measures which tend to make it less likely that minority Governments will be returned in future are good Measures.
The right hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill failed to do his own party justice, or, rather, failed to give us credit for a very charitable work which we shall perform for him, work which, despite my enthusiasm for the will of the people as expressed at elections, keeps me anxious about the future welfare of many Members on this side of the House. As I read the Press, the Conservative party have lately incurred the heavy liability of Lord Beaverbrook's intervention in political affairs. In a great many constituencies there will, apparently, be a division of votes between the official Conservative candidate and the Empire Free Trade candidate, and I should have thought this Measure was one of the greatest gifts the Government could present to the Opposition, because again and again it must prevent serious disaster for the Conservative party when votes are split. If ever there was a Measure upon which the Government ought to be congratulated for its fair-mindedness towards its opponents this Measure is one. So fair is it that I rather fear for the welfare of some of us upon this side of the House.
But there is a more serious matter. At the next election the great issue will undoubtedly be the fiscal controversy. Those of us who represent Lancashire seats are under no illusion at all as to the importance and gravity of that issue, and it would be a deplorable thing if by any electoral system there should be returned to power a minority Government in the interests of either Free Trade or Tariff Reform. If the proposals for Tariff Reform are put forward as being seriously necessary for the resuscitation of the prosperity of the country, any Government introducing them ought to have the backing of the majority of the people; and if the majority of the people remain Free Traders it should be impossible for the Protectionists to be sitting on the Government Benches. Out of the present welter of unemployment, and the serious difficulties of the people, there would emerge a real discontent with Parliamentary machinery if, as the result of any election in the middle of that turmoil and depression, a minority Government with a completely revolutionary policy in fiscal affairs were returned to power. We might very easily have such an expression of opinion amongst the people of this country against the incompleteness of the Parliamentary machine as might damage its prestige and power for a very long time; and, in spite of all that has been said about the apparent futility of talking about electoral reform when our people are in such great distress, I feel we are making a very important contribution towards the stability of the country, and towards securing the decision of the people who have to vote for and against us, if we make it as difficult as we can for any minority Government in the future.
That is just a general remark about the Bill itself. Coming to the Clauses, I must say that, personally, I am profoundly disappointed with the Clause about motor cars. I may not on a Monday possess quite the energy and clearness of mind that I like to possess on other days, but I find it difficult to make very much, out of this Clause, and I am perfectly sure that it will be only too possible for it to be evaded. As I pointed out last December when the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for South Salford (Mr. Toole) was being debated, the constituency of Oldham, of which I have the honour to be one of the representatives, has for many years had a sound working agreement on this subject among the three parties. They all agree that on the day of the election no motor cars shall be used at all except those used by the agents and the candidate, and no voters are transported to the poll in those cars. The three parties have had that agreement for many years. There has never been the slightest attempt to get over it or to get out of it; there has never been any friction or any difficulty about it; it is an agreement voluntarily entered into and carried out honourably, to the very great credit of the three parties concerned. At the last election, in which we had a most exciting, strenuous and most enjoyable fight, there was no kind of difficulty about it. When the result of the election was declared we all knew that no one had gained and no one had lost by any arrangement for free rides.
I should have thought that such an arrangement, which has been come to in a great industrial constituency, where feeling runs high, could be adopted in other constituencies. If it is submitted that voters in rural constituencies live far from the polling places, the proper answer is to provide them with more polling places, nearer at hand. I should have thought the Oldham plan might have been the intelligible basis of a proposal, instead of this paragraph in the Bill which I, at any rate, find it quite impossible to translate either into theory or into practice. Of course, there can be no objection to the abolition of the double-membered constituencies save a sentimental one, and although this is the first Parliament in which I have sat, I do feel some sentimental regret at the fact that the double-harness representation is to go; yet for practical purposes this is a long overdue reform, and the people whom we represent agree with it. It is true that now and then it may make it a little more difficult for local machinery where, as in a town like Oldham, there is such a complete centrality of municipal activity and thought; but in many respects it will make things easier for candidates, it will make it possible for the alternative vote to be worked, and in the main it will relieve those Members who are in joint harness from certain embarrassments and difficulties, also preventing, as has happened in my experience here, representatives of the same party for the same division going into opposite Lobbies. All I hope is that with the abolition of senior and junior Members for the same constituency we shall not get rid of that representative who adds so much to the gaiety of nations and lately has so generously hood-winked so many of us, "the junior Member for Treorchy."
I am sorry that I am bound to express my personal regret at the proposal to abolish university representation. [Interruption.] I quite expected that there would be some surprise on these benches; but let us see where we are in this matter. No one will doubt that for many years university representation has meant conferring a distinct party ad- vantage upon one political party, the party opposite to us. But now, in increasing numbers, the people who go to the universities are representative of the business people and the working people of the country, and I should have thought that a privilege enjoyed for generations by one party might now be a privilege to be welcomed and to be obtained by the other party. What I have to say may be in the main idealistic, and I must say that the figures given by the Home Secretary as to the number of seats for the number of voters were pretty staggering, and well-nigh impossible to contend against, but, still, I see something more than that. To-day, with our larger opportunities of general reading, with the newer kind of education, and the very important education, that the simplest and humblest folk may have as they listen in night after night to the talks on the wireless, I should have thought there would gradually develop a consensus of opinion that valuable services could be rendered to the community and to this House by the sort of people who, by virtue of their ability, are least likely to persuade any popular electorate to send them here. Those of us who have fought elections know how difficult it often is to get people interested in the more vital things, with what very great difficulty we manage to get a following for even great and important reforms, and unless people have either great personal charm or considerable gifts of speech it is very difficult for them to be elected at the popular hustings.
I think there is still a contribution which can be made to Parliamentary government by ladies and gentlemen who are not likely to be popular candidates in the usual sense of the word. During the short time I have sat upon these benches listening carefully, and as far as possible with an open mind, to the Debates, it has seemed to me that more great and vital questions are coming before this House upon which it is going to be very difficult to have a real expression of opinion, such an expression of opinion as we ought to have under the present system of party Government. In the main, I feel without hesitation that party Government is much the best thing possible, and I sit on these benches because I have no doubt at all that the particular party to which I am proud to belong is far and away the best party possible; but, now and then, questions arise which ought to be moved out of the range of purely partisan relationships. We have had one or two of them lately, and I should like to feel that there was an independent body of people—not too numerous, but an independent body of people—who might give a lead, if not to this House yet to the country, and it may be to the world, from positions of complete independence. Because I feel that in increasing numbers the people who would come here from the universities are the people who have come from the homes of those whom we on these benches, and most hon. Members below the Gangway opposite, represent, I think it would be a very valuable thing if means could be found of retaining some of these representatives.
The Trade Union Congress is a very important body and exercises a very important influence, and I am by no means sure that the Trade Union Congress has very much cause to complain of activities in this particular party. However, I have given my opinion for what it is worth on this point, and I do not propose in any way to oppose the Government's proposals in this Bill, but I should not have discharged a duty which I felt I ought to discharge if I had not said what I have. If I thought it was merely a question of retaining a superior class of persons, or having a superior sort of representation, I would oppose it for all I was worth, but I do not believe that. I believe that we get wiser every day and that many of the mistakes of the past would be rectified. I know that that view is not general. It has been a matter of pleasure to me to receive from university graduates in my own constituency letters saying with what willingness they are ready to forego in the interests of their party what they believe to be an extra right. It is a very great pleasure for me to receive those letters although it is not a point of view I am able to take.
Conscious as I am about the anxiety, and in many respects the despair of our people with regard to the present position of unemployment, I still believe that one very sensible thing should be done before the next appeal to the country which may very well be an appeal attended by passion, and responded to by passion such as we have not known for many years. I think that is very possible, and by introducing this Bill at this time, whatever may be thought about the occupation of Parliamentary time, the Government have done a very reasonable service, because this Measure will go a very long step towards making it impossible in the future to return minority Governments with a minority policy.
The question of Parliamentary government is far and away the best method by which the Government can be judged, and the more experience we have of its difficulties the sooner we shall find some better arrangement for the removal of our cumbrous system of government and its difficulties. I forget what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) called our Parliamentary machine at Carnarvon not long ago, but he used some nautical term, which was perfectly true at the time. I hope the House will pass this Measure which I hope another place will not refuse. After we have hammered it out, improved it and made it plainer, I hope we shall be able to place it on the Statute Book as a real contribution towards democratic government, because I believe it will be an important contribution in the direction of establishing the unfettered expression of the will of the people which is a very great thing. If after the next election those who sit on these benches can feel that they are here by the express will of the people a great deal of rancour, as well as confusion, will disappear from our Debates. I hope this Bill will help the country to make it possible for all our electors to express their views, and have those views carried into effect.
I congratulate the Government on their more than Roman fortitude in introducing a Bill of this kind at a time when the people are looking hungrily for help which never comes. At a time like this the Government introduce a Measure which cannot conceivably help them in any way. They remind me of a householder who, in a storm in which the foundations of his home are cracking, instead of strengthening those foundations, spends his time in going over his visiting list and deciding who shall be asked to dinner.
I admit that at the proper season there is a real case for a Measure of electoral reform. I believe that every citizen in this country is worth one vote, but I believe many of them are worth more. That is to say, I believe in plural voting. But I have never been quite happy at the way in which it has been so exclusively based on the occupation of property. Also, I would like to see some revision of the whole question of election expenses and the conduct of elections. For a serious reconsideration of the whole matter there would at the proper time be every warrant, but this Bill is not such a reconsideration. It is in the main a collection of old debris of nineteenth century politics topped off with the dubious innovation of the alternative vote.
It is indeed a very curious piebald, patchwork, mosaic Measure, a jumble of contradictory principles. The first Clause is based upon dissatisfaction with the present system of the flat territorial vote, but the fourth Clause goes on to abolish the only part of our present system which does not fall under that criticism. The system of plural voting on the business qualification is abolished except in the City of London. The Glasgow and the Manchester man loses his qualification, and the business man in Paris, who happens to be a graduate, is deprived by Clause 4 of any share in the future conduct of British politics. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill defended the exception of the City of London on the ground of old sentiment and a historical vested interest. I have no objection to that, but I am amazed to hear such an argument proceed from his mouth. I leave back bench Members on the other side to discover in this the sinister influence of the hidden hand of high finance.
I think the right hon. Gentleman is right. The Measure before the House has been defended by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) in one of the cogent and authoritative speeches which we expect from him. His case has been very much upon familiar lines. I hope to deal presently with one or two of his arguments, but for the moment I salute his line of argument for its historical and venerable respectability. But the Home Secretary, in introducing this Bill, made a speech very much of the same type as the Bill; at least I seemed to find in it the same lack of coherence. The right hon. Gentleman defended the alternative vote with very little warmth. Why should he? As far as I can see the alternative vote will not in any way help the Labour party. The right hon. Gentleman warmed up a little bit more while defending the abolition of the plural vote on the property qualification, and he warmed up still more while defending the abolition of the university franchise. That is natural. It is quite natural that the young and ardent spirits on the benches opposite who represent trade unions should desire to get rid of senile relics of the eighteenth century like myself. But there was a sentence in the speech of the Home Secretary in which he seemed to express the desire to make Parliament truly representative of the will and mind of the people. On that sentence I join issue. I do not believe that a Government based upon an absolute majority of the electorate has ever been contemplated as a necessary part of our British system. I do not believe that that is a desirable thing to contemplate. I believe the true principle is that the Government in power should be the Government with the largest positive following and the largest section of the people behind them who desire a positive thing. Whether that section is an absolute majority of the electorate or not, seems to me to be quite immaterial. Consequently, I have no special affection for proportional representation, though I quite see its theoretical merits.
But for the alternative vote I cannot find any arguments at all. It is generally understood to have been introduced into the Bill by the desire of the Liberal party. But quite recently hon. Members below the Gangway have not seemed to be very enthusiastic about it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), speaking at the National Liberal Club on 5th December, declared that he was not for it, although he had to consider whether he could get anything better. Mr. Ramsay Muir, the chairman of the Liberal organisation, as late as last month, said that he did not care for it and that it was certainly not worth his conscience, and about one and a-half years ago at a meeting of the Liberal Summer School Mr. Ramsay Muir subjected this proposal to a most damaging analysis. But this policy, for which Mr. Ramsay Muir would not give his conscience, has been accepted by the Liberal party, on the ground, apparently, that "beggars cannot be choosers." The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has no particular love or admiration for the present Government, and, speaking a few weeks ago as a Parliamentary expert, he told us that they wore acknowledged failures. He also told us, in his charming horticultural vein, that Ministers were pot-bound plants, and in his delightful poetic strain he described them as "Children of the Mist." Lastly, in his now familiar Parliamentary manner, he said that Ministers were suffering from a fatuous complacency. But, if he dislikes those on the other side of the House, he dislikes my colleagues more, and he is afraid that, if there should be a General Election, the Conservatives might be returned to power pledged to Tariff Reform, and that might be a policy for which there was no absolute majority of the electors. Therefore, he is prepared to condone one evil in case a greater should happen. That, I take it, is a fair statement of my right hon. Friend's attitude.
But I cannot see how this Bill is going to give to my right hon. Friend what he desires. I cannot see how it is going to give any security that no Government shall come into power except with an absolute majority in the country. I have been amusing myself, in common with many other Members, so far as my arithmetic allows, in working out some of the results which would follow in different types of constituency, and they are very curious. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) has also exercised his arithmetic upon some of them. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen is wrong in questioning these results, but no doubt in Committee we shall have a chance of airing our respective logic and mathematics. What seems to me to be certain is that the alternative vote will give no assurance that in any con- stituency the election will result in the return of a member with an absolute majority behind him. It may make it a shade more likely than at present, but it will give no security; and it will give no security that in any General Election no Government will come into power except with an absolute majority behind them.
I am not going into the many other demerits of the alternative vote, such as the danger of undesirable alliances among groups—a very real danger—but I would only insist upon this one point, which seems to me to be a very vital point. It is that in no conceivable circumstances is it mathematically possible that you can assure the return of that party, and that party alone, which has behind it an absolute majority of the voters. The alternative vote will, however, do one thing; it will undoubtedly favour a middle party in the country, a party which, possibly, is not desired by any large section of the people, but is tolerated because it is believed that it will do very little harm. It will favour the nondescript in politics, the man who steers a wary, middle course, whom the Tories would prefer to a stout Socialist, and whom the Socialists would prefer to a stout Tory, because he is a feeble creature. It would aggrandise a political inertia—any policy of "Safety First," any negative and colourless or stagnant policy.
The right hon. Gentleman and his party have told us repeatedly that, in all the business of supporting this Measure, they have no party thoughts, but are thinking only of the welfare of the country, and we are bound to accept their word. But I should like to point out to the House one curious thing, and that is that the attitude which accepted the alternative vote is precisely the attitude which my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs is showing at this moment in regard to public affairs. If I may be allowed to say so without discourtesy, he seems to be governed by the principle of comparative dislikes. He dislikes Ministers; he dislikes the Opposition; he detests both King Charles and King James; so he will never kill the first to make the second King. That attitude in the constituencies is the attitude which would be aggrandised by the alternative vote; and, because I believe that it is a false attitude, a barren and futile attitude; because I believe that on such a principle no country can be well governed, or even governed at all; and, above all, because I believe that on such a principle there is not the remotest chance of ever getting through our present troubles, I regard this proposal as in the highest degree inopportune and dangerous.
I am not going to waste the time of the House upon that very delightful Clause, Clause 6, which deals with the use of vehicles at elections. It was very properly described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea as the comic relief of a dull Measure. I cannot imagine how that Clause would work out. We have heard the expression "fancy franchise" used to-day as a term of contempt, but no fancy franchise would ever have such fantastic consequences as this Clause. The only result would be to make enormous additional work for the lawyers. But the results would be so comic that, if I may speak as one who occasionally solaces his leisure by writing fiction, I am grateful to His Majesty's Government for such stimulating opportunities of new, ingenious and grotesque situations.
I desire now, if the House will allow me, to deal very briefly with the matter of the abolition of the university vote. I may appear to be speaking in my own cause, and, therefore, I would desire to put my arguments as moderately as possible; but I would also claim that my interests are not, perhaps, so desperately involved after all, for I hope hon. Members will grant that, even if the university vote were abolished, I should not on that account be permanently excluded from this House.
I will reserve my detailed criticisms until the Committee stage, if that stage is ever reached, but perhaps I may be allowed very briefly to put now what seem to me to be the main arguments against the change. The university franchise is a very old franchise, far older than the Home Secretary imagines, and, in the year 1918 it was thoroughly revised and brought up to date in this country. I want hon. Members to bear in mind the fact that the Act of 1918 was based upon a most careful inquiry, and that the extension and reform of university representation was deliberately undertaken as a necessary correlative and corrective of the grant of universal suffrage. That is to say, it was based upon a pact, upon a bargain. I would ask the House to consider whether, after only 12 years, it is wise to treat such a bargain as of no importance.
I do not propose to base my argument upon that ground, but I want to put before the House four arguments for the university franchise which seem to me to be vital. The first is that it has worked well in the past. A letter was published to-day in the Press signed by a very large number of distinguished men, very few of whom belonged to the Conservative party, in which they testified to the importance of the university franchise. A university seat brings into politics a type of man who probably would not otherwise be there. Very often he is a man of some age; he may be frail in health, or, from his retiring habits, may not be willing to face the rough-and-tumble of an ordinary election, but in every case he is a man of real distinction. I speak in this matter without any bias, because I have not that distinction myself, and I am not in the least tired, and I am not in the least afraid of a rough-and-tumble election. I would ask the House, if the Prime Minister's ideal is ever realised, and this Chamber is made a real council of the nation, is it desirable to exclude from it this very special knowledge and experience?
My second argument against the change is that there is nothing left of a class franchise about the universities to-day. Even the old universities of Oxford and Cambridge are no longer the pleasure-ground of the rich; they are very much more like what they were in the Middle Ages—hostels for the poor. At Oxord to-day less than 50 per cent, of the male students come from the great English public schools; 43 per cent, receive public assistance without which they would not be able to pursue their studies. I understand that in the Combined English Universities two-thirds of the students come from the public elementary schools, and the proportion is not less high in the universities of London or of Wales, or in my own four Scottish Universities.
My third argument is that it is only by the university franchise that you can give a Briton resident abroad a share in our public life. He has the qualification for life as a university graduate, and, therefore, he is not affected by change of residence. He can vote by proxy, or by post if he is near enough; or, if he is too far away, he can vote when he comes back to this country for a, holiday. Constantly members of the Consular Services or of the Indian and Colonial Services vote floor parliamentary candidates during their holidays; many such have voted for me. Can it be desirable to abolish a franchise such as that, in a, House which serves a people so far travelled as ours?
I have one last and most important argument, and it is simply this. Without the university franchise you cannot bring into public life certain very valuable types of knowledge and experience; you cannot get these used in public life on a flat geographical basis. The geographical basis for the franchise was not a bad basis in the past, when localities were still clinging to their own clean-cut idiosyncrasies and idioms; but those conditions are all passing away with the extension of transport facilities, and the only localities which are still individualised in that way are the industrial localities. Miners, railwaymen, transport workers, and textile workers, are generally localised in their habitations, so that they can make certain of returning Members who understand their special needs and can put their case properly; but those who belong to the learned professions and the Services are scattered everywhere, and you can only focus their experience and knowledge by means of some special franchise. And yet that experience and knowledge must be invaluable in, for instance, all questions of education, and in all questions which are concerned with the application of science to public life. Surely, if we want to get at the mind of the nation, we dare not exclude this opportunity of taking advantage of such experience—and it must be excluded by a flat geographical basis.
I would not suggest for one moment that these Clauses in this Measure are due to any hostility on the part of the Government to learning and knowledge. The whole history of the Labour party belies the suspicion of such hostility. I do not for one moment suggest that the Liberal party, which has always claimed to be the party of science and enlightenment, has any such hostility. The only 7.0 p.m. way in which I can explain this proposal is that somehow they regard the geographical basis as the only one that is possible in democracy. Well, cer-certainly it is the easiest one, and as we extended our franchise, we used it. But every year makes it clearer that it is not a rational basis and that it must be revised if democracy is to be safeguarded. If we are to safeguard democracy, we must find some better way of getting at Democracy's will and mind.
May I read to the House a sentence from the speech of Lord Cairns in the Debate on the 1867 Reform Bill. He said:
Parliament must be a mirror, a representation of every class, not according to heads, not according to numbers, but according to everything which gives weight and importance in the world, so that the various classes of this country may be heard and their views expressed clearly in the House of Commons without the probability of any one class outnumbering and reducing to silence all the other classes in the Kingdom.
If I am told that is Tory doctrine, I would point out it is also the doctrine at this moment of the most advanced thinkers upon the question of democracy. They all realise that it is necessary to get away from a bare quantitative basis to something more scientific. You have it, for example, in the Soviet system in Russia, which is a very good system. I refer, of course, to the system of representation and not to its perversion under Bolshevik Government. You have it in recent changes in Italy. However, we may regret the curtailment of the liberty of the Italian people in Parliament, it was only after a long and serious discussion for the purpose of really getting at the will and mind of people that these changes were adopted. It is the principle that lies behind all defence of proportional representation. It is a principle which, in a crude way, lies behind even the alternative vote. Can it be desirable to expunge from our system the one qualitative element? Is our electoral machine the only machine which does not need to be rationalized?
The Measure before this House is a collection of worn records from an out-of-date gramophone. In the name of democracy, it lays down a doctrine which every thinking democrat has long given up. It purports to represent the mind of the nation and it does so by the preposterous method of counting noses. It is a policy that, if it ever came into effect, would aggrandise the nondescript in public life, the colourless and inert politician, the policy which we in Scotland say is "too good for banning but far too bad for blessing." It would take quality out of public life and goodness knows we have far too little already. There are younger Members opposite, who at this moment are making an honest and courageous attempt to think out our whole administrative system and to save democracy before it is too late. I would ask them to reflect most seriously whether, if this Measure were passed into law, it would not most effectively bar the realisation of their purpose. I would ask my hon. Friends below the Gangway to remember that a retrograde step is still a retrograde step, although it is directed to ground which was once in the occupation of their predecessors. I would remind them that reaction remains reaction, though it should masquerade in the cast-off clothes of an ancient Liberalism.
I would like to confine my remarks to that Clause of the Bill dealing with university franchise. I was for something like 20 years a resident fellow of an Oxford college and was therefore brought very much in contact with the theory and practice of a great university and its institutions. Before I pass to that Clause, I should like to express the hope that the discussion on the alternative vote may be raised in this House to a rather higher level than that presented in the speech of the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare). The one issue is not whether the Liberal party is going to lose or gain or whether we on these benches, or those on the benches opposite are going to lose or gain by the alternative vote. It is a very much simpler and better issue than that, namely, whether, given the existence of more than two parties in the State, some change is desirable, and, if that change is desirable, whether the alternative vote is the best and fairest method to adopt. That seems to be the point at issue. Let me give a concrete case, which will be brought up again and again in these discussions. During the last election the county of Glamorgan returned not a single repre- sentative of the Liberal or Conservative parties. Three hundred and twenty thousand electors voted for Labour representatives, of whom I am one, and 283,000 gave their votes for Liberals and Conservatives. Nevertheless, not a single Liberal or Conservative sits for Glamorgan. The reverse of the picture is represented in the well-known case of Surrey and Sussex, where 500,000 voters supported the Conservatives as against 400,000 for Liberal and Labour votes; yet not a single Liberal or Labour representative sits for those counties.
As to the question of the franchise for the universities, I hold in my hand a memorandum which has been circulated to the Members of the House of Commons and published in the Press. As it seems to sum up the cream of the arguments which either have been directed this afternoon or will be directed in the future to the university franchise, I can do no better than ask the House to examine one or two propositions. The last speaker, in a characteristically interesting speech, touched upon one or two of them. His speech, though full of interest and charm, seemed wholly unconvincing and to represent once more the tradition of our University of Oxford of being the-defender of lost causes. This memorandum begins with a certain amount of antiquarian emphasis on the fact that in 1603 James I instituted the university franchise for Oxford and Cambridge. I do not think the writer of this memorandum, who is, by intrinsic evidence, a member of my own University of Oxford, could have chosen a worse king to adorn his memorandum than James I, for that monarch is an absolute embodiment of the fact that a student and scholar can be in practical matters hopelessly inefficient. Macaulay, it will be remembered, described him as a scholarly and intellectual student, but in practical matters "a nerveless, drivelling idiot". As to what Sir Edward Coke or anybody else said on this subject in 1603, I do not care a button. It is a matter for us to consider and not one for quotations from lawyers, however erudite, of that period.
No doubt, in the early days of the 17th century, some case could be made out for the representation in Parliament of the universities. At that time, the over-whelming majority of the King's subjects were absolutely illiterate. It might be put forward as a thesis that, when all education and intellectual research was centred in the two great universities of this country, they should have representatives as compared with the overwhelming majority of the people who were without any intellectual research or knowledge whatever. The whole circumstances are now changed, however, and to-day we of this House may say that the modern education of our people has advanced by leaps and bound to such an extent that, although by no means perfect and complete, we are advancing rapidly to such a state of things in this country that every young subject of the King can enjoy the advantages of a good sound liberal education from the primary schools up to 17½ in the secondary schools. The steps are not yet quite adequate or complete, but it is what we are working for. That being the case, what conceivable right have we to-day to select one part of the intellectuals and say that a certain number of people from universities shall have double the electoral privileges of the rest of the people of the country, who are rapidly moving in the same direction? The Home Secretary alluded in his speech to the fact that something like 120,000 voters are represented by 12 Members, but he might have added that this is an average of 10,000 Voters for each Member. The extraordinary position of affairs is accentuated when you look at the figures of the universities themselves and realise that the University of Wales with only 3,600 voters returns a Member while the King's University, Belfast, has only 3,024 voters.
I am very much struck by the argument, which has been brought forward this afternoon and appears in this unconvincing memorandum before me, that, because 750 former elementary school boys are in residence at Oxford, that in some way entitles those boys and others like them to double the electoral privilege of anybody else in the country. I cannot understand that at all. It does not seem to me ad rem or to the point at all. We in this country do rejoice in the fact that the elementary school boy can now reach the university with such facilities. I saw that the Dean of St. Pauls regretted some time ago that these boys were forcing their way into the universities because they were taking the bread out of the mouths of his own class. What is the argument? Because Oxford opens its gates more widely to some persons in humble walks of life, such as those boys and others like them, they are entitled to this electoral privilege: At Oxford the boys in the primary schools are getting a little of their own back from the neglect of former days. If you look at the title deeds of many of the Oxford Colleges, they were originally founded very largely for the benefit of poor scholars.
Do all the boys educated in primary and secondary schools go to Oxford and Cambridge? If you wish to see where some of them go, look around the benches of this party, and perhaps the parties opposite, too. There are scores of boys in this House who began their life in elementary schools. When I listened to the admirable speech of the Home Secretary—no one can present a case more lucidly and admirably than that Minister—I reflected on the fact that he himself places among his biographical details in "Who's Who," and works of that sort, the fact that he was educated in primary schools. I could not help asking myself why, if these 750 boys who, for various reasons—the unselfishness of their parents, or the hard work of their teachers—have succeeded in getting to the university—are to have an electoral privilege, men like the Home Secretary and others, on these benches should not have exactly the same privilege. Men who reach the House of Commons from the primary schools are, surely, in no way inferior to those who happen to get a pass or honour degree at the University of Oxford.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) rightly emphasised the incongruity of placing Mr. Lecky at the head of the distinguished people who have adorned these benches from the universities, in view of the fact that Mr. Lecky saw clearly what the influence of the universities had been. Further, the universities do not live up to their professed ideal of fair play to anything like the extent that has been put forward in these Debates. Take the case of Oxford. Professor Gilbert Murray is always popular and distinguished, whether in supporting the War in 1914, or whether as a violent pacifist four years afterwards. Nevertheless, a gentleman of that distinction would never be elected for Oxford, because he is a Liberal.
No, he never did, and he never will. The third argument is so feeble that I really wonder that anyone representing the intellectual eminence of Oxford should have put it in his paper:
We urge that our universities are equally entitled with trade unions to special representation.
At Oxford we emphasise the value of logic. If that sentence had been placed in an examination paper, it would have been turned inside out by the veriest tyro. The major premiss, to go no further, that trade unions secure special representation, is so palpably incorrect that one wonders it was ever used. Trade unionists are sufficiently numerous in any constituency to put forward or to return a candidate. They do it by exercising the normal voting power. They do not claim a position superior to other people. The last argument, the only one that can be used for this outworn privilege, is the pathetic note at its close, that the abolition of the university franchise would totally disfranchise nearly 1,500 oversea voters. That leaves me quite cold. I refuse to shed any tears for people who, for one reason or another, leave the country and thereby lose their votes. Why should a university voter retain his vote any more than anyone else who goes abroad? I refuse to weep for people who, perhaps, go to the Riviera for the good of their health, or to dodge Income Tax, and thereby lose their votes It is really an indefensible part of our franchise. I love my university, I wish it prosperity and God-speed in its good work, but the abolition of this abuse will not detract one iota from the advance of true learning or from the splendid work of our great national universities.
The Labour party is solid, with one exception, on the determination to get rid of the university franchise, and I feel sure that the Liberal party can be counted upon. What the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) will do I do not know. During
his transitional period, if one can call it so, he is really capable of anything. Any stick is good enough to beat the Government with—Zionism, the franchise, the university vote, or anything else. The ordinary Liberal who sticks up for the old traditions must support this desirable reform. There is a book, which I in my Liberal days long ago regarded as a kind of fifth Gospel, written by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen, called the "Principles of Liberalism." I still regard it as the best of all political apocrypha. In that book, he writes:
The second of these reforms is the abolition of the University seats, a very anomalous feature in the constitution, which is condemned by the argument, amply confirmed in this case by experience, that the highest education is no guarantee of political wisdom. The government of literary men is amongst the worst constitutional devices.
It is a father remarkable fact that neither of the only two back bench Members who have addressed the House from the other side of the Chamber has paid a very great tribute to the principle of the alternative vote. The first dealt with the necessity of representing minorities in the House, and he seemed to think that the alternative vote would help minority representation. I think if there is one thing on which everyone is agreed it is that the alternative vote, at any rate, cannot do that, and does not profess to do it. The hon. Member who has just sat down, who was a colleague with me in the Ullswater Electoral Reform Conference, devoted the whole of his speech to the question of university representation. I will not follow him on that particular matter, because there are a great many university Members who are very ready and willing to deal with him.
I should like to make one or two general observations with regard to the Bill. Dealing with the main object of the Bill, the alternative vote, surely it is universally admitted that the greatest electoral anomaly that faces the country now is the fact that the Liberal party polled over 5,000,000 votes at the last General Election, that is nearly a fourth of all the votes polled, and only obtained a tenth of the representation in the House. It is because of that anomaly that the Liberal party, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), are so anxious to get some measure of electoral reform. But how on earth is the alternative vote going to help that situation? It would undoubtedly be helped by proportional representation. That would give equivalent regard to the number of votes cast in the country for the different parties concerned.
It is not my intention to enter upon a detailed analysis of the principle of the system of proportional representation, as, after all, it is not in the Bill, but I think the House would be interested to know that I am possibly the only Member in the House who has actually experienced two Parliamentary elections under the system of proportional representation. That was in the Parliament in Northern Ireland when I was a member of it. Although that system was subsequently abolished, it proved on the whole that under it you got a pretty fair reflection of the different classes. In the Ullswater Electoral Reform Conference we members of the Conservative party joined together with the members of the Liberal party in saying that, if there was to be any change in the electoral laws of the country, it could best be carried out by adopting a system of proportional representation. The reason why we find the alternative vote rather than proportional representation inserted in this Bill is that the Socialist party—I do not think I am putting it too highly—are bitterly opposed now to the principle of proportional representation. One cannot help remarking, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) stated, that among the most distinguished ornaments of the officers of the Proportional Representation Society are many members of the present Government. They became members of that society in the days when the Labour party were a minority party, and now that they have become a majority party and entertain a hope at some future time of obtaining a clear majority in this House—in those circumstances, they have departed from their former allegiance to the system of proportional representation, and the most they will now give for the support of the Liberal party is an offer of the alternative vote.
I should like to read two quotations to the House—I do not think that they have yet been read by anybody—from a pamphlet issued by the Proportional
Representation Society which, I think, all Members of the House have recently received and which, in my view, sums up very clearly and very concisely some of the maim objections to the alternative vote system. The pamphlet says:
Whether applied in single-member areas or in multi-member areas, the alternative vote, in securing election by 'majority,' may give a national result less representative than would be obtained by the system of 'first-past-the-post,' or relative majority.
Dealing with the last Election the Proportional Representation Society say this:
There were 309 members elected by a minority of votes in 1929, of whom 150 were Conservatives, 118 Labour, 40 Liberal and one Independent Conservative. If in the reaction against the late Government there had been a tendency for the Liberal and Labour parties to support one another, the Conservatives would have lost a very considerable number of these 150 minority seats. The representation of Conservative opinion in the country would have been less fair than it is under the present system. If, on the other hand the Conservatives and Labour were anxious to drive the Liberals from the political field, the alternative vote would have enabled them to have reduced substantially the present small Liberal representation in the House of Commons. If, during the course of the election the differences between the Liberal and Labour parties had become more accentuated and Liberals and Conservatives had supported one another, then Labour, under the alternative vote, would have lost a considerable number of its 118 minority seats.
That statement issued on behalf of the Proportional Representation Society really does show that the alternative vote is no solution whatever to the present electoral difficulties and anomalies which face the country.
There are also, under the alternative vote, examples given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea from experiences in the Dominions, particularly in Australia, where the alternative vote is in operation. He quoted a very remarkable example from the 1925 election to the Commonwealth Senate, where, under the alternative vote, a million odd Labour voters were entirely unrepresented, whereas a million odd Nationalists and Country Party voters returned 22 members. I find also that in the elections for the Commonwealth House of Representatives for 1929, the last election when the Labour Government secured a majority, Labour polled 1,423,337 votes and secured 46 seats, and all other parties combined polled 1,424,068 votes, that is to say, almost identically the same, and secured only 29 seats. Similar examples can be furnished by the results of the elections in the Province of Alberta, Canada, in June, 1930, and in 1926. In 1926, for example, I see that the United Farmers' Party in Alberta polled 68,921 votes and that they got 42 seats, and that all other parties combined polled 68,325 votes, that is to say, almost exactly the same number of votes, and they got only eight seats. That is under the alternative vote. I think that I have said enough to show that whatever may be its merits—and I am afraid that I do not think it has many—at any rate, it is entirely and completely unsuitable to meet the particular electoral situation which the Liberal party find irksome to themselves at the present time.
There is one other point which I should like to make with regard to this Bill, and, although it is what I may call a subsidiary matter, it is one of considerable constitutional importance. In Clause 4 of the Bill, the Clause which abolishes the representation of the universities, it will be noticed that the Clause is specifically made applicable to the Queen's University of Belfast which returns one Member to this House, but it is a curious fact that apart from that Clause, this Bill has not been made generally applicable to the electorate in Northern Ireland.
My point is that, under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, the people of Northern Ireland were given, as part of that great constitutional settlement, 13 Members to sit in this House of Commons. Now it is proposed to take away one of those 13 Members because he happens to be a Member for a university, and, like all other university Members, he has to lose his representation here. But what is the constitutional position? It may possibly be quite clear—I am not arguing the university representation point—and it may be fair enough, that if all other universities are to lose their Member, the Queen's University of Belfast should also lose its Member. But is it constitutionally right, or, indeed, possible, in an Act of this kind dealing with electoral reform, to change the number of Members that were solemnly granted to Northern Ireland in this House under what I may call the settlement of 1920? After all, in looking at the Bill, I see that although the Member for Queen's University has to disappear, the Section of the Act of 1920 which gave the number of Members which were to sit in this House is not in this Bill specifically repealed. It seems to me that the position really now is, that 13 Members are still to sit in this House although under this Bill the one who represents the university has to go out.
I should have thought, therefore, from a constitutional point of view, that it might be necessary to bring in a subsequent Act of Parliament re-allocating the 13 Members granted by the Act of 1920 in some other way. Otherwise you will, it seems to me, be prejudicing one of the foundations on which the Act of 1920 was based. The House will remember in this connection that ever since the Act of Union of 1800 which gave to the whole of Ireland 101 Members in this House, during all the subsequent redistribution Bills which were passed in this House, and through the century which followed, the representation of Ireland in this House was never altered. It always remained at 101 Members. Although from the point of view of population, which declined, they were not entitled at the end of the century to anything like 101 Members, yet that settlement was never disturbed because it formed part of the constitutional settlement which established the Act of Union. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who I see in his place, if he has not already heard of this—
I am sure that he will consider it with his advisers, and if, when he comes to reply on this Bill, he will be so kind as to give us the view of the Government on how they propose to deal with this constitutional position, I and my colleagues who represent Ulster constituencies will be extremely grateful to him.
There is one other point which I wish to mention which arose out of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen. I had thought of interrupting him, but I decided that perhaps it was better to deal with it if I had an opportunity of speaking. I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman has come back to his place. He was referring to what is called the loading of the dice in favour of Members sitting on this side of the House in so many respects. He referred to the House of Lords and to one thing and another, and he also referred to the Ulster Members. He said that that was a loading of the dice in favour of the Conservative party, because the Ulster Members were here and had the right to vote on every question, although some of those questions did not affect their constituents. That is true, but I think he ought to have said also what he knows perfectly well, namely, that in the settlement of 1920 the number of Members from Ulster was reduced to half the proper number according to population, as a sort of rough and ready way of solving the in-and-out difficulty. That is to say, that on the same basis as the Members of Great Britain there would be, not 13, but 26 Members from Ulster in this House. However, that is only a side issue.
On the main question, I feel certain that this Bill will not carry out the objects which the Liberal party think it is going to carry out. I feel sure that it will prove to be a boomerang so far as the Government party are concerned. They may think to-day that it is going to benefit them. The legitimate aim and object of the Socialist party is that at some time they should come in with an independent majority in this House, and, if the present system goes on, some time they undoubtedly will, but, if they go in for the alternative vote, they are going to perpetuate for all time—if it does what the Liberal party hopes it is going to do—a system under which they will probably never come in as a majority party. That being so, while I might be thankful myself, I cannot see how, with those prospects before them, this Government really intend to press this Measure forward to final enactment.
I hope the hon. and gallant Member will not think that I am discourteous if I do not follow him into his particular line of argument. I should like to make some references to the speech made by the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan). The hon. Member made an eloquent defence of university representation and in the course of that defence he said that one reason for university representation was that it enabled men of distinction to enter this House. He is a proof of that fact. Earlier in the speech he supplied the answer to his own argument, for he said that the House would not assume that if university representation were abolished he would be unable to find a place here. It is true that men of distinction can be selected and elected by popular constituencies. Democracy is not averse to distinction and democracy is not averse to ability. There is hardly any man or woman of distinction who has represented a university in this House who could not easily have represented a popular constituency. Distinction is by no means the only thing that the university voters have under consideration when they are selecting their representatives. No matter how distinguished a man or woman may be, if he or she was a Socialist he or she would stand no chance whatever of being returned for a university constituency. Hon. Members opposite will agree with me that there is no more distinguished pair of men in this country than Mr. H. G. Wells and Mr. Bertrand Russell, and yet both these distinguished men have failed on more than one occasion to be returned by university constituencies even in opposition to men much less distinguished than themselves.
The hon. Member for the Scottish Universities also declared that university representation enabled the professions to be represented in this House to an adequate extent. I have not observed that there is any lack of representation of the professions in this House in the representation from popular constituencies. We have many doctors and many teachers and, heaven knows, we have many lawyers. It is easier for a professional man to be selected and even elected for a popular constituency than for a man who does not belong to any of the learned professions. The learned professions still have prestige, perhaps above all their merits, in the eyes of the general public. Because a man happens to belong to a learned profession he is considered, very often, to be far more able and far more erudite than he really is and, consequently, he has little difficulty, other things being equal, of being selected as a candidate for a popular constituency. I have not heard any relevant argument why this anomaly in our electoral system should be still further perpetuated.
It is not advisable that in this Debate we should discuss, as the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) discussed, whether this Bill is or is not the result of a bargain. Obviously, it is the result of a bargain. Some bargains are very good bargains. There is no need to be opposed to the Bill because it is the result of a bargain. It may be quite true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that this legislative child has had a somewhat lengthy period of gestation, but it ought to be the more healthy and robust on that account. At all events it cannot be argued that this child is illegitimate. I should like to address myself to the point of view of what difference this Bill will make in our Parliamentary institutions if and when it becomes law. It is largely represented that this Bill is a Bill for the rejuvenation of the Liberal party. It is thought to be a kind of Voronoff gland applied to that senescent organisation. There are people in my city who have urged me to vote against the Bill on the ground that if the present electoral system remains it will mean that after the next election the Liberal benches in this House will be untenanted, with the exception of the seat occupied by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs is not a party figure but a national figure, and whatever political cataclysm occurred he would survive the vicissitudes of electoral change. Judging by the usual vigour of his manner he will probably represent Carnarvon Boroughs for at least another quarter of a century.
It is argued that I should oppose this Bill on the ground that if we continue our present electoral system it will lead to a return to the two party system and the elimination of the Liberal party. I do not share that view. It is highly probable that the Liberal party will be somewhat decimated if we do not change the electoral system, and we may have to dispense with the seignorial eloquence of the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and other right hon. and hon. Members opposite, but I do not think that a party which polled 5,000,000 votes at the last election is going to be entirely obliterated at the next election, whatever our electoral system may be. If this Bill does not become law we shall in all probability still have the three party system with us. My point is that under the operations of this Bill we are likely to have more than three parties in this House. In essence, there are three parties in this House to-day and there are far more than three parties in posse.
The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and his friends and associates have been practically a fourth party during this Parliament. They have spoken against the Government and voted against the Government. They have their own secretary and their own whip in the person of the hon. Member for Peck-ham (Mr. Beckett), whose deep religions convictions forced him to record a vote against the Government on the question of the Catholic schools. The Labour party would hesitate not to endorse the candidature of a Member of the group of the hon. Member for Bridgeton for fear of losing a Labour seat, but if this Bill becomes law they need not hesitate to refuse that endorsement, because in Labour constituencies the voter would be able to give his first vote to the official Labour candidate and his second vote to the unofficial Labour candidate, or vice versa, with the result that the representative of one section of the Labour party would be returned. Therefore, it seems to me that this Bill will encourage the emergency of that fourth party into actual reality in this House. It is not our party alone that shows distinct tendencies to divisions. The Conservative party is not a party of homogeneity at the present time. There is the United Empire party. Then there is the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). He has once more girt up his loins and fared forth into the wilderness, and from what we know of the right hon. Gentleman he will find manna and sustenance in the wilderness and will return once more to regale us with eloquent speeches in the manner of Pitt, Fox and Canning. He will appear here not as the uneasy bedfellow of reluctant companions but as the titular leader of a new party in this House.
It is possible that under this Bill we shall have at least five or six parties in this House. In other words, we shall have the group system, somewhat similar to the system which is in vogue in most legislatures upon the Continent. There are arguments to be adduced in favour of the group system. The two-party system in this country is very largely an historical accident, due to the fact that in times past there was a division in the population of the country between the followers of the Established Church and the followers of the Noncomformist Church. That historical circumstance has no longer any compelling validity, but it is true that our affairs are becoming extremely complicated. It was easy to say a plain "yes" or a plain "no" to the simple issue with which the electors were faced 40 or 50 years ago. It was easy to say "yes" or "no" to the question whether you would have disestablishment of the church or home rule for Ireland. To-day, we are faced with extremely complicated issues, upon which people of the same party may have difference of opinion. It may well be that the group system would enable these differences of opinion to be better and more adequately represented than under our present three-party system, but if we are to have the group system, as I think we shall have as the result of this Measure, then this Bill ought to be accompanied by some concomitant measure of Parliamentary reform, otherwise we shall have, as a result of this Bill, a series of minority Governments—pale phenomena, staggering falteringly from crisis to crisis, the members of which will have place without prestige, office without power and initiative without the force to be able to drive their conclusions to the final approval of this House. That system of affairs will throw disrepute upon the whole of our Parliamentary Government.
Therefore, I urge that along with this Bill there should be the promise of another Bill which would give a fixed term of years to the life of Parliament, three, four or five years, which would also replace the present system of Cabinet responsibility by the Committee system, so that all Members of this House could participate in the work of Government, which should not be relegated as at the present time practically to the members of the Ministry. Under that system of Parliamentary reform I think the system of the alternative vote could be made effectively to work, but without that reform I feel extremely dubious as to what may be the result of the alternative vote upon the future of our Parliamentary institutions. As a loyal Member of my party I shall go into the Lobby to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, but I shall do so with a certain amount of dubiety, feeling that unless something is done in the way of Parliamentary reform this Measure by itself is likely to bring some degree of delay, confusion and debility into our affairs.
I share the doubts of the hon. Member. I think he was quite right when he said that if this Bill passes into law we shall see a succession of minority Governments. I think the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) was wrong. But when the hon. Member went on to say that we ought to have a reform of this House, I think he forgets that we have to say "yes" or "no" to every question that comes before this House. I want to say a few words about the Royal 8.0 p.m. Commission of 1910 and the alternative vote. I am the only surviving Member of this House who was a member of that Royal Commission. It was appointed to consider the question of proportional representation. We discussed it very thoroughly, and, although our report was not generally agreed to, there was a strong body of opinion in favour of our proposal, and it remains the best statement of the case against the single transferable vote. We advised the system of the alternative vote in cases where there were more than two candidates. That decision was unanimous. In 1918 the question came up in the Bill which was then introduced and I was one of two Conservative Members who voted in favour of the alternative vote. It was carried by two votes in the Division. For some time I thought that the alternative vote was the solution for a position which we all agree is imperfect and I held that opinion for some time. If I have changed I will explain why. I do not think there is any advantage to the Socialist party in this plan. They will lose by it, certainly at the next election. We all know the feeling which is piled up against the Government of the day, any Government, and this will be reflected in the second choice of a great many of the electors. It will be cast against the Government.
At the moment I think the Conservative party would gain. Hon. Members opposite would probably give their second vote to the Conservative rather than to the Liberal candidate, and I expect that some Liberals would give it to the Conservative rather than to the Socialist. That is my opinion. I, therefore, do not approach this question with any party bias. I have a profound belief, based on history, that whatever electoral system is established a Conservative party, if it is true to itself can win a fair proportion of the votes of the electorate. As to the way in which the alternative vote would work, I think there is a certain amount of fallacy about the argument put forward by the right hon. Member for Darwen. He took the case of Shipley as an example, where the Conservative candidate had 16,000 votes, the Socialist 15,000 and the Liberal candidate 12,000; and he said that you ought to have taken the second choice of the third candidate and have decided the election upon the way those second votes went. That is based on the belief that you have a unity among the two opposing parties which should be reflected in the Member who sits for the constituency. I am certain that in that election the Socialist and the Liberal attacked each other with all the acrimony which is usually shown in these contests.
My objection is that you cannot put the second choice alongside the first and count it as of equal value. You cannot say that the Member represents a majority by taking the second choice of a Liberal candidate and making that second choice the first choice of a Labour candidate and calling that man the majority candidate. You do not get twopence by adding one halfpenny to a penny. The two things are quite distinct. You do not want any artificial or mathematical calculation. What you want to know is the man whom the majority of the electors want to the exclusion of everybody else. I do not mind whether he gets an absolute majority or not, he is the man whom that constituency wants. All hon. Members who support the alternative vote are going against the territorial system, which surely depends on this, that a certain part of the earth's surface called a constituency says "that man is our choice, we will send him to Parliament." That is right; the other is entirely wrong; you cannot get the best men into Parliament in that way. You are doing wrong if you add as second choice something which is a different thing altogether.
But who has a second choice in this matter? As a rule we all want one person to get in. If he does not it does not much matter, because the cause for which he has fought has been beaten. We fight for some great policy, and to say that we have a second choice is to refuse to recognise the realities of political warfare. There is no second best in political warfare. You want the man of your choice, and nobody else. Suppose the Labour candidate for Shipley eat in this House, who would he represent? He would represent 14,000 or 15,000 voters, but he would not sit there by their votes. He would sit here because more Liberal second choices were given to him than were given to the Conservative candidate. Whose Member is he? I am a party man; I believe that our party system is a very admirable one. It is the best way of running the political government of this country, but here you are introducing a different element and calling a man a representative of a certain policy when he does not represent that policy except to a far more minority extent than the man you exclude. He really does not represent the Labour creed.
Take a third objection. We have all seen the group system at work. I dare say that the right hon. Member for Darwen is right and that the Liberal party would gain and that other small parties would gain. As a matter of fact, the parties that would gain—I do not want to be rude—are not the growing parties, but the dying parties, and the history of the Labour party bears this out. They have gained immensely because they have been able to choose their seats, and many Labour Members in the early days were returned by minority votes. But if you have a party which is going down, a sort of lifebuoy like this may be very useful. I would rather see a new party winning its way.
My next objection is this. Anyone must have been struck by the unpleasant bargainings which take place where the second ballot is in force. No man gets a majority in the first ballot and after the interval, of a fortnight generally, the second ballot is held. That fortnight is spent entirely in intrigues. We do not want that. We do not want to get bidding for the vote of the smaller ballot, which may swing the balance here or there. That is a very strong objection. I have explained the reasons why I have changed my views on the alternative vote, and I pray in aid one sentence from the report of the Commission, which I think is worthy of attention. In criticising the proportional representation system we say that a Government must govern as well as represent. I hope the House will realise that if we had proportional representation, and to a, lesser extent the alternative vole, we could never have a strong Government. I would much rather have a strong Socialist Government than a weak Conservative Government.
I do not know how much longer I shall have to wait before I see another Socialist Government, but it will have to be a good deal different to the present Government if it is to come up to the government I have sketched. I do not want a series of weak governments. It is not good for the country. We want a party coming into office convinced that they have the solution of all our troubles. It is much better than to go about in this sort of way, giving a bit to opinion here and representing that opinion there, with no corporate existence and no power to rule the country.
Times have changed since the Royal Commission reported 21 years ago. When I came into the House in 1906 I was returned by an immense majority. I got more than half the votes of all the voters on the register in my constituency. I beat my opponent by three to two. And yet I polled only 1,313 votes. That was the state of things then. I think it was the smallest of all the constituencies. I refer to Durham. I was the Member for that city until electorally it was exterminated by a ruthless and unsympathetic Parliament. You may say that when so small a number of electors vote the man who gets only a section of those votes ought not to sit in this House. But surely the whole factor has changed not only in degree but in kind with the present enormous constituencies. Any man who gets 15,000 or 16,000 or 20,000 votes behind him has such support, and his views have such wide acceptance, that whether he has an absolute majority or not is not very important. If I were a member of the Labour party I should think once and think twice before I voted for this Bill. I do not think that it is an electioneering Bill on their part. At any rate, if it is, it is bad electioneering. I believe that the Labour party will not gain by it.
I must say a few words about the universities and motor cars. The Labour party are much too modest. They do not realise the chance they have of winning the university seats. I believe that the next few years will show a very large swing-over. In the past the universities have been represented by both Liberals and Conservatives and have not been Conservative strongholds. The Labour party should not forget the immense democratic element in all our universities. The universities take in a very large number of undergraduates who have come originally from the elementary schools. I was horrified to hear the right hon. Member for Darwen quote Mr. Lecky as having said that the universities have been hostile to political progress. I wonder in respect of what century that sentence was penned. I should imagine it was penned in respect of the 18th century.
Then I am still more surprised at the right hon. Gentleman, who has the honour to belong to the same splendid college to which I belong, a college which has sent distinguished men of all parties into public life. I am surprised that he should have spoken in those terms of the great university of Oxford.
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to quote the sentence from Lecky with approval. At that time the newer universities were not in existence. The quotation must refer to Oxford and Cambridge. Let me turn to the question of motor cars. The proposal in the Bill is out of date, like most Socialist proposals; it belongs to the day before yesterday. Cars do not consist entirely of Rolls-Royces. Every tradesman has his car and so have people who have to get about. If it were possible to take a census of cars and of the political views of their owners, I doubt whether the Socialist party would come out so badly. In any case they ought not to abolish the time-honoured joke of the voter who goes to the poll in the car that is decked with his opponent's colours. I wonder very much at the Government bringing in the Bill. I do not think that they or the members of their party like it very much. I believe the Bill will do them harm, that it will make electioneering more difficult for them; and in the end I think they will be sorry that they gave in to the blandishments of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George).
Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON, junr.:
In spite of the dire forebodings of the last speaker, I wish to congratulate the Government on the introduction of the Bill. We were told by the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan) that in spite of the unemployment confronting the nation to-day, we were taking up the time of the House by introducing a Measure which will have no effect upon that problem. Some of us on the Government side might be more influenced by the persuasion of hon. Members opposite if we were not fully aware of their record so far as electoral law is concerned. During the past century they have consistently opposed all Measures which have sought to extend the franchise in this country. [Interruption.] I am quite prepared to make one exception—the 1867 Act, for which Mr. Disraeli was responsible. But that was a case of stealing the clothes of Liberal opponents. I should have thought that the Tory party were no more entitled to be credited with the extension of the vote to women, for that was done by the Act of 1918 for which all parties were responsible. The same remark applies to the so-called flapper vote.
This Bill seeks to establish the principle of the alternative vote, and the last speaker sought to criticise the proposals in certain details. I am not going to follow him in his examination. I am more influenced by the view that he held 20 years ago than by the view which he holds nows. He said there was no such thing as a second choice. If there is no such thing as a second choice no elector will make a second choice, and if that be the case what harm is the Bill going to do? It would leave the position exactly as it is to-day. According to that theory, therefore, the Bill will have no derogatory effects at all. Of course the position is quite different. We on these benches have often been accused of being a minority party. In two elections I have won the seat which I now represent on what is called a minority vote, and when I fight an election my opponents always appeal to the electorate saying that the system is wrong under which a Labour candidate is returned on a minority vote, the total anti-Socialist vote being greater than the Socialist vote. Yet in this Bill, at the risk of losing perhaps 50 to 100 seats similar to mine, we are introducing a principle which will allow the combined anti-Socialist vote in Cardiff South or any similar constituency to be cast on the basis of the alternative vote. The Conservative party who, according to their own argument have nothing to gain, are apparently afraid that the position may not be quite what they expected. I agree with them in that view. I think that the Conservative party will find that the alternative vote, if it reacts at all to anyone's credit, will not react to theirs.
I particularly welcome the abolition of the business vote. If ever there was a case for a change in the electoral law it is under that heading. Over two years ago I was concerned in litigation on this point and the evidence given in two cases clearly proved to my mind that abuses had crept in as regards the business vote. Under Section 1 of the 1918 Act a person who occupies premises with a rateable value of £10 per annum, for the purpose of his profession, trade or business, is entitled to a business vote. What happens? In one case in a certain works in London there was one large room which was partitioned off into cubicles occupied by the directors of that concern. A so-called tenancy agreement was duly drawn up, signed and witnessed, resulting ostensibly in the payment of £10 a year by way of rent for each cubicle. The cubicle thus occupied was occupied for the purpose of the firm's business, but the Court held that each director was occupying his particular office or cubicle not for the purposes of the business of the firm, but for the purpose of his own business as a director. Thousands of directors are entitled to votes in respect of business premises at the present time, and, as regards the premises to which I have specially referred, there are four directors and three wives, or seven persons in all, entitled to exercise the vote in respect of that one business. I respectfully suggest that that is a state of affairs which no true democrat can defend, and I am sure that the members of the Conservative party, who always pride themselves on their democratic instincts—or, if they do not always do so, at any rate do so at election times—will demonstrate their faith in the days that are before us by supporting this portion of the Bill.
On the question of university representation I hope that hon. Members opposite will not chide hon. Members on this side, or below the Gangway opposite, who support this proposal, with being disloyal to their universities. I, like others in the House, am a graduate of Cambridge University and I am as proud of my university as any other hon. Member who has graduated there. Rightly or wrongly, I believe that franchise should be based on the principle of one man one vote, or one woman one vote, with no representation of sectional or vocational interests. If, in the future, we should evolve in this country a different basis for our Parliamental structure, and if that should be a vocational basis then there would be a clear case for giving separate representation to the universities. As things are, however, many of us do not accept the position in which we find ourselves to-day in this respect. It is not that I have never exercised my vote as a university Member. Nor am I concerned with the fact that almost invariably Conservatives—in one or two cases Liberals, and in one case I think an Independent—are returned to represent University seats. It is not that I do not realise the quality of those who are sent here to represent universities that I hold that point of view. But I fail to understand why those representatives should not equally well represent other constituencies in various parts of the country.
As regards residence in foreign parts I am left cold by any appeal which was made on that ground. If a man or a woman has to live in far off lands, there is no reason why the rest of us, to whom the conditions of life in this country are of the first importance, should allow our legislation here to be influenced or affected by those living outside our bounds. Therefore, as far as the university case is concerned I hope that this matter will be discussed, without any suggestion of disloyalty against us on the part of those who are interested in preserving university representation. On the grounds which I have mentioned I welcome the Bill. I congratulate the Government on having embodied in the Measure at any rate certain practical reforms which experience has conclusively proved to be necessary and even although there are things upon which some of us are not in wholehearted agreement, yet I think there is sufficient in the Bill to justify its support by every Member of this House who wants to make further progress along the lines of democracy.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) who is the pro-Chancellor of the University which I represent has relieved me of the task of presenting certain arguments which I had intended to lay before the House on this subject, and I propose to confine myself very largely to Clause 4, Sub-section (2) of the Bill. That Sub-section specifically mentions my constituency, namely, the Queen's University of Belfast which for some years I have had the honour to represent in this House. I wish in the first place to draw the attention of hon. Members to the Government of Ireland Act of 1920. We in the North of Ireland did not want that Act, but we accepted it because it was explained to us that it would provide a settlement of the vexed Irish question. We have done our best in the North of Ireland to work that Act successfully. We have an extremely sagacious and much respected Prime Minister supported by a Cabinet of very earnest Ministers and the record of the past 10 years shows that the business of Government there has been carried on with very great efficiency and with almost universal acclaim. We look upon the 1920 Act as embodying the constitution of Northern Ireland. We might almost call it the charter of Northern Ireland. I think I may fairly claim that it is a breach of faith with Northern Ireland to cancel the settlement embodied in that Act. I had almost used a stronger word and regretted it as a breach of contract, and I hope that all parties in the House will hesitate before they disturb the serenity of Northern Ireland by any interference with that 1920 agreement.
The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) seemed to contemplate a situation which I hope will not arise, and whatever happens to the university seat which I represent, I should beg that this House will not commit itself to a redistribution, as he seemed to adumbrate, of the electorate in Northern Ireland so far as the main Members in the Imperial House are concerned. The Province is peaceful at the present time. Law and order are maintained, and any attempt to equalise the representation of Northern Ireland in this House, in the event of Parliament deciding to extinguish my seat, which would involve a redistribution of seats in the Imperial Parliament for the whole Province, would be disastrous and would stir up unnecessary trouble. In that particular, I must disagree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman, a former colleague.
May I allude to the general question of university representation? When the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary introduced this Bill, he referred, with pardonable pride, to the representation in this House of trade unions and the strength of the Socialist party. I do not think the point has been raised by other speakers, and I would like to point out that if a Labour trade unionist votes in his own constituency as an individual citizen, and then, to all intents and purposes, votes again in his trade union in order to send to this House a highly-trained officer of the union, he is really a pluralist and voting in two constituencies. That being so, what is the difference between that and university graduates voting for a university Member to represent their particular interests in this House? Surely it is pluralist voting on the Socialist side and pluralist voting here, but why they should claim the privilege of a double vote on the Socialist side and deny to university graduates the right to send someone to this House as their own special representative I cannot understand. It does not seem equitable.
One of the speakers on the other side, a graduate of Oxford University, seemed rather to make game of the absent graduate, and spoke of 1,500 members, mainly of the University of Oxford, who had either retired, or were loitering or amusing themselves on the Riviera or elsewhere. But that does not represent anything like the total of the graduates of all the universities in the kingdom who are overseas—engineers, doctors, architects, and representatives of every conceivable profession and faculty—doing yeoman service for their country in India and various Dominions and Colonies. These people have a lively interest in their own home country, and they ought not to be deprived of some voice at any rate in their university representation; they ought not to be ruthlessly disfranchised because their calling has taken them to distant parts. To deny them this right is extremely unfair.
I plead for the absent graduates; they have a right to vote, and when they use their vote they use it, as educated men and experts in many departments, with intelligence. They are not as a rule members of any one political party, and they bring a trained intelligence to bear on the questions at issue. I think they are entitled not only to representation but also to the respect of the community for their capacity for legislation. Surely they deserve some consideration. The distant university graduate who cannot vote at ordinary local elections because of his distance from home can vote for a university representative, under the scheme of proportional representation, by post or by proxy, and that right, I hope, will still be preserved.
I quite appreciate the remarks that fell from the hon. Member for South Cardiff (Mr. A. Henderson, Jnr.). There need be no rivalry or bitterness between the graduates of any of the universities, but they can go forward as a body, not as members of a political party, because all parties are now well represented in the universities, particularly the newer universities. I think the hon. Member and his friends opposite might reconsider their position on this question and still find a use for university Members in the counsels of the nation.
I do not think any Member on this side will find very much in this Bill to which he would wish to raise objections. The majority of the Clauses are what I might call a clearing up of more or less small electoral anomalies which still exist in our constitution. The scale of election expenses, the restriction of the use of vehicles at Parliamentary elections, the provision for enabling the taking of polls to be postponed in islands, these are all, after all, comparatively matters of detail. I do not think, however, that Clauses such as those restricting the use of motor cars can be quite so airily dismissed as they have been from the other side. Even the abolition of university constituencies will not make, one way or another, a tremendous difference in the position in this House, though I think hon. Members opposite scarcely realise the force of the contention from this side that these seats have in fact always remained a preserve of the parties which they represent. For instance, the last speaker spoke of all the parties being well represented now in the universities. As a member of the University Labour Federation, I should like to say that there are many of these newer universities of which he spoke in which it is impossible, or possible only with the greatest difficulty, that branches of the Labour party among the undergraduates are tolerated at all. In many of them, the authorities of the universities raised the most serious objections to undergraduates forming themselves into Fabian groups, or into groups connected with the Labour party in any way.
A case arose at Nottingham quite recently, and another arose even more recently at Newcastle. Cases of this sort are very frequently brought to the notice of the University Labour Federation.
Other Clauses deal with the question of the franchise and plural voting, and Members of this side, whatever their views or differences of views on other matters, fully support them. On the matter of the larger question of the alteration of the franchise to the Alternative Vote, the Debate has already shown that the House as a whole cannot tell what the effect of it is going to be. Some feel that it would benefit one party and some another, and that is what hon. Members are perhaps primarily interested in. In any case, I do not think that it will have a very great effect, and that effect is quite uncertain. Therefore, while there is nothing to which any of us here can take any great exception, there is equally little in the Bill which can raise our passionate enthusiasm. I do not think that any of us can consider this a very noteworthy Bill. On the other hand, it is rather a noteworthy moment at which the Bill is introduced. I feel that at this particular time, for a Bill to be introduced wholly concerned with the manner, and with the details of the manner, with which the outside public elect us to this House, is rather a remarkable thing.
After all, I suppose that this House is, in the Prime Minister's words, a council of the nation. It is supposed to concern itself in its Debates primarily with things which are concerning and disturbing the minds of the country outside; and I am bound to say that we flatter ourselves rather if we suppose that the primary interest of the general public to-day is in the manner in which they send us to the House of Commons. I do not believe that what the whole nation is looking for from the House of Commons to-day is a change in the mechanism of elections. It is looking rather to the effects, the products in political action, which might come from this House to relieve and alleviate the very serious conditions in which the nation finds itself. There is one exception to that principle. The country would welcome, and the times require, one Measure concerned with political organisation and with the actual machinery of polities; but that Measure would not be concerned with the part of the machinery of politics by which we are elected to this House. It would be concerned rather with the mechanism of Parliamentary life, with what happens after we have been elected—that is, with the procedure of this House.
If the Government had brought down to us a Bill, which indeed was a Bill concerned with the mechanism of politics, but which dealt with the procedure and with the drastic revision of the whole way of doing business to which we are condemned in this House, there would be no complaints from us at any rate, we should feel that even if a large amount of Parliamentary time had to be devoted to a complete overhaul of our method of doing business here, that time would be very well devoted; in fact, we could do little to cope with the economic situation outside until such a Bill had been carried. This Bill, however, has nothing to do with that. It is not what has been called by a great authority on our constitution, a Member of this party, "the great reform Bill of 1932." It can lay no claim to that. Such a Bill would be concerned, not as the great Reform Bill of 100 years ago was concerned, and as this Bill is concerned, with the methods of election, but with our procedure in doing business—with the whole relationship of Parliament to the political life of this country. We have, however, been given this Bill. I wonder what its fate will be. I wonder whether it is another of the long procession of what I am bound to say are unreal Bills that seem to be presented to this House. We have had the Education Bill, a Measure for which I had the strongest sympathy, but which seems to be not very near the Statute Book. Its provisions now carry with them a long postponement of its own action. We have the Trade Disputes Bill, which has passed from the Floor of this House to a place upstairs, but whose fate has been pronounced by the benches opposite. Now we have this Measure, which no doubt will find a much easier passage through this House, but the fate of which may be very uncertain when it goes to another place.
It seems that few of these Measures will escape; some will suffer from hon. Members opposite, and some from another place. Some will be stricken down by fire, and others by water. It is a sad condition of things that we of this House should be concerned with these Bills, whose fate is very doubtful; which may never reach the Statute Book; which, if they do reach the Statute Book, will almost certainly be so emasculated and weakened as to have very little effect; and which, if they do reach it, by some strange chance, in at all the original form in which they were presented to us, will have little or nothing to do with the real situation that faces the country to-day. I feel that there is an unreal and ghostly procession of Measures passing in single file through this House. Is it any wonder that more and more our proceedings are disregarded in the country? We concern ourselves with Measures of that character, we deal with the question of "the postponement of the poll in islands"; yet outside the economic conditions press more and more hardly upon us. Outside, the slow, sure frost of economic decay tightens its grip almost from week to week upon our country. Inside this House we still debate unreal Measures which may be hardly intended to reach the Statute Book and will do little even if they do reach it.
I will not follow the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Strachey) into his remarks about what should be introduced into this House at the moment, but I do not agree with that part of his speech in which, so far as I understood him, he said that really this Bill was a very little one, that it did not do very much, and that, therefore, it did not matter a great deal what happened to it. I do not think we can really describe a Measure which introduces an entirely new voting principle and, among other things, does away with the ancient representation of our universities, as a Measure which is of little account. Personally, I think it is of great account. I wish to deal mainly with that part of the Bill which introduces the alternative vote. Various arguments have been advanced as to why Clause 1 should be in the Bill, and there have been arguments as to whether Proportional representation or the alternative vote is the best. When I heard the Home Secretary advancing reasons why this Bill should be passed it seemed to me that he was making a very bad case for a very bad Bill but that at the back of his mind he realised that it was a bad case he had to handle, and it was not until I heard the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), so full of fire and energy, making a very good case for this very bad Bill, that I realised really where the pressure was coming from which had produced this Measure.
I would like to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to one or two remarks which have been made by his colleagues not so long ago, because, as we all know, there has been discussion in the Liberal party as to whether this method is better than Proportional Representation. I would like to cite to him the opinion of Professor Ramsay Muir, the chairman of his party organisation. Writing in the "News-Chronicle" of the 17th of January he said:
Personally, I do not think the alternative vote is worth much, and I certainly would not give my conscience for it. Nothing short of proportional representation is the solution for me.
Then we may take the remarks of another gentleman who is very eminent in the Liberal organisation, and whom I remember in this House. He is now, I understand, the President of the Liberal Candidates' Association, and, I suppose, represents the young men, whereas Professor Ramsay Muir represents the old, but on this occasion they both take the same view. This is what Mr. Harcourt Johnstone said:
Liberals should remember that if they help to put upon the Statute Book the system of the alternative vote they will postpone for a generation any hope of electoral reform. If Liberalism be true to itself, it will disdain sham bargains and petty expedients.
We see, therefore, that within the party which apparently most desires to have this change there are wide divergencies of opinion. I take the view that if we are to make a change at all in the electoral system we should make it a change which is a good one and will really carry out the objects desired. If the House desires to see that every future House of Commons shall be a mirror of the electorate, and I suppose that is what the Liberal party mean when they talk of electoral reform, we should most certainly adopt Proportional Representation, and leave aside the very, very second rate method of the alternative vote.
Some pretty damaging figures have been quoted this afternoon, and, as far as I know, they are figures which it is impossible to controvert, which show that under the system which the Government are attempting to foist upon the country we may get, and in fact probably will get, an even worse result than is produced at the present time. In the election for the Australian Senate in 1925 the Nationalist and Country party polled 1,500,000 votes and the Labour party 1,250,000 votes. The result was that the Nationalist and Country party had all the seats and Labour none of them. I do not believe that result could have been brought about had that election been fought under the system under which we conduct our elections here to-day. Other eases have been quoted which show very much the same thing, including Alberta and Ottawa. In my view, the elections to this House should be conducted on a system which is simple and sure and which, above all, will produce a Government that can govern. Do hon. Members opposite really desire to perpetuate a system under which they will be for ever dependent upon the votes of hon. Members here below the Gangway? Should we, when in due time we cross the Floor, desire to be for ever angling for the support of some other party below the Gangway?
I believe in a strong Government, and I do not believe we can get a Government strong enough to govern this country in these times unless we have a Government which has a majority of this House; and all these proposals, whether for the alternative vote or Proportional Representation, fail from that point of view. In my view that is a point of the very greatest magnitude. It has been said, "Oh, but England has been governed by Coalitions before." I think the right hon. Member for Darwen went through a list of Parliaments during the last 30 or 40 years in which he showed, or tried to show, that they had almost all been made up of Coalitions—[Interruption]—at least, Governments which had not got a majority in this House. The party of which he is a member was, of late years, nearly always dependent on the Irish vote; and, at other times, we were dependent upon the Liberal Unionists. The Liberal Unionists actually coalesced with our party. Would the Liberal Unionist party have coalesced so easily with the party which I represent if there had been a different electoral system?
All these new systems tend to form groups, and I do not believe in groups. I believe in having two parties. In France we have seen Government after Government lasting only a few months and then falling, and some other combination of politicians forming a Government. Do any of us think it would be a good thing for the Government of this great country to be continually changing. In France they have a system under which they cannot dissolve their Parliaments frequently, and they form Government after Government. Probably that is very nice for members of the French Chamber, and it might be very nice for Members of this House, because I believe that very largely they can proceed on the assumption that every Member in time will have his turn for office; but for myself I do not think the Government of a great country can be carried on for long under such conditions.
Therefore, while we can demonstrate satisfactorily that the alternative vote is a doubtful system, and although it can be shown that proportional representation is not satisfactory, I think the overriding consideration of hon. Members of this House should be so to arrange our system that we shall get a Government with a majority, and one that can govern. It seems to me that it is only of late years that the Liberal party has, to my knowledge, shown such a great interest in this particular question. After all parties have their faults and there have been times when all parties in turn have had an unfair representation. The Conservative party has suffered in the past in this respect as much as any other party.
In the 1906 election the figures show that the Unionist votes represented 44 per cent, of the votes cast, and our party had only 28 per cent, of the representation. In Wales the Liberals had 34 seats, although they polled only 200,000, whilst our party polled 100,000 votes. At that time it was better that there should be a strong Government, and every party has suffered in the past under our system of representation. The Conservative party polled more votes at the last election than hon. Members opposite, and the Labour party have 30 Members more than we have. At the next election the balance may come to us. Nevertheless I hope that the Clause dealing with this question will not pass into law. We require a strong Government to be in power at the present time.
The only other matter I wish to mention is the subject of the use of motor cars. This is a question which has not been mentioned very much except in a laughing manner, and those who have spoken about it have always spoken from the borough point of view. I represent a county and a scattered area. What I desire in my constituency is a big poll, and the bigger the poll the better I am pleased. By this Bill you are going to ensure in all those county Divisions a much smaller poll than you get at the present time. I believe that I carry 25 per cent, of my opponents to the poll in my constituency, but our main desire is to get a big poll. It is said that you can have more polling stations all over the country, but that will entail great expense, and even then you will not have solved your difficulties.
I will not go into all the details involved in showing whether the Clause dealing with motor cars can be made watertight or not. I do not think it can, and I think it will have to be dropped. I might wish to see a Clause prohibiting canvassing, but even then I do not think you could make it watertight, and you will get into the same trouble with regard to any attempt to regulate motor cars at elections. With regard to university representation I have been asked to give a quotation. It is from an article in the "Law Journal," and the gentleman who wrote the article gave the following quotation from Mr. Lecky, which I think counteracts the quotation by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen:
According to any sane theory of representation, no form of representation could be more wise. Its abolition would not have very extensive consequences; but it would, at least, expel from Parliament a small class of Members who represent, in an eminent degree, the intelligence and knowledge diffused throughout the country, who from the manner of their election are almost certain to be men of political purity and independent character, and who for that reason are specially obnoxious to the more unscrupulous type of political demagogue.
I believe this Bill is bad in principle. The first Clause is vicious, and I am sure that it will not redound to the credit of the Parliamentary institutions of this country. For all these reasons I hope this Bill will never be placed upon the Statute Book.
It is with considerable diffidence that I intervene in this Debate for a very few minutes, and I propose to confine my remarks to the question of the proposed abolition of university representation. Until comparatively recent times the legal system of this country did not allow accused persons to give evidence on their own behalf. In certain circles it is still a moot point whether the granting to such persons of the right to give evidence on their own behalf operates to their benefit or to their disadvantage, but I think I can truly say that the failure of an accused person to take advantage of his right to give evidence on his own behalf does, on occasions, create an unfavourable impression on the jury. That is a risk which I must take. The first thing I want to say is this. The university franchise has now been in existence for very many years. To use the opening phrase of the letter in which many distinguished persons have expressed their opposition to the proposal contained in this Bill, "it has stood the test of realised experience." I feel, therefore, that it is rather for those who are attacking the continuance of university representation to establish their case than for those who are defending it to prove the innocence of their character.
There is no more merit in attacking a thing because it is old than there is in attacking a thing because it is new. It may be, as some speakers have pointed out, that this old institution has upon its face many wrinkles to which objection can be taken; but there is an old saying—I forget who was its author—that, while we talk of venerable grey hairs, we never talk about venerable wrinkles, which are a much surer sign of old age than grey hairs. It may be that there are wrinkles on the history of university representation to which objection may be taken, but nobody can deny that, in this great Constitution of ours in this country, university representation occupies an old and, I believe, an honourable position among the many features of our Constitution. As I have said, there is no more objection to saying that a thing is old than there is to saying that a thing is new. Wisdom is not infrequently to be found in a combination of the old nation and the new statesman—a combination which, I believe, is being brought about at the present time. Therefore, I would venture to ask the House for a few minutes to consider with me the case, not for establishing a defence of university representation, but for examining the objections taken to its continued existence. May I say, in passing, that this thing has never really been subjected to a real test? I have no doubt that resolutions might be found, passed by members of the National Liberal Federation or the National Labour Conference, in which the abolition of university constituencies is included; but we all know how resolutions of this sort are framed and how they are carried. There is much more force in the resolutions than there is in the resolution with which the parties try to put their opinion into practice.
It has been suggested in some quarters that a motive, if not a reason, for the proposal contained in this Bill is to be found in the fact that the party at present in office does not happen at the moment to have any supporters—or, shall I say, any declared supporters—among the university constituencies. I mention that fact only for the purpose of dismissing it. I dismiss it for the reason that the Labour party has fought many university seats on many occasions, and I deduce from that fact that the university franchise is not regarded by them as so unclean a thing that they dare not touch it in any circumstances whatsoever.
I think the real objection that is felt by many to the existence of the university franchise is to be found in the fact that the existence of university constituencies facilitates, and, if allowed to continue, will perpetuate, what is called the plural vote. That is a position which I can understand. I can further appreciate that anyone taking up that position will pursue it to its logical conclusion, which would be that any condition of things which perpetuated the plural vote should be abolished. But I confess I fail to understand, or, at least, to view sympathetically, the position of a man or of a Government who would say that exceptional treatment shall be conceded to a constituency like the City of London, but snail be denied to the universities of this country, it is quite obvious that there are special circumstances which obtain in the City of London, but those special circumstances are not insurmountable; in point of fact they are very easily surmountable. I understand that the number of what I may call resident electors in the City of London is about 10,000, and I must confess that I find it very difficult to understand why a Government which is prepared to make special provision for 10,000 caretakers, charwomen and attendants should show greater consideration for those people than it is prepared to extend to the many thousand university graduates in this country. It is difficult to understand that as coming from a Labour Government. It is obvious that they are not impressed by any desire to soothe the ire of the caretakers; it is not from that point of view that they wish to give special treatment to the City of London.
What, then, is the influence which is exercising them in providing special treatment as between the City of London and the universities of the country? I can only imagine that it is a desire to placate the special interests which are located within the boundaries of the City of London, and I must add that it is an odd fact that a Labour Government should prefer to pay homage to those who specially represent the capitalist system in this country, which the Government declare to be the enemy of the policy which they are elected to pursue, rather than to the representatives of educated opinion, upon which it professes to be able with increased certainty to rely. In this connection it is relevant to observe that the universities stand in a very different position from that in which they stood even within the lifetime of many of those who are present here to-night. The vast majority of those who pass through our universities to-day are men and women who embarked upon their educational careers in the public elementary schools of this country. I would add that there is no university in this country which does not take pride in that fact, and there is no university which does not share the desire which I hold, that the number of those who pass through our public elementary schools to the universities should be larger than it is to-day. I mention that fact for the purpose of showing that those who desire to see the special representation of the universities in Parliament continue are not actuated by what I may call the complex of the snob. I wish I could feel equally assured that those who are desirous of abolishing university constituencies are not animated by what I may call the complex of the prig, which, has been denned as an animal which is overfed for its size.
The fact of the matter is that, although the university Members represent a comparatively small number of electors in this House, they do stand for certain definite points of view, and points of view which, I should have thought, ought to be represented in an Assembly which claims to be the representative Assembly of the nation. There are many in this country who are not definitely associated with any political party, but who are desirous of having an opportunity of expressing through the ballot-box their views upon the great constitutional issues which from time to time arise in this country. It may be that, as individuals in ordinary constituencies, they are more or less associated with different political parties, but I know from my own experience that a large number of them are glad to have the opportunity of saying that, whatever may be the opportunities which are open to them in the ordinary constituencies of the country, they are glad to have an opportunity, through the university constituencies, of expressing a view which they think ought to be represented in the great Parliament of the nation.
The people who put that point of view in our own country are not the only people. There are also large numbers of people abroad, whether in the Civil Service or representing the great commercial and industrial interests of the country, in the Colonies or foreign countries, who are still as much interested in the welfare of the country as are we who live in it. In some respects, they have a greater interest in its welfare than we have. They have the possibility of expressing their opinions and exercising their influence by registering their votes in regard to matters that affect the country and Empire and our foreign relations through the university constituencies, which are the only mediums that they have to give expression to their opinions, their votes and their consciences. If you cannot deprive 10,000 caretakers in the City of London of the opportunity of expressing their opinions, while, at the same time, you give them an opportunity of expressing their opinions by combining them with neighbouring constituencies in London, I think it is shameful to deprive these other people of the only opportunities they have of exercising the opinions they may have, and certainly the opinions they are entitled to have, upon the great political and industrial issues of this country.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) quoted Mr. Lecky, but only for the purpose of saying that university Members had almost universally been hostile to progress. That all depends on what you mean by progress, and I wonder, when the present history of this country comes to be written, whether the impartial historian will say that the right hon. Gentleman has contributed more to progress than Mr. Lecky? But that is not the point of view. The real point of view is that if you trace the history of university representation in the House of Commons, you will find there have been men who have been able to express in this place, the great assembly of the nation, views to which they would probably never have had an opportunity of giving expression had it not been for university representation. I hope that the House will allow me a personal word. I do not flatter myself for a minute that I am the sort of person that might be considered to be the type of man who ought to be elected for a university. The only answer to that is that I have been elected, and as long as the university constituency exists, and as long as I exist, perhaps I may be here when many other Members have disappeared.
The question, however, is not one of the personnel. The real question is, does the House think it worth while to give to a certain type of citizenship in this country an opportunity of having its own expression in an assembly which is supposed to represent all the opinions and all the functions of all classes of the community? I agree that in days gone by it may very fairly have been said that university representatives were confined to a certain particular class, but that can no longer be said. The universities to-day consist of men and women who come from all classes of the country and represent all types of character and opinion. They are men and women who are qualified by education and experience to express views and to represent opinions which, perhaps, could not be focussed in the ordinary constituency of the country, but who are certainly entitled to express those opinions. I think this House would be taking a retrograde step if it were to adopt the proposal contained in the Bill.
There is one other thing I want to say. At the present time I should have thought that any Government or party, irrespective of the narrow considerations which apply to our political life, who were desirous of promoting the great causes which are common to all parties, would have welcomed a continuance of a system which introduces into this House the opportunities—I am not putting it higher than that—of bringing a rather distinctive opinion and rather special atmosphere into our discussions. In particular, I say that with regard to our system of education. The whole of our educational system is at present going through a real test. There are many people who say we are spending too much on education, and there are many who say that we cannot afford what we are spending. I should have thought anybody who believes in the real, true basis upon which the Constitution of this country has been built up, would have been glad to welcome the opportunity for the expression of the opinions of those who built up the educational system of the country, who are desirous of its continuance and who are anxious to see its extension. Although there have been in the last few weeks some things which were pretty bad from the point of view of those of us who are concerned in the development of the educational activities of this country, I do not think there could be anything worse at the present time than that the Government should have gone out of their way—because this Clause is not essential to the Bill—to emphasise the fact that they are prepared to pay more attention to the commercial, the industrial and the capitalistic influence of a small section of the community than they are to pay attention to those who are anxious and desirous of promoting the welfare and education of the community.
A reply to the hon. Member for the University of Wales (Mr. Evans) ought to be made at once. He has charged the Government, and presumably this party as well, with paying much more attention to the commercial interests of the City of London than to the interests of the universities. I would like to remind him that it is not proposed to give people in the City of London two votes, but only one vote. What he is claiming for the university elector is the right to vote for the university Member and to vote also for a Member in the constituency in which he resides, thus giving him two votes instead of one. That is giving him a separate vote, forsooth, because of his intellectual attainments, although people with intellectual attainments ought to be able to influence other people to a far greater extent than ordinary humble people without those gifts. Because the university elector has special qualities for influencing people to a greater degree than others, we are going to award him an additional advantage on the top of the great advantage which he already has. It need hardly be said that in this Bill there is no objection to the elector of the university as such. He is under no handicap, and we see no reason for giving him the special advantage which the hon. Member claims.
The right hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill objected chiefly to the proposal of the alternative vote. He gave a number of objections to it. The only drawback was that he gave too many, with the result that they cancelled each other out. His first objection was that to give the opportunity of an alternative vote to the candidate at the bottom of the poll was really to make the smallest minority of the electors the dictators as to who should represent the constituency. That, he said, was to make the minority supreme. After making them supreme and condemning it on that ground, he condemned it because it destroyed minorities and gave them a worse chance of gaining representation than they have even under the present system. In order to press his argument conclusively, he cited the case of the Liberal party, whom he regarded as being the section of the House chiefly interested in this proposal, and pointed out that, at the last election, in 241 constituencies, the Liberal was at the bottom of the poll. This, I suppose, illustrates both points. Being at the bottom of the poll and losing their chance of electing their own Members would, of course, help to destroy the party. At the same time, they were destroying their party by having the right to choose which of the other parties was to represent them. That made their party the real dictators of the State. That is the kind of argument that is put forward from the Front Bench opposite to justify the rejection of the Measure. It is an excellent thing to have a number of objections to a particular proposal, but we ought to have a little more consistency in the line of argument.
The right hon. Gentleman went on still further to elaborate the question of minorities. A considerable portion of his speech was based on the assumption that it is the business of the electors to return a number of minorities to the House or, to put it another way, to make quite sure that every minority gets its due proportion of representation. I agree with another hon. Member, who said that the chief purpose of elections was not to get minorities represented at all, but to get a strong Government, and that the true function of a voter was to have a say in the government of the country and to vote in such a way that he had a reasonable chance of influencing the policy of the Government by that vote. That obviously can be done most effectively under the two-party system. If you make special provision for the representation of minorities you destroy the two-party system. The right hon. Gentleman spoke a very long time but never committed himself to proportional representation. He said it was a far more satisfactory way of getting minority representation than the alternative vote. I do not propose to disagree with that. But he never once in all his speech expressed an opinion one way or the other whether that type of representation was desirable or not. He went on then to warn the Liberal party particularly that it was not quite certain that the alternative vote would be to their advantage.
After listening to speeches from the party opposite, I have found that this proposal is not going to be to the advan- tage of any party. We have been warned by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Major Hills) that Labour would lose by it, we have been warned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) that the Liberal party would lose by it, and every one on the opposite side of the House is quite certain that they would lose by it. That seems to be a contradiction, because someone must gain as long as we retain the same number of Members. I should advise them to work out their mathematical problems more accurately.
Another peculiar argument used by the right hon. Gentleman was that the alternative vote was a very complicated, method of voting, and, strangely enough, in the same breath he was advocating a scheme of proportional representation. Of course, proportional representation is not complicated at all. Although the method of voting is precisely the same, the object is quite different in the two proposals. Although proportional representation is not in the Bill, there is an assumption by a good many people who advocate it which is not borne out by the facts at all. They first of all argue from a theoretical proportional representation under which the whole country would be one constituency, and they assume, under any condition of proportional representation, that every Member in the House would represent the same number of electors, and that the House would reflect absolutely accurately the opinions of the various sections of the people of the country. That is an illusion, as anyone who cares can prove for himself. Hull is represented by three Labour Members and one Conservative. In order to see how the new system would work, I lumped the four constituencies together and I found that at the last election the Labour party polled 64,441 and got three Members, the Conservative party polled 52,219 and got one Member, and the Liberals polled 30,000 and got no Member.
Suppose that you had the principle of proportional representation. The quota, as it is called, would be 29,514. The Labour party under that would get two Members, the Conservatives one, and the Liberals one, and all would have some votes left over without any representation at all. Labour would get two Members for 64,000, the Conservatives would get one Member for 52,000, and the Liberals would get one Member for 30,000. The 30,000 would get as much representation as 52,000, and 64,000 would get as much representation as nearly 90,000. That is a demonstration, even from the standpoint of giving adequate representation to minorities, that a proposal of this kind would not give it. Nothing short of making the country one constituency would give it, and the effect of that would be to get a great number of minorities in the House, and it would have to depend on an accidental combination of these minorities whether you could get a majority in the House of Commons at all.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) pointed out that he had been elected once or twice in Northern Ireland under this system, but he did not explain why it was abandoned. Can it be that in Northern Ireland they do not desire to have minorities represented, or is it that the system was not quite as successful as they anticipated? I agree in the main with the argument put forward by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ripon. I do not agree with his conclusions but I think I agree with his point of view as to what Parliament should be. He wants this Parliament to represent, not particular sections of the community, but to express by its vote and by the number of people who sit here what one might call the dominant opinion of the country for the time being. I believe that that is the only way by which we can get satisfactory government in the country or any satisfactory position, but I fail to see how a modification of our present electoral system from the present method to the method of the alternative vote is likely to produce that result. It may, possibly, increase the representation of the smallest party at the present moment. That is exceedingly likely, but, after all, the divisions of public opinion in the country in the future, as long as we have the two-party system, will be between the two strongest parties. The whole pressure of the electoral system will be to drive people to vote for the party which is most likely either to become the Government of the country or the strongest wing of the Opposition to that Government. The alternative vote, instead of hampering that process, I think by all logic, is more likely to increase it.
The hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Strachey), apparently, thought that it was a very good Bill for the Government to bring in in their spare moments, but that it had very little importance in itself. That is rather amazing. No one claims that this Measure is one of the great landmarks in electoral reform which we find when we read our histories. But does the hon. Member suggest that electoral reform is a minor thing? What have we been talking about for a great deal of our time during the last Session? What is the problem of the Government of India but one of electoral reform. What is the question of self-determination about which we hear so much, but a question of electoral reform, whether people shall be governed by one set of people and how governments shall be chosen? All these big questions dealing with India and Egypt are in respect of self-government and methods of self-government, and even if it is only the putting of a coping-stone or a small stone to the structure which is being erected, it is still worth doing. I think that the result in the country, when we deal with all these anomalies which have been mentioned, will enable us to get a much more representative House of Commons, and a much more powerful Government than we have had up to the present.
The hon. Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Arnott) has, like so many hon. Members who have spoken during the course of to-day's Debate, left his attitude to this Bill somewhat vague. When the Home Secretary introduced this Bill, there was a certain amount of enthusiasm for the abolition of the plural vote, there was perhaps a little more enthusiasm for the abolition of university representation, there seemed to be little or none for the alternative vote, and I did not gather that there was any great enthusiasm for the remaining provisions of this hotchpotch which the Government have seen fit to put in front of the country. I am sure that the hon. Member for South-West Hull will forgive me if I do not deal with his speech in detail, because upon his arguments on the alternative vote, I shall have something to say later.
I should like, at the outset, to deal with university representation, because in this matter I speak from rather a different angle than my hon. Friends who have spoken in the House in support of it. I represent a constituency which houses an ancient university and which, as this House has been told, has been represented here since 1603. I am bound to say that, taking my constituency as a whole—and we have had a very long experience of the university representation—there is no hostility to that representation in any shape or form, except in a very small part of my town. I represent, and do my best to represent as far as the ordinary concerns of politics are concerned, the university, but there are branches of our business as a nation in which I cannot represent the university with nearly the same degree of accuracy as those who are its representatives. To begin with, as the hon. Member for the University of Wales (Mr. Evans) has said, there are thousands of constituents who go abroad and live abroad, partly on Government service and partly on private business, to whom their university Member is the one and only person in this House to whom they can go to put their grievances before the Government of the day. If you ask any university Member whence does the greater part of his post-bag come, he will tell you that it comes from overseas.
I speak, for the moment, both as one who represents a university constituency and one who is proud to have, been at the university himself, when I say that there are thousands of our people serving His Majesty's Government in India, Hong Kong, the Colonies all over the world, and there are thousands more who represent industry and commerce of this country abroad who are, at any rate, temporary domiciled in a foreign country, to whom the action of His Majesty's Government, at any moment, may be of great importance. To whom do these people appeal? May be they have no connection with any constituency in this country, and if they write to any one of us in the country, having no local ties and having no particular reason why they should choose one Member rather than another, are we not rather apt to think, "Surely, after all, perhaps this is not, strictly speaking, my business"? But in the university Member they have someone to whom they can appeal, someone who represents them, and, if necessary, can voice their opinions in the House of Commons. I submit that with an imperial Parliament such as this, a Parliament not solely exercised with the domestic concerns of this country, but exercised with problems that are of interest all over the world, the university representation at least fulfils one useful purpose.
There is also another purpose. It was claimed by my hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan) that the universities represent the professions, and it was argued that on the whole the professions are not unrepresented in this House. With regard to the learned profession, I submit that that is true. But, after all, there are many problems with which universities have to deal which have little or nothing to do with the learned profession. There is, as one hon. Member pointed out, the claims of the scientists. We have had far too few Members in this House with scientific attainments, but I believe that those who have come in have come in as representatives of one or other of the universities. In these times, when science plays an ever-growing part in our daily life, that avenue of approach to this House should not be banged and barred in their face.
There is one other argument. It was argued by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), who was putting up the case for the universities, why not give the trade unions representation as such? Speaking solely for myself, I can see much to be argued for the representation in this House of trade unions as such. At least, their representatives would represent something very real. I have heard many members of trade unions in this House claim that they represent the trade unions. They represent something real, living and vital in our national life. How many Members of this House can claim that they represent anything? A few Members like myself, representing as I do one of the ancient boroughs of this country, can at least claim that we stand and represent a living entity. How can any hon. Member who represents one-fourth, or one portion of a borough arbitrarily divided in order to produce something approximately representing electoral equality, claim that he represents a living entity? He does not. Nor does any Member who represents some district arbitrarily cut out of the country represent anything real. The old Members who sat for boroughs and counties represented real entities, and I believe that there is much to be said for giving better representation to real things in this House instead of the somewhat artificial units that we represent to-day. The old boroughs and the old universities represent something real, and if for that reason and no other I would urge the retention of the university representation.
The Home Secretary dealt somewhat delicately with the question of a mandate. He said that the Bill was mentioned in the King's Speech. I agree that an Electoral Reform Bill was mentioned in the King's Speech, but I have taken the trouble to look up what was said by the Prime Minister on the subject. Speaking in the Debate on the Address he said that he would introduce a Bill "to deal with the escapades of parties who are too wealthy to observe the law with strict accuracy." I do not doubt that that may be an admirable method of looking at this Bill which the Government have seen fit to inflict upon the House of Commons, but I am bound to say that I can find little in its provisions to carry out that undertaking of the Prime Minister. But even under this Clause it is not the existing law which is altered; it is merely an alteration of the amount to be expended, and the way in which the wealthy observe the strict letter of the law will be no more hindered under Clause 7 than it has been hindered under the existing law. So far as that is concerned this Bill does nothing to carry out the pledge given by the Prime Minister in his speech on the Address. The Home Secretary did not seem particularly keen in regard to the alternative vote. He referred very briefly to the Ullswater Conference. The Ullswater Conference, if it expressed an opinion at all, expressed the view that in the event of any change proportional representation was the only change that was advisable. The right hon. Gentleman based his case on the Commission of 1910, but I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that a good deal has occurred since the 1910 Conference. In 1910 the Parliamentary system was still in its heyday. It enjoyed the confidence of all nations. Nations were prepared to copy the Parliamentary system of this country, of which we have been so proud, and we as a nation were engaged in supporting the Parliamentary system in every way at home and in encouraging its adoption throughout the world. Can anybody say that that is the opinion of the world to-day? Several European countries, certainly two or three of them, have abolished the Parliamentary system, and others are wondering, and wondering gravely, whether the Parliamentary system is really feasible. We have had recently a series of revolutions in South America as a method of getting rid of a Government elected under the Parliamentary system.
Can anyone say in view of these facts that the Parliamentary system occupies the same high and unchallenged place that it did in the peaceful days before the War? The Commission of 1910 reported at a time when the Parliamentary system had been growing in prestige in this country and all over the world. Today, that prestige is no longer maintained. We read in our newspapers such headings as these: "Is Parliament doomed?" "Can Parliament do its job?" In view of that change of opinion, I suggest that the opinion of the Commission of 1910 on the present situation is about as valuable as the opinion of Noah would be on a modern battleship.
A most remarkable speech was delivered by the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel). I had the pleasure of serving with him for several months on the Ullswater Conference, and I feel certain that he will not think I am discourteous when I say that we had that speech or the bulk of that speech delivered at the Conference. The remarkable thing about his speech was that it had nothing on earth to do with the Bill before the House. His speech was an eloquent plea for proportional representation. He based the whole of his argument on the fact that under the present system minorities do not get the representation to which in accordance with the number of votes given to them in the country they might reasonably consider themselves to be entitled. He pointed out with great eloquence and fervour that under the existing system it was possible for a Government returned by a minority of votes in an election to pass—he said, Protection, I might say Socialism—something opposed to the wishes of the majority. There is not one single word in this Bill to prevent that state of affairs occurring in the future.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to assume that under some magical dispensation of Providence the alternative vote will, somehow, give minorities representation, and he repeated an argument the fallacy of which I should have thought was universally recognised long ago. The Government of 1924 did not command a majority. I remember making a few remarks in this House on this subject during that Parliament. In 1924 there were 131 members elected to this House who did not command a majority vote in their constituency. Of that number 79 were Conservatives, 12 were Liberals and 36 were Socialists. What the right hon. Gentleman seems to have omitted altogether is the fact that, even if it assumed, and it is an assumption which it would take a very bold man indeed to make, that all those minority representatives had belonged to one or other party in opposition—it is no part of my argument to say to which party—the Government would still have had a majority of 44 over the combined opposition and would, therefore, have been in exactly the same strong position to pass any protective Measure they pleased, although the right hon. Gentleman says that it was in a minority in the country.
That is the fallacy underlying the whole of this Bill. If you want a Government, a House of Commons, which represents accurately the feeling of the country so that every section of political opinion is represented as closely as possible in its numerical strength in this House, you must go to a system of proportional representation, because no other system will do it. I do not know whether proportional representation is altogether an unmixed benefit. At the commencement of the Ullswater Conference my own personal opinion was strongly opposed to it, but I came to the conclusion that although it has many contradictions and faults yet, if it is the desire of Parliament and the country that this House should be an accurate representation of the different strengths and shades of political feeling, no other system is of the least use; that it is the one and only system that can possibly produce that result and the only system which can give any sane protection to minorities. The difficulty with regard to proportional representation and I am not quite certain that this is not also true of the alternative vote seems to me that it necessitates a considerable number of changes in our constitutional theory and practice.
One thing is certain, if you are going to have a Parliament representing closer the opinion in this country, such as you get in Germany and other continental countries, you will have to get rid once and for all of the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility. No Cabinet, no Government, can hope to hold office if it has to depend on different groups, each of whom may move one day in support of the Government and the next day the reverse. No Government can hold office in such circumstances. I do not think in any form of election to this House which perpetuates the idea of two, three or four parties can you allow the Prime Minister to retain the prerogative of advising His Majesty as to a dissolution. Every Government, every Parliament, abroad, in which the system of proportional representation obtains, has got rid, to a greater or a lesser extent, of the right of His Majesty the King or the Government of the country to demand the dissolution of the House. In France, which works under a second ballot, a dissolution can only be granted with the consent of the Senate. Germany has a fixed Parliament, but I am not certain that the President has not the overriding prerogative to dissolve Parliament.
If you are going to get the group system in the Parliament of this country the first and inevitable thing is to get rid of the present constitutional theory that the Prime Minister of the day has the right to advise dissolution. There is nothing which does more to strengthen the party machine in the House, but when, instead of having two party machines, you have five or six party machines it is obvious that this power cannot be entrusted to whoever may temporarily hold the office of Prime Minister. That is a point of view which the Government have not faced in this Bill. They have not started with the idea of what is best for the country, what kind of House of Commons is required, and, having settled that broad point of principle, brought in their Bill. The Bill is framed with the desire of getting the biggest amount of compromise between themselves and hon. Members below the Gangway. If it is desired to have a House of Commons representing so closely the opinion of the country then proportional representation is the only method.
Do we really desire it? Do we want a House of Commons in which each shade of political opinion is accurately and numerically represented in this House? There is no difficulty in drafting a Bill to achieve that purpose; in fact, in Holland the system is already in operation. But I think the evils attending it far outweigh its advantages. It means weak Governments; and we are not a small country merely concerned with our domestic affairs which can afford to entertain weak Governments. We are an Imperial Power, and an Imperial House. We have many big burdens on our shoulders, which most foreign Parliaments escape, and for that reason alone a strong Government supported by a majority of this House is essential for our well-being. That is one thing. Is it also to be argued that the present system does not give us on the whole a pretty fair mirror of the country? I admit, I am not prepared to deny, that the swing of the pendulum one way or the other will give distinct advantage at this moment to one party and at another moment to another party, but it does not really strengthen the country, and can it be said that hon. Members in this House, representing many interests as well as many constituencies, do not on the whole give as fair a representation of the feelings of the people of this country as you will get by any other means?
I come to the proposal of the Government. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea has already quoted the opinion of Professor Ramsay Muir on the alternative vote. With that opinion I am in wholehearted agreement. There is no guarantee under the alternative vote of any representation of minorities. But it has far greater evils even than that. If it did something to represent minorities there would be a case for it, but I want the House to consider, first, that under the alternative vote there is no real choice before the elector at all. Take an extreme, case, and sometimes an extreme case serves to point out the futility of a proposal. Take the case in which there is put up, and it is not such an unreasonable case after all, the representative of extreme prohibitionist views. The other two candidates both represent the ordinary view that a man should be entitled to have a drink if he wants it. It is easy to imagine that such a candidate would not succeed in polling one-eighth of the votes of the constituency, he would forfeit his deposit, and yet those who supported him and hold views to which both the other candidates are opposed would have the choice of selecting whether A or B really represented that constituency in this House. I admit that the case is extreme, but it shows the fatuity of the proposals of the Bill. Take also the position at another by-election which has been mentioned—North Paddington. The choice of a third party elector would have been whether he preferred an Empire Free Trader who was pledged to tax everything, or an official Conservative who was pledged to go rather less far in Protection.
But by far the greatest evil of the alternative vote is this: We all know that there are certain seats in this country, and they are common to all parties, in which it does not matter how many candidates are put up, for the candidate who represents the dominant party in that constituency is certain of being returned. Such constituencies are not many. I believe they are most common in the areas represented by hon. Members of the Labour party. But that does not matter. In every other constituency in this country the candidates of the two great and powerful parties are going to calculate who they think will be at the bottom of the poll. I happened to have a clear majority in my election, but I cannot guarantee it, and if this Bill came into force I should b ebound to consider which of my opponents would be at the bottom. Other candidates will have to make a similar calculation elsewhere. What will be the result? You will have Members angling for the bottom vote in nearly every constituency in the country. You can wipe out a few which are so certain in their choice as not to matter. But what will be the effect on this House of the Bill's proposal?
Take the electoral situation in the South and West. You will have hon. Members of the Liberal party and hon. Members of the Conservative party angling for the votes of the Socialists. There are parts of England in which Liberals invariably are at the bottom in present conditions. You will have hon. Members of the Labour party and Conservatives angling for the votes of the Liberals. In other parts of England Conservatives are always at the bottom. You will have hon. Members of the Liberal and Labour parties angling for the Conservative votes. What will be the condition of the House of Commons returned in those circumstances? Two-thirds of the Members are going to be cross-pledged on every question—pledged by their own party point of view and by the point of view of the party whose votes they have been hoping to carry in order to get their seats. You might find that the exact contingency that the right hon. Member for Darwen is so anxious to avoid-that Protection would be brought in by a minority Government—will be the exact condition under which hon. Members opposite will get a majority, because in places they have angled for the Protectionist vote in order to make quite certain of their seats, or conversely because we have angled for Socialist votes. The Bill is a protection against nothing. The Home Secretary made a great claim that he had abolished plural voting by this Bill. He proposed on the one hand to take plural voting away from the direct taxpayer, and on the other hand to give it to the representatives of the smallest party in any constituency. By this Bill the right hon. Gentleman is not abolishing plural voting but is merely changing its incidence. He made out some case, or tried to make out some case for the abolition of plural voting but I would remind him in reference to the long historical disquisition to which he treated this House, of the old principle of no taxation without representation. The danger to-day seems to be that you are going to get representation without taxation.
There is another feature about this very remarkable Bill on which I should like to say a few words. That is in reference to the use of motor cars. As the right hon. Gentleman said we had an interesting Debate on that subject not so long ago and I do not wish to weary the House by repeating any of the remarks which I made on that occasion. I would only remark that if this Clause comes into operation I for one shall reflect with sorrow that I am not a keeper of a public-house. The Bill says that you must not take voters to the poll, but I can see nothing to prevent anybody taking people to the "Blue Pig" or the "Spotted Cow" or whatever public-house happens to be conveniently adjacent to the polling place and depositing them there. I have no doubt that those who wish to bring voters to the poll will do it with immense benefit to the licensed vintners but very small benefit to anybody else. This provision, I believe, to be unworkable. It can only be enforced by the total prohibition of the use of all vehicles other than those required for trade purposes on polling day. It may or it may not be a good thing to prevent riding to the poll but I do not think that any legislation which we are asked to pass in this House, short of the total prohibition of the use of cars for all purposes on polling day, is going to achieve that end.
I wish to make one remark on the subject of election expenses. I notice that the Government proposals include a proposal to reduce expenses both in counties and boroughs. In the last Parliament I was partly instrumental in effecting a reduction in the expenses in counties, and, as far as that is concerned, I would point out to the Government that we have had only one election since the 1928 Act and that election was in the summer. The counties in many cases are scattered areas, and I ask that we should be content with the reduction that has taken place for the present; that we should wait and see whether or not that reduction will prove sufficient in a campaign fought during the winter months. With regard to the boroughs I take the same position as I took in 1928. I would put this point of view to the Government and their supporters. A reduction in election expenses is very often for the benefit of the sitting Member, and against a candidate who has not previously represented the constituency posters are expensive, and a sitting Member whose name, as a rule, is well known in the constituency, does not require posters. But the same thing is not necessarily true of a candidate appearing for the first time, especially if he comes in at the eleventh hour.
The Government have introduced this Bill at a time when, as my right hon. Friend said, the country is thinking of unemployment and of the economic position. There is not a single provision in this Bill which will give any assistance to those who are out of work. We on these benches may believe that the Bill is introduced as the result of a compact between the Government and those below the Gangway on this side. That may be so or not, but this Bill is not required. There is no mandate for it from the country, and to introduce it now is an outrage upon our Parliamentary procedure.
The speeches which have been delivered by hon. Members opposite during this Debate, the speeches of hon. Members who have opposed the Bill, illustrate the fact that the party who, in order, as they thought, to win political prestige, extended the franchise to women more widely at the last Election are determined to maintain the old electoral machinery, which will make the effective use of full democracy impossible.
The Tory party has always sought to maintain the power of wealth and social prestige in order to defeat the ends of democracy, and the electoral system that we have to-day is one in which the power of wealth weighs heavily on one side as against the other. It is an electoral system whereby some people speak with two voices and some people have no voice at all. That is a system which cannot honestly he defended by anybody who pretends to believe in the principles of democracy. There cannot be a democratic system under circumstances which permit of three candidates, as in the existing system, and under which a large proportion of people have their votes rendered nugatory and, on the other hand, tolerate a system whereby a certain proportion of people exercise two votes and indeed, through their families, a great many more votes than two. That is the situation to-day, and nobody can say that that is fair.
The right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), who moved the Amendment, opened his speech by saying, "Do I dream, do I sleep, or do I see visions"? I think the answer to all three questions is in the affirmative, for the first 20 minutes of his speech consisted of generalisations, most of them quite irrelevant, which proved that he was still in his dream and far away from the substance of this Measure. His first attack was on the alternative vote. In my view, you will never get a system which will work accurately, mathematically. That, I think, is humanly impossible, but the advantage of the alternative vote is this, that at least it does make sure that the person with a majority of the electors definitely against him does not get elected.
But it does. However you may choose the one candidate to be elected, the final result certainly is that the people who are defeated are the people who have a majority opinion against them, and that the person who is elected has, broadly speaking, the maximum support that any of the three candidates or more could achieve. That seems to me to be a distinct advantage, and it does deal with the problem of the people who to-day are voiceless during an election. It gives the elector whose first choice is rejected some say in the final decision. To say that that decision is the result of the votes of the supporters of the third candidate is, of course, nonsense, because the decision which is ultimately reached is reached by those people who prefer that candidate to any of the others in the field; and it is clearly right, whatever the right hon. Gentleman may say, that the one with the least first preferences should be eliminated first, but I believe it is true to say that if you were to eliminate the second, the final result in the vast majority of cases would be the same.
The most astonishing argument which I heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea, and which was repeated by the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne), was that the alternative vote provides no representation for minorities. Since when did the Conservative party concern themselves with minorities? They appear now as the new friend of minorities. It has, as far as I understand it, never been a principle of our electoral system to provide for the definite representation of minorities. It is, as a matter of fact, one of the claims of proportional representation that it gives such representation; but that system is, of course, a complete revolution in our electoral system and I am astonished to find that the Conservative party, by the logic of their own position, are apparently being driven to accept proportional representation—that wild and revolutionary measure—in preference to this adaptation of the single-member constituency which we have to-day. It was suggested that the alternative vote would lead to log-rolling. Is log-rolling entirely unknown in modern politics? Under this Bill would it be the first time that logrolling had ever appeared in British politics? I think not. It is perfectly clear that under any kind of electoral system people who care to undertake logrolling will find ways and means of doing it, and I should not have thought that log-rolling was likely to be more widespread under the alternative vote than it is to-day.
We heard from the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Oxford the term "angling for votes" as though that were going to be one of the great defects of the alternative system. I believe that I have heard the term before. I have heard it hurled across the floor to Members of this side of the House on occasion after occasion, but now it is suggested to us that there is going to be a new vice in modern politics if we accept the alternative vote. There is going to be angling for votes! Hon. Members know well that they have had members in their party who are experts at this. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), the Mover of the Amendment, said that the ordinary elector did not want the alternative vote, and he pictured the typical elector, as he saw him in Chelsea no doubt, whose primary concern was Derby Day and the weather, who thought of nothing but sport and all the trivialities of middle-class conversation. It may be perfectly true that the Conservative voter does think more about the Derby than about politics. It is no wonder that Conservatives get returned to Parliament if their supporters are people of that particular kind. It would appear to be true a priori that supporters of the Conservative party were unacquainted with politics and devoted their thoughts to the results of the Derby and to conversations about the weather.
That, of course, is not a true picture of the constituents whom most of us in this House represent. It is certainly not true of mine. The ordinary elector is a more intelligent person than the Conservative party have ever understood. Time is proving it, and the elector, who nowadays is becoming increasingly conscious politically, wants a system whereby he is going to be able to pull his full weight during an election. My own view is that the ordinary elector, even the "doggy man" who goes to "the dogs" and the Derby, will prefer a system under which his vote will at least count for something. It was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman that the alternative vote would lead to anomalies. That seems to be a word which has been used before. Anomalies exist to-day, but at least we shall diminish those anomalies, and the situation will be an improvement on the present one. The existing system makes for anomalies on a large scale. The Government of 1924–1929 was the greatest anomaly of modern times, for according to the calculations of the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford City, which I do not challenge, instead of having the overwhelming majority of 200 they would under the alternative vote have had a majority of only 44, and their wings would accordingly have been clipped. It is clear, no one can deny it, that the electoral strength of the Conservative party in the House of Commons in the last Parliament did not represent the opinion of the people of this country.
The right hon. Gentleman and other Members have spoken of the university vote. They have pointed to the great scholars who have graced this House by their presence, but have forgotten to tell us that some of the greatest scholars who ever graced this House came into it by the front door. They have forgotten to tell us that the universities have never been true to big men. Professor Gilbert Murray, a man with fine distinction of mind, an outstanding man in his generation, who was not only a great scholar but a great publicist, will never represent the University of Oxford; and if we were to line up in this House the university representatives on the one hand—and I say this out of no disrespect to them— and an equal number of ordinary rank and file representatives of the people, I do not think that in political judgment and in knowledge of human nature and affairs we should be able to prove that the university representatives were superior to the rest of us. The argument that we need educated people as Members because of their interest in education does not seem to carry us very far. I do not think the university voice in this House spoke unitedly on the Education Bill which has recently been before us, nor have I observed that university representatives are always in the forefront of educational progress. It is not a reason for continuing the university representation that more children are going to universities from public elementary schools. The reason why we are against the university vote is that it is a special franchise conferred upon a special section of the people, who thereby are able to exercise a larger influence than the rest of their fellow citizens.
A reference was made by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) to the Government of Ireland Act and the special position of the Queen's University, Belfast, and I understand the charge was made that this Bill was something in the nature of a breach of the Irish Agreement. Let me read what the Act says. I could not believe that in this matter, which is quite general to the United Kingdom, Parliament would bind itself for ever and ever, notwithstanding what it did for other universities, to retain alone in all its glory the representation of Queen's University, Belfast. The Clause in that Act headed
Irish Representation in the House of Commons,
opens with these words:
Unless and until the Parliament of the United Kingdom otherwise determines, the following provisions shall have effect.
Parliament is now in the process of "otherwise determining," and therefore there can hardly be any breach of that pledge.
May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. My point was not that there was any inherent injustice in taking away from that university its representation if all other universities are to lose their Members. I suggested that under the settlement 13 Members had been allotted to Northern Ireland, and that, if a Member was taken away, it would be rather opposed to what appeared to be the constitutional settlement and the representation taken from the university should be replaced.
On the business vote, the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea is that business places should have special business representatives. The argument against this is the same argument as may be used against university representation—that it does give people a special franchise to which they are really entitled as citizens no more than anybody else. The situation to-day is not a fortunate one. The directors of companies and their wives can exercise a double franchise. I believe that other people are able to do it by entering into a tenancy in a building where they are employed in some capacity in order to gain a double vote. Nobody can defend that system. It may be true that these things are legal, but this attempt to multiply the number of business voters is an attempt to defeat the ordinary working of democracy. I see no more reason for providing vocational representation for business men than I do for the artists of Chelsea, or any other particular section of people in the community. If we oppose the university vote, we must, on the same principle, oppose the business franchise. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea made fun of the provision with regard to motor cars. This problem is one of very considerable difficulty, and I admit it.
We will wait and see. It is right that motor cars should be permitted to be used, but it is equally right that they should be used under proper safeguards. The position to-day is quite clear. While the law prescribes very definite limits as to what candidates may do—as to the number of paid officials and so on—there is unlimited power to use motor cars, and that inevitably means that the richest candidate has an unfair pull over his opponents. [Interruption.] Most of us have fought elections with next to no motor cars. [Interruption.] There are things happening at the present time which parallel the kind of things which the right hon. Gentleman thought might happen under this Bill. There have been cases where people have been taken to the poll in cars, and, after the poll, have been driven to the shopping centre, allowed to do their shopping, and then taken home. That is getting very near to corruption, and, if there are practices of that kind, the mere possession of motor cars by a candidate does put ED big influence in the hands of the richest candidate.
I am not satisfied that the proposal we have made is unworkable. It is quite right that the experts of the various parties should be consulted with a view to making it quite workable, but it is not unknown for Conservatives who have motor cars to put their cars at the disposal of Labour candidates. I have known that to be done, and I believe that there is sufficient public spirit in the country to lead people who have motor cars to be willing to put them under the control of a perfectly independent and impartial person like the returning officer.
There was some discussion early in the Debate with regard to the City of London. This proposal does look illogical, and, perhaps, it is illogical. I am quite satisfied, however, that, if the. City of London had been excluded, the bitter partisan struggle to which the right hon. Gentleman referred would have been worse, for the City of London does occupy a very special position. A hundred years ago an attempt was made to absorb the City Police in the Metropolitan Police, but Parliament shrank back in alarm in face of the hostility which it created; and, when it was suggested that the City of London should be swallowed into the London County Council, Members of Parliament crept away and hung their heads for fear of what might descend upon them. There is no great harm done in leaving this little symbol of the past in our midst, so long as we get rid of the very big anomalies that exist in the university vote and the business vote. We have met with the opposition of the Conservative party on this Bill, and I can only assume that it is very largely due to fear. Their political theory now is to obtain majority representation on a minority vote.
We are some way from reaching that position, but it is true that in the late Government there was a majority representation with a minority vote behind it in the country. The Conservative party schemed to maintain that position, lest something worse might befall them. [Interruption.] They are wishing, as I understand, to maintain all the anomalies and all the unfairnesses which now exist in our electoral system. So far as I gather, they want no change at all. This is a perfect system; it is working very well; it has served them well in the past, and they think that it should continue to serve them well in the future. But the position, as I explained at the beginning, is not one which intelligent people can accept. We have a right to ask that now a person should have a vote in virtue of his citizenship, and that no man should have more. We are entitled to ask that each vote should count for something in the final decision, and that the electoral machinery should be such that there is fair play for all candidates, and one which does not weigh on one side against the other.
The view which I have gathered from hon. Members opposite, and particularly from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea, is the very cynical view that the electorate is uninstructed, is careless of national interests and is concerned primarily with sport and the weather, and that there is no regard for much wider and more important problems. I do not believe that is true. If it be true, it is not a state of things in which representatives of public opinion in this House ought to acquiesce. If there be any truth in that statement, it is a criticism of political leaders and public representatives. It means that democracy is a mockery and a farce. It is imperfect, of course, for we live in an imperfect world, but democracy is a palpitating, dynamic thing, and something which is going, and struggling to get going, in a more effective way, and which will, in my view, become more effective when the fetters are struck from it. Today it is being fettered in its free expression by these traditional and special franchises, and by the unequal use of wealth. These things ought to go, in the interests of a live democracy.
The hon. and gallant Member for Oxford has spoken of the breakdown of Parliaments elsewhere. Parliament in this country will not break down once it is made the real instrument of the will of the people. Once it is effective and really responsive to the heart and mind of the people, it will work as well as any human institution can be expected to work. But it cannot work when it is clogged with these evil prejudices from the past, and with the weight of wealth and social influence, and with additional powers given to special groups of persons for no real reason at all. This Bill is a Measure which carries us much further along the road to the realisation of political democracy. The people who are opposing it are opposing a Measure which will bring that nearer, and they must take the responsibility for their opposition. If there is one thing clearer than another, it is that the majority of opinion in this House is in favour of the Bill.
Sir HILTON YOUNG:
The speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health is certainly the most vigorous effort we have heard from the benches opposite in support of the Bill. I believe that the House will agree with me when I say that what has largely marked our proceedings to-day has been the very varying nature of the reception which the Bill has had at the hands of those who might have been expected to be its supporters. For one speech we have heard expressing strong support of the Bill from the benches opposite, we have certainly heard another that either was definitely opposed to it, or else damned the Bill with that faint phrase which is often a very much more severe condemnation than actual opposition. At the unnatural reception of the Bill by its own direct parents in that way, we might be surprised, but we must be even more surprised when we consider the reception it has received from its god-parents below the Gangway, where one would have expected real enthusiasm for the Measure. There has been the same almost wounding reception to this infant which has been deposited on the doorstep for the benediction of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel).
We heard one speech of real eloquence from the benches below the Gangway—a speech which delighted the House, the speech of the hon. Member for the Welsh University (Mr. Evans). Never have I heard a Bill so riddled from behind, and what could be more natural than that it should be so, because I think it is characteristic of the relation between Members for the universities and these ancient institutions that it inspires a deep intimacy and affection between the parent and the child, as it were, which must drive the representatives of the Welsh University far beyond a mere party attitude and must lead them to take, as we have heard from the various university representatives, an attitude towards this Measure based upon far deeper grounds and contemplating a far wider horizon than is commonly contemplated in smaller changes.
The most remarkable feature of some of these speeches, and particularly of the last that we have heard, is the enormous assumptions that are tacitly made. The speech of the Minister of Health was one vast unwarranted assumption. It proceeded upon the vast and unwarranted assumption that there was something in the interests of democracy in the Bill. I am a life-long student of the mechanism of democracy and a life-long believer in its efficacy and in it being really the right method on which a great country, particularly an Anglo-Saxon country, should be governed. But, if I had to accept all the assumptions contained in the right hon. Gentleman's speech as being part of the essential creed of democracy I should find myself fast falling out of the ranks. Does democracy really give us this sterile, this limited vision of the possibilities of representation and of Government by the people through popular institutions? I sincerely trust not. I sincerely trust that the principles of democracy do not demand that, in order to make democracy safe, we should continue to proceed by eliminating from public life every little variety, every species of enrichment that has been brought into it by the wisdom of our predecessors.
Of course, the principal feature of this Bill is its extraordinary diversity. Never has such a diversity of errors been gathered together under a single cover before, a diversity of errors of every species in the approach towards the Government of a great country. Another feature which should really be brought out more clearly in our Debate than has yet been brought out is the errors of logical arithmetic which underlie the Bill. For once in a way I think those errors are to be detected in a rather conspicuous form in speeches from a quarter in which we do not usually expect them, in the speech of the Home Secretary and in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen. In their eagerness to achieve a purpose which I will not at present attempt to define, they have not really given the true basic consideration to this Measure which should have been given.