I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
The purpose of the Clause is perfectly plain. It is to abolish plural voting. It seeks to establish the principle, which must surely be at the basis of a full democracy, that every citizen should have equal political rights, in short, the principle of "one man one vote." I believe that there is an even more graphic explanation which I shall not put forward this afternoon. It is not intended in this Clause to do away with the business vote as such. If the Clause is carried the registration of business premises continues but the elector would not be entitled to vote in two constituencies. He would have to choose between the constituency in which he resides or the constituency in which he carries on his business. One anachronism in this respect has already been done away with in this Bill. The second-hand right of the spouse to vote has gone and the business voter can no longer obtain the vote by virtue of the husband's or wife's business qualification. But, curiously enough, this anomaly remains. What is the reason for its retention? What is the justification for it?
I do not think that there is any reason in equity why one class of citizen should be singled out for special treatment, why one section of the community should have a double political power and should have twice the influence upon the election that his neighbour has. One of the powerful arguments advanced in favour of this qualification is that it is very important that universities and the business community should be represented in this House. I do not think that anyone would controvert that argument. It is important that great sections of the community should be represented in this House, but that is no reason why they should have special privileges: rights as citizens, but not privileges over and above those of their neighbours. I have heard very eloquent pleas put forward in defence of the business vote. It has been suggested that an injustice will be done here to the small business man, but I would like to point out that in nine cases out of ten the small business man lives over his shop or in the vicinity of his business. It is in fact the man with larger and wider business interests who is going to be affected. But that is not really the point at issue. The point is that we are attempting in this Bill—and in some measure I think we have succeeded in the changes that we are making—to secure that the value of each elector's vote shall as far as possible be equal, but for some extra- ordinary reason we allow the principle to be by-passed in this particular respect.
There is one argument used with regard to universities which I should like to mention. It may be said that if an elector has to choose between voting as an university elector or in the place where he resides, it may mean that a great many university electors will vote in the place where they reside, and that therefore the electorate at the universities will be extremely small. The electorate of universities is already very small compared with those of other constituencies, but if the new Education Act means anything at all, if our plans for the future in this country materialise, the population of the universities will increase very largely. It has already done so in Wales and in Scotland. When a Member for the University of Wales was first returned to this House some 20 years ago, I believe the electorate was about 1,600. When my hon. Friend the Member for the University of Wales (Professor Gruffydd) was returned some little time ago, the electorate had gone up to something like 9,000 or 10,000. We hope that England in this respect will follow the more enlightened example of Scotland and of Wales.
We have not had an adequate reason given at all up to now why plural voting has not been abolished in this Bill, and I am looking forward very much to the explanation which is to be given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I do not know whether he will be able to defend either his wings or his spurs. Perhaps his spurs will be more important than his wings, at any rate in the months to come. The proposal to abolish plural voting was put before Mr. Speaker's Conference and, as is well known to the Committee, was turned down by a very considerable majority. This principle has been advocated certainly by hon. Gentlemen on these benches and it has been strongly advocated by hon. Members above the gangway and I hope very much that we shall have their support in the Division Lobby later on to-day. This Bill represents a substantial advance in many directions. We have had an extension of the franchise, we have had greater facilities for the Forces to vote. In many respects, it is a good Bill, but I cannot understand why we have left this pocket of privilege unchallenged and I shall take this opportunity of challenging it to-day.
I support this new Clause and, in view of the rather potent and, I believe, unanswerable arguments which have been given to the Committee by my Noble Friend the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) I shall trespass only a very short time indeed on the patience of the Committee. The principle which is embodied in this new Clause is one with which we are all familiar. As was said a few minutes ago, it is one which is the most familiar in this country—the principle of "one man, one vote." It is sometimes embellished, for the purpose of emphasis, by the addition of certain adjectives—[HON. MEMBERS: "What are they?"]—but speaking with all seriousness, it is a vital principle and the very basis of democracy. How to substitute ballots for bullets is a matter which is causing us very grave pre-occupation at the present time, and it is one of the most vital questions. It has even been suggested that we should be called in to advise the participants and to supervise the elections. I cannot imagine any advice going from this country to any other country in that predicament which would contain any proposals for plural voting. Put in that light, it seems to me absolutely indefensible, and it is really indefensible in this country. My Noble Friend said she would listen with interest to the arguments which would be put up against this Clause but perhaps there will be none and it will be accepted.
If the noble Lady will allow me to say so, she has really destroyed her own argument by her opening remarks, when she said that she had no objection to universities being represented in this House. I was glad to hear her say this because I share her view on this point, and if there were no special representation then clearly this Clause could not stand, because then the position would no longer arise. The point of my remarks is that if you do allow special representation to continue—and I am glad to know that is the case—it is quite absurd to destroy the electorate upon which that representation would be based.
I will give two instances of what would happen. If we take the City of London, as perhaps the most important of the great business centres, at the present time the voters comprise a large number of people who have offices there. Under the Noble Lady's suggestion, they would still be entitled to vote, but the fact is that the great majority of the people would vote from their own homes and the City of London would return Members whose electors consisted of charladies and office cleaners. Then, if I may take the case of the universities, an even more absurd situation would arise under this proposal, because there the electors are graduates who have the postal vote and they, even more surely than the business men to whom I referred in the other case, would, under this proposal cease to exercise that postal vote, as it would be more interesting to them to exercise their vote at home. The result would be that we would have in this House some twelve hon. Members representing the universities, many of whom might be returned on a poll of a few hundreds. Surely, if we are to continue with this special representation, as I hope we will, for which excellent arguments have been advanced from time to time, we must allow that representation to be backed up by a reasonable electorate both in size and, particularly, in quality.
I think it only courteous to the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey—I do not think she should yet be called "Noble Lady"; it is on the Order Paper but it is incorrect—[HON. MEMBERS: "She will be"]—to say a few words on this Clause. She has put forward the case of the plural vote, and this perhaps of all the matters raised in this Bill is the one really party political issue, and I think the Committee has to face up to that perfectly straightforwardly. Nearly all the rest of the matters have been above party, but this is a question on which parties in the House have had very strong views, and at certain times have voted in favour of those views. The Speaker's Conference was confronted with this question as the leading political question that came before it. In other times and places there has been violent conflict over this question. What did the Speaker's Conference do? We looked at the party issue and we said, "Cannot we come to some compromise that will go some way to meet one side and some way to meet the other?" On this matter of plural voting we found a compromise. It is not what some of us wanted. Most of the hon. Gentlemen coming from the party opposite would have liked plural voting to remain in precisely the form in which it has been for some time. We, on the other hand, would have liked to abolish plural voting altogether.
The question was whether we could get some modus vivendi between us which would mark some progress from our point of view in the question of plural voting, and yet would not meet with the entire opposition of the Members coming from the party opposite. We found it in the proposals of the Speaker's Conference. Those proposals were, that while abolishing the vote of the spouse of the business occupier, we should retain the business vote itself, and the intention of that compromise was that the plural vote should be sustained so far as the actual business occupier was concerned, but not sustained so far as the spouse was concerned—generally the wife, but it might in some cases be the husband of the business occupier. That, therefore, was a compromise.
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend but I am sure he would not wish to do me an injustice. The compromise to which he has referred was one to which I was not a party, nor was I involved in it or bound in any sense by it. I am sure he would wish to make that clear.
I quite agree with that statement, which is perfectly correct. I intended to explain later on that this compromise only binds those who actually took part in it. It certainly does not bind my hon. Friend, and it does not bind people who were not actually members of the Speaker's Conference.
Before I come to that, however, I would like to cast one eye upon the practical effect of what is left of plural voting. I have seen statements in the newspapers that plural voting, as left by the Speaker's Conference, amounted to 6,000,000 or 7,000,000 of the total number of electors. That statement is entirely and utterly incorrect, and I will tell the Committee broadly what is the position. There are two types of plural voting which will remain in being after this Bill becomes law. There are those who possess the university vote and also the residential vote, those who possess the business qualification vote and also the residential vote, and I suppose there could be those who would vote for the business and who would also vote for the university. The importance of the university vote is that they have 12 seats in the House of Commons, and to that extent the plural vote, in the sense in which it can be used, does return 12 separate Members to this House who would not be returned unless there was a university franchise. They are voted for by some people who would vote for residence or business, and to that extent it is an extra vote that they give.
With regard to the university vote, there was a certain amount of compromise about it. The arrangement was that the university vote should be open to all graduates without any fee whatever. That is outside the provisions now being discussed, but it enters into the question as to what extent plural voting is left. There are 12 seats, and the number of electors for them is likely to increase in the days to come.
Now we come to the business vote. The total business vote, before we cut it in half, was about 350,000 votes. Of that number, roughly 150,000 go by Clause 2 in this Bill, which takes away from the spouse the business qualifying vote. Therefore, you have 200,000 left. If you take out the City of London, which is the most prominent illustration, and certain divisions in Liverpool and Manchester, you have left something like 100,000 votes distributed over the whole country, as compared with over 20,000,000 votes for the ordinary residential qualification. This does not affect the theory of the question, but it is just as well for us to know as practical people what is the practical effect and I think Members of the Committee, who are considering how to vote on this matter, should realise the magnitude of the problem that we have to face in this Bill. It is a matter of 12 seats which are plural voting seats as university seats, and apart from that some 200,000 electors who will get the double vote—the residential vote and the business qualification vote. That reduces the matter to its proper dimensions.
I shall vote for the Bill as it stands because now that one half of the compromise has been put into the Bill in Clause 2 I am going to support the other half of the compromise at this stage. It may be that some of my party do not feel they can toe the line of a compromise and they, of course, may feel that they must go their own way. But I hope a good many will feel that we in a sense were their representatives and that in making a compromise, half of which we have already secured, they will not wish to take a course which will be contrary to the compromise which we who, to some extent, represented them voluntarily made.
I hope the Committee will approve of my intervention at this moment because I am very anxious that the argument in this matter should be maintained on what I consider is the true basis and proper plane on which it has been put by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence). We are not here discussing in vacuo the merits of plural voting, either in its manifestation in the business seats or in the university seats. We are discussing the position in which this Committee finds itself after the Speaker's Conference has made its recommendations. We know what the position is at the present time, persons may not vote more than once in any constituency and not more than twice at a General Election. In other words, they can exercise their home vote and, if they have one, either their business vote or university vote. That being the position, the question was considered by the Speakers' Conference and it was published that the motion to abolish the plural vote was rejected by 25 votes to six. That expressed, as my right hon. Friend opposite has said, the approval of the compromise that was arrived at. What we have called, for convenience, "the spouse vote," has disappeared, and, apart from the university vote, the business vote has been approximately reduced by half, from the comparatively small figure of 350,000, to the very small figure of 175,000 or 200,000, as it will exist in the Bill.
On that point, the hon. Member for the Isle of Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) is perfectly entitled to join issue with me and show that the question of principle still remains and to say, in the words of Captain Marryat, that it is no justification for the infant that the baby is a very small one. I respectfully join issue with that approach. I do not see that English political life has suffered because on a practical point like this the great parties in the State have been ready to make their advances by give and take on such an issue. Here, as my right hon. Friend has said, it must be a matter for the individual conscience, but at the same time we are not in the least ashamed that we work by party machinery and, equally, we are not ashamed when those who are the representatives of that party machinery come to an arrangement which is practical and which at the same time shows a substantial give and take on each side. Therefore, I approach this issue, and I commend it to the Committee, as one for which neither side need apologise for having come to a compromise and where they can, with perfect honour and reason, carry that compromise into an actuality by rejecting this Amendment.
I should not like my hon. Friend who moved the Clause to believe that there are not arguments which can be put the other way. Clearly the existence of these business communities which depend on the exercise of the business vote can be supported. Clearly the giving of a vote to those who have taken an educational qualification which the country wishes to encourage can be defended. I only say that it is really not relevant at this stage to go into the intricate variations and complications of these defences. The issue before the Committee is whether, having arrived at this compromise, and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, one half of the compromise having been loyally carried out and approved in the passing of Clause 2, it is really right, taking politics as we approach them, and working them on the party basis on which we are proud to work, because we all consider that parties are merely the vehicles of service to the State, the operation of the agreements of parties is something that we are prepared to honour, treasure and respect. Approaching it in that way, I say that the issue is whether this compromise is going to be maintained and approved, and I ask the Committee to reject the Clause.
We have just heard two remarkable speeches. I do not know which was the more remarkable, that of the right hon. Gentleman who spoke before the hon. and learned Gentleman or the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech. The right hon. Gentleman did not defend this principle. He merely took cover under the word "compromise." I do not know what concession he got in return for giving away a sound principle. The hon. and learned Gentleman made no attempt to defend it either except that it was convenient to his party. He said that party was a good thing and, as his party was likely to gain—
I did not say that. I said two of the great parties of the State—I do not want my words to be offensive—had come to an agreement upon it. One party was giving away the wife's vote and the other was allowing plural voting to remain to this extent. The Conservative Party has carried through its part of the arrangement by passing Clause 2, which does away with the wife's vote, and I said I saw no harm in a country working under party Government having party arrangements.
We cannot discuss the two- or three-party system. What the hon. and learned Gentleman was referring to was an agreement of certain parties on a certain matter. That does not entitle us to discuss the value of different parties.
It is the hon. and learned Gentleman who was arguing. I was not going to discuss it. I do not think it is germane to the subject. I was challenging the soundness of his argument. I can understand hon. Members opposite justifying the plural vote. It is an arguable proposition that some privileged people should have more than one vote. I have heard it seriously put forward that, if a man had the advantage of education, he was more qualified than an unfortunate person who did not have it. I do not accept the argument, but it is an intelligible one to put forward. There is also an argument for property being entitled to a second vote. The hon. and learned Gentleman justified this arrangement on the ground that there are only 170,000 of these privileged people. But it does not go according to property. If a man has his place of business in the same place where he lives he only gets one vote, whereas if he lives outside the town he gets two. That is quite indefensible. Why should there be 170,000 privileged people who get the vote just by the accident of where they live and the fact that they have a place of business in a particular town and happen to live outside it? We are claiming to be the champions of democracy, and we are very near showing the world an ideal Parliamentary system. In no other part of the British Commonwealth is there a plural vote—certainly not in Australia or in New Zealand. I am not so clear about Canada, because conditions vary from Province to Province. It is indefensible when we are attempting at the end of an old Parliament, after many years of facing up to this problem of electoral reform, to keep an anomaly like this.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to think he has done something very wonderful in doing away with what he calls the spouse's vote. I remember the history of that. It was never intended during the last war to give the wives of property owners a vote but, when the electoral experts came to interpret the Act, they found that by the wording of the law, when we had extended votes to women, not only the owner of property but his wife was equally entitled. It is a reform long overdue, and it ought to have gone away by general agreement. I do not consider that it is a valuable concession. It is impossible to justify the anomaly of plural voting as we now have it.
One of the strongest arguments put forward was the necessity of retaining the university vote. It is rather a historic anomaly. I happen to be a university voter. I have sometimes voted for a man who has got into Parliament, and I have a certain sentimental affection for that vote. It is not unreasonable to say that you must make up your mind to exercise your franchise either for your university or for your place of residence. Why should you have two votes because you have the advantage of being at a university, while the ordinary citizen has to be satisfied with one vote? This Committee ought to exercise its own judgment. It is not a question of party. There are a great number of good Tory democrats. There are the young Tories, who boast with pride that they are democrats. Let them give evidence of it to-day and prove to the world that they are democrats by helping us to do away with this anomaly. Let us retain the university vote and the business vote, but do not let a person exercise his residential vote as well. Leave him to use his discretion. It would be very unfortunate if we parted with this Bill leaving this strange mediæval anomaly in it.
I ask the Committee to support the new Clause, not only on the principle of "one man, one vote," but because of my experience in my constituency. For centuries it was an appendix of the City of London and there is still part of the city called the Bridge Ward for which an alderman is appointed, but which does not actually exist. Merchants came into Southwark hundreds of years ago and there are still many merchants there. I know a building in the Northern part of the constituency where there are four, five and six people registered as business voters because they have a business address there. I would not go so far as to say that they do it for the purpose of getting the vote, but it is strange that they should exist. The voters in North Southwark resent the horde of people who come into the division to vote on polling day because they have a business address in the constituency. With regard to the university vote, I cannot understand why a man who went to Oxford has a second vote while I who went to Hoxton have not. All the education I got was in the university of the streets of London, and I do not see why anybody who got his education in the university of Cambridge should have another vote. I try to be a loyal member of my party, but I cannot vote for a proposition which is against the principle of "one man, one vote."
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) put up a strange argument when he appealed to the young Tories to show that they are democrats by voting for this new Clause. I am sure the people of Britain are not so simple as to be taken in by a dodge of that sort. It would mean that they would vote for giving away a slight advantage so as to be able to say, "Look what democrats we are." That is the sort of thing the Tory Reform Committee set out to do. They prove that they are progressive on unimportant issues, but remain Tories all the same. I am glad that this recommendation of the Speaker's Conference that plural voting should not be abolished has now been brought into the light of day and that we are able to see publicly that it is a compromise between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. I am glad that it is now recognised that this matter was not decided on its merits, but on what was thought to be to the advantage of the two majority parties.
The Labour Party have not been very wise in agreeing to this compromise, and they would have done better to stick to principle. I feel that as an independent Member I must express my disapproval of plural voting. There is no question of argument at all. Either you believe in the principle of "one man, one vote," or you do not. Arguments, if they can be called arguments, have been put forward that special interests should be represented. If there were anything in those arguments, it would be logical to say that all managers of businesses should have two votes. If that is logical, why not say that the manager of a large chain stores should have three votes, and a director of a large company have four, and so on? If it is maintained that a person who possesses a university degree should have an extra vote, why not say that the person who has a doctor's degree should have three votes and one who is qualified in a professional institution have one-and-a-half votes, and so on? One might build up a case like that if one really believed that it was a good thing to have extra votes in accordance with the stiffness of the examination one had passed or the responsibilities that one had in business. If we carried the argument to its logical conclusion, everyone in the country would have not just one vote, but an educational vote or business vote, or both. That would reduce the whole thing to an absurdity. The only sensible and democratic thing to do is to accept the principle of "one man, one vote."
My party was not committed to this agreement. When the right hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) told us he was a plural voter, he made a strong appeal to the Committee, and I want to make another. It is that the Government should leave this question to a free vote of the Committee. If that were done nobody would have much heart-burning afterwards, whatever the result. I have not exercised my university vote sometimes, because I have not liked a candidate. While I can see that there is an argument that can be put forward with regard to both the university vote and the business vote, it is a bad argument, for the true democratic principle is "one man, one vote." If this matter concerns only 170,000 votes, why not give Members of the Committee the satisfaction of a little freedom from the party machine to-day and enable them to decide on a free vote? This would show a little courage on the part of the Government. Possibly Members would feel that they were not entirely "Yes" men in the House of Commons if they were allowed in this matter to vote free from party control. I throw that out as a suggestion for an additional compromise and I hope that it will receive the support of other Members of the Committee.
I do not feel that the appeal which has just been made is likely to be very effective because a free vote of the Committee as at present composed would not be likely to furnish the result which my hon. Friend desires; but a free vote of the country might have a very different result. It is clear, as a result of this Debate, that the House of Commons has not been compromised in any way and is free to make a decision in regard to plural voting and so also is the Liberal Party. This system has been dying for a long time—an unconscionably long time—and it might just as well be brought to an end to-day. In the course of the Debate suggestions have been made that certain unfortunate results would arise if the Clause were adopted. It is said that there would be very few university voters left and that the City of London would also have only a very few voters. I am not sure that that would be the case. People have very mixed feelings about these matters. Some are very much attached to their university qualifications and large numbers of them might select that vote just as other large numbers of people who work in the City of London and make their money there might feel so attached to the City as, naturally, to give their votes in the place where they have amassed their wealth.
Those points can be decided only by experience. After the franchise has been exercised by people we shall be able to see where they have decided to vote. The Boundary Commissioners will then come in and make the necessary adjustments in the constituencies in accordance with the way people have opted, either for the City of London or their universities.
The point that really appeals to me is that the measure is being put forward mainly for the purpose of getting soldiers who are serving overseas the best possible opportunity of exercising their franchise at the General Election. What message are we proposing to send them as a result of this vote to-night? Are we going to say to these men: "You are serving in all the battlefields of the world, but when it comes to exercising the franchise the vast majority of you, not all, will have one vote while certain people who have the good fortune to possess a business qualification and a certain measure of wealth or have had the great advantage of a university education, will not be on a par with you. They will have two votes." I cannot feel happy about that message being sent to those who are now in the Services. For that reason I very much hope that the Government will decide to accept the proposed new Clause.
I do not recognise this as a compromise. The whole feeling in the country is against plural voting. Conscious of that, the party opposite has moved a little way, but is holding on to as much as possible. That is not a compromise. There is no argument in favour of plural voting. The Home Secretary knows it. He set out some 40 years ago to build up a party based upon recogni- tion of the fact that rent is robbery and profit is plunder. I do not know how many Members are here from a university because they have some special educational qualification, but if you got 12 university Members and sat them anywhere and then took any other 12 Members I do not think you would see any difference between them from the point of view of intelligence or usefulness. I guarantee that any other 12 Members would stand out well above them in regard to usefulness. Nobody can justify the demand for plural voting for universities or businesses. The intelligent proposition which ought to commend itself to the Home Secretary is "One man one vote." If a man wants to have a vote for the university or for the business he can do so, but there should be no two votes for any individual.
I am certainly not going to join issue with my hon. Friend who has just spoken or to dispute his assertion that any 12 hon. Members chosen by lot, would be a better bunch than the 12 university representatives. But there is a principle at stake which I believe justifies the plural vote for university Members on its merits. Of the property vote I will say nothing. There are two reasons for having university representation at all. One is that it is desirable that there should be in the House of Commons a group, however small, of hon. Members who are free from the ties of party discipline. In fact, after the next General Election I believe that all of them will be what most of them are now in effect, Independents. The principle is that you should have a group of Members who represent something of the spirit of the universities—its impartial attitude towards truth, which is scarcely possible for Members of political parties. The second reason is rather different. Is it not true that nearly every other big interest, industrial and occupational, has its representatives here? How many representatives are there in this House of the mining industry, and of the textile industry, agriculture, shipping, etc.?
That is so, but let me continue my argument. All these big industrial groups have a strong representation in this House when their interests are affected. There are agricultural representatives, mining representatives, and so on. In one area of the electorate—the learned professions—that is not so because they are scattered over the whole country, and they are not numerous enough to really pull weight enough in any one territorial constituency to seriously influence the election of a single territorial member anywhere. Therefore this otherwise missing element is very usefully supplied by the university representatives. The answer to that I can foresee. It is, "Then have your university representatives, but why give the graduates two votes?" It is simply a matter of commonsense. University representation would be very chancy and uncertain if, until the day came, it was not known whether graduates would use their university vote or their residential vote. As there is a relatively small number of university voters why not, as they now have plural votes, go on with the system, because it is a means of securing in this House a kind of representation which, for the double reason I have given, is not otherwise secured in our Parliamentary democracy?
I do not propose to discuss the principle of plural voting or the merits of university representatives personally. Nor do I propose to discuss the question of whether it is a good thing to have university seats. The House has decided that. Moreover, it is true that if this new Clause is adopted it would not abolish university seats. I want to make one point only. It is this. I think that at this stage of the Bill, bearing in mind all that has preceded it in the Speaker's Conference and the Report of that Conference, the Committee should really look at the practical effect a new Clause of this kind would have in changing the character of different electorates. I think there would be little change in local constituencies. In these, one would have to go a long way to find an instance where a member would be changed because of this Clause. But in the case of a university it is quite different.
We are to have university representatives, and I think we should all desire that the electorate of those universities should not be fickle, capricious and chancy. What would happen if this Clause were adopted, is that people who voted for a university candidate would mainly consist of people who had chosen to vote for their university rather than for their local constituency because of a consideration that has nothing to do with university representation as such, namely, whether in their local constituency there was an overwhelming majority for either a Conservative, Liberal or Labour candidate, so that their vote would be wasted there. I do not want the university representation to depend on a chance electorate resulting from the condition of the relative strength of the parties in local constituencies. I think that while university seats are retained, the underlying electoral basis would be made chancy and uncertain by the adoption of this Clause, a Clause which at the same time would have very little effect, if any, in the rest of the constituencies in the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) made a very good speech and enjoyed herself in moving this new Clause. I know how thoroughly she enjoys herself on these occasions, when she finds she is able to be on the left of a Labour Minister, and possibly on the left of some members of the Labour Party. While she was speaking, I was trying to remember, but could not—I have sent round to the Library, but do not expect to hear in time—whether, during the days of Liberal Government before the last war, there were Debates on plural voting either on Private Bills or Motions. I have a strong recollection that there were and that somehow nothing was done about it and that the plural voter—
I do not propose to do so, and I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) either. My recollection is that there were some such discussions. If there were not it is most curious that the plural voter and the vote of the spouse were preserved in those days, and nothing was done about it.
If the right hon. Gentleman will refresh his memory he will find that the vote of the spouse did not exist before the last war; it was an accident. Women did not have the vote until after the last war, and by the interpretation of the lawyers they automatically got that vote also, which was never intended by Parliament.
The right hon. Member is on a fair point. There was no women's vote in those days. Therefore the point did not arise. It seems to me it was a great pity they refused to give the women the vote in that period. The women's vote came in 1918, and it was completed in 1929. It is no use my standing up and seeking to defend the principle of plural voting. I cannot do it because my convictions are not that way. In the second place no one would believe me if I said they were. I will leave it to the Committee as to which is the more convincing argument. I do not believe in plural voting. I would abolish it to-day if I could and if I had a Parliamentary majority. But let us face the facts about it. There are a lot of other people who believe in the business vote, and we have heard two hon. Members, who are not unprogressive, the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) and one of the Members for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter), defend in respect of the university the principle of plural voting, having very carefully kept clear from defending that principle in respect of the business vote. There are plenty of other hon. Members who could do that with some effect, and who believe in it. What the Committee really has before it is not so much the narrow merits of the question, on which there is no doubt where I stand and where a lot of other people stand. What the Committee has before it is the question whether it is prepared to do a deal on this, and, indeed, on a lot of other things, too.
My hon. Friend may know more about it than I do; I am an innocent Home Secretary. It is the capacity for compromise that has saved the British and the British Constitution time after time. It is the incapacity for compromise that has landed a lot of other countries in very grave difficulties. We had a Speaker's Conference, representative of the main political parties in this House. The purpose of the Speaker's Conference, under the chairmanship of Mr. Speaker, was to review the various arrangements for the conduct of elections. It was under the Speaker because he was impartial, and it represented all parties for the very purpose of seeing whether accommodation could be reached on a number of other matters which would otherwise be controversial. But for that purpose, we would not have had the Speaker's Conference; the Government would have made up their own mind, and brought forward their own proposals. There have been previous Speaker's Conferences in the days of the Labour Government and of the last war, and their existence was for the very purpose of seeing whether the various political parties, sitting round a table, could give and take, compromise, give concessions, take concessions, and come to a common arrangement over the whole field. They were for the purpose of compromise. If, when the compromise is made, everybody is going to act as if there had been no Conference, it seems to me that the utility of the Speaker's Conference will not be so great. It is not only a matter of plural voting. There is also the assimilation of the Parliamentary and local government franchises. I venture to say that if even this Government, with a predominance of Conservative Ministers had brought in a Bill for the merging of the Parliamentary and local government franchises out of the void, there would have been serious trouble from the Conservative Party. The fact that it went to the Speaker's Conference, and that there was give and take and argument about it, helped us to reach agreed recommendations.
Let us be perfectly frank and honest. What was the issue before the Labour Members of the Speaker's Conference on this question of plural voting, and what was the issue before the Conservative Members? Conservative Members had to consider, "Ought we to give up anything, or to stand pat?" They could have stood pat: they had a majority. There was nothing I could have done about it if they had decided to stand pat. They did not. What they did was to give up the element in the plural vote which is the most difficult of defence—that is, the spouse in the case of the business voter. I am speaking for myself alone, but this is how it appears to me. Probably their minds may have worked in this way, telling them that in the case of the business voter as such you can make a case—I personally do not agree with that case—that because a man has a business, with a particular type of stake in the country, he ought to have a vote in that respect. You could argue that; I could argue very effectively against it, but that would have been the case put forward. But it would be very difficult to argue that because a man with a stake in the country in respect of a business is entitled to a business vote, his wife automatically is entitled to it as well, when she has not that particular economic or financial stake. On the merits, it was the easiest thing to give up. I do not know whether that was the motive or not, but they were willing to give up the spouse, they were not willing to give up the main voter, in respect of the business qualification.
What was the position of the Labour Members? The Liberal Members, it is true, opposed it. They were not in a responsible position, if I may say so, as the Labour Members were. They had little to gain, and little to lose. The Labour Members could either take the concession which the Conservatives gave, of throwing the spouse to the wolves—if you like, dropping the spouse—and maintaining the main business voter, or they would have had the alternative—there is no doubt about it—that there should be no change at all, because the Conservatives, undoubtedly, would not budge. What did these men and women say? [Interruption.] I wish my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) could control himself now and again. They said, "We can get this concession about the spouse or nothing; and the concession is nearly half the problem, so we will take it." Having taken it, they signed the Report, and those who were members of the Conference must stand by, it.
I come to my Labour Friends opposite, to whom I would respectfully say this. I quite agree that they are not bound by the signature of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Lewisham [Laughter]. That is a very natural slip, and I must always be careful when there is any "East" in a constituency I have to mention. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) signed it, and other Labour Members of the Speaker's Conference signed it. I quite agree that that does not bind the Members of the Labour Party, and they are free, if they think it right, to vote against the compromise which their representatives on the Speaker's Conference accepted. I would only say that if I were not a Minister and I were sitting on the Benches opposite as a non-Ministerial Labour Member, these are the questions I should ask myself, preparatory to voting. I should say, "If I were in their position, could I have done better?" I think the answer is, "No." "If I were in their position, would I have taken the course they did?" I think the answer is "Yes." "If I had succeeded in getting the question of spouse out of the way, would I have done good business?" I think the answer is, "Yes." I would say, "If the men and woman we had on the Speaker's Conference have done that, and, on the whole, have done well, and have come to an accommodation, I think the right thing to do is to stand by them when it comes to a vote in the House of Commons. I have not got to do so, but they did well, they served their principles well, they came to an accommodation, and I am going to stand by them now that it has come to a vote in the House of Commons."
That is the spirit in which I would appeal to my hon. Friends opposite, not by putting on them any obligation to vote for the Government on this matter, but on the ground that their representatives did very well. In fact, all parties did very well; we made a great success of the Conference, and we are seeing the result. I think, in all the circumstances, that this is a decision which might well be accepted. I would like it better if my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey would withdraw the Clause, but I do not think she will, by the look of her. There is nothing I can do about that, although the Liberal Party in its history has made many compromises—we all have. This is a nation that cannot help compromising: it sees particular charms in compromise; and, on the whole, I think that this is progress.
I think it is pretty remarkable progress, compared with what might have been expected, and I think that in all the circumstances,
|Division No. 3]||AYES.||[6.20 p.m.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Glanville, J. E.||Owen, Major Sir G.|
|Barr, J.||Grenfell, D. R.||Reakes, G. L. (Wallasey)|
|Beaumont, Hubert (Batley)||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Richards, R.|
|Bevan, A. (Ebbw Vale)||Guy, W. H.||Sloan, A.|
|Bowles, F. G.||Horabin, T. L.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Hughes, R. Moelwyn||Stephen, C.|
|Buchanan, G.||Hynd, J. B.||Stokes, R. R.|
|Burden, T. W.||Isaacs, G. A.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Burke, W. A.||Lawson, H. M. (Skipton)||Thorneycroft, H. (Clayton)|
|Collindridge, F.||McKinlay, A. S.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Cove, W. G.||Maclean, N. (Govan)||Walkden, E. (Doncaster)|
|Daggar, G.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Davies, Clement (Montgomery)||Mender, Sir G. le M.||White, H. (Derby, N.E.)|
|Dobbie, W.||Manning, C. A. G.||White, H. Graham (Birkenhead, E.)|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Morgan, Dr. H. B. W. (Rochdale)|
|Dugdale, John (W. Bromwich)||Murray, J. D. (Spennymoor)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:—|
|Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough, E.)||Neal, H.||Lady Megan Lloyd George and|
|Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Oldfield, W. H.||Sir Percy Harris|
|Gallacher, W.||Oliver, G. H.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Helmore, Air Commodore W.||Prior, Comdr. R. M.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P.||Herbert, Petty-Officer A. P. (Oxf'd U.).||Pym, L. F.|
|Beattie, F. (Cathcart)||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Quibell, D. J. K.|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Hogg, Hon. Q. McG.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Hudson, Sir A. (Hackney, N.)||Rathbone, Eleanor|
|Beit, Sir A. L.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)|
|Bennett, Sir P. F. B. (Edgbaston)||Hutchinson, G. C. (Ilford)||Robertson, Rt. Hon. Sir M. A. (M'ham)|
|Boulton, Sir W. W.||Hutchison, Lt.-Com. G. I. C. (E'burgh)||Russell, Sir A. (Tynemouth)|
|Bower, Norman (Harrow)||Jeffreys, General Sir G. D.||Salt, E. W.|
|Brass, Capt. Sir W.||Jennings, R.||Salter, Rt. Hn. Sir J. A. (Oxford U.)|
|Brocklebank, Sir C. E. R.||Keir, Mrs. Cazalet||Sanderson, Sir F. B.|
|Brooke, H. (Lewisham)||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Sidney, Capt. W. P.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Lancaster, Lieut.-Col. C. G.||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Bull, B. B.||Leach, W.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Linstead, H. N.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Butcher, H. W.||Lipson, D. L.||Storey, S.|
|Cape, T.||Lloyd, C. E. (Dudley)||Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.|
|Cary, R. A.||Mabane, Rt. Hon. W.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Cobb, Captain E. C.||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Sykes, Maj.-Gen. Rt. Hon. Sir F. H.|
|Colegate, W. A.||McCorquodale, Malcolm S.||Tate, Mrs. Mavis C.|
|Colman, N. C. D.||McEntee, V. la T.||Taylor, Major C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Cook, Lt.-Col. Sir T. R. A. M. (N'flk, N.)||McKie, J. H.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'd'ton, S.)|
|Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.||Magnay, T.||Thomas, I. (Keighley)|
|Critchley, A.||Mathers, G.||Thomas, Dr. W. S. Russell (S'th'm'tn)|
|Crooke, Sir J. Smedley||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Thorneycroft, Capt. G. E. P. (St'ff'd)|
|Drewe, C.||Molson, A. H. E.||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)||Morgan, R. H. (Stourbridge)||Turton, R. H.|
|Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)||Morris-Jones, Sir Henry||Walkden, A. G. (Bristol, S.)|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. (Kens'gton, N.)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Ward, Col. Sir A. (Hull)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Morrison, Major J. G. (Salisbury)||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Nall, Sir J.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.|
|Ellis, Sir G.||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.||Watt, Brig. G. S. Harvie (Richmond)|
|Etherton, Ralph||Nicholson, Captain G. (Farnham)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W. (Blaydon)|
|Fermoy, Lord||Nicolson, Hon. H. G. (Leicester, W.)||Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Fyfe, Major Sir D. P. M.||Paling, Rt. Hon. W.||Windsor-Clive, Lt.-Col. G.|
|Gibson, Sir C. G.||Petherick, M.||Woodburn, A.|
|Gledhill, G.||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Wright, Group Capt. J. (Erdington)|
|Glyn, Sir R. G. C.||Peto, Major B. A. J.||York, Major C.|
|Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Grimston, R. V. (Westbury)||Prescott, Capt. W. R. S.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:—|
|Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)||Price, M. P.||Major A. S. L. Young and|