I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill completes the progress of the British people towards a full and complete democracy begun by the great Reform Bill of 1832. From now on, every citizen of full age will have a vote, and only one vote. This Bill wipes out the last of the privileges that have been retained by special classes in the franchise of this country. It arranges for a complete redistribution of seats. I think that possibly I can best serve the interests of the House if I run through the Bill first, giving as far as I can a purely factual account of the changes that it makes, and, having done that, deal at somewhat greater length and perhaps with rather more vigour with those subjects in the Bill which appear to be controversial.
In the past few years, there has been a series of committees and conferences which have been considering the future of the franchise in this country. There was the Conference over which you, Mr. Speaker, presided in the last Parliament; there was the work of the Boundary Commissioners, for which you again placed the House in your debt by acting as chairman of each of the four bodies; there was the Committee presided over by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Oliver) when he was Under-Secretary, and there was another Committee presided over by Sir Cecil Carr, Mr. Speaker's Counsel. I am quite sure that the House would desire to express its thanks to you, Sir, and to all those who have served on all these various conferences and committees for the work which they have done and which now finds its fruition in the Bill before the House.
Clause 1 of this Bill embodies the work of the Boundary Commissioners, which is set out in the First Schedule. There is one slight change and one change of substance. The slight change is that the constituencies are now described as county constituencies and borough constituencies, and are set out as such in their respective geographical counties in the First Schedule. This has been done as it will be of assistance towards the consolidation which was recommended by the Carr Committee, and which we hope to be able to carry through at an early date after the passage of this Measure.
The change of substance is that we have given consideration to the position of the City of London, and we have decided, in view of the figures of the electorate, to ask the House to include it in the constituency which the Boundary Commissioners marked out as the boroughs of Shoreditch and Finsbury. The electorate of the City of London, under the present law, in 1946—and all the figures which I give of electorates will relate to 1946, since that is the year upon which the work of the Boundary Commissioners is based—was 12,500, which is less than a quarter of the average for the whole country. But that includes the business premises vote. The residential vote in the City of London is 4,600, and that, of course, is approximately one-eleventh of the average size of a constituency in the country.
There can be no ground for suggesting that there should be one Member allocated to so small a constituency as that. I heard the Petition read at the Table today, but I cannot think that it advanced any reason which makes it inappropriate that the City of London should be merged with some other borough so as to provide a constituency of appropriate size. We have decided, however, in view of the historical connection between this House and the City of London, that the name City of London shall be preserved. I cannot think that, in 1948, it is possible to plead that 4,600 electors should be given separate representation in this House. Apart from that—
No, Sir. There are several cases in the Boundary Commissioners' Report where what is regarded as a more historic name connected with a constituency is that by which the constituency is known.
There is no magic about the number of hon. Members of which this House should consist. It has varied considerably from time to time. Immediately before the Act of Union with Scotland, it appears to have been 513. The Act of Union gave Scotland 45 seats in 1707, and when in 1801 Ireland sent Members here, another 100 were added, making a total of 658. This remained the membership until 1885, although the distribution itself was varied. In 1885, the total was increased to 670, and in 1918 to 707, England and Wales having 528, Scotland 74 and Ireland 105. It was purely by accident that the figure of 615 was reached. Parliament had designed to have a House of 707, but the passing of the Government of Ireland Act reduced the Irish representation to 13 and the total to 615. Just before the last General Election 25 new seats were provided, which makes the total 640. The First Schedule to this Bill provides for 608 seats, of which England has been allocated 489, Scotland 71. Wales 36 and Northern Ireland 12.
The history of the Boundary Commission has been one of very devoted work to the task which we confided to them. The first Report was the subject of very severe criticism, and I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) has gone, because when I asked the House to agree to a revision of the first Report, he attacked me on the ground that this was an effort to gerrymander the constituencies with a view to preserving a constituency for the Prime Minister. I had no doubt, as I said at the time, that any revision of the figures of the constituencies on the lines desired by the House would not be beneficial to the party on this side of the House; in fact, this party would stand to gain by the exact mathematical division that was provided by the first report.
The second Report, which makes an endeavour to deal with constituencies as communities rather than as mere mathematical aggregations, has led to some anomalies that the first Report avoided. On general grounds it is to be commended to the House as an honest effort to carry out the instructions of the House. I ought to call attention to the eight large constituencies of more than 80,000 electors, which are to be found among the English constituencies. They are too big for one Member upon a mathematical basis, and too small for two. They undoubtedly give rise to an anomaly. I have no doubt that, in the course of our proceedings, we shall hear something about them and about other constituencies where the average rule appears to have been departed from.
The electors in the future will have one qualification only—that of residence in the constituency. That alteration leads to the abolition of the business premises vote and the university vote, to both of which I will allude later. Clause 1 also provides for two registers. On this matter there is a slight deviation from the recommendation of the Report of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston. His Committee recommended that the qualifying date for what is known as the spring register should be 1st December, but it was found, upon conference with the printing trades, that that date was too near the date of publication, having regard to the Christmas holidays, for the work to be carried through in the time. Therefore, the qualifying date for England and Wales for this register will be 20th November.
I understand that it would have been impracticable to choose the same date for Scotland because one of the Scottish removal terms is on 28th November. Therefore, the date for qualification for the spring register will be 1st December in Scotland, as was recommended by the Committee. I understand that the Christmas holidays are not so much observed in Scotland as in England. I had thought, from rumours which had reached me, that the New Year made a very considerable interruption north of the Tweed, but I understand that the interruption is not so great as to make it necessary to vary that date.
We also provide for two registers for Northern Ireland. Generally speaking, throughout the Bill we assimilate the law, and practice of Great Britain and of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland will be under the same obligations as Great Britain. For instance, there was a reservation in one of the reports of the committees to which I have alluded that there should be a period of residence in Northern Ireland before a person could be qualified to be enrolled on the register. We have decided that the law in Northern Ireland in that respect shall be the same as in this country.
Clause 2 deals with persons who may be temporarily absent from their homes on the qualifying date, and makes arrangements that they shall be registered for the address where they are usually to be found Clause 3 is consequential on the redistribution scheme now being carried through and enables the necessary modifications to be made in the Redistribution of Seats Act. Clause 4 re-enacts the law for England and Wales with regard to registration officers and areas. Clause 5 carries out the requirement that two registers shall be published, and it makes an arrangement which I know will be gratifying to Members on both sides that the compilation of the register shall proceed by canvass, as was the case prior to the war. That return to former practice will, I am certain, be generally welcomed. I would point out, however, that the canvass will have to relate to residence on a particular day and that there is no qualifying period before that day which has to be taken into account.
Clause 6 deals with Service declarations and re-enacts the existing law. We have considered the question of other persons not resident in the United Kingdom, and we have decided not to accept the recommendation of the Committee presided over by my hon. Friend that members of the Control Commission should be included among persons to be registered for voting overseas. Neither have we extended registration to other ranges of persons overseas. We think that the register should deal with persons who reside in this country. The only exception that we propose is in the case of the Services.
Clause 7 re-enacts the existing law with regard to polling districts and polling places, subject to minor recommendations that were made by the Carr Committee, and to one alteration to which we attach very considerable importance. In county constituencies it is not infrequent to find that polling districts are very large and that polling places are a very long way from numbers of the electors. We therefore provide in Subsection (2, b) that every rural parish shall, in the absence of special circumstances, be a separate polling district. That does not prevent a populous rural parish being divided into more than one polling district or from having more than one polling place. That amendment has long been required.
Clauses 8 and 9 provide for voting by post for all now entitled, and, in addition, for all Parliamentary candidates, their wives or husbands, policemen, polling officers and others prevented by official duties in connection with the election. In a future general election there will be no postal vote for members of the Armed Forces serving overseas. The only way in which it could be done with efficiency would be to have, as there was on the last occasion, a considerable period between the date of the poll and the date of the declaration of the poll. Most hon. Members found a happy issue out of the long period of waiting, but I suggest that it is not a desirable thing to have in ordinary circumstances. When there are numbers of men and women abroad, as there were on the last occasion, it was obviously a necessity, but in future the number of electors abroad will be fewer. Even for Forces abroad, there will be probably a less proportion of people entitled to vote, as a higher proportion of the Services people overseas will be under 21 years of age. The next Clause—
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of the Service vote, will he say why the wives of Servicemen living abroad with their husbands should be disfranchised?
No, Sir. That is a matter which can be raised on the Committee stage. As we present the Bill to the House, the provision is for Servicemen only.
Clauses 12 to 15 and the Third Schedule need some explanation. They are based on the recommendations of your Conference, Mr. Speaker, and of the Carr Committee, and I can best serve the House if I deal with the points as they occur in the Third Schedule. In Part I of the Third Schedule the most important change is that in future the nomination papers may be handed in over a period of days with a final closing hour and not limited to a few hours on the final day as at present. The experience of most hon. Members will be that this arrangement has virtually been used before. Nomination papers are sent to the returning officer to be checked and he goes through them so as to avoid confusion and delay on nomination day. It would appear to
Part II of the Third Schedule makes a few alterations which need comment. There is a prohibition against the candidate describing his political activities on the nomination paper. That arose over certain incidents at an election. Where the description of the candidate is unduly long on the nomination paper the returning officer is given power to reduce it to reasonable length. The deposit in future may be made by a banker's draft. Again, that is a matter which I am certain will be for the convenience of candidates in a good many cases. Probably the largest alteration, and one that arises out of a recommendation of Mr. Speaker's Conference, is 'that in future the poll card shall be issued by the returning officer. I am told that some returning officers doubt their ability to get the poll card out between the time for the withdrawal of nominations and a sufficient period before the poll to enable the electors to get it, but, after all, all the parties, very largely by voluntary labour, have been able to do this in the past and I should not think it was beyond the power of the returning officers to do it.
Part III prescribes two important alterations with regard to the conduct of the poll. The ballot paper in future is to have no margins and no unnecessary wording. I believe there was an election petition once in regard to an election in which the ballot paper had been printed with the words "Ballot paper" on top, and it was held that certain persons who had put the X near the words "Ballot paper" had not voted for the top candidate on the list of candidates but had voted for "Ballot paper." We hope to make the ballot paper so simple that mistakes of that kind can be avoided in future. Another important alteration—it appears important, but I suggest that it is less important than it appears to be—is that persons will not in future be put on oath when questions are asked them in the polling station. I am informed that penalty for the false statement is the same whether the person is put on oath or not, and it therefore appears to be unnecessary to delay the proceedings, especially towards the end of the poll, by putting on oath any voter who presents himself. If he makes a false statement, he will be liable to just the same penalty as if the law remained as it is.
Part IV of the Third Schedule removes certain inconsistencies between the practice in England and Scotland in the conduct of the count. In the main, this means that elections in Scotland will in future be conducted on the same lines at this stage as they are now conducted in England. Clause 14 repeals the provision whereby in the past the returning officer in the event of a tie had a casting vote. In future in the event of a tie the decision will be made by lot. Clause 17 (7) restores to the returning officer his original vote. When it was possible that he might exercise a casting vote, he was deprived of his original vote; as he no longer has a casting vote. that provision is now repealed.
Another provision made by Clause 15 is that the deposit shall now be returned to all the candidates who are entitled to have it returned as soon as possible after the result of the election has been announced. One of the penalties of being the successful candidate in the past has been that the return of the deposit has been withheld until the Member has taken his seat in the House. We keep the fraction of electors which a candidate must poll in order to secure the return of his deposit at one-eighth, and in that respect we depart from one of the recommendations of Mr. Speaker's Conference that the fraction should be reduced to one-tenth when there were more than three candidates. The next Clause to which it is necessary to allude is Clause 20 which enacts that in future the returning officer and others connected with the election shall be liable for criminal proceedings only, and not for any other form of action in respect of any misconduct that may occur in the conduct of an election.
Part II of the Bill deals with the local government franchise and its exercise. It extends postal voting to county council, borough and urban district council elections, but not to rural council and parish council elections. It makes similar provision to that made for Parliamentary franchise for the exercise of postal votes and Service votes. Clause 27 and the Fourth Schedule make a number of amendments in the law relating to local government elections, partly to cover the changes I have just announced and partly to promote conformity with rules governing Parliamentary elections.
The one thing which we have not done which we have been asked to do is to grant a free delivery through the post of election matter to local government candidates. That has been pressed on us by local authority associations. They are unwilling that the cost of it should fall on the funds of the area where the election is being conducted, but it would appear that inasmuch as it is only carried on national funds because Parliamentary elections are for the nation as a whole, the local government election expenses should be borne by the local government area in respect of which the election takes place.
Part III of the Bill deals with Parliamentary elections and corrupt and illegal practices, and certain other incidents of an election campaign. The most important thing here is the revision of the cost of election. A substantial reduction will be made, in accepting the recommendations of Mr. Speaker's Conference, that in future the cost of election shall be limited to £450 plus 1½d. per elector in county constituencies or 1d. per elector in boroughs. Perhaps I can best show how drastic this alteration is by giving the figures for typical constituencies. An electorate of 50,000 in a county now entitles the candidate to spend £1,325; in future the maximum will be £762 10s. In a borough the similar figures are £1,091 13s. 4d. at present; £658 6s. 8d. in future. An electorate of 70,000 in a county constituency now entitles the candidate to spend £1,825; in future, the maximum limit will be £887 10s. In a borough of 70,000, £1,508 6s. 8d. can now be spent; in future the maximum limit will be £741 135. 4d. The return of election expenses has been simplified, and I hope this will enable some of the difficulties of the past to be avoided.
Clause 33 brings up to date, and slightly enlarges, a candidate's right in respect of meeting places for meetings during an election. In addition to having all county and voluntary schools at his disposal, he can also use the public halls maintained wholly or mainly out of public funds, and the Fifth Schedule provides that the local education authority with regard to schools, and the local authority with regard to other halls, shall supply the registration officer with a list of these places so that they can be passed on to the candidates.
Clause 35 prohibits election broadcasts from abroad, with the exception that an election broadcast from abroad may be made in pursuance of arrangements with the British Broadcasting Corporation for it to be received and transmitted by that Corporation. It might be that some prominent politician was abroad at a conference, or on other public business, at the time of an election, and it might be desired by his party that a message from him should be included in the election broadcasts that had been arranged. He would, under this, be able to participate. The broadcast would have to be received by the British Broadcasting Corporation and retransmitted. This was a matter which gave very considerable concern to both the Speaker's Conference and the Carr Committee, and we hope that we have arrived at an arrangement that will be acceptable to all Parties.
This is a new law imposing pains and penalties; what punishment is to be inflicted on any person who makes a speech which is reported on the ether and is listened into by people in this country?
That is among the difficulties which presented itself to both the Committees which considered the matter. I am advised that the probability is that it would void the election which it was designed—
The offence is not listening, the offence is speaking. It may be that the House may have to give further consideration to the appropriate penalty that should be inflicted. After all, this House has the power of dealing with offences committed at election time.
Clause 36 extends to local government elections the requirement, now made of Parliamentary candidates, that they shall have an election agent. Clause 37 enacts a limit of election expenses for all local government elections in the future—£25 for the first 500 and 2d. for every elector thereafter. Hitherto that amount has been the limit in county council and borough council elections outside London; in future, it will apply to all local government elections—county, borough, metropolitan borough, urban, rural and parish councils. Clause 41 repeals certain outworn prohibitions in the election law which date back to the time when expenditure was profuse. It removes the prohibition on bands, cockades and ribbons. Judging by the literature of 100 years ago, it appears that bands were provided mainly to drown the speeches of the other side, and not to cheer the supporters of the candidate who paid for them. It is doubtful if in these days, with the election expenses limited as they are, it would be possible to employ a band and, with the use of loud speakers, to drown the voice of a candidate if one were used.
No, miners' choirs never were prohibited. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are very vocal."] The payment of speakers in future will be allowed, but payment of canvassers is still prohibited. Every document in future must bear the printer's imprint—at present the requirement is limited, but in future every election document must bear the imprint.
Clause 42 deals with one of the subjects on which we have not followed the recommendations of the Carr Committee. That Committee recommended that where a candidate did not appoint an agent, his nomination should be regarded as void. We regard that as too severe a penalty, and we think that where a candidate has not appointed an agent, he shall be deemed to have appointed himself and the election will proceed with that man as a candidate but having to shoulder the responsibilities of agency as well as those of candidature.
Clauses 43, 44, 45 and 46 bring up-to-date some rather confused and antiquated provisions of the existing law relating to employment of corrupt agents and other matters, including canvassing by police officers. Clause 47 makes a corrupt and illegal practice punishable summarily, as well as on indictment; and Clause 48 gives concurrent powers to county courts with the High Court for applications with respect to relief in connection with expenses at an election. Clause 49 (6) exempts trials of offences for which a person has been reported by an election court. That court consists of High Court judges and a report by them is exempted from trial by a court of summary jurisdiction as it might be rather ludicrous if High Court judges reported a man for practices and a court of summary jurisdiction summarily acquitted him. I can think of courts of summary jurisdiction, which have been severely criticised by a judge, who might welcome the opportunity. Clause 54 allows a longer time between the time of withdrawal of nominations and the date of polling so as to give the officials charged with the duty of getting out papers for postal voting sufficient time in which to discharge their duties.
There are special provisions in regard to the London County Council. At present, under the law which we propose to amend, the Parliamentary constituency is the London County Council constituency. Each London County Council constituency returns twice as many members as it is entitled to return to Parliament. As there are 62 Members in London, including the City, that means 124 county councillors. The reduction of seats in London from 62 to 40 would reduce the size of London County Council from 124 to 80. We therefore propose that each London County Council constituency shall in future return three members. We also provide that at parish council elections in future the procedure followed in other elections shall be ordered. That will abolish the show of hands, which is objectionable, first, on the ground that it is a form of open voting, and secondly, that with the wide extension of the electorate since 1894, it is now almost impossible to get the electorate for a parish council election into any building in the parish in which the parish meeting is held. Clause 57 alters the law with regard to the closing of the poll in local elections. In future the candidates will be able to demand that the poll shall be kept open until 9 o'clock, a provision that at present can only be made with the consent of the county council obtained some time beforehand.
There is another matter in regard to local elections with which I ought to deal. For a long time the boroughs have complained that an election on 1st November means that the election procedure has to be carried on at the time of year when quite frequently the climatic conditions are very objectionable. Therefore, we have acceded to the general request of all the local authority associations that in future borough elections shall take place on a date related to 9th May. On that date will take place the urban and rural elections, and parish council elections in years when parish council elections are held. In that way we shall bring these elections into a period of the year in which the weather is more likely to be congenial than it is in late October. We also provide that in future county council elections shall take place on a date related to 9th April.
A special provision will be made for London. The Metropolitan boroughs differ from the provincial boroughs in that their elections are triennial. At present a Metropolitan borough council election in November is followed by a county council election in March. The effect of the alteration will be that the London County Council election will be in April, and will be followed the next month by the Metropolitan borough council elections. We propose that after the election of these two bodies the years shall not be synchronised and the Metropolitan councils to be elected in 1949 will stay until 1953. They will be elected for four years and thereafter the London County Council elections will take place in one year, and the Metropolitan borough council elections will take place 13 months afterwards.
Yes, but having recollections of the Election of July, 1945, I would hope that normally they should be in the summer.
I ought to say a word about the date of the commencement of various Parts of the Bill. Owing to the variety of matters dealt with, it is not possible for all the provisions to come into force on the same date. The redistribution of seats, and the new scale of candidates' Parliamentary election expenses will come into operation on the date of the next general election after the passing of the Bill. Between now and the general election, by-elections will be fought on existing constituencies and the present scale of expenses. The first register under the Bill will be in 1949. The abolition of the business premises vote will operate from the date of the publication of this register. The provisions of Part I regarding postal and proxy voting at Parliamentary elections, and the conduct of such elections, including the amendments of the law relating to the proceedings at Parliamentary elections, will come into force for elections held after the publication of the first register. The provisions of Part II, relating to postal and proxy voting at local government elections, will come into force on an appointed day—
Yes, the register to be published in the autumn of 1949. The provision requiring candidates at local government elections to appoint election agents, and the provision applying a limit on candidates' expenses at all local government elections, will operate for the first ordinary election of councillors held after the passing of the Bill.
The provisions of Part IV will come into force at the same time, that is, the alteration of dates of the local government elections, the amendment of the time-table, the alteration of electoral divisions for the London County Council, and the provisions relating to the method of election of parish councillors and to the hours of poll at district and parish council elections. There is provision in the Bill which enables the term of office of existing councillors to be carried on so that their retirement will fall in with the new dates in the Bill. The other provisions of the Bill will have to be brought in by appointed dates to be fixed—
I do not intend to be drawn into a discussion of Part V, which deals with local government elections in Scotland. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be speaking tomorrow, and I do not wish to get involved in any of the complexities of local government elections in Scotland.
I come now to the question of the abolition of the university franchise. I notice with some surprise that the senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) last Thursday professed that this proposal had taken him by surprise. It is a pity that he had not discussed the matter with his colleague the junior Burgess (Sir A. Herbert), for on 22nd October, in a Debate on the taking of Private Members' time, the junior Burgess for Oxford University said:
I see by the papers that I am one of those about to be abolished … I could hardly care less.
The right hon. Gentleman ought to have quoted properly what I said. I said:
… as this House is at present conducted and led, I could hardly care less."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1947; Vol. 443, C. 124.]
That does not alter the fact that the junior Burgess for Oxford University had a shrewd suspicion as to what was to happen. This is no new issue to be debated in this House. It is no new issue to be put before the country. In the early years of this century, the present Viscount Samuel, in his account of the abuses which called for reform, said:
A second of these reforms"—
the first was the abolition of plural voting—
is the abolition of the nine university seats; very anomalous features in the Constitution, which are condemned by the argument, amply confirmed in this case by experience, that a high education is no guarantee of political wisdom, and that government by literary men is among the worst of constitutional devices.
In recent days there have appeared in various newspapers accounts of Parliamentary representation of the universities which proceed almost to suggest that this is justified by the fact that the Members returned by the Universities are a specially select body of men, incapable of undergoing the ordeals of the hustings, and to be welcomed for certain outstanding qualities. We have in this House at the present time three Members who in the last House were Members for territorial
constituencies. In that Parliament they represented Norwich, Kelvingrove and Kilmarnock respectively. Does any one suggest that the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss), who represented Norwich in the last Parliament, has become less partisan because he represents a university, or that the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) has shown any alteration?
Does the right hon. Gentleman not consider that the point is not whether or not I am more partisan or less, but whether I properly represent my electors?
Yes, but the argument advanced is that the university elector is above partisan feelings and that he brings to the House a dispassionate treatment of the affairs of the House which those who represent territorial constituencies cannot do.
The hon. Member the junior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris), in last week's "Spectator," gave a list of the people who, he alleged, and I agree with him, had been ornaments to the House as representatives of university constituencies. He thinks, and I would not dissent from this view, that probably the most distinguished man who was ever sent by the University of Cambridge to this House was Sir Isaac Newton. He was elected to the Convention Parliament in 1689. He is the first of those of whom it can be said that when he brought to the House the advantages of the spirit of toleration and scientific inquiry, with which he was so honourably associated, he was immediately rejected by the university constituency. I take the quite colourless statement made in his case by the "Dictionary of National Biography," which says that in 1705:
Newton was knighted by Queen Anne on the occasion of her visit to Cambridge (15th April) and a month later (17th May) he was defeated in the University Election. The Tory candidates were successful with the cry of 'The church in danger'; it is said"—
and this again is a statement that will be found to apply in the case of the other distinguished university Members, to whom I shall make allusion,
that they were carried by the votes of the non-residents against the wishes of the residents.
One of the most distinguished biographers of Newton says that he regrets that Newton ever accepted office and suggests that from the time of his settling in London his intellect underwent a gradual deterioration. I can only hope that his short membership of the House had no connection with that. Then the hon. Member proceeded to quote William Pitt, William Pitt the Elder was returned by the rotten borough, Old Sarum, which was a family seat, and in 1832 he was cited as a reason for not rejecting rotten boroughs. If there were no rotten borough—
We are eliminating all of them. After all, the constituency quoted by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) is in its present depopulated condition because of the sacrifices it bore during the war, and it ill becomes anyone to gibe at it in its present depopulated condition. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the City of London?"] We are eliminating Limehouse and, therefore, there is no reason on that score why we should not eliminate the City of London. William Pitt the Younger is a very interesting example, because at the General Election in 1780 he stood for the University of Cambridge and was at the bottom of the poll. The "Dictionary of National Biography" again recorded:
Sir James Lowther caused him to be elected at Appleby and he took his seat on the 23rd January, 1781.
He did not go into Parliament in the first place through the university. Peel is another name mentioned. Peel was secure at Oxford until he backed Roman Catholic emancipation, and when he resigned his seat to test the electorate at Oxford on that issue, he was rejected. Dr. Whatelcy, writing to him after the poll, said:
Of 19 professors who voted we had 13, and of 40 Members of Parliament, 38.
That was Oxford University. Lord Palmerston, who was, I should have thought, the mildest reformer who ever escaped being described as a Tory democrat, sat for Cambridge from 1812 until
The Secret Ballot Act was passed in 1872, seven years after the incident to which I am alluding. Gladstone had a majority among the resident members of the University. The "Dictionary of National Biography" rather curiously adds that this was so even among the heads of houses. Of the professors 24 voted for him and only 10 against him. Bishop Wilberforce used all his influence, and Gladstone received the suffrages not only of Jowett and Patteson, but of Keble and Pusey.
There is no ground for suggesting that the electors of universities are animated by different passions from the rest of us. They are ordinary citizens who have had great educational advantages, such advantages as this party, during the lifetime of this Parliament, has made it possible for a wider section of the community to enjoy.
We have done it since the last Parliament. The right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) should try to keep up to date. The Education Act, 1944, was passed in the last Parliament, and was an agreed Measure between both sides of the House; but since this Parliament was elected, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education has very largely increased the number of State scholarships and the amount of maintenance that may be given in respect of any one of them.
This House exists to deal with the business of the ordinary citizens of the country. We hold that the franchise should be based on ordinary citizenship; of people meeting with their neighbours to determine who should represent them in Parliament. I understand that there are some people who would say: "We will accept the principle of 'one man, one vote,' but let he who has a university degree choose whether he will exercise it in his university or in his territorial constituency." That seems to me to be a proposal that would involve us in very great confusion.
I draw the attention of the House to the numerical side of this subject. There are at the moment 228,769 university electors, and they return 12 Members. Each Member, therefore, represents an average constituency of 19,000, one-third of the average territorial constituencies in the country. On the basis on which this redistribution is being carried through they would not be entitled, therefore, to more than four Members, even if every university voter exercised his vote in respect of his university franchise. I do not know of any proposal by which we could determine how many of these people would rather vote for the University than for the territorial constituency if the choice were given them. Assuming they halved themselves, they would then be entitled to elect two Members. I cannot think that in these days it would be worth while to operate all the machinery that would be necessary to enable a selected few, acting outside the general body of citizenship, to secure the right to return two Members of Parliament.
This issue which we submit to the House today has been debated for far longer than the period of Parliamentary reform. When the Council of the Army met at Putney in 1647 to draw up their proposals for a new Constitution, Colonel Rainsborough advanced the proposal that there should be universal suffrage without any property qualification on this ground. He said:
The poorest he that is in England hath a Life to live as much as the greatest he.
We believe that that claim made 301 years ago is still valid as the basis for the suffrage for this country. We hope through this Measure to be able to complete the democratisation of this House, which was first commenced in 1832, and in that spirit the Government commend this Bill to the House.
I am sure that those who know the Home Secretary best will be the first to sympathise with him in the task that has fallen to his lot today One cannot help admiring the strategy, if not the actual tactical execution, of his speech, which consisted in devoting more than 50 minutes to reading out this bulky Bill, and for the rest of the time taking refuge in the "Dictionary of National Biography" and giving extremely sketchy and partial accounts of various eminent men who, have been connected with the universities. That was a very shrewd—I would not say crafty, but very shrewd—and well-conceived method of dissociating himself, or at any rate standing clear, from all the live and vital issues which this Bill contains. I am bound to say that, he surprised me by the manner in which he managed to fill an hour and a quarter of the time of the House without really approaching in a vital or direct manner any of the burning issues which this Bill arouses in all parts of the House.
In discussing constitutional questions of this character, it is desirable to emphasise at the outset the points upon which we are in general agreement We all value and cherish our broad free Parliamentary system, and it is our duty to submit ourselves with all the grace we can to whatever may be the will of the people from time to time, subject to the procedure of Parliament and to the inalienable rights of the minority
In regard to the representation of the House of Commons, there are two principles which have come into general acceptance. The first is: "One man, one vote"—there was an old joke about "man embracing woman except where the contrary appears in the text." The first is: "One man, one vote"; and the second is: "One vote, one value." The first has been almost entirely achieved. There are only barely a quarter of a million votes out of 34 million which are not at present governed by the principle of "one man, one vote." With regard to "one vote, one value," nothing like so much progress has been made. That has, for many years, been asserted by the Conservative Party. I well remember in my youth seeing the placards, "One man, one vote," to which the answer was put up, "One vote, one value, too." Of course, in regard to "one vote, one value," there can only be an approximation. It can only arise out of the process-of gradual improvement, because of the rights of Scotland, and Northern Ireland and Wales, because of the sparsely inhabited districts, and because of the need not to cut needlessly by Redistribution Bills across the entities and historic continuity or boundaries of particular constituencies. But we are all agreed that this process should be constant and active.
Redistribution is particularly necessary now because of the present over-representation of the Socialist Party. Only 30,000 votes are needed to return a Member who is willing to upset and sweep away all that we have been able to build up across the centuries. Forty-five thousand votes are required to return a Conservative, and 185,000 to return a Liberal. Making all allowances for the advantage which often goes to the winning side at a general election, this is an evil and a disproportion which has become a great abuse and cannot be neglected by any supporter of democracy. Therefore, we may say that there is a broad general acceptance of the principle of "one man, one vote," and also of making a steady approximation to "one vote, one value," and that both those principles, especially, of course, the second, are subject to certain exceptions. That, at any rate, is the position in which we have hitherto stood and in which we still stand.
It would not be possible for us on this side of the House to oppose a Measure which, whatever its blemishes, conforms to the wide and well-established convictions and foundations of our British Parliamentary life. Everyone agrees that the redistribution of constituencies at frequent intervals should conform to the movements of the population, and that the Parliaments resulting from a general election should be a fair representation of the wish of the people throughout the land. We, therefore, support the main principles of this Bill on grounds which are agreeable to the true representation of the people and to our Parliamentary and democratic system to which we all adhere.
However, there is another custom which has come into being in the last 60 years, and which has been accepted by all parties as a valuable and wholesome method of procedure in our public and political life. It has become a well-established custom that matters affecting the interests of rival parties should not be settled by the imposition of the will of one side over the other, but by an agreement reached either between the leaders of the main parties or by conferences under the impartial guidance of Mr. Speaker. Both the great wars that we have had in our times have caused violent movements of the population and in each case it has been necessary to secure a measure of redistribution. In 1918 this measure was linked, in a House where there was a great Conservative majority, with an enormous extension of the franchise. In each case, these issues have been settled by agreements between the parties as a result of a conference under the aegis and presidency of the Speaker of the House of Commons. This was the procedure followed in 1916 which emerged in the Redistribution and Electoral Reform Bill of 1918.
This was also the procedure which the National Coalition Government adopted when we began to see daylight, or what we thought was daylight, in our troubles in 1944. Of course, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in such conferences under the Speaker of the House of Commons, as in so many reasonable affairs, there is a great deal of give and take. Neither party gets all that it seeks. Concessions are made on both sides. Accordingly, I received from the Speaker in May, 1944, the Report of the Conference over which he had presided. This embodied the agreement reached between the main parties in the State after prolonged discussion. Although the Conservatives at that time had a majority of 150 over all parties in this House, the representation which we agreed to on the Speaker's Conference was in a very different proportion. There were 15 Conservatives and 11 Socialists out of a total of 32, and when the Liberals and the few Independents were added, the Conservatives did not even have a majority on the Conference, although they had a majority in the House of 150 over all parties. It was not dealt with entirely on the basis of House of Commons majorities.
Of course, in dealing with the conflicting interests and natural divergent desires a considerable measure of compromise and good will and, may I add, good faith were necessary. These have often played their part in the adjustment of our political difficulties and have not prevented the active processes of political controversy. I must, however, admit that when I read for the first time in Mr. Speaker's letter to me in May, 1944, the account of the agreement which had been reached, I was astonished to find that the Conservative representatives had agreed to the extraordinary step of assimilating the Parliamentary and local government franchise, so that both elections were to be polled on the same register. This step involved the addition of no fewer than seven million non-ratepaying electors to the municipal franchise. This would evidently be of enormous advantage, or so it appeared to be, to the Socialist Party, who always fought these local elections on party lines, and who might expect to receive from this mass of non-ratepaying electors a very considerable accession of strength.
I asked some of my Friends who had served on the Speaker's Conference about this. Some of them were very high-and-dry Tories, like the former Chief Whip, Lord Margesson. The kind of answer I received was that after all it was a bargain and an agreement, that they knew very well that this would be deeply detrimental to what are called the Centre and Right-wing interests, but that the Report of the Conference must be taken as a whole. It was further pointed out to me that the university representation And the representation of the City of London, with one or two Members—that was not entirely settled—were accepted by the Socialist leaders, and, of course, the process of redistribution in accordance with the movements of the population was a necessary step in the normal political progress of the country.
I and my Conservative colleagues, therefore, accepted the Report, which Mr. Speaker sent to me in May, 1944. We accepted this agreement between all parties as a whole. We subjected ourselves to the very great disadvantages, as it seemed to us at that time and as it proved at the first municipal elections which were held, of the addition of seven million non-rate-paying electors upon the municipal register. [Interruption.] I am only reciting the facts. They may be rather painful to hon. Members opposite, but they will get more painful as I continue. It is a sort of British idea that when you reach an agreement you take the rough with the smooth. A decent, honourable agreement between both parties about the basis of their elections is the foundation, and has been for many years the foundation, of our Parliamentary government, which amid all its stresses is the model for, as it was the cradle of, democratic institutions throughout the world.
It would have been possible for us in 1944 to have resisted our Labour colleagues in this matter of the local franchise, and asked for its reconsideration, but we accepted the recommendations of this Conference as a whole and took every step punctually and in good time to make them effective. A Bill was introduced at the end of 1944 for the resumption of municipal elections, and established the new basis which added seven million non-rate-paying electors to the register. This Bill was introduced by the present Lord President of the Council in the days of the National Coalition, and he said that:
Time did not permit of us dealing in this Bill with all the recommendations of Mr. Speaker's Conference."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 19th December, 1944; Vol. 406, c. 1648.]
Of course, at that time I, personally, was very busy with the conduct of the war, and the question of electioneering did not play a large part in my thoughts, nor, may I add, during those years, in the thoughts of the Conservative Party throughout the country.
I have said that in those years of the war I did not pay much attention to electioneering. Of course, when there was a general election naturally I had to, but not in those years of the war; nor indeed was such great attention concentrated upon them by the Conservative Party who completely ignored many matters which afterwards proved of great importance to them.
I only wanted to make the point that the right hon. Gentleman has implied that he was preoccupied with the war and did not take a personal interest in these matters or in the result of the Speaker's Conference. I think that would be misleading, because it would imply that the rest of us took advantage of his preoccupations with the war. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell the House whether, in fact, he did not take a very lively interest in those proposals.
The right hon. Gentleman has given a paraphrase of what I said, and anyone can see what a trustworthy witness he is by listening to and comparing the grotesque travesty which he has uttered with what I have actually said. It is quite true that I did not accuse the right hon. Gentleman of not having taken an interest in the war. Of course, he did. He took an interest in some other matters, too—very much more, if I may say so, than any man in this House. We had accepted—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] There is nothing to answer. [Laughter.] I always notice that the party opposite indulge in laughter which resembles the crackling of thorns under a pot whenever they are confronted with any mental proposition which their intelligence forces them to resent or to reject.
We had accepted the Speaker's Conference settlement, and we were quite ready that it should be carried into effect, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in the most convenient manner. However, by introducing the 1944 Measure, for which the Lord President obtained the sanction of the Cabinet, the right hon. Gentleman got the one great outstanding gain for his party in the bargain or settlement. Time alone, he said, prevented the carrying out of the other provisions.
We were, of course, defeated in the July elections. Everybody here and in the country can feel their own way about that. We were also most heavily defeated in the municipal elections by the arrival of the additional seven million non-rate-paying voters. However, there was the settlement reached by the Speaker's Conference; there was the agreement to which both sides were parties. The Labour Party had taken their full advantage of their side of the bargain, and it was left to them, with indisputable power to carry it out in its entirety, and in its integrity. This, we were assured, would be done. The Boundary Commission was sent upon its work, and we now have its report before us
As late as 21st October, 1947—that is only a few months ago—the Lord Chancellor, speaking in another place—I must not quote his actual words, and I was not intending to do so—told Lord Samuel—it is a narration, and not a quotation—that the Redistribution and Electoral Reform Bill which would be introduced would contain provisions for electoral reform arising out of the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference. He added that, if Lord Samuel would acquaint himself with these proceedings, he would know precisely what the Bill was going to do. So there, as late as October last, was reaffirmation of the resolve of the Government to act in a straightforward and honourable manner, and to complete the carrying out of the recommendations and agreement of the Speaker's Conference, in which they had solemnly concurred, and from their part of which they had already gained a concession, which was, to them, of the very greatest benefit.
It was, therefore, with surprise, having regard to all the customs and decencies of British politics, that we found, on reading the text of the Bill, that it departed in most important respects from the agreed conclusions of the Speaker's Conference. The Socialist Government, having taken and profited by all that suited them in that settlement, now proceeded to violate the agreement, and to repudiate what was to their disadvantage. In particular, they departed from the agreements which were reached about the business man's vote. They have destroyed the identity of the City of London and have purloined its name. Finally, they have abolished the time honoured university representation All these things were specific agreements at the Speaker's Conference in 1944
It is with regret that I must place on record that this is an instance of bad faith between party and party, and between man and man, to which the history of the House of Commons can, happily, furnish few parallels. But, said the Lord President of the Council—for he is the moving spirit in these matters—after Question Time on Thursday last:
The Speaker's Conference of the last Parliament—which was a most useful assembly, and produced a most valuable Report—cannot of course, bind the present Parliament —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1947; Vol 447, c. 575.]
It is quite true that nothing can bind a Parliament. Every Parliament is entirely free to behave like a gentleman or like a cad; every Parliament is entirely free to behave honestly or like a crook. Such are the sovereign rights of this august assembly. Every Parliament is entirely free, for instance, to repudiate
the pledges in regard to Savings Certificates given to all who lent money to the Government, although it would not be advisable to do so. Their sovereign right is unimpaired. Every Parliament is entirely free to repudiate the treaties made by its predecessors, even if foreign countries make complaint that they have been treacherously dealt with. Every Parliament has these rights, but what relation has that to the problem before us?
It was the Lord President of the Council who made the statement—which, when I mentioned it, was cheered below the Gangway—that future Parliaments could not be bound. Parliament is omnipotent; nothing can bind a future Parliament. But there is such a thing as good faith and fair dealing between man and man, and especially between those who have long been colleagues in a dreadful struggle. There is also good faith and fair dealing which should exist apart from ordinary party fighting—the kind of laws of war, as it were, the Geneva Convention of politics—which have grown up between the principal parties in the State, and which play a daily part in our relations and business.
It is quite true that Parliament is free, but the eminent Labour men and Socialist leaders who agreed to the Speaker's Conference Report, many of them high Ministers in the present Government, are not free to take out of an agreement those points which suited them and to break the corresponding counter-balancing agreements to which they had simultaneously consented.
As one of the members of that Conference, I would point out that the right hon. Gentleman has made several statements about a bargain. One of the reasons why the university vote was retained was because it was returning to this House distinguished persons of a non-political character. But, since the election, the Conservatives have broken that agreement by using the university vote to send back to this House Conservatives whom, at the general election, the electors rejected at the polls. In addition to that, so far as the come and go was concerned, there were—
The right hon. Gentleman will not be here tomorrow to hear it, so I will make it now. Twenty-five extra seats were given to Parliament, and it was recognised by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues—
I have regained possession of the House. I had resolved to be present tomorrow when the right hon. Gentleman makes his speech, because he himself has on record a number of quite remarkable quotations, which I have seen and which he used at the time, but I do not think it would be wise for him to anticipate, in the course of an interruption, the oration which he is to deliver. I am sure I am very glad, however, to see that he feels the force of the point which I am putting to him. To his colleagues who sit upon the opposite Front Bench, I say that the honour of a great party is involved, and also, I must say, the self-respect of several important Ministers, particularly the Prime Minister and the Lord President of the Council.
If the right hon. Gentleman is challenging me, I must point out that I made no bargain on this matter. The matter was adopted for the Bill which was brought before the last Parliament. No pledge whatever was given on this matter.
The right hon. Gentleman might take my point. We were dealing with legislation to be introduced in that Parliament. The proposals came from the Speaker's Conference; they were agreed by that Government, and the Bill was introduced. There was no pledge whatever with regard to future legislation.
If the right hon. Gentleman makes these provocative statements he must expect interruption. Certainly it was the case that time did not allow that Parliament to deal with every one of the issues which were raised at the Speaker's Conference, but to imply by that, that any party which was returned was obligated to carry out every one of those recommendations in the next Parliament is sheer nonsense. There was no bargain, either at the Speaker's Conference or in the Government to that effect.
I must reserve the concession I make to interruptions to right hon. Members on the Front Bench who feel their position acutely.
The Home Secretary spent 50 minutes reading the contents of this lengthy Bill, but there was one word on the front page of the Bill to which he did not refer. I will draw attention to it. It is a small point, but I think it illustrates the level of the technique to which the leaders of an all-powerful Government have thought it worth while to descend. The sentence on the first page says that the Bill
gives effect to most of the recommendations of the Final Report of the Speaker's Conference of 1944 (Cmd. 6543) …
I should like the House to look with some attention at the word "Final." I am sure that anyone reading that would have supposed, in the ordinary way, that this was the final and complete digest of the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference which formed the subject of this Bill.
When I looked at Command Paper 6543, I found that it dealt only with minor matters of electoral reform on which there was a very large measure of agreement. It was contained in the second letter addressed to me by the Speaker on 20th July, 1944. I found that this was not the Final Report of the Speaker's Conference, and dealt with none of the great matters decided then. It was only an addendum which dealt with election expenses, the costs of Parliamentary elections, etc., and had nothing whatever to do with the great issues upon which this
Bill is founded. It is simply intended to mislead, at first sight, the Press and the public. I am not suggesting that the Lord President or the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary put it in—I do not know who did—but I think it shows the technique and the spirit that animates the Government in their discharge of these grave constitutional matters. They knew that it would not be true to say that they were giving effect to most of the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference, and by inserting the word "final" they switched the argument on to another document and so let it all run quite smoothly. I should have thought the Government would have been ashamed to play such petty tricks as that, and to be so simple as to suppose that they would escape detection or exposure.
O, what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive.
Before I leave this part of the subject, I should like to read to the House some of the statements made by leading Socialists at the time of the Speaker's Conference and since. I will not burden the House too much; I understand the Secretary of State for Scotland will be on the mat tomorrow. I wish to refer to a speech by Mr. Pethick-Lawrence, as he then was, who spoke for the Socialist Party and with the full agreement of its leaders. Nothing is altered since the days when those statements were made, except that now the Government have the power and the Parliamentary majority necessary to enable them to break their word. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am making this deliberate charge and, mark you, this will resound all over the country. It will be repeated on a thousand platforms that, as a party, they have departed from a matter in which their honour as a party was pledged, and that individuals have yielded weakly—will not say more than that—to pressure put upon them by their back benchers.
This is what Lord Pethick-Lawrence said about the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Bill on 12th October, 1944, speaking for his party:
I do not think the Committee has strayed from the point in regarding the Amendment as intended to destroy the university electorate altogether. It is to that question that I propose to devote my remarks. This question of the universities has for some time in the past divided Members, largely on party lines. The members of the Speaker's Conference were composed of nearly all the parties in the House,
and naturally they brought with then, I will not say the prejudices, but the preconceived opinions, of their respective parties. Under the co-ordinating influence of Mr. Speaker, representing. I am confident, the general view of the House, they sought to use the opportunity of the Conference not to assert and defend their views, but to reach some solution of this and other problems which, while not providing them with all that they wanted, could he regarded as a reasonable compromise.
Mr. Pethick-Lawrence was a very respected Member of this House. Later, in the same speech, he said:
The Bill, as tar as it goes in the matter, of settling the university electorate question at all, is, at best, one half of that compromise. I shall support it, and shall ask my hon. Friends to take the same line. Equally, when another Bill comes forward with the other half of our agreed solution, I shall look to hon. Members who have taken a different view from ourselves, Members of other parties, to support that half of the compromise, and I have every confidence that they will take that course The agreements were satisfactory as agreements, and in my view they met the situation by arriving at a solution which we thought would survive. We look to their being embodied in legislation and supported by Members of all parties in this House."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 12th October. 1944; Vol 403. c. 2043–4–5–6.]
He also said:
Regarding the plural vote, I would remind the hon. Member for Skipton that on matters which were subject to party controversy at the Speaker's Conference we came to an agreed compromise, and therefore those of us who are opposed to the plural vote accepted this compromise as an agreement on a controversial issue."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 19th December, 1944; Vol. 406, c. 1694.]
That is Mr. Pethick-Lawrence. Would hon. Members like to give a howl of derision for him, or have they all been used tip already? I have some more things to say.
We hold ourselves bound, subject to minor exceptions of long-established use and custom, to support the principle of "one man, one vote," and to work steadily towards "one vote, one value." We shall not stand between the working masses of the nation and the necessary changes in their representation which the Boundary Commission have recommended. But we cannot accept as a permanent settlement the treatment of the City of London, with all its world-wide reputation, or the abolition of the university franchise. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, no one can bind future Parliaments. We are certainly freed, personally, by the action the Government have taken, and as a party by the treatment we are now receiving, and no question of breach of faith can be involved if a future Parliament reverses these unfair and one-sided decisions. In general, we hold ourselves entirely bound to the position reached in the Speaker's Conference of 1944, and we are content with the words in which these decisions were expressed by the lips of many of the prominent members of the present Socialist Party.
I must say a word about the City of London, with its unique and wonderful record. It is now to be submerged by the constituencies of Shoreditch and Finsbury. There are a lot of very good people in Shoreditch and Finsbury, but I really do not think they will wish to walk about under the false pretence of being the City of London. I certainly hope that whatever may be the electoral shuffle, no one will use the expression "City of London" when referring to the new constituency which, it is rumoured, is being prepared for the Prime Minister after the next election—if Prime Minister he still should be. This is an act of pure party spite, introduced for the purpose of reconciling the supporters of the Government to the ordinary and necessary processes of redistribution, designed to give more equal representation to all parts of the country, by which they may well suffer some correction of the disproportionate, undemocratic advantage and privilege which they now enjoy.
There will, of course, be a specific Amendment on the subject of the abolition of university representation and, therefore, I will not anticipate the objections and arguments which will be used on that occasion, but I may say this: Under the educational reforms which were devised in the National Coalition Government, of which I was the head, very great extension has been made of access to the universities. They are no longer, as they were in bygone generations, the close preserve of wealth and rank. They are no longer a later stage in a career of public school education. On the contrary, three-quarters of the universities are now filled by young men from the public elementary schools, and I rejoice that this is so. Probably much more than three-quarters in the future will be drawn from the public elementary schools and from the broad mass of our population from whom the sparks of genius fly upwards, constantly and ceaselessly, in a glittering stream.
There are others who will remind us of the many famous men who have come to this House from the universities, many of them as independent Members able to speak with freedom on a lot of topics, such as, for example, divorce and gambling, which might prove embarrassing to what are called territorial Members. The present representation of the universities adds to the distinction of the House. There are only 12 out of 615 Members, but they dignify and widen the whole course of our democratic proceedings. The right and custom has come down to us for nearly 350 years. Now it is to be swept away, in breach of the agreements reached at the Speakers Conference, for the sake of some small, fleeting electioneering advantage to a party already so markedly over-represented in accordance with their voting strength. The other night the Prime Minister made a rhetorical allusion to the casket of Socialist democracy in which the treasure which we have inherited can only he safely preserved. The character of this Bill gives us some idea of the nature of the contents of this casket. I have thought of the inscription which he might write upon the casket. Here it is: "Intellect and education need not apply."
I wonder that anyone, looking forward to a great future expansion of the Socialist Party, should be in such a hurry to believe, and even to proclaim, that they will never win the educated intelligentsia of this country, represented by those who are graduates of our universities, although drawn in overwhelming majority from the public elementary schools. A worse advertisement could hardly be given to those who claim to know the secrets of the future and who assure us that they, alone, have the key to our social development. "No brains wanted"—this is the declaration of the Socialist Party. If there were any real faith in their party doctrines or their party future, they would have been ashamed of this. And all for the sake of eliminating a dozen seats which they do not hold in their great majority at the present moment. The whole of this particular gesture wears a totalitarian aspect. It constitutes a breach of faith with the agreements of the past and is a measure of the degradation into which Socialist arrogance and self-sefficiency intend to plunge the free, varied, tolerant life of this island, unless they are arrested—as they will be—by the good sense and reviving mental vigour of the British nation.
I very much regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) should have devoted so much of his speech to the proposition that one Parliament cannot undo the work of another. After all, is he suggesting now that because his party argued that those persons in local authority areas who contribute to the actual cost of running those local authorities by paying taxes should be deprived, nevertheless, of the vote and that we made some sort of bargain on this, that university seats should continue forever? I was particularly sorry that the right hon. Gentleman did not deal with the argument which he himself advanced and which he himself supported in favour of the abolition of the university seats. Let him cast his mind back to the very first Measure introduced by the great Liberal Government of 1906, the Plural Voting Bill. Does he not remember that there was a Clause in that to exempt universities? Does he not remember how he gave his vote against the retention of the university representation? The only reason we are discussing it now at all is that at that time this Measure was defeated in another place; otherwise the university representation would have disappeared 40 years ago. He did imply that that Bill was introduced by the agreement of all parties. If that is so, if what the right hon. Gentleman has just told the House was true, then the agreement was shamelessly violated.
Lord Simon, I understand, has now become the chief legal adviser to the right hon. Gentleman's party. In 1912, when the right hon. Gentleman was a Member of the Cabinet, a further Bill was introduced, the Franchise and Representation Bill, containing a Clause to abolish the university seats. This is what Lord Simon then said in regard to it:
If a university training, if university association is anything which adds value to a man, and for my part I think it does, then that man is in no danger of failing to have his full influence on public affairs in a democratic country If, on the other hand, as I know some hon. Gentlemen may think, a university education makes a man crabbed, and at all events prevents him seeing what really are the problems of his age and generation, then there
is no argument for giving special representation to universities as such So far as university representation is concerned, there is this further answer."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th July, 1912; Vol. 40, c. 2321.]
If the right hon. Gentleman, after the lapse of years, has thought up one, why did he not take his opportunity to give it to the House? Lord Simon went on:
The real reason, at course—it is not really the least surprising—why in this Bill though frankly a Franchise Bill and not a Redistribution Bill, you provide that university seats shall be extinguished and university Members shall no longer come here as such, is that there will be no electors. The moment you say the people who have a right to vote must be resident in the place … obviously and automatically university representatives must disappear "—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 12th July, 1912; Vol. 40, c. 2322.]
What happened after that speech? We have but to consult the Division Lists to find that the right hon. Gentleman marched into the Lobby in support of that proposition. It would have been only courteous if he had told the House today that he has changed his views since that time. [HON. MEMBERS: "He has forgotten."]
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the universities were independent and progressive. Let me test the argument by quoting just one further point with which the Home Secretary did not deal. When the right hon. Gentleman first entered Parliament there was sitting for Cambridge University an extremely distinguished man, a member of the Fourth Party, Sir John Gorst. He had lately devoted himself entirely to education and he did not succeed in obtaining the rewards of the Fourth Party. Because he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman on the question of tariffs he lost his seat at Cambridge University. The universities have not always been so progressive, and, indeed, I think some university represenatives would greatly resent the suggestion that they were progressive at the moment. I am sorry that the hon. Member for the London University (Sir E. Graham-Little) is not here, because he wrote in his election address:
New progressive is but old Communist writ large.
If that be so, then they are perfectly right, possibly, according to their own lights, to reject any suggestion of being connected with progress.
Surely, we ought not to decide whether or not a constituency should be main- tained on what is likely to be the political views of the Members returned from it. It does not matter whether universities may return Members as independent, as progressive as the late Miss Rathbone, say, or that they may return Members as crabbed and reactionary—as the most crabbed and reactionary of them. Surely, we ought to apply to the universities exactly the same tests as we apply to other places? We should say, first of all, "One man, one vote." Then we apply the right hon. Gentleman's other test—I know where he got it from—"One man, one value." That was what Mr. Balfour said to the right hon. Gentleman in opposition to his party in the Debate to which I have just alluded.
The university constituencies are liable to become, practically speaking, rotten boroughs. The seat of Belfast University has just 500 electors. The Home Secretary gave us some figures. I am sorry to have to tell him they were a little bit exaggerated. Consider the case of my own university, Oxford, for instance. If one tries to determine why it was that with such excellent candidates so few electors, comparatively speaking, vote, one discovers that the reason is a rather tragic one—most of them are dead. It is easy to get on the electoral list. One has only to matriculate to get into it. But to get off it one has to wait for eighty years after matriculation. Today those young men who came up with such high hopes as undergraduates in 1867 are only now—if of course their addresses are unknown—being struck from the list.
As to the City of London, I am sorry indeed that the right hon. Gentleman said so little. The reasons are, perhaps, obvious. One of the characteristics of Members for the City of London is that they are not progressive or independent. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford, I am sure, intends no discourtesy, but has merely gone out to consult the authorities. There was, possibly, a case for the City of London in the olden days; after all, even as late as 1929 that was where the real seat of power lay—a few men gathered together in the board room of some bank could close down an industry, as they did the shipbuilding industry upon which our national security depended. They could doom to unemployment hundreds of thousands of people they had never seen and of whose conditions they knew nothing. There was real power and, whether we liked it or not, that real power ought perhaps to have been represented in this House, but now the position is very different. All power has disappeared. The Members for the City of London, so far as I can see, do not wait even to hear the discussion on their own constituency. All power has disappeared there; it resides quite elsewhere, among the miners, among the engineers, among the working people of this country.
What has been the effect? It is being reflected in the careers and the activities of the right hon. Members for the City of London. Where previously they took a firm and resolute line on every question, now their will is entirely paralysed and they can make no decision on any point. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Senior Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan) is not here. I have been in correspondence with him on what I am about to say but I understand he is indisposed. I have been carefully into the decisions which he has taken on behalf of the City, particularly in view of what was said by the City Petitioners that, if he were to disappear, it would undermine the City's reputation, and further that the City would be prejudiced. I think I can assure them that in neither case would that have such an effect. In the first session of this Parliament their senior representative voted in, I reckon, 29 out of 294 Divisions. While that would be proper and adequate if he were representing the City of Belfast, it suggests in the case of London that there is perhaps some sort of carelessness, that perhaps the City did not value so much as they should the great privilege of representation in this House. However, when one examines it more closely, one sees that is not so, that what in fact the City did, was to engage, through their representatives, in a calculated and balanced plan of abstention.
Nobody has greater admiration than I have for the Senior Member for the City of London. He is an extremely able and valuable Member of this House but we should realise that by sitting for the City of London, he has been converted into a kind of commercial Hamlet, one whose native Scottish resolution is now:—
sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought.
Perhaps I may illustrate what I mean by referring to his actions in the Session just ended. He began the Session by an extremely courageous act. I do not mean sitting on the first day on the Front Bench with my right hon. Friend, I mean in by joining with my hon. Friend the Member for East Coventry (Mr. Cross-man) in abstaining on the Motion on Foreign Affairs. I do not think that act of courage on behalf of the City has been appreciated as it should have been. He backed it up by refraining from voting in what was nearly a Motion of censure moved at the conclusion of the Address by the right hon. Member for Woodford. Then there came the Exchange Control Bill. One would have thought at first that this would have interested the senior representative for the City of London; if it still is the great financial centre of the world, surely this is something upon which the senior representative should express some view? But no, he abstained on that too. And then there came, as to all of us when placed in a difficult position of this sort, a sudden revulsion of feeling and from 2nd to 5th December he voted against the Government on every conceivable issue. He continued this course until Clause 6 of the Exchange Control Bill was reached and after that, so far as I can trace, for the remaining 36 Clauses and six Schedules he took no part in the proceedings and markedly abstained from the final vote on the Bill.
I will detain the House for one moment longer to give one further example of how this representation of the City paralyses the will of somebody who would otherwise in this great crisis be always in his place in this House, giving the value of his advice and knowledge of the great commercial world from which he comes. Let me see what happened when, as the right hon. Gentleman may remember, the coal crisis broke on 7th February. I will say this for the right hon. Gentleman, he had been pursuing up to that point his usual policy of voting against the Second Reading and abstaining on the Third, but on 7th February, the crisis produced a change in the right hon. Gentleman's approach and he remained away from the House entirely, so far as one can see; at least he neither spoke nor did he vote until he reached 19th February when, obviously, he felt that some gesture was required on behalf of the City in this critical time.
From that day on, whenever there was a Division against suspending the Rule, the right hon. Gentleman recorded the opinion of this great financial centre. I might just add—he was against it. Then, on 10th March there came what we always looked forward to in the case of the senior representative of the City—his annual speech which he delivers in the spring. He made a most effective and extremely valuable contribution to that Debate on Economic Affairs. I do not say I agreed with it all, but it was a speech of a type which we ought to hear more often in this House. Then he divided, as was perfectly proper, against the Government in favour of what he had said. But what was the effect? I do not know if he received representations from his constituents, but the most extraordinary change occurred: for the next 173 Divisions the senior Member for the City of London took no part in the affairs of this House except on one occasion when he voted in Committee in favour of an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) on Clause 96 of the Town and Country Planning Bill. I have read carefully the Debate to try to decide on what grounds the City instructed their representative to depart from what had now become their settled policy. The only hint I can obtain is that the hon. Gentleman, in moving the Amendment, said it was a small point and really not controversial.
By this Bill I do not think we shall be disfranchising anyone; on the contrary, we shall be eniranchising someone. Surely, sitting opposite, there are hon. Members who would be only too willing to sacrifice their seat to the right hon. Gentleman who now is the senior Member for the City of London, to set him free? This Bill will enfranchise him, it will not disenfranchise the City of London. He will be able to give us, not once a year but once a month, the value of his views on current affairs, and he will be able to guide us by his vote, not once in every ten, not on 35 occasions out of 383 as was his record in the last Session, but on practically every occasion that the House divides.
When the right hon. Member for Woodford opened he said, and it is quite true, that the Tory Party had always been striving towards one vote, one value. I hope that when the Lord President replies he will do what he can to improve the Bill with that object in mind because, after all, this Bill in which we have got one man, one vote will still lack in it one vote, one value. Let us try to wipe out those blemishes which exist at present in the Bill. I commend it to the Lord President of the Council on two grounds, the one a practical one, and the other a sentimental one. The real key to making certain that we have got adequate representation at an equal value is to increase the membership of the House of Commons. That plan was put forward in the last speech made in this House by Sir Assheton Pownall who sat for East Lewisham prior to the Lord President of the Council.
It would be a gesture in accordance with an all-party spirit if the Lord President acceded to that request made in this House by his old opponent. If he does so two most important changes can he made; first, we can make certain that no constituency is larger than by a certain proportion the smallest constituency, and, second, which is more difficult to achieve, make certain that wherever a divided borough exists in a county, the electorate of that divided borough shall not exceed by a very large percentage the electorate in the rural constituencies contiguous to it. I commend the Bill to the House, and hope that it will bring into being a House exclusively elected on the principle of one man one vote, one vote one value.
I am suffering from an entirely unfamiliar emotion. For the first time in my life I almost envy the Liberals, because if I could attack this Bill from the Liberal point of view, I could, I feel, make a very powerful speech. The Home Secretary's pretence that this Bill establishes the electoral system of this country on some basis of mathematical rectitude, by merely introducing the principle of one man, one vote, is clearly fantastic. If he really believes in such a mathematical rectitude, he has no alternative but to accept the Amendment which I understand the Liberal Party are proposing to introduce, and to withdraw the Bill, because if we are to establish a system of one man, one vote, and two million votes, no seat, or it may be, 12 seats, we are establishing a system as unmathematical as can be imagined. But myself I do not approach this constitutional problem so much on an abstract theoretical basis, but rather on a pragmatical basis. The question to me is not whether we are getting this absolute mathematical ration, but whether we are producing a constitution which is likely to satisfy the people of the country and give us an effective Government.
On that line of argument, there is a very important consideration which should be in the minds of all hon. Members, which has not been raised so far, and that is, to what extent does our party system really reflect the views and wishes of the people of the country? We have to face the fact that the normal elector does not accept a rigid party discipline for his opinions and actions as do Members of this House. We have to face the fact that we Members of the House are, as it were table d'hôte politicians, and the vast majority of our electors are politicians à la carte. The party system is a matter which has to be justified, and it cannot be merely taken for granted that the Party system as it exists today is a good thing. I am not denouncing it, because I think that on balance it is a good thing.
The English tradition is that the normal thing is for the vast majority of Members of this House to belong to one of two main parties. Hon. Members are familiar with the pros and cons of that argument. I am satisfied that it is a better system than having no party at all, or the system of France or Weimar Germany with a multiplicity of parties. But we cannot take it for granted, as some of us are perhaps apt to do, that it is obviously wicked to have a one-party system, and that it is obviously wicked to have a three-party system, but that it is a self-evident God-given revelation that we should have two parties, and neither more nor less. It is a balanced argument, and the argument should not be taken for granted. If the two-party system is to be a benefit to the country, the condition is that there should be no shadow of suspicion in the minds of the electors that the dice are being in any way loaded in order to preserve it against the wishes of the people. That is the basic point in all electoral reform which has not been touched on today. That being so, I would say that the ideal sort of House is that the vast majority of the 600 odd Members should belong to the one or other of the two main parties, that there should be a reasonable and not excessive majority for one party, and at the same time a number of other Members who are either technically independent, in the sense that they receive no party whip, or belong to small groups.
It is most important for the well-being of Parliament that there should exist these small groups of Members—although not sufficient to hold the balance from the point of view of votes between the parties, which would cause instability—who are men of independence, intelligence and integrity and who will make substantial contributions by their speeches rather than by their votes to the deliberations of the House. We have to consider whether these changes which are being advocated assist or do not assist towards that end.
I am always fascinated by the historical reminiscences in the speeches of the Home Secretary. I am amused by the historical reminiscences of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing). I find them both intensely attractive, but they are totally irrelevant to the argument with which we are concerned today. Let. hon. Members understand the truth about these university seats. The Home Secretary went back to the 17th and 18th centuries, and to the early 19th century. The fact of the matter is that two things were true in the 7th and 18th and early 19th centuries. Firstly, party politics were very largely sectarian, and, secondly, the universities in those days were the close preserve of the Church of England. Whether on balance the university Members played a distinguished part in those times would form a very interesting historical discussion. But the situation is that up to 1870 when the test of the Thirty-Nine Articles for admission to the universities was abolished and the universities ceased to be the close preserve of the Church of England, the whole situation was different from that of today. It was different until 1914, because although it is true that there was no definite church ban on the universities up to then, in those days before 1914 the university franchise was severely restricted—I think, to M.A.s, who were predominantly clerical—and they were essentially clerical constituencies.
Therefore, whether we agree or not with what they said, when Lord Samuel and the Leader of the Opposition were talking before the 1914 war about the university constituencies, they were taking about something entirely different from what we have to discuss today. When the Speaker's Conference of 1918 had to make a decision its alternative was either to abolish the university constituencies or to change their whole nature by broadening the franchise and bringing in the new university constituencies of the new universities. It made its choice to destroy what was to some extent a closed corporate body and made it into a body especially designed to return to the House of Commons Members of exceptionally independent view. That was the deliberate purpose of that Conference in 1918, which has not been referred to in the Debate today. That changed the whole nature of things. Things that happened before 1918, amusing and fascinating as they may be, are entirely irrelevant to this Debate, which is concerned with one essential issue.
For various reasons, party discipline of the ordinary Member has tightened during the last 60 years. Disraeli and the hon. Member for Hornchurch's friend, Sir John Gorst, tightened the Conservative machine. Parnell tightened the Irish. Joseph Chamberlain tightened the Radical. The Lord President of the Council has tightened the Socialist. All sorts of people in all parts of the House have contributed to tightening party discipline, and the consequence has been that it has been made more difficult for the ordinary territorial Member to be independent, and more important that there should be university Members who are to some extent free to sit a little more loosely to that discipline. I contend that the question of university status as the problem really is today has not been discussed as yet in this Debate, and we must begin to discuss the matter on its merits de novo and not through it historical association. The university has contributed to the well-being of Parliament this essential element at a time when Parliament most desperately needs it.
There are hon. Members opposite who are ready sometimes to denounce the anomalies of the constitutional system. In all sincerity, I beg of them in their own interest to be very careful about some of those denouncements of anomalies. As the matter will be left now, the whole system will be bristling with anomalies, and while hon. Members opposite are
going to abolish one anomaly that is inconvenient to them, plenty of anomalies will be left behind and there may come a day when other people will turn the weapon of the argument about anomalies against right hon. Gentlemen and hon Gentlemen opposite. I appeal to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department to call to the attention of some of his right hon. chiefs the advice that a famous poet gave to a revolutionary statesman:
I'd guard the laws like any Radical,
And keep each precedent, however small,
However misty, dusty, dreary, dreamy,
Lest Man by chance should look at me and see me;
Lest men should ask what madman made me lord
Of English ploughshares and the English sword.
I was more than entertained by the interesting contribution of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), particularly when he discussed the question of one vote, one value. I do not want to cover the ground which has already been covered by some of my more distinguished colleagues, but to take a simple view of this question. The right hon. Gentleman said that if there was to be one vote, one value, there should be a steady approximation to that value, but I plead guilty to abysmal ignorance of what exactly is the common denominator of his value. I am unable to see why there should be any discrimination for voting purposes between the miner and the medical man, or why a member of a university should have preferential franchise because of the fact that he has been associated with an educational or academic institution. I do not see that he is of any greater value to the community from the point of view of receiving the franchise than any artisan or occupational worker, either civically or nationally.
I think that when one has reached a reasonable age to take part in civic or national affairs, one vote should be given irrespective of any professional or other type of qualification. If one is part of a community, one has a responsibility and a right to participate in the forms of administration of that community. The right hon. Gentleman said, in his intel- lectual excursions, which are always interesting, that he accepted the impartiality of Mr. Speaker. But I could not follow him when he said that there were seven million non-rate-paying voters. Does he wish to disfranchise all those people who make no monetary contribution to the civic or national authorities? Does he exclude everyone who has not property qualification? Does he deny the right of anyone to take part in government because he does not pay rates, is not in a position to pay rates, or is not called upon to pay rates? I would like the right hon. Gentleman to raise that point again and explain his interesting observation.
May I now turn to the practical issues of the Bill. Every one in the House, irrespective of party or interest, is thoroughly appreciative of the work which is represented in the Bill. Equally, I am sure, they are actuated by the desire to have an effective Measure and a useful electoral instrument. I approach this matter more in sorrow than in anger. If I am a little vehement about it, it may be because I am interested in the proposals which are incorporated in the Bill. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is familiar with the points which were put in the memoranda submitted by the authority with which I have the privilege to be associated. The Boundary Commission's Report shows that in looking at this matter they fixed a common denominator of 57,000 to 59,000 people as a normal constituency. They then proceeded—and their work was extremely laborious and technical—to allocate constituencies approximating to that common denominator. I also notice that the Commission provided for a marginal figure of between 50,000 and 57,000, to provide elasticity of administration.
On behalf of my three colleagues who, with me, represent the City of Bradford in this House, I would point out that the Commissioners recommended that the city should have three constituencies of 70,000, 71,000 and 72,000 each. By that process they have eliminated one seat from the county borough. In doing so, they seemed to have overthrown, to some extent, their own policy. They set themselves a standard of 57,000, and then proceeded to reorganise the four-constituency county borough of Bradford into three constituencies of 70,000, 71,000 and 72,000 each, thereby passing from the normal representation to an abnormal position which has reduced the representation to three Members. The representations which have been made on behalf of the city—and there is no particular political angle in this matter—make it clear that this is regarded as a distinct departure from the Commission's general principle. We did not desire to violate any existing ward boundaries, or challenge any other claim, nor did we seek to encroach upon any nearby constituency. We thought it would be possible, by numerical revision, to comply with the Commission's recommendations of between 50,000 and 57,000 for a normal constituency. This appears to us to be, not a distinct injustice in the narrow sense of the term, but an error of judgment, an oversight by the Commission of the evidence which was submitted to them.
The Home Secretary said he did not think that mere mathematics should be the deciding factor in the allocation of constituencies. He said that the Government were dealing with this matter in such a way as not to create excessive disparity. I was born, bred, and had my being in the City of Bradford; I am part of its warp and weft, and I plead with my right hon. Friend to retain the four-constituency representation for the city. After all, Bradford ranks as the eighth largest provincial city in England in population and one-sixth in area. It is the metropolis of the wool trade and the wool textile industry, particularly the worsted section of the industry. The industry is relatively static geographically; it is not likely to be subject to violent movements or alterations of its water and transport facilities. It is well sited, and in the centre of the largest industrial aggregation of population in the North of England, excluding Lancashire.
Since the Boundary Commission went into this matter, we have occupied a substantial economic priority position anti because of that we ought to retain our present political representation in the interests of the country as a whole. We are a politically conscious city; we have helped in the development of political consciousness, both nationally and civically. Unless the proposals in this Bill can be modified, we believe that a really serious injustice will be done to a very important city of the North. The Home Secretary has said that there is no virtue in numbers, and in pressing this claim on behalf of the citizens of Bradford as a whole, without reservations, I say that we want a redistribution of our constituencies so that we can continue to serve the country, nationally and civically, in the future, as we have done in the past, and in so doing we shall not deprive any other area of adequate representation.
The hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Titterington), at the beginning of his speech, referred to a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), and asked for enlightenment. The point concerned the extension of the local government franchise to include 7,000,000 non-ratepaying voters. My right hon. Friend's point was, I think, simply this: that notwithstanding repeated extensions of the Parliamentary franchise, the local government franchise had been limited to payers of rates, which constitute practically the whole source of revenue of the local authorities. My right hon. Friend was making the point, as I understood him, that the extension in question—bringing in 7,000,000 additional voters—represented a very great change—a change to which, as part of a general rearrangement, he himself had assented. That was all my right hon. Friend sought to convey.
I desire, as I have no wish to take up the time of the House unduly, to confine my remarks to the sole question of the abolition of the university franchise. My right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford has by his speech relieved me of any necessity to go very fully into what I may call the constitutional arguments in regard to the proposals which are now before the House. As he pointed out, it has been the tradition, honourably and scrupulously observed since 1885 at any rate, that changes of the kind proposed in this Bill should not be introduced until every effort had been made to secure the largest possible measure of agreement. Surely that is entirely right, because none of us, I suppose would desire that these great constitutional matters affecting the political life of this country for long periods of time should become the mere playthings of party politics.
In this case, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, not only have the changes proposed for the first time in this Bill been put forward without previsous consultation, but they are in certain respects in conflict with the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference of 1944, which were accepted by all parties represented in the Coalition Government. I have no desire to add unnecessarily to the quotations given by my right hon. Friend in making his point in that connection, but there is one addition which I must make because from what has gone before it might have been supposed that the university franchise was left entirely untouched by the Bill of 1944. That, of course, is not the case.
Under that Bill the franchise was extended to include graduates of all classes and certain restrictive provisions in regard to the payment of registration fees were swept away. This is what Mr. Pethick Lawrence said in that connection:
We sought to reach an agreed conclusion, which was neither, on the one hand, complete satisfaction of the claim that the university electorates should be swept away, nor, on the other, that there should be a retention of the university electorates in the precise form in which they were before. What we did, therefore, was to propose that the university electorates should be retained but that all registration fees should be abolished, and that the franchise should be thrown open to all graduates, not only those that will graduate hereafter but those who are graduates of any university at the present time, without any further fee on their part.
Then he went on to say—and this is rather relevant as showing that the matter was looked at then from every point of view—
In view of the tendency, which has already been illustrated by other hon. Members, of universities taking a less party view of their representation than used to be the case in the past, and in view "—
and this is the point on which my right hon. Friend laid stress—
of the greater entry of members of all classes into the universities which is going on at the present time, I think, as one who was at the Speaker's Conference, that we have not only reached a compromise solution which is reasonable as a compromise between parties but that it is one which can quite legitimately he defended on its own merits."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th October, 1944; Vol. 403, c. 2045.]
That was the view of a leader of the Socialist Party sitting on the Opposition side of the House in 1944, a leader who, as my right hon. Friend has said, was and is held in very great respect.
What is the argument for breaking the long connection between the universities and Parliament? We have been told that this is to be done in deference to the principle of one man, one vote, and on that point the comment has been made that the principle of one man, one vote is valid only so far as it is supplemented by the corollary of one vote, one value. Whatever might be said about the principle of one man, one vote coupled with the principle of one vote, one value, as regards the ordinary voters who used to be given weight according to their interests or the premises they occupied, my submission is that the case of the university franchise does, in fact, rest upon a different basis.
I would venture to put forward the view that as a matter of theory and principle, there cannot be anything undemocratic in classifying voters according to their personal and individual quality. That is absolutely impracticable as a general plan, but if it can be done, as it can in regard to the section of the community whose education has been carried further than the general average, my submission is that there is nothing undemocratic in that. In my view, that is the first argument in favour of the university franchise.
I suggest for the consideration of hon. Members that the case for maintaining the university franchise is stronger today than it has ever been. The universities are a very important element in the community —an element whose importance is increasing day by day. They are an element which, unlike most other elements in the community, does not secure representation as such in the ordinary course. If we think of such interests as agriculture, the land owning interests, industry, labour and the Co-operative Movement they all secure their representation—and it is very adequate representation—through the territorial constituencies, but, apart from the churches, the universities I would say are the only important element in the community which does not secure representation in that way.
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point will he address himself to this particular statement of the "value" which he keeps repeating. What is the standard of this "value"? How is this equation to be measured and what is its formula?
I realise that that point was troubling my hon. Friend, but like my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford I can only suggest an approximation to uniformity in the value of votes. If we compare the constituency of the Western Isles with some of the large constituencies which survive after this Bill becomes law, we will agree that there is a wide discrepancy. That is not a matter of principle but a matter of adjustment in detail so far as it is practicable to make such an adjustment. If it were thought after proper consideration that the universities were over-represented for the purpose for which university representation may be justified, that could be put right by reduction in the number of seats.
The point that I am making now and that I want to stress is that universities count for more today in our national life than they have ever done. We lag behind many other countries in the proportion of our people who seek and obtain a university education. We lag far behind the United States and also, I am sorry to say, some European countries. As my right hon. Friend has already pointed out, humble birth and limited resources are no longer an obstacle to entry into our universities, even to the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge. All the universities of our country have become thoroughly democratic institutions.
I do not wish to follow hon. Members who have sought to base an argument upon an analysis of the qualities of university Members in the past. The case for university representation cannot be made, or demolished, by such arguments. There have been great and distinguished names, in ancient days and quite recently, among Members sent by universities to represent their graduates in this House of Commons. It is true, as the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) said, that if the franchise is granted it is for those who exercise it to determine for themselves what sort of Members they will return. In the case of university franchise, the opportunity is afforded for candidates to come forward who might be, for varied reasons, unwilling or unable to contest ordinary geographical constituencies, That cannot be disputed.
University elections present certain features which they do not share with ordinary territorial elections. There is no canvassing, there are no meetings and there is no emotional appeal. The electors decide upon consideration of a single, balanced statement of the candidates' views. We get—if I may add this —upon a limited scale through the university franchise the undoubted advantages of proportional representation without the grave disadvantages which, attach in my view, to proportional representation on a universal scale.
If university representation gives the advantages of proportional representation, is it not the case that, under this proportional representation in the universities, not one Labour Member has been sent to this House?
I will come to that point, because it is a very serious one. I am saying that we get the advantages that are claimed for proportional representation in the case of the university franchise and we do have also—this point has not previously been made—
That again is a matter of detail and of adjustment I quite agree that to get the full advantages of proportional representation, constituencies ought to have three or more Members, but that consideration does not go to the root of the question of principle that we are discussing. The point I was making, when the hon. Gentleman interrupted me in the middle of a sentence, was that with the university franchise there is an opportunity of giving representation to electors who are overseas, a not unimportant matter. My view is that the cumulative case against the Government's decision to abolish university representation is overwhelming.
Here I come to the point which the Secretary of State for Scotland rose to make a moment ago. He asked a very pertinent question: Why is it that universities have never returned a Socialist Member to Parliament? If that is the fact—I believe there is one case which is in dispute—is not that fact in itself a strong argument for retaining the univer- sity franchise? Are the Government putting this proposal forward on party grounds? Do they seriously wish to tell the House and the country that their argument for getting rid of the university franchise rests upon their fear that the policies for which they stand will not commend themselves to the representatives of the more highly educated sections of the community? It is a very strange argument. We are not dealing with this matter in relation to one Parliament or one election but as part of the permanent electoral system of this country.
That is really all I have to say on this subject. I would like the House to realise—I think I ought to say this—thatI am without any sort of personal feeling in the matter at all. If the decision of the House and of Parliament is that the Bill shall be passed as it is, and that the university franchise shall go, I shall regret it, and I shall think it a great mistake from a national point of view and from the point of view of the universities. I shall have no personal sense of grievance whatever. My personal feeling will be simply one of great thankfulness that, at the end of almost a lifetime of public service, the university franchise gave me the opportunity which I could not otherwise have had of continuing to give such service as I could to my country in a time of great emergency.
I do not know whether the Home Secretary recalls an occasion in this House, in 1939 I think it was, when in the course of a Debate on civil defence, he spoke from a hack bench behind me and said, in a somewhat jocular vein, that I was the disappointment of his life. I remember thinking to myself that it was a very extraordinary thing for him to say but that anyhow he could not do anything about it. Well, I was wrong, and the Bill shows how wrong I was. The Home Secretary has presented a loaded blunderbuss at the heads of university Members. If it goes off, I predict that the right hon. Gentleman will have no more satisfaction in his achievement than the most indifferent sportsman who ever brought down a row of sitting birds with a single shot.
I, for one, confess that I attend with some regret the obsequies of a great, traditional institution, such as university representation, but I am positively astounded to hear from the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) the argument that the case for such representation is stronger today than ever it was before.
The right hon. Gentleman appears to base that argument on two propositions, the first of which is that the universities are more important in our national life than they ever were at any previous time. I do not think anybody would dissent from that proposition, but the conclusion which he drew does not follow from the premise. The right hon. Gentleman did not come to the other main argument until the end of his speech, when he brought it forward most modestly and charmingly. I am not trying to be at all ironical about his using it. It was that if university representation had not existed when he came into this House, he would never have had the opportunity of being here, and that consequently we and the country would have been deprived of his services. I can think of no more staggering argument than, that. I can think of numbers of constituencies which would have been proud and honoured to have the right hon. Gentleman as their representative.
When we come to some of the other arguments that the right hon. Gentleman put forward, we find that he is thinking in terms of the Parliamentary representation that existed not before 1918, not before 1867, but before 1832. He said that if we had territorial representation only, the universities and the church would be the only interests that would not receive adequate representation. We do not sit in this House as representatives of interests; we sit as representatives of constituencies. I gather that the right hon. Gentleman said that we act as representatives of interests. That may be. When we come into the House we cannot discard all our previous training and experience, nor the fact that those of us who sit for different constituencies are subject to slightly different pressures. I have no representatives of the motor industry in my constituency and therefore I receive no representations of a direct and personal kind from the motor industry. I represent what is perhaps the main centre of the leather industry in this country and therefore receive many representa- tions from the representatives of the leather industry. However, that argument does not carry us any distance whatever. This House is full of graduates of the universities and any of us could be approached at any time, and often are approached, by the university authorities in one matter or the other.
I could not agree with the arguments of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) that anything that happened before 1918 was not relevant to the issue before the House tonight. When one looks at university representation, one must first address oneself to the question of what it was originally intended to achieve. As I understand it—I may be wrong and I speak subject to correction—in the Parliament of the days of James I—very differently constituted from the Parliament of today and on quite a different basis—the only interests as such which were represented were, first, the landed interests, and, second, to a much smaller extent but to an important extent, trade. What it was intended to achieve by the inauguration of university representation was that those persons who had graduated in universities but who were not landowners and did not engage in trade, should have some means of making their views felt in this House. In a House which was elected only by substantial landowners and persons substantially engaged in commerce, that was clearly a most intelligent and enlightened provision.
The relevance of this consideration becomes clear when we see that not only such persons as were represented in the Parliament of James I are represented today but that Colonel Rainsborough's ideal of universal suffrage, referred to by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, has been achieved. There is no a priori case at least for the maintenance of the representation of any particular interest whatever. I would not say for one minute that because we cannot build up a nice tidy a priori case on logical principles for the representation of universities that universities, as such should not be represented. One cannot always have nice tidy paper schemes, and if hon. Gentlemen opposite could adduce one substantial argument why the universities should have special representation, I should consider it very willingly and with a very open mind.
What are the arguments mainly put forward on behalf of university represen- tation? They come under two heads. First, it is said, because of the character of the constituencies, and second, because of the character of the Members who represent those constituencies. On Friday of last week the head of my own college at Oxford, a Member of my own party sitting in another place, while rejecting the case for plural voting, which is common ground on the whole between the two sides of the House, said that in these days there was a case for the representation of education. The fact of the matter is that although the universities as such represent education, their constituents in a voting capacity do not represent education in any manner. They represent persons who have been educated or, to be more accurate, persons who have had an opportunity of receiving education. I would not like to say for a moment that every person who has obtained a pass degree or aegrotat or fourth class in one of the schools of Oxford or one of the triposes of Cambridge—except that one cannot get a fourth at Cambridge—is an educated person, and certainly he is not entitled as such to have a specially privileged vote from which a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons who has not attended a university, is debarred.
The universities are not primarily educational constituencies. To have an educational constituency, one would have to build it up quite differently and see that all the persons engaged in education —all the school masters and the National Union of Teachers, and all kinds of people who were not perhaps graduates at all—were brought in in order to represent education at all stages. The universities, in so far as they represent education, merely represent it at the final stages only. The residents, as such, are professional educationists, but the bulk of the electors are not. I have dealt in sufficient detail with the case whether education should be represented at all. In my view there is no need at this time in these present circumstances.
We then get the other side of the case, the particular kind of Members. It is impossible to go through all the categories of university Members who are here, or have been here. I have almost an interest in the matter because the last member of my family to sit in this House was a university Member. He was a person of considerable academic distinction and considerable distinction in other ways although he was a member of my family. I fear he voted regularly with the party opposite, and I fear that the greatest notoriety he attracted, quite undeservedly, was that he happened to have a long red beard at a time when a game called "Beaver" was fashionable, and when to have a long red heard was to score game and set. Regrettably, that physical peculiarity, coupled with the particular times when he sat, attracted more attention that the many deserving objects which he promoted in this House. I cannot imagine that the right hon Member for the Scottish Universities believes that he would not have been elected for any other constituency. Not can I seriously believe that the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) would not have been elected for any other constituency. Although I suspect that the average Conservative selection committee would be rather frightened of him at first glance, they might get over that, as they have over a number of similar shocks in the past.
I concede that the argument that university Members constitute a peculiarly independent body of Members would he an argument in favour of university representation, in the first place if it were true, and in the second place if it were impossible for independent Members to be elected by any other means. But the mere fact that we have in our midst the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson), whom hon. Members on all sides respect, is surely sufficient proof that a man who is willing to come forward through the normal processes can get elected, whether or not he adopts a party label.
I agree it may be difficult, but to what extent is it desirable to make it easy for a person who stands outside the main stream of politics to get himself elected at any given time? I submit that only if such a person has strong personal qualities is it worth while, or in the interests of the electorate, to come into this place, because this is primarily a place where the main trends of politics—and, let us face it, party politics—have to be fought out and decided. It is only when a man has exceptional qualities and characteristics that tie serves a useful purpose by coming here with the intention of standing out of party conflict.
Both sides of the House agree in rejecting the principle of plural voting, as such. I dislike very much using legalistic jargon in non-legal problems, but I suggest seriously that, when we are all agreed on this principle, then the burden of proof in favour of university representation rests today on those who say that the universities should be represented; they have to make the case, and so far they have not attempted to do so. Until they have made the case, I, at least, shall vote for the Bill and against such representation.
The hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. W. Wells) has left me in a rather difficult position, because I should like to refer to much that he has said, but I have not really discovered what he was driving at. I could not make out why he was so much opposed to university representation when he had no real argument against it, so far as I could see, except that it was unnecessary. Even though the master of his own college at Oxford said that education ought to be represented in this House, the hon. Member did not seem to think it was possible that university members could represent education.
Well, it is a matter of opinion, but I think the majority of those who are independent-minded men must believe that those who are elected by educated men to represent their interests in this House are men whom we can trust to represent a point of view which is worthy of consideration.
Another thing which seemed to puzzle the hon. Member for Walsall was that the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) had said that, had it not been for university representation, he would not have been a Member of this House. It is quite clear that the right hon. Member meant that he was an independent-minded man who could not, one might say, knuckle down to ordinary party politics, and he seized the opportunity offered to him of standing for a constituency which did not claim a particular party adherence. That is why it seems to me so essential to maintain, if we can, university representation.
Clearly, university representation is not in accordance with the tag, "One man, one vote." It contemplates that a certain small and educated section shall have two votes, although it is not really necessary that that should be the case. The Home Secretary has turned down the suggestion that a university graduate might be allowed to choose whether to vote for his university candidate or whether to vote for his territorial candidate. I admit that such an arrangement would be difficult to manage, but it could be done. What I am trying to point out is that, if it is not entirely in accordance with the "One man, one vote" cry, or even "One vote, one value"—whatever that may mean—
I am told it is Tory policy, and has been for many generations, but I do not understand what it really means or how it can be achieved. It seems to me to be in the interests of the community that the Parliamentary representation of the Universities should be retained. As a rule the university member is a man who is independent, in the sense that he is not, as are most of us, tied down all the time by constituents. University representation is a kind of vocational representation, and there is something to be said in favour of vocational representation. Many people have advocated it.
Not only Mussolini, but also a great many people who are highly democratic, and who are anxious to have a vocational Chamber in the legislature of this country. An attempt to establish a vocational Chamber was made by the founders of the Weimar Republican Government in Germany as a wholly democratic institution. I do not think it would work in this country, or anywhere else, because as a rule the right type of people would not be able to take part in its proceedings, and its position vis-à-vis the other branches of the legislature would be sure to arise. But this matter does not arise in the present Debate. The point is that, representation of the universities in Parliament is an old tradition of this country which has worked extraordinarily well. It has brought to this House many eminent men, not only great Parliamentarians but men of letters and men of learning, who have contributed very valuably to the discussions in this House, and whose views are respected all over the world. There is no reason why it should be considered undemocratic that such men should get into the Houses of Parliament and be able to express their views without having to go through the rough and tumble of the usual political battle.
University Members represent a worldwide constituency. That is an extremely important consideration. A graduate of Oxford, or Cambridge, or London, or any other university, who is overseas in any capacity, cannot keep in touch with his territorial Member, but he can keep in touch with a Member who represents his views for his university.
As the universities become more democratic and more fully representative of the people as a whole, I can see no reason why, sooner or later, they should not return a Labour Member to this House.
Would the right hon. and gallant Member answer my question? He says a man with a university degree who lived overseas could vote for someone who represented his views, and could keep in touch with him.
The hon. Member misunderstood me. What I suggested was that a university man would feel more in touch with a university Member than he would be with a territorial Member, even though his political ideas might not be similar. It seems to me a mistake, when we are changing so much, to do away with this old traditional representation. It is part and parcel of the Parliamentary system of the country. It has worked extraordinarily well in the past, at least ever since the period alluded to by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) when university seats ceased to be the appanage of the Church of England. Universities now represent a large mass of educated opinion and when we have decided on the principle of one man, one vote, and to give the franchise to boys and girls at the age of 21, it is just as well that there should be certain hon. Members who represent seats with an educated electorate of rather older people. It may be, indeed, that in time we shall find, when more people have been to the universities, and education has improved throughout the country, we shall have need for more Members representing universities.
I cannot understand why, just because there are no Labour representatives of the universities, these seats should be taken away. I understood that at the Speaker's Conference there was no opposition and that if we are to believe what we have heard today in the House there was a kind of bargain which was understood to have been made. Because plural voting was to be done away with and there was to be a general increase in the franchise all round, it was considered that university representation should be left alone. I hope that the Government will reconsider this point. It is not really a very big matter for which we ask. We ask for the retention in this House of the Members for the universities whose presence here we feel to be in the best interests of the community.
I do not know whether later in the Debate, Mr. Speaker, you intend calling the Amendment in the names of my hon. Friends:
That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a measure which perpetuates the present electoral system whereby a minority of the electors is enabled to elect a majority in the Commons House of Parliament and therefore continues to frustrate the will of the people.
Although that is on the Order Paper, it does not seem to me that the Debate so far has been dealing with the underlying differences of principle which should
be raised by this Bill. The Home Secretary claimed that the Bill was really the final stage in an edifice built over the last 300 years, ever since Colonel Rainsborough laid down the principle of universal suffrage and "one man, one vote;" that the previous landmark was in 1832, and that now we have reached the point where the electoral system is pretty well perfect. I do not know whether I misunderstood the Home Secretary, but that was the impression he gave me. If that were right, I should be very happy, but I am still puzzled by the fact that the alterations the Bill would make in our electoral system, are most of them very small. Most of them, I think, are quite good, but they are all small. There are arguments for and against abolition of the university franchise.
Personally, I think it is an illogical remnant of an ancient and interesting system, and there might be some case for a little illogicality and for not enforcing a mathematical rule too severely; but it is not a matter of great principle, comparing with some of the reforms carried out after the last war, such as women's suffrage. The fact remains that before the recent war, and now, this House has been very far from representing the views of the electors of this country. At present, I think the Labour Party enjoy about 100 Members more than they deserve in proportion to the number of votes cast. They are in fact a minority Government; they did not poll a majority of the votes in the country. Yet they enjoy the largest majority any Government has had in this House for a long time. That is nothing new. The system persisted in the period between the wars when the Conservative Party, standing alone as a party, never polled a majority of the votes in the country. They had a majority only in 1931 because a part of the Labour Party and a part of the Liberal Party assisted them. At no other time did they poll a majority of the votes.
The 1945 election results were almost exactly like the 1924 election results, although it happened that in 1945 the Labour Party won the toss and in 1924 it was the Conservative Party. In 1945 48 per cent. of the electors returned 62 per cent. of those elected to this House. That was the same proportion which the Conservative Government of 1924 enjoyed. I do not know whether the Conservative Party have been having any doubts about this system. Very few of them had any doubts about it when it worked in their favour, but when the Leader of the Opposition spoke about the principle of "one vote, one value," I was thinking that it was going to lead to something rather interesting. I wish he had developed the point, and explained how in practice the principle of one vote, one value, which he told us had always been the policy of the Conservative Party, would in fact work out. Unfortunately the Leader of the Opposition got on to a much more emotional subject and departed from that line of argument, from which we might have learned something interesting.
I turn to the Labour Party and ask them, are they satisfied with this system? It has worked for them once; are they quite sure it will continue, and that they can continue to have a majority, a large working majority in this House, but a minority of votes in the country? Is it not a rather unstable basis for great and sweeping reforms in our social system, to have a minority of the electors behind the Government? After all, if we are increasingly likely to have a system of Single Chamber Government, it is most important that the Government should have the majority of the electors behind them. There has never been a party with a majority both in the country and in the House of Commons since the far-off days when the Liberal Party had a majority. They are the last political party to have had a majority both in the country and in this House. In the last 25 years or so it has become quite unfashionable to have both.
Is it really beyond the wit of man to devise a better system than this, because without any exaggeration it does not give us a House of Commons which really represents the will of the people? I do not think that the Home Secretary could have meant that the present system was really effectively carrying out the principles to which he referred; it does not, in fact. The speech of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) interested me. He made the very good point, I thought, that the ideal House of Commons would consist of two parties and a sprinkling of Independents; perhaps even a few Liberals might be allowed to come in. That interested me because while it is possible that that is the best form in which the wishes of the public can be expressed, there are some people who think that not two parties but one is the best way in which the will of the public can be expressed. I ask whether we have any more right to maintain a system which frequently completely distorts public opinion because we happen to have made up our minds that two political parties and a sprinkling of Independents, by which he meant the university seats, is the best for the country.
An hon. Member on the opposite side of the House used a phrase which rather shocked me, that it was in the best interests of the electors to have such and such a system. I am an unrepentant democrat. I still think that it is in the best interests of the electors to have their will expressed—that is the reason why they go to the poll—and the present system does not do it. Are those of the Labour Party who believe in progressive Government satisfied with the present situation, are they satisfied to occupy such a false position as their party does at the present time? The right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) pointed out that universities had a system of election which did tend to make it possible for persons of individuality to represent the universities. That is a fair point. One of the other things which is wrong with the democratic system of this country is that it does not ensure that the leaders of parties, or outstanding personalities, find a place in this House. There are so many examples of that, that I need not go back to recall them.
There are other methods of electing a representative House, a representative assembly. There are many variants of various systems on the Continent and elsewhere. I do not want to go into the merits of those various systems, but to declare that some other system is bad—that, for example, the system employed in France is bad—does not rule out any change in our system. There are bad systems on the Continent. There are systems which lead to multiplicities of parties. There are constitutional forms which lead to instability of Government, but I would for a moment draw attention to one system, that which has prevailed in the South of Ireland—
That is exactly the remark I expected to hear. On the other hand, since 1922 there have been only two Governments in Eire, while there have been half a dozen or more in this country, so that on that score Eire can make a better showing than can Great Britain with our system. So far as stable Government is concerned, Eire has a much better record than this country. Considering that the Irish temperament is not of a placid type, and that we in this country claim to be much more conservative and cautious than the Irish politically, it is a remarkable fact that there have only been two Governments in Eire in all that time. The fact that at this particular moment, after all these years between 1922 and 1947, an indecisive result has come about only emphasises that their system has given decisive results.
Is the hon. Member not aware that there is widespread dissatisfaction with the particular system of proportional representation in Southern Ireland, and that because the recent general election has led to an inconclusive result, Mr. de Valera is seriously pondering about introducing some change in regard to the whole system?
That intervention illustrates a number of interesting points, but perhaps I might first conclude what I was saying. During the same period we in this country have had at least two general elections which have given indecisive results. I refer to those of 1929 and 1923. Of course Mr. de Valera is now thinking of changing the rules because he has been defeated, but that is not to say that the rules were either right or wrong. Mr. de Valera says they have not worked out to suit him, but they did work to suit him for 16 years.
As it happens, I am not making a party speech. I am trying to point out that the system we have at the present time does not result in the election of a House of Commons which represents the wishes of the people. It scarcely even roughly represents them. In most of the general elections before the war the Conservative party were, on an average, consistently 155 Members over-represented. What a difference it would have made to the history of this country and of the world if that had not been the case—[An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear"]. At least I get some agreement on that point. If the Liberal Party, or a small section of the Liberal Party, voted with the Conservatives in 1918, actually a majority of the Liberal Party voted for proportional representation. [Interruption.] Yes, they did. I have looked that up. A small section of the Liberal Party, plus the Conservatives, turned down proportional representation. As the result of that campaign and the work that has been put in since, there has been one small example of proportional representation introduced into our system, namely in the form of the university elections. Now the Labour Government are sweeping even that away. I would ask the Home Secretary to consider whether in some other way this system might not be tried out in practice. If it is too far for him to go across the Irish Channel to study results there, or in some of the British Dominions, could not we have an example here in this country?
The opportunity which presents itself in this Bill seems to be in connection with the London County Council elections. What happens at present in the London County Council elections is that both of the Members in any constituency belong to the majority party, and the whole of the minority is unrepresented. In the last election, out of some 60-odd seats there was only one seat in which the representation was split between two parties. That does not give a fair reflection of the views of the public. I would ask the Home Secretary to consider allowing some other system to be introduced there to give a little more fairness in the representation of the party which is in a minority. It is not the case of a third party, but of the second party not being represented at all.
To return to this phrase, "one vote, one value," of the Leader of the Opposition. At the present time there are constituencies in this country—where there are very substantial minorities—which, for 25 years, have never succeeded in recording a vote for a winning candidate. Those minorities have been completely disfranchised. They can go on voting away, but no effective result from their vote will ever appear. That is not one vote, one value. It is possible that a minority party—it happens to be the Liberal Party at the moment, but it may be some other minority party at some time—can poll several millions of votes in this country without obtaining any representation at all. It does not usually happen, but it could happen. I suggest that this system is far from an effective way of translating the will of the electors into results. I believe that a better system could be devised. I hope that the Home Secretary will give a little more thought to this, and will, during the Committee stage of the Bill, provide an opportunity for trying out some modification of the present system.
As a member of the Speakers' Conference, I resent the continual charges of bad faith made by the Leader of the Opposition against the Labour Party in general and Labour members of the Speakers' Conference in particular. There was certainly no idea of any bargain being made between parties, beyond the fact that we were trying to reach some kind of agreement regarding legislation that might be introduced in the lifetime of the last Parliament. So far as I remember, the Conservative Party, during our various discussions, claimed credit for the proposals for widening the local government franchise, and I was very surprised to hear him putting forward the view that they were a great concession given to hon. Members on this side of the House.
I have been surprised at the number of hon. Members in this House who have joined "The Times" and the "Observer" and "Manchester Guardian" in support of the view that, somehow or other, university seats can be justified because they have returned to this House people of particular independence and distinction. I would ask the people who support that view to put the evidence. Without wishing to be rude to any university Members I should have thought that, on the whole, one could say they were typically average hon. Members of this House and of neither more nor less distinction.
While admitting correction from my hon. Friend, I would say, so far as independence of Members in this House is concerned that over the last 20 years, practically all of them, with the possible exception of Miss Eleanor Rath-bone, could have accepted the support of any one of the two or three main political parties. After all, the parties have a fairly wide umbrella, and do include people of varying and wide views. I consider that at the present time the hon. Member for Oxford City (Mr. Hogg) is rather more independent than either of the Members for Oxford University.
Professor Hill was a very distinguished man, but he was not particularly a House of Commons man. He did not make any particular contributions to this House. His main contributions were outside this House.
I was surprised to see in this Bill the list of the county and borough divisions. I cannot understand on what principle it is decided in what category a seat shall be put—whether it is to be a county or borough seat. A great many seats, which consist mainly of urban districts or boroughs, are put, for some reason or other, among the county seats. I should have thought that it would be logical for seats which are mainly urban in character to go into the borough category with, of course, the less expenditure at elections which would naturally result. I would ask the Home Secretary to consider that possibility in the Committee stage.
With regard to the question of redistribution, I think we English Members have a very real grievance. England is not represented fully enough in the present Bill. I do not think that we necessarily want exact mathematical equality with Wales or Scotland, but we do think that the English representation is unduly cut down. I urge the Home Secretary to reconsider the question of the eight seats which have over 80,000 electors. I do not sit for one of them myself and, therefore, I would like to put their claim particularly strongly. It seems to me that over 80,000 constituents is a very large number of people for a Member to represent. In the last House I represented at one stage 207,000 electors. It was a very big job. At the moment I have about 70,000 constituents, and that is quite enough.
The point I make is that when we have about 80,000 constituents we are providing the ordinary M.P. with rather more work than he can properly carry out. From that point of view an extra Member should be given to all those constituencies which have over 80,000 electors. That would add only eight Members to the House. The House of 1935 had 615 Members, and this would restore the number to 616. I suggest that that is a reasonable proposition. Of these seats, three are in the County of London. It has been said that the number of Members elected for the County of London—40—was in proportion to the electorate. That was the case in 1946, but people are still flocking back to London on a very big scale. From the last register, the County of London alone would certainly be entitled to at least 42 Members on the average of 59,000 electors per Member. I urge that all three London constituencies with over 80,000 electors should be given two Members.
A further anomaly has now arisen. Of the three seats in London which have over 80,000 electors, Paddington now has 93,559 In fact, the electorate is now larger than that at Fulham which has two Members. That is illogical. It cannot possibly be justified to cut down Paddington from two to one while leaving Fulham with two Members. I am certain that the population will continue for some time to flood back to London. I do not want to go into that now; it is a matter for another Debate. I suggest, however, that steps will have to be taken to check this flood. Those steps are not likely, however, to be effective in the immediate future and, therefore, we are right to urge that London should be given its full representation in the next Parliament. I would like the Government to consider during the Committee stage the suggestion that an extra Member should be given in the case of all seats with over 80,000 constituents. The effect of that would be to introduce only an extra eight Members.
I welcome the reduction in the cost of elections; but what has happened to the various proposals about the use of motor cars? We on this side of the House were very keen that we should have some control of the use of motor cars in an election. That is another point upon which I should like to have an explanation from the Home Secretary and which could perhaps be considered further during Committee stage. This Bill is tidying up the position with regard to elections. However, there is another thing which ought to have been tidied up and about which nothing has been done. I refer to the right of a person to be a Parliamentary candidate or a Member of Parliament. Under the present law there are an enormous number of anomalies which ought to be removed. Same of the anomalies date back for a long time. An Anglican clergyman or a Roman Catholic clergyman cannot sit in this House; but any Nonconformist clergyman may become a Member. The reasons for the difference are curious. In the former case, in about 1800, the most serious critic of the Government of the day was an Anglican clergyman, Mr. Horne Tooke. A special Act was therefore passed to disqualify Anglican clergymen from the House. With regard to Roman Catholic clergymen that is a hangover from Catholic Emancipation.
Another anomaly is that an Irish peer, such as the "Father of the House," can sit in this House, but a Scottish peer not elected to the House of Lords cannot. That is illogical. One curious law which still survives is that any person attending an Episcopal Church in Scotland twice in the year, if he happens not to be there at the time when the prayers for the King are said, is disqualified from being a Member of this House. I do not know whether any of the three representatives of Scottish universities are under this law disqualified. It is a distinct possibility that they may be disqualified. That is a survival of the anti-Jacobite laws. It is high time that these small anomalies were removed.
Among other disqualifications are the following: judges are not allowed to sit. That is reasonable. A recorder may not sit for the town of which he is recorder. Returning officers may not sit. Stipendiary magistrates in London cannot become Members of Parliament, but they can in the provinces unless a special Act happens to be passed in their particular borough, as is the case in Wolverhampton and Stoke, for example. Any person connected with the Government of Gibraltar cannot sit in this House, but there is no ban, except in the case of Colonial governors, with regard to people connected with the government of other Colonies. Ambassadors are not disqualified by law although they are by custom. With regard to serving officers, those in the Royal Air Force are disqualified by statute; but until about 1900 serving officers from the Army and Navy frequently sat in the House. Since then Service Regulations which have been introduced have banned them.
There are other disqualifications most of which go back to the old idea that men should not hold an office of profit under the Crown. That idea is always getting in the way. In the last Parliament we had to pass a special Act to indemnify Mr. Arthur Jenkins because, by accident, he had held some arbitration post which disqualified him from sitting in the House. At the beginning of this Parliament we had to pass a special Act because two or three people had been elected and it was subsequently found out that they had held certain offices which disqualified them. The same kind of thing may happen in the future; that wastes the time of the House and inconveniences Members.
The time has come when we should take steps to clear up these difficulties. I suggest that we should insert a Clause in the Bill entitling all people who are electors to stand for election to and sit in this House unless the posts they hold happen to be in a schedule which disqualifies them. We should keep the list of disqualifying posts as short as possible. In this connection, I wish to refer to the growth of the Civil Service and the large number of employees of nationalised industries. How will that affect admission to this House? I would say that it is reasonable that members of boards of nationalised industries should not be allowed to become Members. It is reasonable that senior civil servants of the administrative grade and upwards should be disqualified. That should be put into the law. At the moment we are not very clear on the position, though Civil Service instructions have been issued by the Treasury.
In the case of junior civil servants, postmen and so on, what is the position? In my view junior civil servants below the administrative grade should be allowed to be Parliamentary candidates without resigning their posts until they come into the House. That is a point which could be covered in this Bill. With a number of my hon. Friends I propose to table an Amendment which, if accepted, would entitle all electors freely to stand for Parliament unless the occupations they hold appear in two schedules. The first of these would disqualify them from both standing for and sitting in the House, whilst the other would allow them to stand for Parliament but not sit in Parliament. I think what requires to be done is to clear away a lot of these old anomalies and also to make clear the position now that we have this very big extension of Government activity with the extension of the Civil Service and the growth of nationalised industries. If we do not clear up the matter now we shall have an enormous amount of annoyance in future. We shall find that, because of the growth of Government activities, a lot of people may be banned from coming to this House just at the time when we have finally made the franchise democratic. It is important not only to have a democratic franchise, but also to have democratic arrangements for elections in order to permit the maximum number of people to have the opportunity to fight a seat in this House.
I certainly should have preferred that the case for the universities should be put by other than university representatives, but we have a duty laid upon us by our constituents to raise our voices so that they may be assured that we do not neglect their interests. At the same time, perhaps, I may be allowed to speak from a personal point of view. From my study of French history, I know that even the worst criminals were always allowed to make their last speech before the guillotine fell upon them, and I therefore ask for the indulgence of the House on this occasion.
We had this question of the universities before us in March, 1931, and, on looking up HANSARD, I see that the Clause abolishing university representation was defeated by 246 to 242, a majority of four votes in favour of the universities. The protagonist, a Labour Prime Minister, who introduced and fought for that Bill with so many arguments, who, at a subsequent General Election only a few years later, was defeated by the right hon. Gentleman who is the present Secretary of State for War, was delighted to take refuge in the Scottish Universities. We have already had it stated that the Speaker's Conference of 1944 made a recommendation "that the existing university representation and methods of election shall be maintained." Surely, that was a non-party decision which was passed nemine contradicente.
Following upon that report of the Speaker's Conference, we had another Debate in this House, and an Amendment to the Representation of the People Bill was brought forward by the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), seconded by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), to exclude universities from the Bill. What was the result? That proposal was defeated by 152 votes to 16—only 16 hon Members of this House—and Members of the Labour Party were well represented here on that day—voted as late as 12th October, 1944, for the abolition of university representation.
I wish to speak tonight not merely as a university representative, but as a representative of Northern Ireland, and I wish to draw the attention of the Home Secretary to certain facts. Under the Representation of the People Act, 1918, the six counties of Northern Ireland had a representation in this House of 30 seats, and that existed down to the General Election of 1922. Before that General Election took place, however, there was passed the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, and those 30 Members were reduced by that Act to 13, including the Member for the University of Belfast. Now, I have been looking very carefully into and studying the figures of the various Reports issued by the Boundary Commission, and I find that the total English electorate amounted to 27,706,999, and this, divided by 484, gives an average electorate in England of 59,312. Then, I took Scotland, and I found that the average electorate for Scotland, with its 71 constituencies, is 49,58
If we look at the Report of the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland, which I hope all hon. Members have read, we find that the quota for Northern Ireland is 71,457. Consequently, the electoral quota for Northern Ireland is very much greater than that for England, and infinitely greater than that for Scot- land. In fact, the Report itself shows that the electoral quota for Northern Ireland is 124 per cent. of that of Great Britain. In order to have equal representation with England and Scotland combined, Northern Ireland should have at least three more Members. If, however, Northern Ireland were to be given equal representation with Scotland, she should have at least five more Members. If this Bill goes through, and Northern Ireland is deprived of its thirteenth Member—its university Member—its total representation will be reduced to 12, which is out of all proportion to the representation of England and Scotland.
I know that the argument which will be brought forward against this is that Northern Ireland has its own Parliament, and, therefore, its representation at Westminster has been legitimately reduced, but I would remind hon. Members that practically all our taxation, all the Customs and Excise Duties, all the Income Tax, including Surtax and the taxes on profits, are reserved, by the Act of 1920, to the Government and Parliament of the United Kingdom, and continue to be imposed and levied by that Government and Parliament and to be paid into the United Kingdom Exchequer. I am sure that I am only putting forward what hon. Gentlemen will consider to be a reasonable case when I say that it is only fair, therefore, that Northern Ireland should be represented at Westminster in proportion to her population and electorate.
The representation of the universities goes back to the time of James I, who called up the Burgesses of Oxford and Cambridge. It was by the irony of fate the University of Oxford which took the lead in opposing the tyranny of his grandson, James II, and the heroic conduct of the Fellows of Magdalen College, Oxford, has been related in the glowing pages of Macaulay. It was that opposition which led eventually to the abdication of James II and the coming into power of King William of blessed memory. It was only in 1868 that the Scottish Universities were given two Members, one for Edinburgh and St. Andrews and one for Glasgow and Aberdeen, but the Combined English Universities were given two representatives under the Act of 1918, when Scotland was given an additional representative, so that Scotland now has three. Queen's University of Belfast and the University of Wales were also given representatives under the 1918 Act, so that we now have a total of 12 Members representing the universities.
It was formerly alleged that the universities were "pocket boroughs" for the Tory Party, but at the present moment, of the 12 university Members, at least six are Independent, with no party ties whatsoever. Surely, it is to their credit that, in very recent times, the universities have sent to Parliament, to mention none of those who are now present, men of such intellectual calibre as John Buchan, Lord Hugh Cecil, and Professor A. V. Hill, who, as Secretary of the Royal Society, formed a link between this House of Commons and the most famous scientific society in the world. We all remember with gratitude Miss Eleanor Rathbone, who was absolutely disinterested and a representative of all good causes. She spent her life in drawing attention to abuses and in correcting injustices. Surely, this university representation is a compliment paid to the things of the mind. I admit that it is a privilege, but it is a privilege not based on class, nor on money nor on Party, but on what is the only real aristocracy—the aristocracy of intellect. All those who vote at the universities must have passed an intelligence test, which is not retrograde, not antiquated, but a real sign of modernity, a sign of enlightenment.
If I might, I would, as I am in "private duty bound," refer to my own university which has only had three representatives since it was enfranchised in 1918. The first was my great predecessor Sir William Whitla, who, to put it mildly, was by far the greatest physician in Ireland. His "Dictionary of Medical Treatment" reached seven editions in his own lifetime. It has been translated into every language including Chinese, in which language there are six editions. His "Manual on Materia Medica" is the standard class book in all universities, and has reached 11 editions.
My immediate predecessor, Professor Sinclair whom many hon. Members will remember, was a very distinguished professor of surgery, who discovered operations which had never been performed before, so that ladies and gentlemen from England and Scotland flocked to Belfast to obtain the relief which only he could give. He was the chief consulting surgeon in France during the first great war. When he came back to Belfast mention was made at a dinner given in his honour of the wonderful operations which he had performed in France. He said, "No, any credit I have is not for the operations which I performed, but for the operations which I prevented from being performed."
The University of Belfast is very largely composed of students of very slender means, many of whom come from the working classes. They are able to attend the university solely through the scholarships obtained on entrance either from the university itself, the Corporation of Belfast, or the regional committees. Perhaps I may be allowed, as one who worked with those students for 31 years as professor of French, to draw attention to the extraordinary ability, grit and perseverance of those men and women. Again and again, the external examiners who came over from England and Scotland drew attention to the amazing ability of the students. I remember a very learned professor, who that summer had been examining at both Oxford and Cambridge, coming to Belfast University. Of one girl student who came from the humblest working class home, he said that had she been at Oxford that summer she would have beaten all the students of the Modern Languages Honour School and that had she been at Cambridge she would have beaten all the students who took the Modern Language Tripos. That is the type of student we endeavour to turn out and which forms our electorate.
The Speaker's Conference, which consisted of 33 persons, not only insisted on the maintenance of university representation, but on the reform of university representation. I was in the House when I heard Mr. Pethick-Lawrence, as he then was—this is not the quotation given us by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition; it is entirely different, and, I think, more important—say:
The agreements were satisfactory as agreements, and, in my view, they met the situation"—
I would particularly draw the attention of the House to this sentence—
by arriving at a solution which we thought Would survive."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th October, 1944; Vol. 403, c. 2045–6.]
That was a solution which he and we thought, and Members of the Government and of the Labour Party thought, would survive. But the Speaker's Conference not only proposed the retention of the university electorate, but asked that all registration fees should be abolished and that the franchise should be thrown open to all graduates, and even made retrospective.
I am glad to say that Queen's University, ever deferential to the suggestions of the Speaker's Conference, has accepted that advice, and the fee for the Parliamentary Register has been abolished. All graduates have been put on the register, whether they have paid the fee or not, and it has been made retrospective. It is true that the fee was only 10s., which was used for defraying the cost of preparing the register.
But, surely, this matter was thoroughly gone into in 1918 and was settled as a basis of national policy. I well remember that at the Speaker's Conference of 1918 the Labour Members were anxious to extend the university franchise to the newer universities. It was the Labour Members who proposed that an extra Member should be given to Scotland, and one each to Wales and Northern Ireland and two to the new English universities. This recommendation came from the Speaker's Conference of 1918 and it was, let me repeat, the Labour Members who insisted upon the extension of the university franchise to these newer universities, such as that of Belfast.
In conclusion, may I be allowed to say that university Members have brought to this House that breadth of vision without which we can truly say the people perish. The university Member is not a partisan. During my 31 years as a professor of French, my whole life was devoted to trying to make students appreciate the incomparable beauties of Racine and Molière I never made a political speech; I am simply a professor of French who has strayed into politics. A university Member is not a mere partisan; he gives a detached and considered judgment to the discussion of all matters which come before this House. Therefore, I ask the House, before it is too late, to say whether this system of university representation is working well. Is it doing good, or is it doing evil? I put the question to hon. Members, honestly and fairly—does it or does it not contribute an element to the representation of this House of which, if this House were deprived—and I say it with all humility —it would be the poorer by the loss?
I am sure that we have all enjoyed the speech by the aristocrat, the hon. Member for Queen's University of Belfast (Professor Savory). I say that because it was a title assumed by himself; he described those who represented universities as being among the aristocracy. I would be the last person in the world to dispute the title with the hon. Member, and I hope—
I accept that, but, nevertheless, an aristocrat. I have listened, on more than one occasion, to the pleas put forward for continuing university representation. We have been told that the universities provide refuge for those who cannot face the hurly-burly of the political platform, and that they provide refuge for those defeated in electoral battles. I am wondering whether those pleas are not really for a refugium peccatorum and consolator afflictorum. As I shall no doubt be asked what these terms mean, I will say at once that refugium peccatorum means "Refuge of sinners," and consolator afilictorum, "Consoler of the afflicted." There is a place for both those rôles, but I would hardly say that the universities are the bodies to adopt them.
Today we are taking yet another step in the great electoral evolution of our country. It is a very long story, and, while we may have yet more Bills dealing with further distributions—I hope they will be a bit better than some of the distributions proposed in this Bill—it is difficult to see at the moment what further Bills will come about relating to the franchise. As a matter of fact, we are putting the coping stone on the electoral franchise of our country. I know there is a good deal of feeling in the City with which I am proud to be associated, the City of London, with regard to the proposed redistribution. I have heard it called maldistribution, but I myself would not use that term.
Speaking personally—and all of us in this House have an interest in this matter —while I have some sentimental regrets with regard to the way in which part of my constituency is to be lopped off and added to that of the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), nevertheless, I am bound to confess that I think the rearrangement between the constituencies of East and West Woolwich has been made fairly. True, the dismemberment will rob me of the street in which I was born and the house in which I lived up to the time I was married, and it will rob me of two schools which I attended in my early years, but it will leave to me the house from which I took my bride and in which I have lived for over 30 years. I am in the fortunate position —although some people might think it unfortunate—of living in my constituency, although I am being robbed of the part of the constituency in which I was born.
While my hon. Friend the Member for East Woolwich and I have little complaint, there is a fair amount of complaint to be made with regard to some of the proposals for London. As one hon. Member has already pointed out, there are three London constituencies with 80,000 on the electoral roll, and I suggest that that matter might well be considered. In fact, consideration might well be given to areas north of the Tweed in view of the size of some of the electoral constituencies there. There are one or two unholy alliances proposed in London. I have heard suggestions of what might be the outcome of some of these alliances, although I certainly will not repeat to the House some of the suggestions which I have heard. I can imagine that Westminster citizens will not be too happy about being joined with Chelsea. Both Chelsea and Westminster have long histories of their own, and I suggest that the case of Westminster and Chelsea merits further consideration.
An even more glaring case is that where Holborn is linked on to St. Pancras. Both these boroughs have long histories. Holborn takes us back to the old Saxon days. Indeed, it commemorates the Hole bourne which used to run through what is now Holborn, and it served the City of London. Incidentally, that stream produced the first representations which have ever been made to this House with regard to the fouling of rivers. Holborn is to be joined on to part of St. Pancras, and I suggest that there again the matter should be reconsidered.
As one hon. Member has already pointed out, the London representation has been settled on numbers that no longer are a fact, because the numbers today are much greater than those on which this representation was settled. It is remarkable that throughout our long history a number of powers have tried to bridle London. The great Elizabeth Tudor tried it; she did not succeed. James I tried it, and even "the wisest fool in Christendom" could not succeed. I hope I have not offended any of the Scottish Members, but those who know the subject will agree that he was one of the worst of the many inflictions which Scotland has given to England. I have a feeling that in spite of everything, London, who has reasserted herself every time she was oppressed, will come back again.
For sentimental reasons I regret the disappearance of the City of London as a separate entity. But who is to blame for that? It is certainly not my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Those are to blame who, doing business in the City of London, deserted the City and made their homes elsewhere. There was a time, as we see from a mural in this House, when the City of London could raise its own trained bands. They sent the trained bands out to the relief of Gloucester when it was besieged by Prince Rupert. In olden days the City of London was ever the good friend of this House and was the refuge of Members of the House when the King sought to persecute them. A great change has come, and we have to deal with the resident population. The resident population is roughly 4,500. If those who deserted the City would only come back and live there as their great forebears used to live there, I am sure we should not have this proposition before us.
An hon. Member was asking that the number of exceptions—those prevented from sitting in this House—should be reduced.If that task be undertaken, I hope it will be considered very carefully. Throughout the whole of its long history, this House has fought against undue pressure from the Crown, through creatures of the Crown. I have very good friends in the present Executive, but Parliament, on principle, no matter what government is in power, should be on the lookout to make sure that it is not unduly influenced by creatures of the Executive, even as it used to be by creatures of the Crown.
Therefore, for the preservation of our Parliamentary liberty, our right of exercising free judgment in this House and expressing that free judgment through our votes, we ought to be careful to see that we do not admit into the House those who will be mere creatures of the Executive. It was suggested some years ago—not in this Parliament, but in a previous Parliament —that a number of back benchers were merely creatures of the Executive do not think that complaint could be made in relation to the present Government. Indeed, I believe the complaint with regard to a number of my hon. Friends is exactly the opposite. In every move we make with reference to the franchise of the electoral law of this country and the future of this House, we must see that it represents, as far as possible, the will of the electorate.
The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) referred to proportional representation. I have taken part in elections under proportional representation and, as I claim to have a modicum of intelligence, I can manage all right; but I have always been sorry for a number of people who do not understand it and who have to operate it. They can understand the plain cross on the ballot paper under the present system, although some of them are under the impression that they are giving a kiss to their candidate. I am bound to say that in the case of some folk, not in Parliamentary elections, but in other elections, I have been glad that the giving of the kiss has been limited to putting a cross on the ballot paper. I think that proportional representation would make confusion worse confounded and would encourage the growth in this country of splinter groups. We saw where France landed prior to the war because of the disintegration which was produced by splinter groups. There are continental countries not exactly free from splinter groups today. The introduction of proportional representation, right though it may be in theory, in practice would work out not to the good of this country and not to the good of this House. White we have to see that, so far as possible, this House represents the will of the country, we must also see that it remains free and independent—free to exercise its will, irrespective of either Crown or Executive.
I propose to speak tonight only on the subject referred to by the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Mr. Berry) in his opening sentences, the subject represented in this Bill of 150 pages or so not by any specific provision but by a blank, and in the Explanatory Memorandum by four curt words, anticipating the will of Parliament, "university constituencies are abolished." Let me assure the hon. Member that I do not propose to ask for the retention of the university seats as a refuge for the enfeebled. I entirely agree that if university seats do not serve a valuable function, they must certainly not be retained in the interests of the Members who now happen to occupy them.
I suppose it is impossible that the group of Members whose seats are now thus suddenly marked for liquidation should fail to experience some strong feeling on the subject. But I shall attempt to suppress any such feeling altogether and to speak exactly as I would if I sat for another kind of constituency. I shall find that easier because, while I understand the feeling of my fellow Burgess in the representation of Oxford that it is a personal affront to the university Members from their fellow Members, I do not myself share it. I do not believe for a moment that personal malice towards any of us is part of the motives of this Government.
I may add that, although the Leader of the House—in an interjection which I thought hardly worthy of his office—suggested the contrary, I am myself very little interested in this Bill so far as it affects my personal fortunes. If my constituency comes to an end, my sentiments will be very much like those expressed just now by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson). I should feel gratitude that, at the end of an official career at home and abroad, the university franchise gave me, as it gave him, an opportunity on that Treasury Bench, and on these benches, of giving what service we could in bringing the experience of our earlier lives to this House. If indeed I were thinking in personal terms I should regard it as no small honour to be the last name on the scroll of the Oxford University representatives, the first name on which, three and a half centuries ago, was also that of a Fellow of my own college.
Whatever the differences of our views, surely we can at least agree that this is a question which ought to be considered on the basis of the enduring interest of this House and not on the basis of personal or party advantage. Much more is at stake than the personal fortunes of a dozen men. This is a blow struck at an historic part of the structure of this House, rudely hacking from it, seats which have been occupied by the series of great men whose names have been recited today. It is a wanton and unprovoked blow, one more blow, at the professional classes—for so it will be regarded—and this at a moment when we all desire to see the new Health Service Act made as efficient as possible by the willing entry of the doctors into the service, and at a moment when all classes of the country are rightly being called upon to help in meeting the national crisis. It is a blow, for so it will be regarded, at learning and education, and this at a time when many people in this country and elsewhere are asking what in the realm of the spirit and mind is going to be Socialist equality. Is it to be a levelling down or a levelling up? Is it to be an honest and continued attempt to give the best of the heritage of our civilisation to those in all classes who have the personal quality to share it, or is there to be resentment of differences within a class as great as of differences between classes?
Lastly, this is a blow—not this proposal in itself, but in the circumstances in which it has been introduced—at the Constitution itself, a blow at one of the customs of the Constitution, a blow at those traditions of fair play, give and take, and compromise, and the observance of agreements—at those traditions which have enabled this country to effect a social revolution without bloodshed and, through all political controversies, to preserve a unity which has made the nation one in a time of great trial and crisis.
It is on these grounds, and not on the grounds of personal interest, that we should consider this franchise. I am not concerned about the fortunes of a dozen men. But I am deeply concerned that the historic constituency which I have the honour to share in representing, after three and a half centuries, should now have as frail a mortality as I myself—or right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench.
I do not propose tonight to say anything on the intrinsic merit of the case for university seats. I myself believe that the case is strong and, indeed, convincing, but I do not deny that fairminded and intelligent men may take a different view on this question. I find it extremely difficult to believe, however, that any man to whom these epithets would apply can take the view that it is right for the Government, in the present circumstances, and after the Speaker's Conference and what has happened since the conference, to have brought this proposal forward now. We should not at the moment be discussing the intrinsic merits. It is the previous question we should now be discussing—whether it is right, having regard to what has preceded this Bill, that this proposal should now be made.
I need not, after the exchanges which have taken place, restate all the recommendations and the composition of the Speaker's Conference and what has happened since. The House knows that that conference, presided over by the Speaker, included a strong representation of Members of the Left and several Members who are now Ministers in this House. They know that, while on other matters there was dissent and division, there was on this matter a recommendation without any division at all. I quite understand that if, at such a conference—when, of course, Labour Members were in a minority—there had been some proposal on which they were strongly united as a whole, and on which they had been out-voted, it would not be unreasonable, as "The Times" argued, that, after an intervening election which had changed the relative strength of the parties, a new Government might well consider that they were entitled to continue the opposition they had made at the conference and now to make it effective.
But this was not such a case. This was a case of a recommendation accepted without a Division. Not only that. It was afterwards brought forward to the House. It was challenged here, not inappropriately, perhaps, by the hon. Gentleman who leads the Communist Party and the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt). Only 16 in a full House went into the Lobby against the recommendation. The other Members of the Labour Party were led by Mr. Pethick-Lawrence into the majority Lobby, after explanatory comments such as have been quoted already.
I say, therefore, that this is a breach of a bargain, and a breach of one of the now recognised customs of the Constitution. But it is more than that, it is also a breach of a definite promise; because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) has pointed out, this question was raised in another place only a few months ago, in October, and the answer given about what was to be in this Bill was that it would be precisely what could be read in the Report of the Speaker's Conference, and other associated Reports. I think the university seats are important; but they are not so important as the observance by Members of this House and Ministers of the recognised customs of the Constitution, as the observance of bargains and agreements once reached, as the observance of pledges given by Ministers speaking on behalf of the Government.
Suppose, in these circumstances, this proposal in the Bill is carried through. What will be the consequence—what must be the consequence? Can there ever be a Speaker's Conference again? Will the person who occupies your Chair, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in the future be willing again to preside over a conference after this? Are we to be faced with the position that henceforward each government, each party majority, as it comes in may consider itself perfectly free to gerrymander the electorate—
I did not say that this was. I said that if this decision of an all-party conference is thrown over in this way, is not the consequence likely to be in future that each party in turn, whether of the Right or the Left, will consider itself free to gerrymander the electorate in its own interests, so that the whole electoral system of this country will be sub- ject to competitive and alternating mutilation as Government succeeds Government and party succeeds party? What a terrible prospect for the whole of Parliamentary government in this country!
I am very glad indeed to see the Secretary of State for Scotland in his place today. I should have thought it was not really a very pleasant occasion for him to come to witness the execution after having been a party to the safe conduct. I congratulate him, therefore, on his courage in his appearance and—as I understand it is his intention to speak—on his participation in tomorrow's Debate. It will be interesting to listen to his speech; because I was amazed, as I think many other Members were amazed, at the interpretation he seemed in his interjection today to put upon the understandings arrived at at the Speaker's Conference. He gave as a justification for departing from the recommendations the fact that two university constituencies had since then elected two Conservative Members. Does he draw no distinction, when we are considering the kind of bargains and agreements that are come to at a Speaker's Conference, between the determination of an electorate and the subsequent choice by that electorate of their Members? Does he think that any Members at any conference could come to an honourable understanding that the electorate having once been determined the electors should be obliged to choose candidates of a particular party or of no party? It seems an extraordinary opinion. I shall be interested to hear him develop it a little further tomorrow.
I do not propose to discuss the merits of a university franchise in itself, because I think it is an outrage in the circumstances which I have described for this question to be brought before us at this moment. I should, however, like to say a few things in proof of some of the assertions I made at the beginning as to the kind of blow that is being struck by this proposal. If Ministers desire to know what the universities and the graduate electors think of this proposal, they can do so by reading the Press of the last week. They have seen the letter from the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford to "The Times," written at the unanimous request of the Hebdomadal Council, the governing authority of the University, democratically elected, and containing members of all parties, expressing their dismay as well as their surprise at this decision. They will have seen a later letter from the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge. They will have seen the letters of many distinguished graduates—of Lord Lindsay, of Professor G. M. Trevelyan. They will have seen yesterday in "The Sunday Times" the impressive article under the respected name of Dr. Albert Mansbridge. All these were protests against this proposal now brought to us.
I should like to add one thing to what I said just now about there being a breach of the custom of the Constitution and a breach of a pledge. It may seem an anticlimax to say that it is also a very gross breach of courtesy to have brought forward a proposal of this kind affecting all the universities without the slightest warning from any official quarter until 17 days ago. When I raised this point on Thursday, the Leader of the House asked me if I did not read the Press. The Home Secretary seemed to endorse that interjection in his speech today. Yes, Sir, I do read the Press. I had seen the rumours in the Press. On the other hand, I knew what was in the Report of the Speaker's Conference; I knew what the decision of this House had been in October, 1944; I knew what had been said by the Lord Chancellor as recently as last October. And in the light of that I did not believe the rumours in the Press. Have we indeed come to this, that when, on the one hand, we have a formal statement on behalf of the Government and on the other anonymous, unauthenicated rumours in the Press, we are to choose the latter and disregard the former? That is what the Leader of the House seems to imply. I hope not.
I owe a very deep apology to my constituents, for a number of them did see these rumours in the Press, and got into communication with me, and said, "Should we not do something about it?" I am afraid I replied, "Look at the Speaker's Conference Report. Look at the Lord Chancellor's statement. I cannot believe that any Government in the light of those would now do what is suggested in the Press." That was a mistake. It was a mistake which, perhaps, after sitting here for two and a half years in this Parliament, I should not have made. But it was perhaps not a wholly discreditable mistake—at least to me.
I have said that I do not now wish to argue on the intrinsic merits of the case for the university seats, partly for the reasons I have mentioned and partly because, so far as that argument must be made, it is at this stage perhaps best left to others. Before sitting down, however, I should like to ask the Prime Minister—I am sorry he is not here, but my words will perhaps reach him—and the Home Secretary three questions. I mention him and the Home Secretary because they are the two Ministers who bear the chief responsibility in this matter in this House; but not only for that reason. The Prime Minister is a loyal and honoured son of my university—I was dining at his own college only last night and hearing expressions of pride in his record—and the Home Secretary is a loyal servant and a deep student of the Parliamentary institutions of this country. I cannot believe that either of them has been happy over this business. Indeed, I do not believe that hon. Members opposite who will take the trouble to read through the Report of the Conference to which I have referred, and the statements that have been made, will be happy about this matter.
I was not in the least suggesting that the Home Secretary did not sincerely believe that university seats should be abolished. What I am suggesting is that he cannot be happy about the Government of which he is the responsible Minister at this moment, bringing forward this proposal in these circumstances in relation to this Bill, after the negotiations which have preceded this Bill. I suggest, too, that hon. Members who consider calmly the sequence of events—and there are honourable Members opposite not only in the technical sense—will also be very unhappy.
I did not assert that hon. Members were unhappy. I said that if they took the trouble to look at the sequence of events, I thought they probably would be unhappy.
The three questions I wish to ask are these. Do the Government, at this time of all times, desire to strike this one additional blow at the professional classes? Do they, at this time of all times, desire to strike this blow—I confess, in this matter, a surprising blow, in view of the Government's previous record—at the universities and higher education? Lastly, do they, at this time of all times, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer is speaking in grave and, indeed, menacing terms of the dangers of totalitarianism in this country, desire to strike this blow at the Constitution and at the best traditions of British public life? For myself, I can only say, with Dr. Albert Mansbridge, that this is an afterthought to this Bill; it is a bad afterthought, and I hope the Government will think again.
I did not have the good fortune, enjoyed by the right hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter), of spending some years of my life at an ancient university. I envy him very much indeed. The one ambition of my life was to have had the opportunity of going to Oxford as a young man and there broadening my mind, and getting a knowledge of the stream of culture which, up to the time the Labour Party emerged, was the possession of one social class of this country and not the whole of the community.
Let me acknowledge that I have received, although it may be at secondhand, great benefits from those who have had the fortune, like the right hon. Gentleman, to go to the universities. I have received a glimpse of those advantages from men like Lord Lindsay, and I am glad to acknowledge the very great debt I owe them. In a small and humble way, I have endeavoured to return that service as a member of the Oxford University Extramural Delegacy. I am as concerned as the right hon. Gentleman to preserve and strengthen the great universities like Oxford and all that they stand for. It is because I have come into contact with what a university like Oxford has to teach, that I am convinced that the great issue of this Bill is not the issue of university representation, but what the great mass of people think about the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has done little service tonight to the eternal verities when he charged the Government with gerrymandering, because when he makes that charge, he is striking at the root of democratic representation.
I did not accuse the Government of gerrymandering. What I said was that if this practice of all-party consultation and the observance of agreement was departed from, we may, in the future, have no defence against gerrymandering by successive parties.
If I misrepresented the right hon. Gentleman in the slightest degree, I withdraw without qualification. He used the phrase "hon. Members" in a technical sense, in referring to hon. Members on this side of the House.
I withdraw. I thought it was the substance of his case that he thought the Government had been guilty of not accepting the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference, and that he was very much afraid that at some future time other Governments would gerrymander, and that we should go from one set of gerrymandering to the other. If the right hon. Gentleman did not do that, then the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) did. He charged the Government with gerrymandering. He impugned the honour of Members on this side who sit on the Government Front Bench. I wonder what the right hon. Gentleman would have said if the Prime Minister had taken him at his word and withdrawn the Bill. Let us make no bones about it. This Bill is to the advantage of the party opposite, and the right hon. Member for Woodford was up to one of his favourite tricks; he was drawing a red herring across the trail. He realised that attack was the best means of defence, and he was therefore putting up the best case he could for his side. If the right hon. Gentleman really thought that the Government had been guilty of gerrymandering, and that they had been guilty of dishonourable conduct, surely it was his duty, or the duty of his party, assuming that they have any regard for honour at all, to divide the House on the Bill.
In view of the charges made by the right hon. Member for Woodford, I ask Members opposite whether they still propose to accept this Bill with all its blemishes? The truth is that the Conservative Party are very glad to get this Bill. Let us assume, for a moment, that the right hon. Member for Woodford is right, and that a bargain was made—presumably behind the scenes—in the days of the Coalition. It is little use the right hon. Gentleman charging the Labour Party with being guilty of dishonourable conduct without realising that the Conservative Party were also implicated. It means that they were cutting up constituencies to suit one party or the other. In this matter, we have the assurance of the Prime Minister that no such bargain was made, and I propose to accept that and to argue that this Bill is a good one for the Conservative Party.
I propose to prove my argument. The argument for redistribution, accepting the principle of each vote having equal value, is to be found in the fact that to this House of Commons each Member for a borough has been returned with an average of 46,736 votes, whereas for each county constituency the average is 60,251, that is to say, the value of a vote in the county constituency is 46/60ths of each vote in a borough. When this Bill is put into operation this disequilibrium will be in the opposite direction—the county vote will then be worth 61/55ths of the borough vote. But that is not all. The right hon. Member for Woodford spoke about the rights of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
I want to say a word about the rights of England in this matter, because I see no reason why, if we adopt the principle of each vote having equal value, a seat in Scotland should have an average vote of 40,443 while a seat in Wales has an average of just over 51,000 and in England, 58,628. For far too long the rights of Englishmen have been gradually whittled away by the invading forces of Scotland and Wales. The time has come to cry a halt.
No, I am sorry I have not, but I have no doubt that the hon. and gallant Gentleman can work them out for himself. For the moment I am prepared to accept that Northern Ireland is not becoming a menace, but in view of what has happened in the case of Scotland and Wales, I am sure it will not be long before no Englishman will be a free man. In this Bill, England gets something less than a fair crack of the whip. We have constituencies of over 80,000 voters, while in Scotland there are seats with just over 20,000. That is anything but fair, and I hope that something will be done about it before this Bill becomes law.
Members have said today that each vote should have equal value, and that every man should have a vote. The question of square miles does not come into it.
The second principle, which seems to have the general acceptance of the House, is that a sense of community should be regarded as all-important. The House decided to reject the first Report of the Boundary Commission on the grounds that its mathematical conception cut across community interests. I want to point to the example of how this works in my own constituency. This is not a party matter. The county borough of Dudley, which I have the honour to represent, is a small piece of Worcestershire, detached from the main part of the county. It has done a great job during the last 20 years or more in building up the modern services that a good county borough should provide, and it has done so realising that its future lay with the county of Stafford. In the first Report that the Boundary Commission presented to the Home Secretary, Dudley was joined on to the contiguous area of Stourbridge—
The first Report of the Boundary Commission found general acceptance but the second report makes the extraordinary provision that Dudley should be joined to Stourbridge, which is not a contiguous area. There is a belt of Staffordshire in between. I want to say on behalf of the County Borough of Dudley, and I think that I am also speaking for Stourbridge, that they protest against this arrangement—
I think that I have made the point that the Bill as drafted affects the constituency I represent in a way which will hamper the development of the borough from a local government point of view.
Like the right hon. Member for Woodford I am going to support the Bill. I think that under the amended rules laid down by the House the Boundary Commission have produced a report which is very different from the original one. The Boundary Commission is now a permanent institution, and has been guided so far and will be guided for the future by the rules which the House provide in the Second Schedule to the Bill. I hope that before the Bill is accepted these rules will be looked at very carefully in order to avoid the gerrymandering to which the senior Burgess for the University of Oxford and the right hon. Member for Woodford have referred.
I did not intend to try to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in the Debate today, but the speech made by the hon. Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing) has compelled me to rise. He devoted a considerable portion of his case for the dismemberment of the City of London to the Division record of the senior Member for the City (Sir A. Duncan). In this Debate we have heard a great deal of ancient history from the times of the Tudors and James I. In my capacity as an elector for the City of London, as a Member for a London constituency and as an old friend of the senior Member for the City of London, I am entitled to bring up-to-date the historical knowledge of hon. Members on the other side of the House who laughed so hilariously.
In January, 1940, the right hon. Gentleman the senior Member for the City of London was introduced to this ancient House for the first time. He did not come in the ordinary way. He did not stand for election. He was invited here by the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain to strengthen Britain's war effort. He called himself in one of his early speeches a war-time dilutee. When the great Coalition, in which many hon. Members opposite played a notable part, was formed the senior Member for the City of London became a member of the National Government. He has never been a party man since he came here. He owes no allegiance to the crack of the party whips. He is independent, and he rightly chooses the right of all independents to act in accordance with their own thought and desires in regard to any or to all Divisions.
It will be within the recollection of hon. Members who were here in the days of the Coalition Government that the right hon. Gentleman did a magnificent wartime job. He played a principal part in providing the tools for victory. He took over the Ministry of Supply when it was nothing but a building and an untrained staff. We had no weapons, no plans for weapons or for tanks. In fact, we had only 1918 tanks, and my right hon. Friend worked for over five years to overcome that difficulty. [Interruption.] All right, we will say neglect, but the party opposite have a very heavy share of the neglect. The 1935 election was fought for or against rearmament. I do not want to go into that, but, believe me, I would be very happy to meet any or all Members opposite half way on that subject whenever they care to choose. This right hon. Gentleman, who has Played such a big part in the war effort, was made a laughing-stock by the hon. Member for Hornchurch and I resent it. I feel that a majority of the Members of this House will resent it and, what is much more important, I think a majority of the people outside will resent it. What are the actual facts?
Of course, I respect your Ruling, but may I remind the House that I make very few demands on its time and certainly much less than the majority of hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Hornchurch took 15 minutes to make this attack and it aroused great hilarity—
Further to that point of Order. I understand that an argument has been founded on the Second Reading of this Bill, and based on the proposition that the conduct of one of the two hon. Members for the City of London was open to criticism. Either that argument was in Order or it was not in Order at the time it was delivered. As I understand the matter, no Ruling was delivered at the time that it was out of Order. If it was in Order at the time when it was delivered, surely it must be in Order to reply to it. That is relevant to the Second Reading of the Bill. Surely it is a long-established practice of this House that while it is within the province of the Chair to decide what arguments are relevant, and what are not, or what is tedious repetition or what is not, it is not part of the province of the Chair—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] In my humble submission it is not, and never has been, any part of the province of the Chair—and you will correct me if I am wrong —to try to prescribe to hon. Members the length at which they desire to develop any particular argument, subject, of course, to the general Ruling with regard to tedious repetition.
If I remember aright the part of the speech that I heard, it was referring to the number of votes cast one way or another. The hon. Gentleman, as I say, is quite entitled to reply to aspersions on the right hon. Gentleman in relation to what has been said. But I cannot allow any hon. Gentleman to get up—it may be for a quarter of an hour or more—to reply to matters of that kind, when the Bill under discussion is quite a different thing.
Further to that point of Order, surely we are entitled to your Ruling about this. Either an argument is relevant or is not. If it is relevant, and if we are entitled to refer to it as relevant, and develop it, then it must be, in my humble submission to you, absolutely no part of the province of the Chair to suggest that it should be developed at this length, rather than that length. What the Chair is entitled to do, in my submission, is to say that either an argument is irrelevant—in which case it should not be introduced at all—or else it is tedious repetition. As I understand your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you have not ruled that this is tedious repetition. I must therefore ask for your Ruling on this point. Are we to understand in future that the Chair is now to tell us how long we are to develop particular points which are utterly relevant and not ruled to be tedious repetition?
I have given my Ruling, that the hon. Gentleman who is speaking is not entitled to confine himself merely answering in detail for the time he is going to speak, an attack on another right hon. Gentleman, which has no reference to the contents of the Bill. Therefore, I must maintain my Ruling.
Further to that point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Surely we are entitled to an elucidation of this Ruling now given. That is one of the rights of Members of this House. May I understand that, having ruled that it is neither tedious repetition nor irrelevant, you are seeking, as the occupant of the Chair, to prescribe the length to which hon. Members may develop an argument. If not, may we have your guidance, because it will be a most important precedent for the future?
It seems obvious to me that it cannot be tedious repetition, because it is a reply to a speech from the other side of the House. That is quite correct. But, on the other hand I think—and I rule accordingly—that it would be quite apart from the Business of the House, and we are discussing an important Bill, for one speaker to devote his speech, of whatever length of time, to the mere question of another right hon. Gentleman who has been attacked.
What you have now said constitutes a most important precedent. We are surely entitled to have a further explanation of it. What you have now said, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, constitutes in my submission a clear Ruling that what my hon. Friend has said is not tedious repetition and is not irrelevant. May I, therefore, ask you, as I am entitled to do—
I am much obliged to you for your protection, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Might I ask your view, having regard to the fact that you have ruled that what has been put is neither tedious repetition nor irrelevant, whether the Chair is now seeking to assert a right to prescribe the length to which hon. Members may go in their arguments which are admitted to be relevant and which are admitted not to be tedious repetition? May I ask, with due submission, whether there is any precedent whatever in the history of this House for the Chair asserting such a right?
No, I do not. I want to know whether or not our right to ask for an elucidation of a Ruling by the Chair is in question. I never sought at any time in my argument to do more than that. I want to know whether your last remark constitutes a denial of the right of a Member of the House of Commons to ask for an elucidation from the occupant of the Chair on his previous Ruling.
My Ruling was perfectly simple. I have ruled that the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) is entitled to repudiate what he thinks is an accusation against any hon. Gentleman. I also ruled that that cannot go on for the whole of the evening and that it is his job to speak to the Motion before the House. That is my Ruling and that is what I intend to stay by.
Further to that point of Order. On what ground can you assert that my hon. Friend has exonerated the right hon. Gentleman? He was in the process of doing so; evidently, in his own view, he had not concluded the case.
I will endeavour to keep within the Rules of Order. The important point in my case has still to be put. So far, I have only dealt with the case made by the hon. Member for Hornchurch. The senior Member for the City of London is engaged on a task of great national importance in connection with the revival of the steel industry. That task was entrusted to him by the National Conservative Government of 1935, and he performed it successfully until he was brought here by Mr. Neville Chamberlain in 1940. When, in 1945, he stood as a National Independent candidate, it was arranged that he would have adequate time—
Of course, I fully appreciate your views on this matter, but I respectfully suggest that this is the heart of the whole case. The reason why the right hon. Gentleman has not been hanging about here answering the Division bell is that he has been playing the predominant part in producing the magical figures of steel output. I respectfully suggest to you, Sir, and to all hon. Members who I know wish to deal with the utmost fairness with the right hon. Gentleman, that he is doing this task with great success. The January steel output was an all-time record—
Of course, the case was gone into fully by the hon. Member for Hornchurch, and so I will bring this difficult speech—difficult because of the Rulings from the Chair—to a close by asserting that, in the view of the country, the senior Member for the City of London is doing a very fine job for his country, and I feel certain that that will be the view both of his constituents and the people at large.
After a brief interlude relating to the City of London, I would like to return, again briefly, to the previous question which we were discussing—that of university representation in this House. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), whose speech seems to have aroused interest not only on this side of the House but elsewhere, gave us a remarkable historical resumé, and showed that the Government, in the proposals which they are making regarding university representation, are only treading in the foot-
steps of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, to quote the words of the old song sung at his old school:
Twenty and thirty and forty years on.
It is a little while since the right hon. Gentleman thought that way, but we are doing today what he sought to do away back in 1907.
I think the senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) made rather heavy weather on this issue. It is, indeed, intelligible that it should be sincerely believed, particularly by university Members, that they fulfil some unique and peculiar functions in the Constitution. Others may take a less emphatic view, not of the persons but of the institution as such, and perhaps I may be allowed to make this comment on university representation, since it was said by the senior Burgess for Oxford University that this was a blow at learning, a blow at education, and a blow at the professional classes. I think that such language is totally unrealistic and emotional. No one will accuse me of not having some knowledge of the universities, and not having shown, while I was at the Treasury, considerable appreciation of what they do, and of not having given greater grants than any ever given before for the development of our universities. Indeed, in the "Universities' Quarterly" for February, 1948, the editor says:
We have little hesitation in asserting that never has the Government of any country given the universities such liberal grants, and such complete freedom in essentials, combined with the necessary degree of planning on a national scale.
He goes on to say:
Our universities owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Government for the sympathy, imagination and courage they have shown in dealing with university affairs.
I am very glad indeed that he thinks so, and I am sure it was right to do it. I am equally sure that it is right to end the anomaly of separate university representation in this House, and the reason I hold these two opinions together is because I take rather a different view of the university from those who have spoken in defence of university representation here. To me, what matters about universities is that, at any given moment, there are a lot of young people there, with
a few teachers. But when one collects a number of ancient graduates scattered throughout the country—a professor here, a clergyman there, a stockbroker or a Member of Parliament—and say that these persons somehow or other, form a separate and real community, entitled to separate representation in this House, that seems to me to be total nonsense. Therefore, I submit that it is perfectly proper and right to vote as the Government are inviting us to do, to abolish this electoral anomaly, and at the same time to continue the fullest and strongest support for the development of our universities.
I pass from that topic to make one other remark which has a certain bearing on universities. It is sometimes said that the great value of university representation has been that is has brought certain people to this House who were independent. I am no great admirer of the Independent in politics. He is the chap who cannot play with the team. I remember a very happy phrase, as I thought, from F. S. Oliver's book, which, no doubt, hon. Members will remember, entitled "Politics and Politicians," which was the preface to his longer book "Endless Adventure"— the life of Lord Bolingbroke. Referring to Independents, he wrote that when we had a state of affairs "where none were for a Party and all were for the State"—and that is the ideal of the Independent—the only result would be that we would have "an impotent Babel of virtuous voices." I do not think that one or two more such voices are of any real value to this House of Commons, which must fight and live as Governments must govern in terms, not of a heterogeneous mass of Independents, but of loyal party men working within the party system, whether on this side or that side of the House. Even if it were true that many Independents had been sent to this House by the universities, it would be no argument for continuing the representation. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on making a clear, and, in my view, unanswerable case for the principle of "one citizen, one vote" in the place where they live, with no frills and no qualifications. I consider that is a principle which should be acceptable to all true democrats.
I now wish to speak of another part of the Bill which I do not think is quite so good, and which, I am sure, my right hon. Friend will be willing—indeed he said as much—to reconsider in detail when we come to the Committee stage. I refer to redistribution. As my right hon. Friend said, there is no magic in any particular number being the total membership of this House of Commons. I hope that, in considering the tentative proposals for redistribution contained in the Bill, my right hon. Friend will not close his mind to the possibilities of change, particularly as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) suggested, in regard to England as distinct from the Celtic fringes, and as distinct from Northern Ireland, and that he will be prepared to make changes which will mean an enlargement in the number of Members for English constituencies above those proposed in the Bill.
There are two serious objections, with which I will deal first in general terms, and then elaborate, to the plans for redistribution brought before us in this Bill. The first objection is that the gap is much too wide between the largest and the smallest electorates. We are told—and the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) welcomed this, and said he desired to see it taking place—that we are moving towards the achievement of the principle of "one vote, one value." As he truly said, we can never reach it absolutely, or even hold it for long if we ever reach it, owing to changes of population, and so on. But we are moving in that direction. My complaint is that we have not moved sufficiently far in the Bill in the matter of redistribution, and that the gap is still too wide.
My second objection is that the plan proposed in the Bill contains a much too heavy bias against large cities, against blitzed cities in particular, and against industrial areas generally, as compared with thinly populated parts of the country. Both these objections can be met by changes of detail at the Committee stage. With regard to the first of the two objections that I have cited—the too wide gap between the largest and smallest electorates—I will speak now only of England. Scotland and Wales fall into rather a different line of reasoning, because it is laid down that they shall have a fixed number of members, whereas the English number may fluctuate.
So far as England is concerned, the minimum electorate conceived by the Commissioners is 40,000. In fact, there are none below 41,000 plus a few hundreds; 40,000 is taken to be the minimum. If 40,000 is the minimum, I think it is reasonable that 80,000 should be the maximum —that is to say, a figure twice that size. That is a natural and proper fraction to set as the limit within which we permit any gap. If the largest electorate is divided into two equal halves, it ought not to be possible for these equal halves to be greater than the smallest electorate. Therefore, I take this figure of double the minimum as being reasonable as an upper limit. If that were accepted, it would mean that either we should have to break up the eight constituencies in England with more than 80,000, thereby adding eight more to the number of English Members; or, alternatively, it would be necessary to abolish or merge or re-arrange a number of the smaller electorates so as to get rid of everything that was less than half of the largest—the largest, in fact, being 87,000 in the case of Paddington. I am giving these figures in round thousands and ignoring the odd hundreds. I myself would propose to the House the splitting of those which are over 80,000.
I would not propose the rearrangement of the smaller constituencies, the smallest of which is Leominster with 41,000. The smallest are Leominster, Dorset East, Ripon, Rutland and Stamford, Bermondsey and Enfield West. All those have less than 42,000—between 41,000 and 42,000. My proposal would be that we should approach the matter from the other end, and that we should split Paddington, East Ham, Norwich, Hammersmith, Blackburn, Reading, Battersea and Gateshead, which are the eight with over 80,000. That would give back three more Members to London, quite legitimately in terms of the total population, and would help to balance the regrettable loss of the City of London in terms of total numbers. So much for the first line of approach—that is to say, that we should do something to narrow the gap between the largest and the smallest.
I turn to the other objection which feel against the scheme before us which is that it is too heavily loaded against the more compact electorates in which people live close together rather than scattered at distances from one another. We come here primarily to represent, not areas, but persons. We are here primarily to represent, not acres, but citizens; and, although it is laid clown in the terms of reference of the Commission that they shall have regard to any special awkwardness or difficulty in regard to "shape, size and accessibility"—and, within reason, I would not challenge that—I submit that the Commissioners have made much too much of it, that in their plan they have gone beyond reason, and that, as a result, we have an under-representation of a large number of very important parts of the country, including practically all the provincial cities. I shall ask permission in a moment to cite one or two statistics. The dice has been heavily loaded against all the great provincial cities, most of which, I shall argue, ought to have at least one more Member. The same is true of certain other industrial areas.
If I may illustrate the electoral quota by a few figures—I will give all these in round thousands and avoid the small change in terms of hundreds—in England alone it is 59,000. For Britain, including Scotland and Wales, although I am not sure whether it includes Northern Ireland, which would not greatly affect it, because the numbers are relatively small, it is 57,000. That illustrates, of course, the under-representation of England. If England were not under-represented relative to the Celtic fringes, there would be substantially the same quotas, whereas now they differ by 2,000. Let us take some of the principal provincial cities of England, with regard to which I have made some rapid and approximate calculations.
Take the case of Bradford. It is proposed that there should be three Members, with an average electorate of 71,000. If we gave them four Members, as some may perhaps suggest, the average electorate in Bradford would be 53,000—and 53,000 is much nearer the quota than 71,000; it is much less distance below the quota than 71,000 is above it, and, therefore, I say there is a prima facie case for giving Bradford another seat. The same argument will apply to some other instances I will illustrate. Take Liverpool, which is to have eight Members under this plan, with an average electorate of 66,000. If we gave an extra Member to make nine the average elector- ate would be 58,000, which is only just below the quota. Here the case seems to be completely established, for Liverpool would be very near to the quota if we gave them one more Member. In Birmingham, the plan before us is for 12 Members, with an average electorate of 63,000. If we gave them a thirteenth Member, just for luck, the average electorate would be over 58,000—very close, indeed, to the quota for England, and above the quota for Britain as a whole. I say, therefore, that there is an unanswerable case for giving Birmingham another Member.
Finally, take Plymouth about which I am well informed; I spent yesterday there and have all the latest information about Plymouth. It is proposed to give Plymouth only two Members and the electorates there will then average 71,000—much above the quota. If we gave them three Members, the average electorate would be 47,000. In the case of Plymouth—and other cases—there is another difficulty in the redistribution plan which really must be looked at. This plan is based on the figures as at October, 1946; more than a year has passed since then and they could be brought up to date, and should be brought up to date before any final decisions are reached. I am told that in Plymouth people have been moving back into their blitzed brave and well-governed city, and I heard yesterday that people who moved out during the war have moved back into many of the new housing estates, people who were bombed out during the blitz. On that basis, the injustice of giving Plymouth only two Members instead of three will be even greater because, with the increased population and the electors who have come back since the figures were compiled, on the present basis, would give only two Members, there would be substantially more than 71,000; whereas, if we gave them three Members, we should probably find now that the electorate would be about 50,000. Many other examples could no doubt be taken, but I am taking one or two of which I have worked out the arithmetic; and other hon. Members can do the same elsewhere.
In this Bill there are two separate elements. There is the element of the admirable democratic provisions regarding the franchise, and regarding the details of electoral arrangements—that elections should not be invalidated in future because candidates have forgotten to appoint agents, and so forth. All that is valuable mopping-up legislation. The other element is the redistribution scheme. I do not regard that as at all satisfactory. I am glad to know from what the Home Secretary said today, or what I understood him to say, that he is quite prepared to go into these things again in detail, to take account of what is said, and to take account of the changes that have taken place in the way of movements of population even since this plan was first drawn out; that there is no magic figure for underrepresented England; and that we may find, when we come to the point, that a number of additional seats for English constituencies will be provided to bring a much better balance, as between the various parts of England, and as between England and the other parts of the United Kingdom—which, I am sure, will not be grudged us by Members coming from those other parts.
Therefore, while I give my full support to the Second Reading of this Bill, I do so in the faith and belief that, at a later stage, the redistribution schedule will be considerably revised, improved and made more just. For the rest, I think there is no room and no reason to compromise at all. I beg my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to stick to his guns with regard to the plural vote, the City of London, university representation, and all the rest of it; to stick to his guns there, but to be prepared, as I am sure he will be, to consider reasonable compromises in the redistribution provisions of the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) has made a case for giving some of the town boroughs greater representation than this Bill proposes. This is almost bound to be at the expense of the rural areas. I would remind him, as a Member for a rural constituency, that my constituents do not see as much of their Member as they would if they lived in a big town, simply because of the physical difficulty of moving around a country constituency. I think that point must be taken into account. It is not easy for a Member for a rural area to serve a big electorate as efficiently as a Member of an urban area can represent his constituents.
However, I rise to make one case very briefly. I hope that this House will take the opportunity that this Bill affords to look again at the qualifications required for a candidate for Parliament. As the law now stands, he or she must be a British subject either by birth or by naturalisation. I think we should remind ourselves that we are today, for very good reasons, admitting large numbers of aliens into this country. There are many people who have great calls upon our compassion who are still in displaced persons' camps in Germany whom we expect to welcome to this country; there are many people who will quite soon be able to qualify for British nationality. Over Europe the extreme doctrines of the Left and the Right have taken hold. It is my view that we should do right and that it would be only reasonable to require that a candidate standing for our British Parliament should have had his roots in this country for at least one generation; that is to say, that it should be a required qualification that a man or woman standing as Parliamentary candidate should be British born.
There will be some who will say that that is going too far. I will be prepared to meet them by saying that a candidate for Parliament should be required to make a declaration that he is a British subject and to specify whether that is by birth or whether that is by naturalisation. I think he owes that to the electors whose support he is expecting to get at the poll. A man seeking a regular commission in the Services is required to be of British parents. That is a very right and proper requirement. Also, an applicant for a British passport has to say whether he is British by birth or by naturalisation, and that is shown on the passport. If that is a proper requirement for the obtaining of a British passport, then it is a proper requirement in a candidate standing for Parliament.
The other day, I asked the Home Secretary—by letter, because I did not wish to cause any embarrassment to any hon. Member—how many hon. Members were eligible to sit in this House by reason of acquiring British nationality by naturalisation rather than by birth. I wanted to see how big the problem is today, as a possible guide to how big it may be in years to come. Unhappily, the Home Secretary could not give me the information, and said that he did not feel the time and effort involved in getting it would be justified—[HON.MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Well, I think that is a piece of information we should have. Most of us —and I am sure the great majority of people in this country—want to feel that this is a British Parliament for British people.
I know that there are often misunderstandings about the antecedents of hon. Members of this House. Well, let them be cleared up; let it be stated by declaration whether those standing for election to this honourable House are British by birth or by naturalisation. That would redound to the credit of this House, it would improve this Bill, and I commend it to the Home Secretary. When the Secretary of State for Scotland replies tomorrow, I hope he will say something on this point. There are many people in the country who feel strongly about it.
I am glad to have heard the remarks of the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) on redistribution. I have sat through this Debate from its commencement, but I have felt that it lacked a sense of reality in respect of the important provisions of this Bill. I was impressed by the statements made about the universities; but I, being denied the opportunity of a university education, went to the only college in Oxford which admitted those who had not matriculated, and I was never impressed by this so-called superiority which we are to assume is the aristocratic quality of the professional classes. Therefore, I welcome this Bill, and I believe that the Home Secretary will go down to history as having introduced a very important reform in an attempt to achieve real democracy in our country.
I wish to make special reference to the question of redistribution, particularly as it affects the City of Birmingham, a part of which I have the honour to represent. I should like my right hon. Friend to consider one or two important questions. I should like to ask him exactly upon what basis this Boundary Commission performed its work. In the case of
the City of Birmingham, which now has a population second only to London, in no case where the proposals affecting this great city came under consideration was the city properly consulted. When the Boundary Commission was considering the question of redistribution, the town clerk of the city wrote a letter to the Corn-mission stating:
I have to refer to the notice issued by order of the Boundary Commission containing provisional recommendations for the revision of the Parliamentary Borough of Birmingham. These proposals will have the effect of increasing the electorate by approximately 70,000, and of reducing the number of constituencies from 13 to 12. It is observed that the electorate in each of the proposed 12 constituencies exceeds the figure of 57,697 prescribed by the Boundary Commission as 'the electoral quota' for Great Britain, on which basis the proposed total electorate of 759,690 is sufficient to provide for 13 constituencies. In these circumstances, I am directed by the council of this City to ask that steps may be taken to make further provision for the representation of the Parliamentary Borough of Birmingham by its division into 13 constituencies, and that the proposals of the Boundary Commission may be amended accordingly.
An acknowledgment was sent by the Boundary Commission merely saying that the representations would be considered. It was signed, as are so many of these letters coming from civil servants, "I am, Sir, your obedient servant." However, there was no answer to the letter, nor to the other representations made by the regional council and the labour movement in the Midlands on behalf of the 13 constituencies. There was no reply, and no opportunity was given to state our objections before this Commission. I say that it is without precedent that a city of the size of Birmingham should have been treated in this manner.
I have looked at the Boundary Commission's Report for Scotland, and I find that the Commissioners took a totally different attitude. They talk about Scotland not having a fair crack of the whip, but it looks to me as if it is a good thing to cross the Border. This is what paragraph 7 of the Scottish Report says:
Some of the representations we received would, we think, not have been made if the rules laid down for our guidance had been fully appreciated. In these and in all other cases where no local inquiry was held, and
where we could not see our way to give effect to the suggestions made to us, we thought it desirable to send a reply to those who bad made the representations explaining the grounds for our decision.
Why should the Boundary Commissioners apply that principle to Scotland, and then, when it came to Birmingham, Liverpool, and Bradford, we were not allowed to submit our objections, nor did we receive any reply from the Commission? I submit that there is a case here for my right hon. Friend's consideration.