2. The process of election of additional members shall be as follows:
3. Notwithstanding any redrawing of constituency boundaries for parliamentary elections under the provisions of the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949 and subject to any regulations prescribed by either Assembly under the provisions of subsection (4) of section 2 of this Act the number of constituency seats shall not fall below 71 for the Scottish Assembly and shall not fall below 35 for the Welsh Assembly to the intent that at that point at which any such redrawing would but for the provisions of this paragraph cause the number of constituency seats for members of either Assembly to fall below these minima then the Assembly concerned shall prescribe regulations for redrawing the boundaries of the constituencies or its members so as to provide for not less than 100 seats in total for members of the Scottish Assembly and not less than 50 seats in total for members of the Welsh Assembly such regulations to be enacted by a Scottish Assembly Bill in the case of the Scottish Assembly and by instrument in the case of the Welsh Assembly.
4. Any Scottish Assembly Bill enacted under paragraph 3 of this Schedule shall be subject to the powers of rejection contained in paragraph 5 of this Schedule and any instrument enacted by the Welsh Assembly under paragraph 3 of this Schedule shall be subject to the powers of revocation contained in paragraph 6 of this Schedule and until any such Bill or instrument shall come into effect the constituency boundaries prevailing at the immediately preceding ordinary elections shall be the effective boundaries for succeeding ordinary elections of each Assembly.
5.—(1) If it appears to the Secretary of State that a Bill passed by the Scottish Assembly under the provisions of this Schedule or section 2 of this Act would not be in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole he may lay the Bill before Parliament together with a statement that in his opinion it ought not to be submitted to Her Majesty in Council.
6.—(1) If it appears to the Secretary of State that an instrument made by the Welsh Assembly under the provisions of this Schedule or section 2 of this Act would not be in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole he may by order revoke the instrument and any such order may contain such consequential provisions as appear to him to be necessary or expedient.
I have been listening to the points of order and I have great sympathy with what the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) said. It may have been easier to debate this matter without specifying which system of PR should be used in the Assemblies. But hon. Gentlemen know perfectly well that the first thing Ministers, including the Lord President, would have said was that the Assembly is due to start within "X" months and that the amendment in principle made proposals which would not work in practice, which were not clear or sufficiently specific. Ministers would have asked: "How can we decide on a principle until we know whether it will work?" They would say "Of course we all like nice principles but we cannot accept this amendment and carry it through in the limited time scale available before the Assembly is due to start and be elected".
The Government have themselves taken the view that an interim system is necessary for reasons of time. They have proposed an interim method which involves accepting the present constituencies on the ground that they cannot be re-drawn on a single-member basis in time for the first elections. The Government are taking the view that there has to be an interim system for the first election and then, given that we adopt the single-member system, they will subsequently re-draw the Scottish constituencies for the second and succeeding elections.
That explains the problem that faces those of us who want to bring in a proportional system for the two Assemblies. It explains the detailed method set down in the amendment. It also explains the particular choice of method. The method we chose was not necessarily the best one. We chose a method which could be easily introduced and comprehensively worked within a matter of 18 months purely for the first elections.
Hon. Members will notice that the amendment makes quite clear that the subsequent electoral system is a matter for the Assemblies to choose. They may discuss and propose it and this Parliament would naturally have the authority and right to endorse whatever they put forward.
Different hon. Members in this Committee prefer different forms of PR. Some are addicted to the particular method advocated by the Liberal Party. A rather different method is advocated by the Scottish National Party. There is nothing to stop these methods being discussed and adumbrated by the Assemblies. There is nothing to stop the Assemblies bringing forward any of these procedures and, if they have majority support in the Assemblies, putting their preferred system before this House for endorsement.
I hope that hon. Members will accept that the way in which the amendment was drafted was to make it entirely practical. It proposes a system which can easily be introduced for the first election within a short time. It is one that requires no bureaucratic or other changes in the arrangements for elections.
I hope that hon. Members will allow me briefly to explain the system although I have no doubt that they have looked at Amendment No. 50 and the new schedule—Amendment No. 275—which sets out the details. The method involves exactly the same procedure as at present in the 71 Scottish seats and the 36 Welsh seats. For each of them, there is a normal vote with normal candidates, on exactly the principle that is followed now, with the normal number of members elected directly to serve in the two Assemblies. Then the chief returning officer for each area adds up the total number of votes given for each party. Any party getting less than 5 per cent. of the total is disqualified. For all parties with over 5 per cent. of the votes the number of members that they succeed in getting elected is divided into the number of votes, and additional members are distributed one by one to get the fairest feasible proportion between votes cast and the total number of members.
The result would depend for its accuracy on the total number of additional members. We have discussed total numbers, and the number we propose is a topping up of 29 members for the Scottish Assembly and 14 members for the Welsh Assembly, making round totals of 100 in Scotland and 50 in Wales. I shall not argue the case for any specific total number. The hon. Member for Caernarvon thinks that the number for Wales is too small and there is a great deal in that.
This system, which is basically the West German system of topping up to achieve proportionality—the additional member system—could be applied straightforwardly. One marked difference between what we propose and the German system is that the additional members, instead of being nominated by the parties or coming from any party list, would be chosen from among the defeated candidates who have the highest proportionate support in the election in their constituency. Every candidate who is added in will have fought the seat and have been identified with a constituency but will have missed election by the narrowest margin.
There is an interesting semantic distinction between moving and explaining.
I beg to move Amendment No. 50, in page 1, line 15, leave out from beginning to end of line 4 on page 2 and insert:
'(2)(1) There shall be a Scottish Assembly and a Welsh Assembly the members of which shall be elected by that system of proportional voting specified by or under this Act.
(2) At the first ordinary elections to each Assembly a constituency member shall be returned for each of the areas which at the time of that election are constituencies for parliamentary elections in Scotland and Wales respectively together with 29 additional members for the Scottish Assembly and 14 additional members for the Welsh Assembly (to the effect that at an ordinary election at the passing of this Act 100 members would be returnable to the Scottish Assembly and 50 members to the Welsh Assembly).
(3) The additional members shall at the first ordinary elections be elected by the process set out in Schedule (Election of additional Members) to this Act.
(4) Following the first ordinary elections each Assembly may review the suitability and fairness of the system of proportional voting prescribed by this Act and may make such regulations amending that system as each Assembly shall prescribe which in the case of the Scottish Assembly shall be by Bill and in the case of the Welsh Assembly shall be by instrument which shall in the first case be subject to the powers of rejection and in the second case to the powers of revocation contained in paragraphs 5 and 6 of Schedule (Election of additional Members) to this Act and pending any such amendment the system of proportional voting prescribed by this Act for the first ordinary elections shall apply to succeeding ordinary elections.
(5) To the extent that assembly constituencies continue to be defined geographically by reference to constituencies for parliamentary elections (whether under the provisions of this section or pursuant to any regulations made by either Assembly under subsection (4) of this section) no redrawing of the boundaries of constituencies for parliamentary elections whether under the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949 or any other enactment shall cause the number of constituencies for each Assembly to fall below the minima set out in paragraph 3 of Schedule (Election of additional Members) to this Act.'
May I now go on to explain the amendment, Mr. Murton?
I assure you, Mr. Murton, and hon. Members, that I am on my feet for no other purpose than to move the amendment. I am sorry if there has been any misunderstanding.
I should like to finish my explanation of the method in the hope that my explanation will help hon. Members who might have criticisms of it. Taking for comparison the results of the last General Election in Scotland, the result under the system I propose would be that, whereas in the election the Scottish National Party with 30 per cent. of the votes won only 11 seats, under this method it would get 29 seats. The Liberal Party, which received 9 per cent. of the votes, would get seven seats. The Conservative Party, with 24 per cent. of the votes, would get 23 seats. The Labour Party, with 36 per cent. of the votes, would still retain 41 seats. The proportionality is very close. The larger the topping-up number, the closer would be the proportionality.
The system requires no change in voting practice or voting habits. It requires people to vote in exactly the same way as they do now, and necessitates only half an hour's calculation by the chief returning officer when the final results are in to produce a proportional system where the widest error would be a mere 5 per cent. That is the system proposed in the amendment.
I am coming to all these matters. That is why I am explaining the amendment. I shall deal with that point of detail. This is why it would not be possible to do what the hon. Member for Caernarvon wishes to do and have a general argument for proportional representation. That is the kind of argument that is brought in by people who are worried about the operation of particular systems.
If I may deal first with the arguments of principle for proportional representation, I shall go on to detailed objections of the kind raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller).
I have just explained that to the Committee. I apologise if my explanation was not clear. The additional members are chosen from the defeated candidates with the highest proportional vote for their party. I am sorry if that is not clear. The man who loses by the narrowest proportional margin is first on the list for the topping-up members. The man with the second narrowest margin is second on the list for the topping-up members. These members will all have been selected by the normal selection procedure for constituencies.
It may be gobbledegook, but it is an explanation of how it will be done. My hon. Friend took a long time to think that one over. I am glad to hear his comment after reflection.
I propose to deal with points of principle and then go on to the details. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) might be able to follow my explanations if he stopped talking to his friends.
I have gone round the House of Commons talking to hon. Members about the proposal. The chief objection I have heard is not an objection to the principle of proportional representation. It is an odd objection that goes like this. Hon. Members have said to me that they were doubtful about the system not because it lacked merit but because it might be so good in Scotland that we might have to have it in Westminster and, as they did not want it in Westminster, they did not want to try it anywhere else.
The adoption of a system of this kind in Scotland need have no immediate relevance to the Westminster electoral system, because we must choose the electoral system appropriate to the political structure and the political situation in each country. I am prepared to argue with anyone that the present method of election in a two-party system in the United Kingdom when 97 per cent. of the population voted for one of the two major parties was proportional enough.
All systems of election are proportional. There is no totally disproportional system. The first past the post system when 97 per cent. of the population voted either Labour or Tory had great merit. It produced clear-cut Governments and put clear-cut responsibility in the hands of one Executive. The people knew where they were, because they could either keep the Government or throw them out at a subsequent election.
For years I have advocated the case for the existing system of election given that the voters only vote for one of two parties. But in Scotland and Wales we do not now have a two-party system. Let us look particularly at Scotland, where we have a three-and-a-half- or a three-and-three-quarters-party system. [An HON. MEMBER: "Five."] We have three major parties and several minor parties. Instead of a fairly close proportionality between votes cast and results, which we have in a two-party system with our present electoral method, there can be bizarre results if we apply the first past the post system where three major parties have roughly a third of the electorate each. For the past three years the Scottish National Party, the Labour Party and the Conservative Party have all been varying around 30 per cent. of electoral support in Scotland. There have been times when one has dropped as low as 25 per cent. and another has risen to 35 per cent. to 36 per cent.
I am sure that all hon. Members have noticed that another constitutional innovation of the Bill, which in a sense I welcome because it strengthens the Assemblies against the Executive, is that of a fixed-term Assembly. There is no getting rid of an Assembly by a General Election if anything goes wrong. Had there been a General Election under the present electoral system for the Scottish Assembly any time in the past three years, there would have been an absolute majority for the Scottish National Party in certain months, but the Labour Party or the Conservative Party would have had an absolute majority in other months, although none of these parties would have gained more than 37 per cent. of the votes cast.
That is the straight fact. It is the fact now, because the Labour Party received 36 per cent. at the last election and an absolute majority of all Scottish seats. That is what will be repeated if we reproduce the British electoral system under a three-party or three plus two or three minority party system in Scotland. That is why I ask hon. Members to think about the matter very carefully. We want an Assembly that inspires confidence among the people of Scotland.
I do not know whether other hon. Members have done the same thing, but I have been round Scotland preaching the virtues of devolution and an Assembly. I have come across person after person and organisation after organisation on the Left and on the Right, and among the anti-nationalists and pro-nationalists all of whom say "Suppose any party gets its nose ahead of the others under the present electoral system and they will have an absolute majority for four years. Is that a recipe for stability, confidence and satisfactory government? It is a lottery." We cannot found an Assembly on an electoral system which is fundamentally a lottery.
Does my hon. Friend agree that behind these fine phrases is the fear of many people, including many in our party, that with the first past the post system the Scottish National Party might win an absolute majority? Is it not the case that one cannot defeat its aspirations or the incursion of any new party into the political system by fancy franchises of this kind?
My hon. Friend is completely wrong on this. It is greatly to the credit of SNP Members that they support the amendment. The point is that under proportional representation no one can gain a majority in Scotland or Wales without obtaining 50 per cent. of the votes, something which is very rare. Since the war it has happened only in 1955. A party that gains that percentage of the votes is entitled to a majority. What we are arguing is that a party is not entitled to an absolute majority on 35 per cent. to 37 per cent. of popular support.
In that case, given the practical necessity to have a Government, Executive or supervising authority of some description, is not my hon. Friend offering the real power to a secondary party that could not gain a substantial part of the poll but whose support is necessary in terms of seats in the Assembly to give the predominant party a majority? Is that democratic?
I hope to answer all these points in the course of my speech. They have already occurred to all those who support the amendment.
If we have this system in the Scottish Assembly, it will force the Assembly Government to be one of two things. First, they could be a coalition. I do not find that idea disgusting. I find it far more satisfactory and stable to run a Government with the backing of two parties which have come together than to run it with a party which has only minority support imposing its views on the majority. To require majority support, I suggest, is a far more democratic approach.
But there would not necessarily be a need to form a coalition. All that is necessary is for the minority party with most support in the country to rule in a manner which brings it support in the Lobbies from members of other parties. [Interruption.] An hon. Member chortles, but that is how this Government are existing. For the present Session there is not one major measure that they will carry without the support of some Opposition Members. Does that invalidate the work the Government do? Will this Bill be a less satisfactory devolution Bill because it will need Opposition Members to pass it? The same will be true of any major measure when a Government's support falls to a certain level. I find nothing unsatisfactory about that.
My hon. Friend was very frank on the weakness of his argument, with which I hope to deal later. No coalition could be formed on the basis of his figures—41, 29, 23 and seven—unless the Labour Party were to have a coalition with the Tory Party or the Scottish National Party. If it were a question of a quid pro quo, what would my hon. Friend offer the SNP for its support—independence? My hon. Friend's structure will ensure that a party must always operate as a minority Government. Have the experiences of the past year at Westminster suggested that such an Assembly would be a strong Assembly?
My hon. Friend defeats his own argument. Under the figures I have given, there are three possible governmental arrangements with a majority. I am sorry if my hon. Friend's mathematics are such that he cannot add three sets of figures together. If he adds them up correctly he will see that three Governments are possible under this arrangement. Which is better, co-operation between two parties—
The Conservative Party could work with the Scottish National Party, and the SNP could work with the Labour Party, with which it has many affinities, for certain objectives. Or, if the problems of resisting independence were the crucial issue, Labour and Conservatives could vote together. [Interruption.] I am trying to explain that any co-operation would be based on the free will of the parties. It could be withdrawn if certain measures were not acceptable to a majority of the Assembly.
All the arguments against the amendment are suggesting that a fortuitous majority, with only 35 per cent. of the community behind it, is preferable to the co-operation of two major parties which carry a majority of the country with them. That is an extremely unsatisfactory argument. It is being argued that having a minority Government who can enforce their will on the majority is preferable to parties working by agreement in the interests of the major part of the community.
I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman a question rather than impose a view. I understood him to say that his views on the subject had changed because the two major parties—the Conservative Party and the Labour Party—between them no longer obtained such a high proportion of total votes cast. Is that, and that alone, the reason for his change of view? Is he saying that if the previous situation had continued, with the two main parties receiving 80 per cent., 90 per cent. or 95 per cent. of the total votes cast, he would prefer the present system?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is confusing the English situation, or the United Kingdom situation, with the Scottish situation. If, in the United Kingdom situation, the two major parties poll between them about 95 or 97 per cent. of the support, the proportionality between the outcome in this House and the outcome in votes cast is sufficiently close for issues of justice to be unimportant and for the other issues which my hon. Friends have raised, of direct choice of a Government, to become uppermost.
But if in the United Kingdom the Liberal Party, instead of, as in 1974 getting 5 or 6 million votes, got 8 or 9 million and the votes for the other major parties dropped from 11 million to 8 or 9 million and we had the Scottish situation of three major parties running neck and neck, I should be converted to proportional representation for the United Kingdom.
Once again the point of which I am unable to convince my hon. Friends is that with such a situation, the result of a General Election becomes fortuitous, a lottery. In a fixed-term Assembly, people would have four solid years under a Government of a minority, chosen because at the moment when the election was held there was a backwash of opinion one way or the other. It does not alter the argument which way the swing of opinion would go. It would be equally unsatisfactory.
Nothing would be more dangerous for the Assembly than for it to attempt to carry through legislation when it was clear to the Scottish and Welsh people that 65 per cent. of the electorate had not supported the party bringing it in. That is the major argument for a proportional system.
I now turn to the minor points of detail affecting this proposal which we have put forward, and I hope to answer the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride. On the system that we are describing, the additional members would not be attached to a constituency. They would be members without a constituency, but they would represent in the Assembly all those people who cast votes for defeated candidates.
If hon. Members would consider a constituency like mine they would see that my opponent usually comes within 1,000 or 2,000 votes of winning. The people who cast votes for the Conservative candidate in my constituency have no one representing them and they may feel that their votes are totally wasted.
In this situation, the point is that all votes cast, even in constituencies where one of the other sides wins, still counts towards producing the total representation in the Assembly. Therefore, even political activity of defeated candidates would matter and the person casting the vote for a loser would still have someone representing him.
Has not the hon. Gentleman exposed the fallacy of his own argument by saying in effect that in his constituency he represents only those who vote for him and that the Conservative voters are not represented? Surely it is his job in this assembly to represent all his constituents?
The hon. Gentleman knows that I make the usual speech when I have won a seat and say that I will represent them all—and of course I do. But the point that I am making is that, under the system I propose, those who voted for the Conservative in my constituency or for the Labour candidate in constituencies where the Conservative won would not feel that registering their vote had left their opinion on how the country should be run ineffective or unuseful; it would have helped to contribute to the membership of that party in the Assembly.
I am sorry if I did not make this clear, but this is the point in any proportional system since it helps those who vote for certain parties, particularly those which come second in a wide variety of seats, to feel that their political activity is worth while and that they are properly represented in the broader sense in the Assembly,
We now have it clear that the 29 members would be freelance for the four years of the Scottish Assembly. At the end of the four years what happens to those 29 members? Do they present themselves for election for particular constituencies and, if so, how is that effected?
The position is that they would have to be selected for reelection and that, in order to be additional members, they would have to stand again and seek nomination and come sufficiently close to the winner for the system which I have described in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Walton to apply to them once again. They would have to be selected and to fight a seat and they would have to do well.
In the German situation, where this system works, members of the Bundestag on the list who are added in—the Germans have a larger number for toppingup—work hard at representing broader issues and broader interests. Then they seek to stand for winnable seats as a result of their performance in Parliament. That has proved a perfectly acceptable system in that country.
On a question of clarification rather than argument, what kind of relationship will the 29 topping-up members have—not so much with high policy issues but in the day-to-day work which every one of us does with the Department of Health and Social Security or the Department of Employment—with the constituents of other members who have been elected?
Their relationship would be precisely the same as that of defeated candidates now. They would have no access to Ministers. [Laughter.] I am explaining how the position has worked in other countries where this is done—
May I finish one ex-planation before I am asked for another?
The relationship to the constituencies would be that of defeated candidates, because that is what they would be. They would have no right to operate otherwise. Hon. Members on both sides are accustomed to candidates—
As my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) knows, he has a defeated candidate in his constituency who is active politically and who works around the seat. The situation under the system I propose would be exactly the same except that that person would be a member of the Assembly. But he would not be entitled to speak or act in individual cases for individuals. The convention—
Nothing would stop them, but nothing stops them now, except the convention that Ministers deal only with the sitting Member. That convention would still apply, so the position would be in no way different.
Other countries have worked this system—[Laughter.] I know that hon. Members think this is laughable, but they defend the case for worker-directors from the German example, so they are willing to quote precedent in other countries. They must be prepared to discuss the way these things are operated in other countries.
My hon. Friend knows that all of us in our constituencies are faced with defeated candidates, aspirant candidates and others. Those people have no right of access. Nevertheless, if people were elected by the topping-up procedure precisely because they represented the aspirations of many who felt—so my hon. Friend says—that they were not adequately represented by the sitting member, people would for precisely that reason go to the alternative figure. There would therefore be two members, whether my hon. Friend likes it or not, for one constituency. He has not answered that point.
No, I was not, but the fact remains that at that time the people I represented came to me—and why not? Why should not people go to a rival politician? The Government in the present Bill are proposing two members per constituency. The problem would then arise, to which of the two do people go particularly when one may be from one party and one from another? The Government's proposal allows for two members and thus for competition between them as to whom will take up different cases.
Hon. Members know that in the United States, where an area is represented by two Senators and one Representative, there is competition among them—they are often from different parties—as to who will serve the constituents. Is that so dreadfully unhealthy? What is wrong with having another politician to whom people can turn? I see nothing objectionable in that.
The idea that this system would be a disaster is based on the contention that it would make things more awkward for sitting members. Most of us here remember the days when we were prospective candidates and ran around constituencies saying, "That chap in Parliament is doing nothing for you. I am working like mad on your behalf."
Incidentally, under the system that I propose there will be a great incentive for people who just lost but who became members under the topping-up procedure to try to get elected for safe seats. They will not want to hang around, particularly in marginal seats. But if they did hang around, I do not think that there would be anything undemocratic about that.
Does the hon. Gentleman envisage these topping-up members being full-time politicians and thus at the Assembly five or six days a week? If they will be full-time members but with no constituencies, will he explain how they will keep in touch with opinion generally unless they have some regular constituency responsibility?
The hon. Member does not understand the system. They will be full members of the Assembly in every way. Countries, such as West Germany, which operate the system satisfactorily find it suitable and parliamentarians find it possible to keep in touch not just via constituency letters but by living in the country and listening to arguments made by the general public.
One advantage of this system is that it allows people in marginal seats, who fight the seat and are narrowly defeated of having a chance to sit in the Assembly and of showing what they can do. In the area I know, many of the best candidates are sometimes in the marginal seats. It does no harm to give a chance to people if they have the will to win. If the balance of party fortune turns against their party, they may still continue in the activities as a representative, though not for a particular seat. The most likely result is that they will subsequently find safer seats rather than those with which they have been identified.
In regard to the people who are fighting the second time round, so to speak, there are occasions when members contribute to the loss of seats because of their incompetence as representatives, whether those seats be represented by Tory, Labour or SNP candidates. Under the system advocated by my hon. Friend, even though those people are defeated because of lack of confidence in their abilities, they will be permitted to remain Assembly men under the topping-up system. It is not just a question of relationships within the constituency. We are talking of a quasi-Scottish Government. Is it not conceivable that such a Government could be composed of toppers-up and therefore elected by nobody in particular?
In that case under the system I am proposing the person concerned would not be re-selected and therefore could not fight again. My hon. Friend misunderstands the situation. A decision between political swing removing a member and for incompetence is difficult to make in any system. We know there are many Members of Parliament who may not be as competent as my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) but who are selected time and again under our present system.
On his second point my hon. Friend knows that anybody who seeks to form a Government in any political party must allow for geographical representation. It would be inconceivable in forming a Scottish Government not to choose a Highlander, somebody from the West Coast, and somebody who is identified with the interests of other areas. In suggesting a Government only of added members, my hon. Friend produces a point so hypothetical and ridiculous that it is impossible.
Occasionally we in the House of Commons have searched for somebody to be a Member of Parliament with special qualifications and have found difficulties in so doing. For instance, what will be needed in the Assembly is at least one first-class lawyer. Lawyers often stand for marginal seats and are defeated. I am not making any comment about the present Law Officers but we have known tricky occasions in both parties where no MP is available with adequate legal qualifications.
I have tried to answer the objections lodged by those who criticise the system I am proposing. This system has been practised in other countries in a sensible way, and I make no apology for making a slightly longer speech than I intended because I have had to deal with various interventions.
I come to the concluding important point in this argument. What worries very many hon. Members is the fact that this proposal involves an innovation. We are a profoundly conservative country—and that applies particularly to my hon. Friends below the Gangway. They are terrified and embarrassed at change. They are wedded to an electoral system which is purely historical and which has no intrinsic justification. They are horrified at the thought of anything different, any innovation.
What also horrifies people in this country is the possibility of two different systems being pursued in one country. But that is the essence of devolution and that is what the spirit of devolution is about. A different system may benefit one part of the country because the conditions and the political system there is different.
I hope that the Committee will bear in mind the advantages of a different electoral system for areas with a different political structure. As I have said, I find in Scotland people who have said "We do not like the idea of an Assembly because we do not know what it involves, but proportional representation would make it much more stable and acceptable". I hope that we shall include in the Bill a provision which, in this way, will increase public confidence and which, I believe, has the support of the majority of people in Scotland and Wales, a provision which will thereby vastly improve the whole devolution experiment.
I support the amendment, and I hope that it will not be felt that because so many amendments have been taken with Amendment No. 50 proper debate on this issue will be made difficult.
I wish to add to what was said by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). We were bound to show that our system could be practical in present circumstances, and we did not know when we tabled our amendment what other amendments would be tabled, or indeed how the Chair's selection would go.
This amendment seeks to introduce a system that is more proportional than our present system has become, or indeed than that proposed in the Bill. I find it difficult to defend a system that has the result of producing an Assembly that does not reflect the wishes of the voters. It appears to be the object of the present system to do just that.
The object of the present system seems to be to arrive at a rough approximation of opinion in the country and to provide the Government with a stable majority. This works reasonably well when there are two parties in the political sphere and when those parties have more or less the same ideologies. In the past, when Governments changed, the policies did not change so deeply. Therefore, we had the value of the continuity necessary for industry, politics and social purposes. But we do not now have two ideologically similar parties. We have six parties at least, and some of them are rather far apart.
I believe that the present system is not working well. The result is that because there is an unpredictable situation when Governments change, Governments legislate hastily and in a partisan way. They legislate on the supposition that probably they will lose the next election. It also means a reduction in the influence of the Legislature. Members on the Government side, except in exceptional cases, are hesitant to vote against their party lest they are saddled with the responsibility of bringing down their Government and causing a subsequent election.
In Scotland neither of the two requirements for the first past the post system exists. For a start, there are not two political parties but four at least. Secondly, their ideologies are not close but far apart. Therefore, the first past the post system could bring grave dangers for the future.
On the other hand, the difficulties which exist in introducing a measure of greater proportionality into this Chamber do not exist in Scotland and Wales. For example, there are no vested interests of hon. Members who fear the loss of their seats, and there is no Government finding no flaws in the system by which they have been elected.
Who knows who will win the election in Scotland? The latest opinion poll shows that the Conservatives are marginally ahead, but, as the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian has just pointed out, a tiny preponderance of votes can give a large majority of seats. I suppose that 36 per cent. or 37 per cent. would be enough if luckily distributed round the country to provide a substantial majority in the Assembly.
One only has to look at the recent result in Quebec where Le Partie Québecois had 40 per cent. of the votes and got 60 per cent. of the seats, even though an opinion poll showed that only 20 per cent. of the voters wanted independence.
Also I remind the Committee that in India the unparliamentary things that have taken place recently—and I make no comment about that for it is not my purpose and I do not know enough about it—have been done on a minority vote. The Congress Party never had a majority of votes in India. The swing that will take place in the elections in Scotland and Wales may well be wider because of the proposals for two or even three members to sit for each constituency. I realise that at the next election the system will be changed, but merely partitioning constituencies will not avoid the result of wide swings.
The objections to proportional representation are the usual. The first is that it leads to a proliferation of parties. On the contrary I believe that our parties basically exist because they fit a need. In the United Kingdom at the moment we have six parties—three national and three traditional.
I do not see this situation altering very much as a result of the events of the next few years whatever system we decide on. We can guard against a proliferation of parties by the system of PR that we advance. The well-known 5 per cent. of the votes that applies in Germany is one way of making sure that tiny parties do not insert themselves. This method of controlling the number of people who get in on tiny votes is a matter not of theory but of practice in other systems.
One of my right hon. Friends went to Holland and was unfavourably impressed by the fact that there were 16 political parties in that country. This is due to the system in Holland. The whole of that country is one constituency and anyone who can get 450 signatures on one piece of paper is entitled to call himself a political party. Having stood for election, he need get only two-thirds of 1 per cent. of the national vote. There is no method by which the Dutch can stop a lot of people from standing for Parliament, and in the past parties consisting of only one person having been represented in the Assembly. In Denmark there is very little discouragement given to smaller parties standing. Nevertheless, this has not prevented Denmark from having the highest standard of living in Europe.
Another objection to PR is that it would lead to a permanent coalition, inhibiting action. On this side of the Committee we have a great reverence for a statesman who once said that England—and in this case substitute Scotland—does not love coalitions. That is true. Coalitions forced on unwilling partners by events—economic disaster or war—have not been very popular and they have always disappeared quickly after the crisis has passed. While a forced marriage always is unpalatable, we are told that marriages of convenience often result in connubial bliss. If a coalition is the election platform on which a party has stood, the electors know where they stand, and that is an entirely different cup of tea.
Furthermore, PR does not necessarily prevent a party obtaining 50 per cent. of the vote. If it can acquire 50 per cent. it should have the power. I do not see why we should basically object to that. I do not see why we should be shy or reluctant about allowing the voters to have this system, especially as they have been warned of all its consequences.
The PR method has been described at length and it is too difficult for me to outline it here. In this amendment we propose that the Assembly should have 100 Members in Scotland and 50 in Wales topped up with an additional 29 and 14 members respectively. Some hon. Members are bothered by the fact that there will be two members for some constituencies, and even three in others. I do not think that this is necessarily a terrible thing. We have all probably been candidates in a constituency where our opponent is the sitting Member, and we have sought to draw attention to our superior merits compared with the man in charge. We have all tried to write to Ministers about something in that man's constituency, and I hope that we have all received a brush-off, because this is unconstitutional. But it is certainly not unprecedented under our present system.
Is there not a difference between giving the brush-off to an unsuccessful candidate and giving the brush-off to a person who, although unsuccessful, is, nevertheless an Assemblyman and a member of the Parliament?
The distinction is between a personal question and a general and political question. The top-up man in the Assembly has just as much right to put his point of view on general matters, but if he tries to intervene in personal matters, he will not be able to do so.
PR is easy to understand and quick to put into operation. That is important because the Government do not want to delay. Also the system will cost nothing extra.
The hon. Member has just said that proportional representation is easy to understand. A few minutes ago he said that it was extremely difficult to explain the system to the House. Is that not precisely why we should not adopt it? One of the great principles enunciated time and time again for the successful operation of democracy is that the machinery of election and the system of selection of a Government should be intelligible and intelligent. The biggest denunciation of PR is that it is not even intelligible to us, so how must it appear to people outside?
It appears that I spoke badly and failed to make myself clear. To the voter the system I propose would be as simple as the existing system. The voter does exactly what he does now. Even if the system was more complicated, we should not forget that other countries do not find it difficult to master the far more complicated systems of PR. If PR can be operated in Ireland and other countries I do not see why we should not be able to adopt it.
I said that I would come to the additional calculations of how Members are chosen. I will not go into the mathematics because if the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian cannot explain it, I dare say that no one else can. An explanation is set out with mathematical precision, however, and is very easy for anyone to understand, in Schedule 2 on page 52 of the Blake Report, which was commissioned by the Hansard Society.
My hon. Friend said that the present system did not reflect the wishes of the voters. Earlier he said that it was not what the voters wanted. How does he know? Is he not taking unto himself the assumption that people who vote with a protest vote, which is a legitimate course of action at an election, should be deprived of the right to register a protest vote? Is he also saying that he will decide what they should do with their vote?
No, I am saying that if only 35 or 38 per cent. of the voters want a certain Government it is unfair on the majority in the country that it should get a Government which is utterly repugnant to it. In the past when we had only two parties the Government of the country was not utterly repugnant to those who voted for the loser. Also with only two parties no one can cavil at the proportionality of the vote. However, he can cavil when there are six parties here and four parties in Scotland and the seats cannot be proportional.
Even with our system there has never been a majority of votes in the United Kingdom in favour of one-party Government since the turn of the century. Only in Scotland has there been a majority for one party, and that was in 1955. I am saying that the system of voting should reflect how the people vote on the only occasions they get to say anything about the way things are done.
I concede that the numbers in the Assembly as proposed in the amendment may be too few to carry out the duties which people now have in mind for the Assembly. Therefore, it is perhaps necessary that in subsequent years we take another look at that. This system is only for the first Assembly and could be altered later, but it is important to have a system which can be quickly put into effect. I dare say that if the Assembly is as active as some of the parties which will be voted to it wish, it should have more members, and there would be no difficulty in adding to them.
I urge those of my hon. Friends who are against any devolution and who feel that if they support proportional representation it will be the thin end of the wedge to consider that it appears likely that some measure of devolution will be found—by this Bill or in some other way. Therefore, I hope that they will consider the amendment on its merits and decide that if they are to have devolution it is worth having a good measure. I hope, therefore, that they will not feel precluded on grounds of dogma from considering any measure to improve the Bill.
The other measure of proportional representation which is referred to is that embodying the single transferable vote. It is put forward in some of the other amendments. The system has merit, but for Scotland and Wales it would require an elaborate redrawing of constituencies. Also the system necessarily reduces or eliminates the constituency relationship between the member and the people who vote for him, a relationship which we in this country value. In certain circumstances I believe that the STV could be valuable. For instance, adoption of the first past the post system for European elections would be likely to produce grotesque results. Furthermore the constituency relationship between a member and his constituents would be nonexistent and could never be close because of the large size of the constituencies.
For here and now, however, I believe that the system that we propose is suitable for Scotland and Wales and that it would retain local loyalties. It is simple for the voter to understand and it would not incur expense. I suggest that it would give Scotland and Wales the Gov- ernment that the people of those countries want.
For anyone who wanted a nice, easy, congenial life, being an additional member, a topped-up member, of the Scottish Assembly would certainly have its attractions. That would perhaps attract the less energetic of us. Although one may put this in fairly ribald terms, frankly the degree of derision that would come about if we accepted this system of topped-up members would be fairly formidable, and we know how in politics ribaldry is a formidable force.
Because the German system is deeply different, However, it is no good saying that we are taking on the German system. That would be like suggesting that Baden-Wurtemberg should have an Assembly of its own with its own Prime Minister, and be over-represented in Bonn, which was directly responsible for the rest of the Federal Republic, without. Länder. The German analogy is misleading.
Like the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston), I have had experience in the German elections. The hon. Member was working for a Liberal candidate and I was working for an SPD man, Manfred Schmidt, in Munich. Manfred Schmidt is a very good, active young Member of Parliament. However, it was an interesting experience to walk for three-quarters of a mile with him through the streets of his Munich constituency some days before the election. If the hon. Member for Inverness were to walk through the streets of Inverness, if I were to walk through the streets of Bathgate, if my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House were to walk through the streets of Tredegar or if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland were to walk through the streets of Stirling, half to two-thirds of the people there would recognise us and say "Hallo" or make some kind of greeting. However, this well-known member of the Bundestag walked through the streets of Munich and was recognised by hardly anybody. Theirs is a very remote system of government which is not overwhelmingly attractive.
If my hon. Friend wants a bit of ribaldry about this system, perhaps I can explain to him that Bathgate and Munich are rather different from each other. If my hon. Friend walked through the streets of Glasgow he might not get the same degree of recognition.
That is not my experience in Glasgow. Furthermore, to complete the answer to this question, the point that bothers me is that whereas my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) denied that there would be any kind of list, I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) and I learned that de facto there would be a list.
For six months before the elections in Germany, the Germans at the European Parliament would explain that they could not attend various committees of that Parliament because they had to go off to their elections. When one asked them if they were going to an election meeting, one was told that it was not an election meeting but that they were having to attend some function of the party caucus in Hesse or Nieder-Sachsen or some other Land. This system would make one heavily dependent on the party central caucus, although some may want that. If there was a list of this kind, it would very soon be altered by the Assembly because the ridiculous nature of the system adumbrated by my hon. Friend would soon become apparent.
We are sailing straight towards the German caucus-controlled list system. say that I do not care for it very much, because it means spending one's time oiling up to the party caucus.
The hon. Member speaks about a party caucus. Surely these have been seen nowhere more than in the valleys of South Wales, where there has been an overwhelming domination by one party because of the first past the post system and where everything has been determined in party caucus.
Regardless of all these arguments, I shall be voting in support of the Government in the Lobby tonight. If the amendment is passed it will be seen, whether we like it or not, and regardless of the argument, for proportional representation, as yet another fix and device to dish the SNP.
The basic reason why we are discussing PR is that so many people fear that under any other system the SNP might get a majority of candidates in the Assembly. Let us be candid about that. The argument becomes clearer when we have their basic piece of reality in the front of our minds.
It will be seen as a fix, and anything that is seen as a fix or a device is counter-productive to what I and others with the same views, want to do, and that is to make it clear that the argument here is about one thing only. It is about the dismantling of the United Kingdom, the end of Great Britain and the creation of a separate Scottish State. Anything that clouds that crunch decision is a disservice to debate.
I am so modest that I did not expect to be called to speak so soon and I am unprepared, but that does not lessen my gratitude to you, Mr. Speaker.
So much excitement has been generated in this debate that one might think that electoral reform is a new idea. It is nothing of the sort. The method suggested in the amendment is new, but as long ago as 1917 the Speaker's Conference of that time recommended the replacement of the first past the post system by a proportional representation system and both Houses of Parliament agreed. The present system survived only because the two Houses could not agree on the precise system that they wished to put in its place. I hope that the supporters of electoral reform will not, by disagreeing among themselves today, bring about the same outcome as happened 60 years ago.
Later, in 1931, a Bill on proportional representation was introduced by the then Labour Government. It passed its Third Reading in the House of Commons but was rejected by the other place and was then abandoned because of the 1931 General Election. So electoral reform is not a new idea. And it is a perfectly respectable idea, as has been demonstrated by the fact that the last two Speakers of the House of Commons have both been supporters of the concept of proportional representation. That is not surprising since the present system is obviously unfair and totally unrepresentative. We all know the figures, and I shall not go into them.
The result of the present system is that this or any other Government are able to pursue policies that are against the wishes of the majority of the voters. Clearly, if a party had 51 per cent. of the votes and all the seats, and a party that won 49 per cent. of the votes had no seats, the position would be so absurd and intolerable that it would be changed by common consent at once. The question is, at what point in the process does one decide to change the system and make it more representative? I suggest that the right moment has now come because the issue is no longer theoretical. It has become topical and, indeed, urgent, because a need for elections both to the European Assembly and, if the Bill is passed, to the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies will soon arise.
It is generally conceded that the method of election to the European Assembly will inevitably be some form of proportional representation. We shall have to conform to that, perhaps not for the first election but certainly for every subsequent one. For Scotland and Wales the matter is even more immediate. Incidentally, I have not yet heard any hon. Member refer to the fact that almost the only recommendation upon which the Kilbrandon Commission was unanimous was that for proportional representation.
It should be added that the Kilbrandon Commission considered only three possibilities: the first past the post system, which it called the relative majority system, the alternative vote system and the single transferable vote system. The Commission did not consider the German system or this variant of it, or the French system or any other.
I take that point. My right hon. and learned Friend is correct. I do not know why the Commission did not consider the German system, because it has worked well there and has resulted in relatively stable government. The reason why it did not concern itself with the additional member system was that it had not been invented then. It was the product of work done by the Hansard Society Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Blake, in which work my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) took part. The Hansard Society Commission reported last summer, a long time after the Kilbrandon Commission reported.
My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher) said that the German system had created stable government, but was it purely the electoral system that created the stable government? Is there not stable government in the United States of America?
It is not relevant to compare the American system with ours. That is a different situation altogether. The German system of election has certainly contributed to the stability of Germany since the war.
This amendment has very special importance for Scotland because, as other hon. Members have indicated, according to the latest public opinion polls the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the SNP have roughly equal support in Scotland. They have perhaps the support of about 30 per cent. of the electorate each. It is likely that by the time of the next General Election one of the parties will have edged in front of the others and may obtain 35 per cent. to 45 per cent. of the votes. Under the present system that could give the leading party a substantial majority of seats and, perhaps, an overall majority.
That is not only unfair; it is dangerous. I hope that it will not happen but the majority party might be the SNP. It is a party that is openly pledged to separatism for Scotland. In that even, the war between Edinburgh and London, which so many of us fear and which has been referred to constantly during these debates would be certain, continuous and bitter. It would be gravely divisive and damaging for both Scotland and England and would inevitably lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. But under any system of proportional representation the seats secured by each party would be in proportion to the votes actually cast for it, and that would be far less potentially dangerous.
The proportional representation system that is favoured by most hon. Members, and is certainly favoured by all those who support the amendment, was devised by the Hansard Society Commission. It is the best system because it is the simplest and easiest one for the electors to understand. They have only to put a cross against the name of the candidate they prefer, exactly as they do at present. This method would also retain the personal relationship, which I believe is important, between an hon. Member and his constituents. It would not involve re-drawing the constituency boundaries and it would also reduce the number of members in the Welsh Assembly to 50 and in the Scottish Assembly to 100.
If we have to have these Assemblies at all, the fewer members who serve in them the better. If adopted, as I hope it eventually will be, for Britain as a whole, the additional member system would result in 480 directly elected seats in this House—that is, three-quarters of our membership—and one-quarter of the seats would be filled on the additional member basis from wider areas by proportional representation.
It is true that the additional member system would increase the average size of the constituencies in the United Kingdom from about 64,000 to about 85,000, but the alternative of the single transferable vote system would either double the membership of the House or double the size of constituencies, which would be worse; moreover, STV would not retain the personal link between an hon. Member and his constituency.
Both systems are fair. I can understand some hon. Members supporting one or the other because they feel that it would be more advantageous to their party. Presumably that is why the Liberal Party prefers the single transferable vote to the aditional member system.
In that case I withdraw my comment, and I am delighted to hear that the hon. Member is wholeheartedly behind the amendment for reasons of self-interest as well as of principle.
I believe that the method suggested in the amendment will command the most general support from hon. Members who are interested in changing to a system of proportional representation.
I am listening to my hon. Friend with great care, and I have not yet made up my mind. Some people believe that additional members would be in a superior position to ordinary members because they would have no constituency obligations and, therefore, would have greater time to devote to great national matters instead of having to deal with the worry and druggery of constituency work. Other people think that the alternative members would be in an inferior position as they would have no power base, would have been failures at the polls and would be regarded as mere birds of passage.
I do not quite understand the point which my hon. and learned Friend is making. Additional members would have fewer of the constituency chores and the work of dealing with personal cases which takes up so much of our time, but I do not see that that would make them superior or inferior to ordinary members. The alternative members would be representing regions rather than individual constituencies and might have more time to devote to matters other than constituency problems. However, I do not understand why my hon. and learned Friend should be worried.
I suppose that I should be grateful to my Front Bench for allowing the Conservative Party a free vote on this issue, but I am extremely disappointed that neither Front Bench has felt able to give positive support to the amendment.
Both the Cabinet and the Shadow Cabinet say that they want to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom and to prevent the SNP from breaking it up without a majority in Scotland for doing so; but when it comes to actions rather than words they either sit on the fence, as I understand my Front Bench intends to do tonight, or as the Government intend, vote against the one sure way of preventing a minority from taking Scotland out of the United Kingdom.
Why is there this irresolution from my right hon. and hon. Friends and outright opposition from the Government? I fear that the motives are the same. They are afraid that if we give a fair system of voting to Scotland and Wales we may eventually have to give a fair system of voting to England. Not for the first time, I wish that for once some party, preferably my own, would put the national interest before what it believes, wrongly in my view, to be in the narrower party interest.
I do not think that anyone can or does argue that the present voting system is fair. I have a mass of statistics to prove that it is wholly unfair. The system's defenders say that it "works", but I doubt whether even that is still true. Governments spend part of their time in office repealing the Acts of their predecessors and then passing legislation which is likely in its turn to be repealed by their successors.
If my hon. Friend is suggesting that this system should eventually be adopted for the whole of Great Britain, would he agree that in almost every General Election, at least since the First World War, we should have had a coalition to govern the country? Does he think that this would have been a good thing? I certainly do not.
I shall come to that point and develop it later, but I do not think that coalition Governments are so terrible. Frequent reversals of policy have an appalling effect on economic stability in this country and prevent industry planning ahead with any confidence and giving us the investment which the economy badly needs and which would create new employment.
I believe that a system of proportional representation would lead to greater political stability and certainly to greater political continuity. That would suit ordinary people as much as it would suit business men because the British people are basically moderate and middle of the road and they do not care for extremism of the Right or the Left. It may be that electoral reform would often produce Con-Lib or Lab-Lib coalitions, and I can see that my hon. Friends who want a true blue Conservative Government—which they might get at one General Election but which would be unlikely to last for a succession of elections—would not like such a system. But I think they should appreciate that extreme Right or Left-wing Governments would probably not last for more than one Parliament, and those who find the prospect of a coalition unattractive because they seek a true blue Tory Government—which is a perfectly respectable aim—should remember the other side of the coin, which is that under proportional representation, we should never get a Leftwing-dominated Government. It would effectively dish the Marxists, which for me would be a great prize. I apologise to hon. Members opposite below the Gangway.
Such a system would result in the loss of some Conservative and some Labour seats to the Liberals, but it would be in the national interest to achieve the moderation and stability that this system would ensure. For Scotland, it is not only fair and desirable but essential as a safeguard against the disintegration of the United Kingdom.
There are about 18 different systems of proportional representation, some of them more complicated than others. It is odd that the one which my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) introduced so determinedly was the one of topping up. He chided my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) for not being sufficiently clear about the intentions of the topping-up principle. I, too, would not have known much about this system had I not fortunately had the opportunity of reading Bernard Levin in The Times this morning about what has become known as the Levin-Mackintosh amendment, in that we were warned about the consequences of rejecting the amendment.
The system proposed in the amendment is not only a complex form of proportional representation but is basically unfair. Yet the hon. Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher) said that the present first past the post system was unfair. It is probably also true to say that if we were to give our attention to all the other 17 systems we would come up with the same sort of qualifications. I suspect this is due to the fact that the electorate does not act in a predictable way.
The hon. Member for Surbiton also mentioned the problem of motives, and here I would myself not look too closely at the motives of any party or at the motives of those who support the amendments which we are considering. It would be a fascinating exercise but we do not have time to go into it.
I want to deal with two or three points which arise from the amendment and also to go back to the point at which we started the debate, when we were considering why we should have so many amendments grouped under this heading. Many hon. Members raised points of order, quite rightly, to show their concern about this subject. I was not surprised to see that degree of anxiety shown by hon. Members since it reflects the absurdity of the whole Bill. I make no apology for restating my position. I object to the fact that we are proceeding by way of a series of set-piece debates. We had a set piece last Tuesday, which was a Welsh day, and on Wednesday we had another set-piece debate about the Shetland Isles. Today we have another on the subject of proportional representation. I and some of my hon. Friends have warned the Government about the problems of taking a major constitutional measure with all its inevitable dilemmas and conflicts by way of a series of single rigid debates.
This is no way to do justice to the constitutional matters associated with the Bill. It is totally unfair to those of us who are neither Scottish nor represent Scottish constituencies, or who are Welsh and represent Welsh constituencies. It is not just that English Members and the interests of their constituents are being nosed out of the debate. We representing English constituencies have not even got into the intellectual framework of the debate because of the way we are required to proceed with set-piece subjects. This is an extraordinary way in which we have to examine and monitor a major constitutional measure. It is equally important that we should be clear that hon. Members who refer to circumstances as they might affect England should be listened to most carefully. I have no doubt that other hon. Members will follow me on this point.
I hope that the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) is not inviting other hon. Members to be out of order, as in my opinion he is at the moment. We are not discussing the principle of the Bill this afternoon. We have already debated the principle on Second Reading. I hope that the hon. Member will turn to the amendment under consideration and not invite other hon. Member to follow his bad precedent by being out of order.
I accept what you have said, Sir Myer. I did not raise a point of order when many other hon. Members raised points of order earlier, although I had my reservations. I welcomed the fact that this was to be a much wider-ranging debate, and one of the amendments in my name is included in the group of amendments that we are discussing.
I was making the point that we are discussing not just proportional representation, which is the central theme of the main amendment, but a group of amendments.
My hon. Friend has expressed his annoyance that last week and this week we have been discussing set-pieces, but does he not accept that when a Bill has been given a Second Reading and the Committee stage is reached the Bill is discussed clause by clause and, in effect, we discuss set-pieces? But these set-pieces are important aspects of the Bill which the Committee wishes to go into in detail.
I accept what my hon. Friend says, but I also believe that the lines of debate have been drawn too tightly. This was reflected in the speeches made last week on our Welsh day, which were very closely integrated in that way. I was one of many hon. Members who tried to speak in that debate and to raise additional matters and who found it impossible to do so.
I wish to comment on some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian. He said that his amendment was in the spirit of devolution. This is one of the dilemmas which we have to overcome as quickly as possible. We are beginning to use slogans in our debates on the Bill. We are using expressions like "devolution" and "separation". If we say that the topping-up principle is the heart and spirit of devolution, we will confuse large numbers of people. Although this point has not been spelt out, anyone listening to our debates on devolution will realise that there are scores of different interpretations of what devolution means.
When we discuss the question of holding a referendum, I hope that the Lord President will bear in mind that alongside a series of alternative choices it will be necessary to lay down clearly the meanings of these phrases. We have seen various attempts to analyse greater forms of communication and to give people the feeling of sharing in decision-making, but even after the debate has gone on for some time we have still not been told what is meant by "the spirit of devolution". As one who is very much concerned about the subject of devolution, I hope that we may have some meaningful answers to those questions before the debate is concluded.
Part of the problem has been haste, part has been the area of motivation and part is that it is an attempt to create a structure—perhaps a hollow one—without revealing that the fundamental problems in Scotland and Wales are more serious than just their problems about houses, jobs and so on. The reason why I believe that we should not proceed in this way is that it will attract other campaigns and other forms of speculation That is why we are having this debate on proportional representation.
Another matter to come out of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian is the very dangerous practice which suggests that we need this form of choice because it will give smaller units and alternative forms of representation. This immediately assumes that the whole concept of centralisation is wrong. Of course there are problems associated with centralisation, and no doubt the Scottish nationalists would say that bigness is bad, but this would have been a problem for any Government who tried to establish a system that would open areas of decision-making without going to the extremes of what we call devolution.
If we persist in arguing on this level and we do not take sufficient account of the enormous advantages associated with centralisation to any modern technological country, we shall turn back the clock a couple of hundred years. It may suit members of the Scottish National Party to argue that they want proportional representation, and for them to create the fears which may be necessary for them to whip up support in Scotland, but they have to recognise the importance of such subjects as centralisation. The Government have not even been prepared to answer this question.
This goes to the heart of the case that has been argued by the Scottish nationalists that there is something wrong with centralisation and that they want a devolved Parliament and then an extension of it. That extension becomes proportional representation. Such a series of steps is dangerous. I am questioning the fundamental assumption that is made. If some hon. Members want to take the argument back to the initial reason for having proportional representation, we are bound to listen to it, but there is an alternative.
Whatever the hon. Gentleman's views may be on proportional representation, I hope he will not say that it is a question whether one is in favour of centralisation or decentralisation. The question is whether one system gives a wider and fairer choice. That is a matter for argument. I think that it does.
There is an intelligent case for centralisation in dealing with the size and scale of an operation or country. I should like to give further consideration to the narrow question of proportional representation. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] It is regrettable that we must have these narrow, rigid ground rules on a matter which affects England as well as Scotland and Wales. I incline to speak briefly in debates. I do not intrude too much in other hon. Members' observations. I hope that hon. Members, unless they feel that I am being totally unfair or inaccurate, will at least hear me out.
I take the point, Sir Myer. I come back to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian. If that is the level of debate that hon. Members would prefer to talk about, so be it. One of my hon. Friend's torturous arguments was that, if we were to continue the present system of voting in this extraordinary Assembly, it would mean that there could be no clear lead for any of the three parties involved. Thus my hon. Friend justified a major change in terms of voting procedures and practice on these very slim grounds. I submit that that shows little perspective. He would institute a major change in the voting pattern and procedures to meet a transitory need. Surely part of the job of the parliamentarian is to look beyond the immediate pressure wherever it comes from and to have a reasonable perspective.
The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) directed himself to the Scottish Assembly because he was being most meticulous in keeping within the rules of order on the amendment. The situation applies equally to the United Kingdom as a whole. I think that the Liberal Party is greatly prejudiced by the present system. The Liberal Party got almost 20 per cent. of the votes in the 1974 General Election but came back to the House of Commons with only 12 seats. The argument is that the system overall is unfair and that it ought to be changed because it is so unfair.
Proportional representation has been discussed in this House many times in the past and might well be discussed in the future. My point was, what place has it got within the context of a Bill dealing with devolution in Scotland? The hon. Member for Surbiton referred to the difficulties facing the Liberal Party in achieving some reward in Parliament for its actual voting strength, but is this the time to examine this on a major constitutional Bill?
The debate about electoral reform abounds with irrelevancies. We have had some this afternoon. It means that virtually everyone with a grievance to air or a political axe to grind has jumped on the bandwagon. There is genuine concern about the ability of the present electoral system to reflect the wishes of the public, but that concern has been swamped by the vested interests of minority parties in their varying array, aided and abetted by an academic or lunatic fringe.
It is perhaps easier to understand the problems of the Liberal Party which, as I mentioned earlier, has supported the argument for proportional representation for a long time. The Liberals can claim some responsibility for getting the bandwagon rolling. It is a policy commitment which has added to the talk of recording 6 million votes but returning only 13 Members or getting 18 per cent. of the votes and only 2 per cent. of the seats. But the other minority parties—the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, the Communist Party and the National Front—have no similar justification. They have only a vested interest in change and, possibly, confusion.
Before my hon. Friend leaves the question of the Liberal Party, does he agree that in the days when the Liberal Party formed the Government the system was the same as we have now and there was no indication that the Liberal Party wanted to change it?
That is absolutely true.
Mention has been made of the Hansard Society Commission's report. Dealing with electoral change, the Commission set out four criteria: first, that the Government should not be able consistently to pursue policies that were manifestly against the will of the majority; secondly, that on the other hand the elected Government should be able to govern efficiently; thirdly, that sizeable minorities, in terms either of geographical area or overall strength in the country, must be adequately represented; and, fourthly, that any system must be generally acceptable to the people as a whole.
It became increasingly obvious from the Hansard Society Commission's report that it had no clear view on the best PR system or even how to square these four criteria. I ask hon. Members to reflect on the impossibility of trying to relate, on the one hand, the criteria that size-able minorities should be adequately represented with, on the other hand, the demand that the elected Government should be able to govern efficiently.
I do not wish to enlarge the argument by reference to other countries, but studies of both the German and Israeli systems show that they can be found wanting. They are not easily intelligible and in both instances the difficulty of communication between the constituency and the member is aggravated. A number of other countries have the list system.
I do not deny that we should constantly aim for a fairer system. That is worth searching for. But to introduce it into this Bill and to support topping up is plain foolishness. It would be a pity if, in an attempt to set up a new system, we destroyed that essential ingredient in British politics of the communication between the elector and his parliamentary representative. He or she should be an identifiable person, not a name on a list. Those who have spoken to people in other countries about representation know about the difficulty of recognition.
Yes. That brings me to my final point. Those who make claims for this new form of voting procedure must recognise some of the practical problems which will become inevitable. The Liberal Party may feel that now its great moment has came at last. It may feel that it has been arguing for a long time for PR and that it has had a raw deal. Now, through this Bill, is the moment when it will get its way. That would be a great mistake for the Liberal Party.
What is much more important is that we should have at least a system in all parts of the United Kingdom—in Scotland, England or Wales—that takes account of the important social changes that have arisen in our society. But devolution is about running down the decision-making process in this Parliament, yet the areas of decision-making have already moved away from here. Governments have created a whole series of agencies and authorities. Those are the areas in which we should be trying to improve communications—between the individual and the enormous number of bodies and agencies that have been created within the past 15 years. Proportional representation and the topping-up procedure bear little reality to our contingency needs.
I end as I began, by saying that of all the systems that have been put forward—and many reports have justified this—the topping-up principle, which is the principle produced and recommended in the amendment, is not only unfair but is devilishly complicated and requires considerable administrative back-up. We owe it to this nation not to divert the citizen's attention away from the essential priorities for survival. Regrettably this whole Bill, like the amendment itself, provides such an indulgence.
The hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moon-man) has made his dislike of the Bill very clear. Coming as it did from a Labour Member who is usually more open-minded than most, I was a little surprised to hear what he said about proportional representation.
It seemed to me earlier that the strongest argument that we have heard in opposition to proportional representation was that put forward by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), to the effect that Manfred Schmidt's recognition factor was very low. I am not at all convinced of the relevance of Manfred Schmidt to this debate. However, if Manfred Schmidt's recognition factor is as low as the hon. Gentleman made out, that can be only because Manfred Schmidt has not done very much about his own publicity.
The hon. Member for West Lothian, the hon. Member for Basildon and the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott) have made very heavy weather so far about the German system, yet the German system is seen to have worked with considerable success. I wonder whether any of those hon. Members saw a television programme a few days before the last Federal German elections in which a number of comments were made about the system. The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth suggested that the electoral system should be intelligible. He went on in his brief intervention to conclude that the additional member system would not be intelligible. I do not agree with him.
In that television programme in connection with the German elections, one of the points made was that the German electorate on the whole did not understand their system but were entirely satisfied by the result. Only too often it seems to me that the opposite is true in this country, because whereas the electorate very simply can understand the system, often they must find the results wholly unintelligible.
I support the amendment. I do not believe that the electoral system is the arbiter of the success or failure of a Government, but it is a major contributory factor, as it is on the consequence of the electoral system and the Parliament or Assembly that it produces that a Government are based.
The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) drew a distinction between the United Kingdom Parliament and the Assemblies. There is a distinction, but lessons from the former are applicable in relation to our consideration of the latter. Conversely, if the amendment is accepted—as I hope it will be—in due course, from the application of the latter we may be able to learn lessons in connection with the former.
The hon. Member for Basildon referred to the fact that all electoral systems have their imperfections. I agree. However, if I were convinced that the first past the post system on balance produced the mast beneficial effect for the electors, I would think that there would be no argument but that it should be adopted for the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. However, I am not so convinced.
I think that few would argue against the proposition that, even with the inbuilt unfairnesses of the system, at least until the last war and probably for 10 or 15 years afterwards, the first past the post system had been one part of what I think has made up the most sophisticated and successful democracy in the world. However, we are not concerned with the past. We are concerned with more recent years—say, since 1960—and with the future.
If in recent years I felt that the first past the post system had contributed, for example, to an economic performance comparable with that of our competitors, there would be little about which to argue, but it has not done so. If I felt that it had encouraged investment, provided strong government, provided stability and continuity and provided a basis for responsible government that reflected the opinions of voters and had the confidence of voters, there would be no argument and we could happily bequeath the system to any new Assembly or Parliament. However, it has done none of these things.
Judging by what I hear from those who consider themselves to be experts on the subject of investment, it seems generally agreed that, even though we do not obtain a full return from existing investment, our new investment is totally inadequate.
Then there is the question of strong government. It is sometimes claimed that we have a strong government but, I think, only by those who do not face reality. If Governments are strong in any way, they are strong only in their ability to legislate. Few members of the public would concede much success on that score. But Governments are weak in administration simply because they have power without authority. No Government have had the support of even a tiny majority of the electorate since the war, so every action of the Government is likely to be opposed by a majority of the electorate.
Then, who would be so unwise as to claim that the system provides stability and continuity after the violent contradictions in policy that have occurred over recent years?
Does my hon. Friend accept that many of the changes in policy that have taken place within the period of a given Government have been almost as violent as the changes that have taken place as between two different Governments?
I shall be giving an example of the point my right hon. Friend makes. I was about to refer to a controversial sphere—namely, incomes policy. It is of no importance to my argument whether an incomes policy is right or wrong, but the fact is that every new, modern Government have come into power opposed to an incomes policy—
Order. Surely we are not about to start discussing incomes policy, followed by discussion on the next stage of the social contract. We are discussing proportional representation.
I am not so much talking about an incomes policy as using that as an example of why the present system has its failures, and in that respect I beg leave to believe that I am in order.
The point I was making was that every modern Government have come into office opposed to an incomes policy, yet within a very short time they have concluded that they had to introduce such a policy. That hardly reflects stability or continuity. If consistently there had been an incomes policy, or consistently there had not been an incomes policy, perhaps we should be in a much better position today. It is the chopping and changing that does the damage. That is only one example of the contradictions and somersaults that take place as a consequence of our electoral system. In the circumstances it is difficult to see how anyone can still believe that the system provides a basis for responsible government.
He would be a brave man who claimed that the system produces a Parliament that adequately reflects the collective opinion of the voters. No Government have received a majority of support since the war. No Government have even received the support of 40 per cent. of the electorate. As we know very well, in 1974 the present Government received the support of less than one-third of the electorate at both elections. However, a marginal shift in the attitude of voters, as daily they learn to their cost, can produce a violent swing in the stance and in the policies of the Government. Small wonder that disillusionment has grown steadily. Even in the House of Commons it seems that the confidence in our ability to do what we are supposed to do—namely, to speak for the people—seems to be wearing thin.
If that were not so, why else would it now he suggested that we should have a referendum? In fact, I shall support the introduction of a referendum because I believe that the House of Commons as at present constituted is incapable of speaking on behalf of the public.
I have sympathy with the line of argument that the hon. Gentleman is taking, and I am still open-minded on these matters. But, having stated all the problems—the lack of stability, a lack of economic confidence and a lack of investment—is it not possible to draw a different conclusion from the one at which the hon. Gentleman has arrived, which he bases on the unfairness of the present parliamentary system to small parties and the fact that successive Governments have not been making the right decisions? Is it not possible that the problems reflect the inability of leaders adequately to relate to their parties and to the constituencies as a whole?
I was about to take up that point. The hon. Gentleman has raised an important matter. There are some who say that there is nothing wrong with the system. They say that the only problem lies with those who run it. But where are the paragons who consistently will make the right decisions? Governments come and Governments go, and they are not all filled with fools. We may have our own opinions about who is wise and who is a fool, especially when the Government of an opposing party are in power, although that may not always be the case. However, within the present system I suspect and suggest that the public believe that many more wrong decisions than right decisions have been made. I cannot see where the great men will come from who will always make the right decisions. The wrong decisions have stemmed not least from the system that wise men have to try to operate.
Apart from the reduction of support for the two major parties over the years to which reference has been made, there is another factor that has changed over the years and now creates the need for a different electoral system. I refer to the extent to which Governments intervene every day and all the time into every aspect of the life of industry and individuals. In the past it mattered little if there were violent swings and changes in the way a Government operated because those swings and changes had relatively little effect. Nowadays, because of the expansion of government, the need for stability and the need to iron out violent swings and changes is so much greater.
Would any other electoral system provide a basis for improvement? I believe that it would. That is because of the examples that we see elsewhere. I believe that a system of proportional representation would provide greater stability and continuity and would reflect the opinions of the electorate. The opponents of proportional representation may, as they have implied already, say that it would not provide a clear-cut choice for the electorate. Are the electorate worried on that score? I believe that they are much more interested in consistency, which can provide a basis for good government, than in a clear-cut choice.
It has been said that proportional representation might lead to coalition. It might do, but it need not do so. In this country we have assumed that coalition cannot work in peace time. It seems that even that is a major assumption given that which has taken place in my adult lifetime in peace time and the changes that have occurred since the 1930s. Against that background, it might be wiser to draw conclusions from experience in other European countries.
Even without proportional representation it seems that there is a strong possibility that coalition will occur in the Assembly in Scotland or Wales given the existence of at least four parties. There is the difficulty that any one party will have in obtaining an overall majority. Are we to say, therefore, that coalition is all right under one system but not under another? If there should be coalition in the Assembly, I should far prefer that it was the natural consequence of a system that reflected the electors' views rather than in spite of a system that did no such thing.
In support of its opinion in favour of proportional representation and the need to ensure proper representation of minorities, the Royal Commission said:
it would be no bad thing for a regional government to have to pay regard, in the formulation of its policies and in its administration, to the views of the minority parties, or indeed to be obliged to seek a consensus with them.
There seems to be a good deal of common sense in that view in this context.
But what system of proportional representation? As I have said, I support the amendment. I think that the additional member system would be simple to implement and simple for the elector. I cannot accept the opposite view which has been put forward today. I cannot accept that the British elector, or, to be more precise, the Scottish or Welsh elector, is stupid in comparison with his counterpart in other European countries. The AMS system provides a reasonably simple and maintains a constituency-member relationship. Let there be proportional representation in Scotland and Wales, not only because it would seem right for the Assemblies but because it would enable us more accurately to assess its merits and demerits in comparison with the first past the post system. In time it might be of great benefit to the whole of the United Kingdom.
I think that the problem with which we are dealing should be simplified. First, we are dealing with the proposition that is put forward in Amendment No. 59—namely, that there should be proportional representation. The other proposition has been put forward and argued at great length and with vigour by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). Tonight we should engage our minds in arguing that case. I shall direct my mind to the arguments that have been put forward by my hon. Friend. It is in those arguments that we must engage ourselves.
One of the great problems in all political life, and especially so in the House of Commons, is the ease with which people accept the first level of complexity. They consider that level of complexity and say "This is manifestly so" and proceed to argue on that basis. They approach proportional representation on the first level of complexity and say "This is fair", leaving the matter at that level. I frequently find that it is the politically rather wet Members who associate themselves with that approach—namely, the easy acceptance of the first simple and obvious proposition.
My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian exemplified this by emphasising the element of fairness in one aspect alone—the particular events during the 24 hours of election day. There are many more equally important matters in democracy besides the structure of elections and the particular events on polling day. I want to deal particularly with some of the arguments of my hon. Friend.
Those arguments have been advanced on the basis of two propositions. The first is that change in society is a bad thing and that we should have some kind of structure in our voting to inhibit it.
The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) talked about changes in policy, and rapid change, which meant that he did not like change in society. Of course Conservative Members do not want change in society. They like society as it is. It is those of us who are concerned about changing our kind of society who do not find this change in voting unhealthy. That is the first argument, and those hon. Members see it as a means of preventing change in society.
Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that those who have been advocating electoral reform are doing so precisely because of the changes that have already taken place in society? It is the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends who are the reactionaries on this issue.
It is interesting that those who accuse us of being conservative on this issue are precisely those who do not want to bring about change in society. Indeed, that was largely the basis of the argument put forward by at least three hon. Members. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) said exactly the same thing by advocating the advantages of coalition and so on.
It is interesting that the quotation used by the hon. Member for Devizes from the Kilbrandon Report was the very first quotation used in the brief proposed by
those hon. Members who are putting forward the amendment. There is a very good case for PR, but the argument those hon. Members put forward was precisely this one from the Commission:
it would be no bad thing for a regional government to have to pay regard, in the formulation of its policies and in its administration, to the views of the minority parties, or indeed to be obliged to seek a consensus with them".
But, by definition, the seeking of a consensus by itself is designed to prevent major change in society.
There is no consensus between a Socialist and a Conservative on a major change in society. There may be a consensus on technical change, such as the level of REP or another form of regional grant, but certainly there is no possibility of a consensus on major changes in society.
That is the background to this whole issue. That is the purpose of the argument that PR is essential for the Assembly, for it is designed to achieve a situation in which change will be difficult. The case is made on that very quotation. Basically, the first argument is put forward to try to prevent decisive change in society.
The second argument, an equally dangerous one, is that the presence of the Scottish National Party in the Scottish situation makes it necessary. I cannot think of a worse reason for a major change in our democratic operation than that it is designed to dish a particular party. That destroys the case itself. The way I want to dish the SNP is to meet it head on and argue the case against it politically, as I have done night after night.
We first need to look at the real nature of democracy and its consequences. Democracy does not stop on polling day. On polling day we tell people "These are the things we believe in. These are the things we wish to advocate. These are the things we want to bring about." On Thursday I would stomp West Renfrewshire telling people where I and my party stand, but on Friday I have to tell those people "All those things that I told you yesterday. and for the last four or five years, are not going to be done because we have brought about a coalition and a consensus with the other parties. Because of that we are not going to do what I said."
This is where we come on to the second level of complexity. That which appears to be fair to the electorate denies to the electorate, first, control over its representatives and, secondly, the expression of the views that it wishes to be carried out by the party for which it voted.
If the hon. Gentleman's party is forced to go into coalition it may have to jettison some of its objectives. If it does not go into coalition, it would not get any of its objectives at all. At least by going into coalition it would achieve some of its objectives.
Yes, and on and on in the same way. I accept that I want to change society and alter it. I do not want to be bound down by the events that we have seen in the past year. We have had to suffer all this, but we want to change it.
I cannot understand why people welcome the idea of moving into coalition in order to prevent and inhibit all that they want to bring about. That seems to be a third level of complexity. They destroy their own policies in that way.
The argument about dishing the SNP is highly dangerous for another reason. Many hon. Members have not properly understood the basis of the political situation in Scotland, and it is precisely in Scotland that this cannot be the solution.
The argument is that we have one-third / one-third voting and that we have to balance this out. The problem is that it is not quite like that. What we basically have in Scotland is a situation in which two parties wish to achieve a certain kind of society. The Conservative Party and the Labour Party have views about the kind of Scotland and the kind of social change that they wish to bring about.
The third party in this situation has opted out of that basic discussion. It is true that it takes policy decisions at conference, but basically its aim is to achieve an independent Scotland. That is the aim that binds its members. It is their basic objective. But it is not on the same wavelength as political discussion which is concerned with what kind of society and what kind of Scotland we have.
We see the problem when we consider the figures advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian. Under the system advocated in the amendment we find that the Labour Party, which had 41 seats in the last election, would retain 41 seats because there would be no topping-up for it at any stage. It is a long and complicated stage. The SNP will have 29 seats, the Liberals seven and the Tories 23. I would ask whether at the next stage—the fourth level of complexity—we shall get a representative Government to deal with that kind of voting.
The Kilbrandon Report speaks of a consensus with the minority parties and the hon. Member for Stroud and my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian speak of coalition. Kilbrandon said that it would be no bad thing for a regional government to have to pay regard to minority parties. With respect, we are creating something that cannot in any sense of the term be called a regional government. We are creating an Assembly that will have within its power the ability to alter, modify and transform Scotland's social structures.
I accept that control over our own resources is missing. I also accept, even as a Socialist, that control over economic affairs that can change the basic relationship between man and man in society is not the only prerequisite for altering society. Policy decisions are needed on matters that are not dealt with by local government, including education, health, law and planning.
The Scottish Assembly under the Bill can achieve totally different social structures in Scotland. The Assembly is not merely a regional government. It has a function equivalent to that of the government of any other country in bringing about the policies it requires.
Against that let us look at the figures. No consensus is possible. Is a coalition possible? The Labour Party as the largest party would, presumably, have a certain interest in creating a coalition. With whom could the Labour Party coalesce to achieve a majority? The nearest approach would be the Liberal Party, but even with the Liberal Party Labour would still be in a minority.
Is that the prospect we are offering to the Scottish people? Scotland has great radical traditions, and in election campaigns my comrades and I say that we are fighting against the evils in society. In our more jargonistic moments we say that we do not like capitalism. We cannot say on the next day that we have entered into a coalition with the Tory Party. What basis of coalition can exist there? None.
The only other possibility is to enter into a coalition with the SNP. The SNP is not concerned with the kind of society in which we live; it is concerned with creating an independent Scotland. That is no basis for the election of an Assembly Government.
I am glad that you have taken it on your own shoulders, Sir Stephen. For one dreadful moment I thought that the hon. Gentleman did not like me.
Of course we know the problems. I am a democrat and I want to change that ratio of 60:30 to 30:60.
There is no case for the Tories to enter into coalition with the SNP. Therefore, no coalition Government is possible.
It must he remembered that we are not dealing with a regional government. There will not be the wheeling, dealing and trimming that there is in local government. The Assembly will produce policies that affect the whole fabric of our national life and, therefore, national decisions are required.
People will expect something to happen in the Assembly. After all the travail this year—and in Scotland over the past six years—we do not want to create an Assembly only to say on the following day that the Assembly can change nothing because the two elements of government cannot agree. That is a recipe for disaster.
Those who put forward these arguments as a basis for dishing the SNP are extremely ill-advised. I can think of no recipe better calculated to wreck the Assembly than the creation of a situation in which its Government cannot operate.
The hon. Gentleman's argument seems to be based on the assumption that if we adopt the first past the post system for the Assembly we shall get one party with a majority in the Assembly. While that may be the most likely result under the present electoral system there is no guarantee that it will happen. How does the hon. Gentleman propose to resolve the problem that will arise from coalitions if even under our present electoral system no party ends up with a majority in the Assembly?
Of course I understand that. We face precisely that problem in Westminster. I remember the unholy alliance between the Tories and the SNP to try to destroy the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, despite the effect on shipyard workers in my area. Despite that, I do not say that we must alter the system altogether. Let us try to persevere to achieve what we can—
That brings me to the fifth level of complexity, the question of parties and people. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian said that there would be a relationship between the people voting and the members of the Assembly and that the parties would not decide which members were to be on the topping-up list. Nevertheless, wheeling and dealing would continue throughout those four years. Power will be in the hands of the party caucus, which will have to conduct the wheeling and dealing, and the electors will be debarred.
My argument against the proposal is not based on its complexity. I understand that it is complex. A computer is complex, but the people who feed information into the computer get the answer. I do not need to know how a computer works to get information from it. People will know that they are still voting for their party and I do not object to that because it is complex in its working out, but I am concerned that when they vote Labour it should be meaningful and that it will not result in a coalition. Please get past this simple level of complexity which says that this is a fair system.
Johnson once said
Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
In a sense, fairness can be said to be the last refuge of the wet. This is something complex that we have to look at and we must hoick ourselves up from that level of complexity to understand the consequences of what we are doing instead of accepting the simplistic and naïve view of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian.
The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) referred in his peroration to the need to make votes meaningful. That is precisely why some hon. Members are asking for proportional representation.
The first simple though fundamental question I ask is whether the Government are listening to the debate. I know that the Minister of State is on the Government Front Bench, but I want to know whether what the Government hear during the debate will make any difference to the implacable opposition to any electoral reform that they have so far shown.
The Government have said frequently—as has the Minister of State—that they are open-minded about the changes proposed in various aspects of the Bill. This is the first test whether there is any real degree of open-mindedness. I desperately fear that Ministers have so stuffed their ears with the cotton wool of tradition that they are deaf to the hearing of any changes, and that, however persuasive or lucid the arguments—and there have been some extremely lucid speeches already—they will have as much effect as the proverbial water on the proverbial duck's back. Having a three-line Whip is not exactly a good beginning. Trying to sort out so fundamental a part of this basic constitutional change in one day is not exactly a good beginning either.
I speak as a Liberal, long committed to electoral reform, in a mood which mixes deep disappointment and anger. Trying to give vent to the latter emotion is probably a waste of time, but all the hysterical laughter from below the Gangway opposite made me feel twinges of it earlier. But I suppose that disappointment can be remedied and anger diffused.
I said on Second Reading that the Bill arouses such a great variety of strong feelings that if it is to succeed, in the end it will require all of us from our different points of view to make compromises. The Liberal Party has a long record of support for the single transferable vote system of proportional representation. In support of its ease of introduction and operation there is the recent evidence of Ulster. It was introduced in the Northern Ireland Bill. From then to the moment of voting was 13 months and in the memorable words of the Government's promotional material in films and on posters, the system was "as easy as one, two, three".
In regard to the political and intellectual validity of the single transferable vote system, it is also worth quoting the unanimous conclusion of the Kilbrandon Commission, which in many other respects is the foundation of large parts of the Bill.
I do not wish to be diverted into that argument, but I should say that it enabled power sharing to get going and cracked up when there was a subsequent Westminster election on the first past the post system.
As I have said, I do not wish to be diverted into this question, but if there was any crudity in the matter, it was the crudity of the Unionists in taking the system away in the first place in the 1920s—[An HON. MEMBER: "In 1929."]—which resulted over a period of time in the hardening of attitudes which has led us to the present impasse in Northern Ireland.
I was going to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he had any evidence that the proportional representation system in Ulster as used before 1929 had any measurable effect of the kind he is now suggesting. Is it not crystal clear that what that system has done in Northern Ireland is to outrage the majority?
There may be a point with regard to Westminster elections in what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but it must be remembered that there was a Convention election on the "easy as one, two, three" system and the Unionists then had a bigger majority than they had had in the Assembly.
I fear that this may well become a teach-in on Ulster if we pursue the matter further. I was making the simple point that the Liberal Party has been consistently in favour of the single transferable vote system, but that my colleagues and I are prepared to support the added member system interim compromise, for all that we continue to hold the opinion that it is a less sensitive democratic mechanism than the single transferable vote system advanced in our amendment. We are prepared to do this although we accept many of the criticisms of the added member system which have been advanced tonight and have been made by, for example, the Electoral Reform Society. We are prepared to do so because it introduces proportional fairness between parties and their mass vote where at present there is none.
The hon. Gentleman made a point in relation to Kilbrandon. The Kilbrandon Commission also said at paragraph 771:
If it is not accepted that both central and regional authorities could be relied upon to strive to administer a scheme of legislative devolution in this spirit of co-operation, legislative devolution is not to be contemplated.
If we are to quote Kilbrandon, we should include that strong reservation.
The hon. Gentleman is once more making his own point that he does not like the whole thing. I do not think that it is wholly relevant to the question of proportional representation.
The other feature that we should recognise in the added member system is that it would avert a potentially calamitously biased result in the first Assembly elections, and it is designed, by virtue of its interim character, which perhaps has not been sufficiently emphasised, to allow more time before a more permanent solution is settled upon.
I would go further. If the Government accept the principle of proportional representation but contend that for technical, practical or legal reasons perhaps not immediately evident to the drafters the amendments are deficient and tell us that they will produce a proportional scheme of their own on Report, I would even go along with that. I am prepared to compromise to that degree, for of one thing I have no doubt—that while each of the proportional amendments may be open to certain criticisms, for no system that we can devise can ever be perfect, against none of them can be brought one-tenth of the weight of objection to which the Government's own extraordinary proposals are open.
If we apply the Government's proposals to the October 1974 General Election and assume, which is a reasonable assumption—
The hon. Gentleman has not yet heard what it is I have to say. If we assume that people given two votes, or in some cases three, will cast them for candidates of the same
party, the Labour Party in Scotland would, for only 36 per cent. of the vote, have obtained over 20 of an overall majority, equivalent in this House, with 635 Members, to nearly 100 of an overall majority. The first elections of course will not necessarily favour the present Administration. They may favour other parties. But the basic point remains. It was well made in the Financial Times this morning by Joe Rogaly, who said,
Deeply ideological government is in itself unattractive. Its imposition by a minority imbued with the arrogance of temporary power is simply not tolerable.
About a year ago, the Lord President described coalitions as "evil". I thought at the time that that was a remarkably strange word for one who is usually very meticulous in his use of language, especially when one considers that all the Labour Parties with which our Labour Party is associated in the Socialist International are or have been at one time or another in coalitions, and when one considers the nature of the Labour Patty itself just now.
I wonder how the right hon. Gentleman—he is not here at the moment, but perhaps he will be able to say later—would describe the kind of result that I have just depicted. "What is democracy?" said jesting Foot, and would not stay for an answer. [Interruption.] I depicted a result in this House in which 36 per cent. of the votes yielded an overall majority of 100 and asked whether that was fair, even according to non-wet Members.
I suppose that I am beginning to give vent to the very anger that I thought was not useful. It is just that one gets to the stage—Liberals have been getting to this stage for a long time—of wondering whether reason can triumph. That is a very dangerous condition in a democracy, and it is a condition that many people feel when they work and they try and they do not see anything coming back. It is they, who are not perhaps always as loud as others in their declamations, who should be considered, as well as anyone else.
I have developed the question of fairness sufficiently, but there are one or two minor points still to be made. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West suggested that those who advocated propor- tional representation were those who wished no change in society because PR would be more likely to produce a consensus, stable society and therefore be a drag on change rather than the more dramatic first past the post system which allowed change because there were bigger swings and a bigger chance of great changes.
With all respect, we Liberals have a good record of adherence to reform. We are not advocating no change. We are saying that change is acceptable only if people are prepared to accept it. I know that that is a tautological statement, but unless change is achieved in a proper representative way, it can be undemocratic.
I do not at all disagree with the hon. Gentleman's last comment. Naturally I approve of it. Of course I want to convince so many people of my point of view that they will accept the change that I want. I did not say that the argument for proportional representation was the argument for no change. I said that the arguments adduced tonight and the material which has surrounded this debate were based on that argument, and I gave quotations to prove it. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Liberal Party does not take that view—but that is because it wants more members than it has now for the size of the vote it gets.
I accept that. The hon. Gentleman's second argument was that many people appeared to be putting this proposal forward to "dish" the SNP. The brief answer to that is that some credit is due to the SNP because, so far as one can establish, its chances of getting into a dominant position would be greater under the present system than under either the STV or the added member system—if present trends persist, which we can never tell.
But there is certainly an argument to be made that the SNP is at a point at which it could do exactly what the Labour Party in Scotland, apparently with no shame whatever, does now—achieve a vast majority of seats for a considerable minority of votes.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that the SNP has an amendment to provide the alternative vote system plus the additional member system, which according to some commentators would give the party a much bigger share of members than any other system which can be devised, including the first past the post system. Just for clarification, would it be the result of the STV amendments to which the hon. Gentleman is speaking that the size of the Scottish Assembly would be 217 and the Welsh Assembly 118? If so, why did the Liberals pick on a quotient for the elections which would give such a large number in both Assemblies?
That brings me naturally to the next series of points that I intended to make—on the subject of the alternatives. The direct answer to the Minister's question, of course, is "Yes". That is what is contained in our amendments. It is also true that we favour a larger Assembly than is proposed either by the additional member system amendment or by the Government themselves. The complement to that is that we also favour a reduction in the size of Scottish representation in this House. I think that that covers the hon. Gentleman's question.
The choice that faced the all-party committee for a representative Assembly was between what I advocated in the Committee—supporting both a single transferable vote amendment and some added member variant—or plumping for one thing. In the end we came down to the view that we should try to reconcile the differences between us and go for something relatively simple, easy to introduce, that would not disrupt the present situation and that would of its nature be an interim solution.
Much of the credit for that is due to the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on becoming a professor of politics at Edinburgh University. He will be as appropriate as any Liberal to explain to his students one unique attribute of the first past the post system—that it enables the maximum possible number of people to produce the correct political answers and to be politically unsuccessful simultaneously.
Therefore we have opted for this system. The advantage is contained in its maintenance of the famous link, which many hon. Members feel to be important, between the constituency and the member. However, as I said earlier, I should be happy if the Government produced some other variant, because one recognises that the advantage of the STV system rests in the fact that it provides direct election of all members and that the elector—the consumer—is allowed to make choices between a particular kind of Labour or Conservative member to represent him.
That is a profound advantage. It is quite wrong, as one hon. Member claimed, that it would create tremendous problems of boundary changes. It would not. It could be introduced on the present boundaries without difficulty.
Does the system not fall because of the very top-heaviness that develops from an STV system in which there must be at least three members for each constituency? Will that not mean an Assembly that is huge compared with most other assemblies—not only in the United Kingdom but throughout the world? In other words, is not the hon. Gentleman advocating a huge, overpowering, bureaucratic procedure?
With all respect to the hon. Gentleman that is not true. If we examine the options produced by the Electoral Reform Society, apart from producing a proposal for 200 members as opposed to the Government's figure of 150-odd, it produced a draft composed of 100 members. Therefore, it is possible to look at the matter in practical terms.
I do not wish to delay the Committee any longer. I end by addressing a few remarks to those hon. Members—and there are quite a number—who do not approve of the Bill and who are totally opposed to the establishment of Assemblies in Scotland or Wales. There is a strong argument for them to consider supporting proposals on proportional representation for the simple reason that, even if this proposal is found to be totally unacceptable to those hon. Members and may pass into statute despite their opposition, I believe that it is in the interests of hon. Members at least to try to ensure that the way in which the system functions is democratically acceptable, fair, and speaks for the people with their many interests and views. Therefore, I ask those Members who oppose the whole idea to consider joining us in the Division Lobby tonight. Even though we recognise that we may not be opting for the perfect solution, we are at least trying to find a compromise—but a far better compromise than that which is comprised in the status quo.
The Government made clear in the Queen's Speech that they were anxious to widen the democratic basis of government. They have tried in their way to produce the answer to part of this complex of problems by dealing with nationalism. The Bill deals with nationalism and indeed that is what it is all about. It deals with the communal urge for self-expression which all people feel. But if they are to provide the whole rather than part of the answer, reflecting the adherence to democracy that they share with Liberals back to the Chartists and before, the Government must reconsider their position and recognise that a proportional system of voting is the only fair, just and democratic basis upon which a Scottish Assembly—not merely because of the current division of opinion in Scotland—can operate, succeed and gain the confidence of the Scottish people.
Mr. loan Evans:
I wish to deal with the question of the single transferable vote. In this debate so far we have concentrated on Scotland, but I suggest that if we examine the situation in Wales we reach a different conclusion. As I said on Second Reading, if we introduced a proportional representation system in Wales it would benefit the Labour Party. The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) then asked me why I did not support such a system. I did not think that was a sufficient reason to change the electoral system.
Of 23 parliamentary seats in Wales at present won by the Labour Party 18 were won with over 50 per cent. of the vote. Under an STV system, those 18 Members would get in without any question. One Member in Wales was elected by a vote of 49·9 per cent. of the electorate. Presumably, under the proposed system he would have to go for a second preference vote in order to get the other 0·1 per cent. of the electorate. In Wales 19 Labour Members would be elected automatically. Therefore, we appear to be talking of only four Members, since 19 of the 23 seats would be won by an overall majority.
Furthermore, not one of the 13 Opposition Members in Wales won his seat with an overall majority. Therefore, the 13 Opposition seats would be up for further decision, because there would be no overall majority on the first vote.
If we take the second preference vote, we would find in a constituency such as Cardigan, where there is a Liberal Member, the likelihood that the swing would be to Labour rather than to Liberal. Therefore, again a Labour man could get in. That would be beneficial to Wales as a result of the STV system because there would be increased Labour representation.
It might be said that this is a good argument for supporting any amendment to bring in a PR system, but the fundamental weakness of such amendments is that they seek to change the electoral system by the back door, instead of by seeking to deal with it in a separate Bill to be taken on the Floor of the House. It is wrong that English Members should come to these debates and try to create a voting system for Wales and Scotland but at the same time not seek such a system for England. It is wrong that this system should be required for the Assembly but should not affect Members elected to the House of Commons. Surely that is a weakness of parliamentary democracy, if it is said "This is the system that is best for the Assembly, and therefore that is the system that must be imposed."
Of course it depends on the system that is used.
Let me return to the Amendment No. 50, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). We all recognise that he is an expert in these matters; and it may be said that, on occasions, he is a little too academic. We know that he is on his way to a professorial chair, and he is sometimes a little airy-fairy in his theories. I wonder why we have not thought of all this before. The present system appears to have worked perfectly well.
My hon. Friend also mentioned the German system. I hesitate to get in conflict with my hon. Friend, but I think that he has got the German system wrong. As I understand the situation, there are elected representatives to the Bundestag.
I am glad to hear my hon. Friend say that. I was not in Committee when he made that announcement. I know that one finds members of the Bundestag who have never fought elections.
I believe that the PR system would be unfair as between elected Members. In Wales, 36 constituency Members would represent all the people of the constituencies as they do now, but in addition, according to the proposal, there would be 14 Members without any constituency, and those Members would be responsible to nobody. It is all very well to say that there would be 14 floating members, but what would happen as the political situation changed? One would have first-class members and second-class members.
There would be first-class members elected by the people in the constituencies and second-class members who would find themselves in a somewhat fey situation. There was a time when people put on their headed notepaper "BA(failed)". That was not a good way of describing the situation. This would involve failed Members being given a place. The system would be unfair between different areas. If it had been used in Wales at the last General Election the 14 additional members would have been chosen as follows. Six would have been Liberals. No wonder the Liberals want to change the electoral system. They would have had additional Members at Denbigh, West Flint, Cardiff, North-West, Cardiff, South-East, Cardiff, North and Wrexham. Four would be Conservatives. They polled a higher vote in Wales than the Liberals, but they would still only win an extra four seats —Swansea, West, Brecon and Radnor, Cardiff, West and East Flint. Two would be Labour—at Pembroke and Monmouth. Two additional members would be Welsh Nationalists at Caerphilly and Aberdare. The Welsh National candidate for Aberdare, by the way, has been ousted since the last election. They change their candidates, if they are in difficulty. This amendment would have that defeated candidate in the Assembly, but the Welsh Nationals have ousted him.
Does the hon. Member not realise that, in company with other speakers, he is making a dangerous and intellectually arrogant assumption—and I do not mean "arrogant" rudely. He is assuming that if the electoral system is totally changed people will still vote in the same way as they voted at previous elections. There is no justification for believing that. One might as well say that if my grandmother had wheels she would be an omnibus. She did not, she has not and she is not.
The hon. Member has made his point. One cannot look into a glass ball and say what would happen in the future if the electoral system were changed; one can only go by the last results. It is a fair assumption to say that if a person voted in a particular way at the last election he will do the same at the next, unless he is voting for more than one candidate, when he might vote for one from each party. But it is a fair assumption that if a person voted Labour or Conservative, National or Liberal last time he will continue to vote in this way.
Going by the results of the last election, Clwyd would have four additional Members under the system proposed in this amendment, and Gwynedd would have none. Cardiff would have four additional members, while Gwent, Mid and West Glamorgan, each of which is larger in population terms would have only four additional members between them. The areas that would receive additional members would be determined in a random manner according to no reasonable criteria, and this could have a considerable impact on the work of the Welsh Assembly. The idea of constituencies is to give a fair geographical distribution taking account of population and other factors. Under this system some areas will do very well and others will do very badly.
Furthermore, the system is quite unfair between the defeated candidates. In Cardiff, South-West 10,356 people supported the Conservative candidate and 8,066 supported the Liberal. The Conservative defeated candidate polled more votes than the Liberal, but the Liberal candidate becomes the additional member and not the Conservative. Similar circumstances apply in other seats. A Labour candidate with over 38 per cent. of the votes, as at Carmarthen or a Conservative with 29 per cent. as in Newport would not become additional Members, but three Liberals with less than 20 per cent. of the votes each in Cardiff, or the Welsh National with only 21·2 per cent. of the vote in my constituency would be deemed to be elected.
Order. It is not in order for two hon. Members to be on their feet at the same time. All interventions prolong speeches; long interventions prolong them even longer; and constant interventions prolong them interminably.
There would be nine defeated Labour candidates who would not be additional members—at Carmarthen, Barry, Cardiff, North, Cardigan, Caernarvon, Cardiff, North-West, Conway, West Flint and Merioneth—even though they polled a larger share of the vote in their constituencies than the most successful defeated Liberal candidate in Denbigh. This does not include the two Labour candidates who would become additional members—at Pembroke and Monmouth, each of whom had a larger share of the vote than the winning Conservative at Denbigh.
Proportional representation would be extremely unfair, and far inferior to the present system. Parliament must reject this crackpot proposal in the amendment.
If that is the case we should not vote for candidates but for parties, and then reallocate the seats among the parties according to the votes, but that is not the way we do things in this country. Parties select candidates, and these candidates go before their constituencies. It may well be that it depends on the party to which which the candidate belongs whether he is elected. The Conservative Party has not gone to the country saying that it believes in this electoral reform, and neither has the Labour Party. The Liberal Party has campaigned for proportional representation even since it went out of Government. It never believed in PR while it was in Government, but ever since it left office it has campaigned for it in a big way, because that is the only way it can see of getting a majority in this House.
When we look at the European Parliament we see that there is something wrong with coalition government. Let us have a Government which will say something to the people and stand up for what they say. In war time we can have a coalition but not in peace time. If we do we will have the horse trading which goes on in the European Council and the Western European Union. I was elected chairman of a committee in the WEU because of this. There should have been a German Social Democrat elected, but there was some horse trading behind the scenes, because the Social Democrat voted for a Christian Democrat and they swung it so that I, as the British delegate, was elected.
Would my hon. Friend not agree that it is very difficult to make comparisons with other countries? One may not be comparing like with like. For example, in one continental country the Liberal Party with which a large party makes a coalition may have much the same opinions. The same may not apply here. It is extremely difficult to make comparisions because we may not be comparing like things.
I agree. I think we should recall the words of Sir Winston Churchill when attempts were made to determine the design of this House. He said that we shaped our buildings and they in turn shaped us. In this country we have primarily the two-party system. That is why I believe we shall have stronger government by having a complete majority, and that is why I do not believe we should change the electoral system in such a way as to increase the multiplicity of parties. That will happen if we encourage everyone to stand for election. So long as such candidates get sufficient votes they will be entitled to membership of the Assembly.
When, to natural diffidence, is added the challenge that is generally, but not always, daunting to an Englishman, to give opinions about affairs either north or west of the borders of England, most Englishmen might be tempted to remain silent. I have decided to speak tonight, however, almost entirely because in my view the interests of the whole United Kingdom are intimately involved in these amendments. I want to try to give rather more attention to one aspect of this matter, which has been strangely neglected by most hon. Members except my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher).
I was properly brought up on the old axiom, which all hon. Members will know, put to me by a close and remarkably unpresumptuous Scottish friend, who told me long ago that the best prospect for a Scot was the road that led to England. In the intervening years I have trod that road northwards, and also the road to Wales, many more times than I can possibly remember, both officially and, perhaps just as often, for the pure pleasure that I always found on the other side of the border.
I remember long ago, when I left the Ministry of Power, discovering a benign plot by my civil servants, which they later revealed to me, by which they tried to keep me more often in England and to prevent me from going so often to Scotland and Wales, where they probably rightly felt I was spending too much of my time.
My interest in the amendments stems first from my interest in the whole question of electoral reform. I was a member of the Hansard Society Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Blake, which reported last June and which was the collective author of the additional member system which is embodied in the amendments. We did not, however, claim originality for it for the reasons set out by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and others. Our report was mainly concerned with electoral reform generally, but it made recommendations both for the devolved Assemblies and for elections to the European Parliament, which I fervently hope we shall be discussing in the fairly near future.
The more important reason for my interest, however, is my conviction that the electoral system devised for the Assembly in Wales and even more important, for the Scottish Assembly, is of vital concern to us all, whichever constituency we represent. I share with a great many other hon. Members a passionate wish that the United Kingdom should remain united. I fear that certain electoral systems could sooner or later lead to irresistible pressures driving us to destroy that unity. I am determined to do all I can to prevent that.
The starting point for many of us was the Kilbrandon Commission. Both the majority and the minority reports recommended the single transferable vote. I think that the majority report added that it might be combined with the alternative vote in areas of sparse population. However, the important thing is that both reports were agreed that some form of proportional representation was necessary to secure the proper representation and protection of minorities.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) pointed out earlier that the Royal Commission apparently considered only the single transferable vote, the alternative vote and the existing first-past-the-post system. It did not consider other electoral systems, and certainly not the additional member system, which had not then been clearly defined.
If my speech from now on is mainly concerned with the Scottish Assembly rather than the Welsh Assembly, it is only because in my view the dangers involved in the improper and inadequate representation of minorities are greater in Scotland than in Wales.
All of us suffer two disabilities in this discussion. None of us can foresee future voting patterns with any certainty. None can forecast with accuracy the effect on these voting patterns of any change in our electoral arrangements. But, taking existing constituencies, whatever their precise relationship may be to the future Scottish Assembly, I think one can say with some degree of certainty, that, under the existing first-past-the-post system, an overall clear majority of seats can be the reward, as it is at present, of considerably less than half the total vote cast.
In October 1974 the Labour Party, with little more than one-third of the votes, won well over half the seats in Scotland. It is certainly possible that this inadequately-earned reward could go to another party. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) gave the example of the recent election in Quebec. The reason why I believe that this subject is so grave is that none of us can be at all sure of the way out of the constitutional crisis that could occur where the party, with the minority of votes but with a clear majority of Assembly seats, was in direct conflict with Her Majesty's Government in London on the issue of Scottish independence.
Contrary to most belief, the Conservative Party is the only party since the war to win a clear majority of Scottish votes cast in a General Election. That was in 1955. It was rewarded with the most meagre majority possible of one seat over the Labour and Liberal Parties combined. Yet at the following General Election, when it was still the most popular party, it won seven seats fewer than the Labour Party, which had won fewer votes than the Conservatives.
Several things have since happened. One of the main changes has been the large increase in support for the Scottish National Party. Professor Rose of Strathclyde University has probably put it correctly when he suggested that
the use of the existing electoral system offers the prospect of a Scottish Assembly with a majority either for Socialism or for Nationalism; whereas the prospect under proportional representation is a majority for the Union.
This is fundamentally important. If Professor Rose is right—and I believe that he is—those who believe in the paramount importance of the Union and who think that this overshadows all economic differences between ourselves and the present Government, for instance, must
be naturally drawn to some form of proportional representation.
That may well be true, but that will depend upon the relative importance that both Labour and Conservative Members attach to economic questions and to preserving sovereignty as it now exists. No one can foresee what the situation will be. If the Labour Party and the Conservative Party agreed that the maintenance of the Union of Britain was more important than any economic differences, they would presumably combine in order to preserve it.
Examining the suggested alternatives with this objective in view, I would at once reject the system known as the alternative vote. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) discussed this, although he did not always make it clear which system he had in mind. The reason why I reject the alternative vote system is that neither it nor the related double ballot sets out to achieve a proportional result. If one wants to bring votes cast and seats won into a closer relationship in order to safeguard minorities, there must be an overwhelming basic case for rejecting an electoral system that would not even aim at that objective.
The single transferable vote would achieve a more proportional result than the additional member system that we are now considering. It would certainly be a great deal better than the existing system, but I think that the cost of introducing it would be greater than that suggested by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston). It would involve considerable upheaval, and I cannot see how the Boundary Commission could avoid considerable difficulties about the size of constituencies, the number of Assembly members to be returned and the constituencies' precise delimitation. These are important questions that would have implications for every political party. Such a change would take considerable time.
For all these reasons, I prefer the additional member system. It would not lead to such a large measure of upheaval. No boundaries would have to be redrawn, and voting would be as simple as at a General Election. Each constituency would elect one Assembly member and the total number of members of the Assemblies would not only be in nice round figures, but would also be sufficient for the job. The system would be easier for everybody to understand. Constituency members would be augmented by additional members. There was some confusion earlier about whether or not the system would be complicated. It is easy to explain in principle, although the details are more complicated, but it would be unnecessary for the details to be clearly understood by the voter when he cast his vote for a man or party, or for both.
There has been some discussion about the possibility of having two members representing a single constituency—the winning member and the best loser, or possibly even the winning member and the two best losers. All the possible electoral systems that we are discussing tonight—whether the one in the Bill, the single transferable vote or the additional member system—involve more than one member representing a constituency. Therefore, whichever system we choose there are likely to be constituencies that will return more than one member to the Assembly.
The system proposed in the amendment is not strictly proportional, but probably we could not introduce any practical system that would be entirely proportional. At least no party would be likely to obtain a majority over the others unless it had come close to winning a majority of the votes cast. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), who has unfortunately now left the Chamber, was immensely optimistic about his party's future in Scotland. I do not know whether he has a crystal ball, but he can certainly see more clearly than I. He seemed to be appalled by the limitations that could be improved by the proposal in the amendment upon the prospects of the Labour Party and, I think he added generously, upon the prospects of any party that might be in a majority position with a minority of votes. I think that the hon. Gentleman was unwise to be too optimistic because the results of the first-past-the-post system—particularly where there are four or five parties, as in Scotland—are so wildly unpredictable that it would be rash for any party to gamble on the possible, or even probable, benefit of the present system, in which the winner takes all, without at least reflecting on the reverse truth that the loser takes nothing. At a future election it might be difficult for the loser or losers to prevent the break-up of the United Kingdom.
All forms of proportional representation are opposed on the well-known ground that coherent government is made difficult when no one party wins a clear majority of seats. This is the argument for strong government which I and many others have advanced in the past against the cause of proportional representation. However, whatever the continuing merits of that argument in respect of the United Kingdom as a whole—and this is not the time to discuss that question—I believe that there is great force in the majority report of the Kilbrandon Commission, which said:
it would be no bad thing for a regional government to have to pay regard, in the formulation of its policies and in its administration to the views of the minority parties, or indeed to be obliged to seek a consensus with them.
If the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West puts the interests and ambitions of his party above the interests of the country, I can understand his frustration and disagreement with this idea. If, however, he believes that the interests of Scotland in this case, or Great Britain in another context, are paramount, he will recognise that there may be an advantage in having to seek a consensus, not necessarily through coalition but by other means, with other parties, in the policies pursued by the Government.
No one believes that any of these systems is perfect. I think that the additional member system is the best, but I am myself concerned about the position of additional members and whether they will be regarded as inferior or superior to ordinary members. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) said that some people believe that additional members would be thought superior and some thought that they would be considered inferior. In such circumstances the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle. It has been suggested that members elected by constituencies would be superior, while others say that it would be so glorious not to have a constituency that the additional members would be considered superior. We could go on arguing the point for a long time.
It is a positive advantage that each candidate would have to stand for election and not be chosen from a party list. The Blake Commission considered this matter and recommended the line contained in the amendment. If there is strong feeling that a party list would be preferable, we could reconsider the matter.
The main point is that the imperfections of the additional member system, and to a lesser extent the single transferable vote, are mere blemishes compared with the fatal flaw of the existing system, which threatens to destroy the structure which has been built up patiently over the centuries. The great danger of grafting on to the Scottish Assembly a system, which has no merit except that it is familiar to us, fills me with foreboding. My plea is that we should escape from the plurality system, which is not merely defective but could lead us to disaster.
In all my years in Parliament, I can remember no time when the unity of the country was more gravely threatened. Those of us who care deeply for that unity must do all we can, while we can, to preserve it. I am convinced that the House of Commons will be taking the first momentous step towards that end—which few want to see—if it rejects the amendment, which could do much to keep alive the continuing prospect of a united Kingdom.
I hope fervently that hon. Members who share my fears and agree with the need for change will feel strong enough to remain possibly until a late hour tonight or even tomorrow morning, to make a substantial dent in that massive force of Members which has been represented for most of the afternoon by a skeleton force but which will no doubt be duly shepherded into the "No" Lobby.
I was heartened to hear what was said by the right hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood). His speech was excellent, if only because it got away from the arith- metic and began to consider some of the more important political issues concerning not just devolution but this amendment.
I was struck most forcefully when my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) said that his amendment was about the essence of devolution. That immediately commended it to me, because I believe very strongly in the wisdom of the Government's devolution proposals for Scotland and Wales. An additional argument, which I had not previously thought of, was put forward by the right hon. Member for Bridlington, who said that this system would work towards preserving the unity of the United Kingdom—although I have no fears for the unity of the United Kingdom unless we fail to obtain a satisfactory measure of devolution. I am a keen believer in the unity of the United Kingdom, and I hope for a unity even greater than that which exists at present.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) was criticised by the right hon. Member for Bridlington for getting a little mixed up between the various systems of proportional representation. My hon. Friend tried to draw some arithmetical conclusion about what would have happened in Wales had there been an STV system of proportional representation in the last General Election. My hon. Friend was simply defining the laws of arithmetic. The effect of any particular type of proportional representation can be fairly accurately predicted. Although I would be the last to claim to be a great expert in these matters, at least I have sufficient nous to know that one and two make three, since some hon. Members have been talking about the one-two-three system.
The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) over-stated his case when he said that since 49 per cent. of the votes went to Labour, Labour would have had 49 per cent. of the seats. But we are striving to get a closer correspondence between the total number of votes cast and the number of seats gained by the various parties.
That may be so, but the point that the hon. Gentleman was making was that if Labour got 49 per cent, of the votes, it would get 49 per cent. of the seats. That may apply in one fortuitous set of circumstances, but it would not apply as a general principle. The hon. Gentleman was trying to put it forward as a principle.
If we look at the result of the last General Election we see that the parties are not represented in this House according to the proportion of votes cast for them. Plaid Cymru had half as many seats again as the Liberal Party, but the Liberal Party had half as many votes again as Plaid Cymru. That is a nonsense which results from the arithmetic of the present system. Therefore, it seems prima facie that a change is needed, and the question then arises when it should come about and where it should be applied.
I favour the single transferable vote system, but I believe that the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) made a big mistake when he tried to compare the various systems. The proposal before the House has one inestimable advantage, which was clearly explained by my hon. Friend, in that it is readily available to be put into effect by the spring of 1978 when these Assemblies come into being.
In a sense, that rules out all argument for the time being as being academic. We are after a practicable working proposition. To that extent, it would justify any hon. Members who believe in the principle of proportional representation supporting the amendment. These are arithmetical arguments. They are important—I should be the last to decry them—but there is a more important issue to which the right hon. Member for Bridlington devoted a great part of his speech. I should like to give my thoughts on that aspect, too.
I see an important trend in British political life. During the last century or so, we have been accustomed to what are called adversary politics. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare referred to Winston Churchill insisting that this Chamber should be rebuilt to its tradi- tional pattern with the Government on this side and the Opposition on the other. One of my criticisms of our proceedings is that they often seem to descend to Government Members getting up and saying "Yah" and Opposition Members getting up and saying "Boo". In many ways that is far too simplistic an approach to politics in a modern industrial State to appeal to the electorate who, on the whole, are intelligent. One reason for a growing disillusionment with political parties and the political processes as such in this country is the feeling held by many people that it is "Yah Boo" and no more than that.
Does my hon. Friend agree that in some Continental parliamentary chambers there is more "Yah Boo" within the semi-circle chamber where there is a multiciplicity of parties? Instead of the Government putting their view and the Opposition putting theirs, there are coalitions which are failing because they cannot carry their own party members when pursuing policies with which the coalition supposedly agree.
I apologise if I have given the impression that I am trying to draw some kind of casual connection between the geometry of this place and that type of politics. I want to develop my argument into something less simplistic. The arithmetic in trying to argue the results of proportional representation is essential, but I do not think that the shape of the Chamber determines the form of our politics. We started with adversary politics essentially because the Labour Party, I think rightly, saw gross injustices all around.
When I was a small boy, my father, who was a coal miner, was active in local politics. When he saw gross injustices all he had to do was to get on a soap box and shout "Down with the owners." That was a meaningful thing to do in the 1920s and 1930s. I am not sure that it would be meaningful today—of course, many of my colleagues might still be tempted—to get up on a soap box and shout "Down with the owners", because I should be shouting against myself. To the extent that this kind of simplistic black and white situation that everybody can appreciate has gradually gone away, adversary politics have become less meaningful than they were.
Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that adversary politics began long before the arrival of the Labour Party in this Chamber? It was fully established between the Whigs and the Tories by that time. On the matter of merit, does he not realise that what he is advocating—a series of constructive speeches—would kill democracy stone dead? Has he not realised that one's own constructive speeches are fascinating, though those of others are generally dull?
At present I am not advocating anything in that respect. I was merely making the point that we have had a tradition of what is now an outmoded kind of psychological basis for our politics. Many hon. Members may argue about this matter. I want to develop it a little. Unfortunately, because of the shortage of time I shall inevitably over-simplify the matter. I hope that the House will forgive me for not going into great detail on this very difficult subject.
I accept that adversary politics have existed for much longer than 50 years, or even 100 years. What has been happening because of the gross injustice, in particular since the war, is that we have been in a position of "us" and "them". That applies to our whole society. Some of us entered politics for that very reason. We want to do away with "us" and "them". We want to get rid of class, for example. That is my basic purpose in politics. Therefore, anything that still insists on an "us" or "them" approach is to me, prima facie, axiomatically unsound.
"Us" and "them" will exist for a long time. Conflict is of the nature of society. I quoted Aneurin Bevan during my last speech in this Chamber. He said that the only complete unanimity was the unanimity of the graveyard. I do not want to get into that position.
The "us" and "them" situation as it then was is not so apparent now to everyone. It would be a little silly of me simply to shout "down with the owners". The electorate would ask something a little more intelligent of me.
Nevertheless, in the political history of recent years one can see all kinds of things that have gone wrong and that one can trace basically to that almost subconscious assumption on the part of politicians and, therefore, on the part of Governments and Oppositions.
I take for example the kind of approach to fiscal policy. One of the great criticisms is that a Government go into office and start this or that policy, are in office for three, four or five years and then leave office, and the next lot go in and say "We are not having that", and they change it. That has gone on almost indefinitely on comparatively technical issues. I am not dealing with basic issues of political ideology. The Committee will forgive me because I am trying to cram into a small period of time my comments on a very difficult subject. I am taking a terrible risk of being misunderstood because of over-simplification.
All kinds of problems have arisen. I take for example a potted history of the Conservative Party over the last six or seven years. The Conservatives came to power in 1970, having adopted what we then called the Selsdon Park attitude which in my view was an extreme Right-wing attitude. It was a very poor attitude, but they adopted it. Fortunately for them, they got power. Why they got that power is a very interesting question, but I shall not go into that matter.
The realities of the situation and the responsibilities gradually educated the Conservatives, or at least those who were a little more intelligent than the others. They lost the Selsdon Park mentality and gradually adopted more realistic, intelligent and plausible policies. However, they lost the General Election in February 1974 and they are now going back to the old Selsdon Park extreme Right-wing attitude, which will do their party a great deal of harm. I sometimes think that one of our greatest political assets is the Leader of the Opposition, for that very reason.
It is in that sense that I am trying to make the case, on a United Kingdom scale, that adversary politics are not in 1977 the right kind of psychological basis for conducting our affairs.
I have read my hon. Friend's 8,000 elegantly argued words on this subject in "New Europe" and followed his argument closely, but how is it that he supposes we can do away with adversary politics in the context of proportional representation? Proportional representation has nothing to do with doing away with adversary politics. There are SNP Members on the other side of the Chamber who believe in a separate Scottish State but we believe in the unity of the United Kingdom. There is a built-in adversary situation. It is irrelevant who is right and who is wrong. Proportional representation will do nothing to mend the disagreement and the rift between us.
I was speaking on a United Kingdom scale. The situation has still to be considered on a United Kingdom basis. It is said that there should be a first past the post system if for no other reason than it would be such a major change to introduce another system that it would do more harm than good.
In this Bill we are concerned with Wales and Scotland. It is said that even if we had a first past the post system we could easily find ourselves in a situation—many of my hon. Friends and Conservative Members have used this as an argument against devolution—in which we had a Government in this place of one colour and an Executive in another place of another colour. That may be a bad thing or it may not, but if we had a proportional representation system working in Wales and Scotland the strongly held views that might well be held at that level—I am assuming that the sovereignty of Westminster, about which we have spoken a great deal, will still remain in Westminster to a certain extent and that there will be a more muted political situation in the Assembly as set against the overriding determinant of Westminster—would be more readily acceptable than a potentially extremist situation.
I am not advancing this argument merely to keep out the Scottish National Party. I am making a point of principle because our political situation has now reached a much more complex, sophisticated and intricate position than obtained 50 years or 60 years ago. Accordingly it seems that the political structure and the electoral structure that choose our Governments and politicians must also develop. Surely this is one of the main arguments for proportional representation.
The hon. Gentleman is defining some of the problems that we are facing, but is not the most formidable obstacle our disposition to hold the view that we have the finest constitution and that nothing we can do can improve it? I suggest that the major obstacle to any advance is the attitude that our constitution is almost perfect and does not need improvement.
I agree that most British people have a conservative attitude and that as a whole we are not very happy with change. However, we must accept the facts of life. We must accept that change is now a feature of our society and that we have to be radical, even to the extent of being radical root and branch.
The possibility of having an extremist party—I say that without meaning to be rude, meaning "extremist" in the sense of wanting complete separation—would be muted if we had a system of proportional representation. To that extent I think that most hon. Members should be prepared to support the amendment.
The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) made a courageous speech, and I agree with very much of it. But I do not entirely go along with the hon. Gentleman in what he said about adversary politics. I do not think that any form of PR will bring adversary politics to an end, although I think that in the multi-party circumstances of a Scottish or Welsh Assembly PR might help to reduce the sphere of conflict. I shall have more to say about that later.
There is a danger that our vote on Amendment No. 50 tonight will be interpreted, both inside and outside the House, as a desire to alter the system of voting in our parliamentary elections and as a sort of pointer to the way in which we might vote in years to come with regard to a European Assembly. If any such interpretation were placed on our vote tonight it would be unfortunate, because I see no reason why there should be only one system for every kind of Assembly and Parliament. I can well imagine one system being adopted for a regional Assembly while perhaps for a central body we might have another system.
The reality of our vote tonight, as I understand it, is whether we are for or against the additional member system of electing members to the proposed Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. That is what we shall be voting on.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) said, there is no perfect voting system. Every system has some disadvantages. For the two Assemblies in Scotland and Wales, however the worst system would be "the first-past-the-post" because that could create the worst distortions.
I hope I shall be forgiven if I again mention the Kilbrandon Commission, but I was the only hon. Member who signed the report and have something to answer for. We unanimously favoured the single transferable vote system. I favoured it because it seemed right for the type of Assembly that I wanted—a consultative and advisory Assembly in which members would not be laden with responsibility for particular constituencies. But as the Government are proposing to have an Assembly in which members will have personal responsibilities, there should therefore be single member constituencies, and the single transferable vote system would be quite unsuitable.
Having given a lot of thought to what might be the best kind of voting system for the two Assemblies, I find myself attracted to the additional member system.
It seems to me that, by first having single member constituencies, we retain one of the advantages of the first past the post system in that it gives personal responsibility to members for the affairs of their constituencies and makes sure that each constituency has a member to whom it can turn with regard to constituency problems. That is one advantage of what is proposed.
Contrary to what was said earlier, the second advantage is that the additional member system is very simple indeed. It is as simple as the first past the post system. All that the elector has to do is to put a cross against one of the names on the ballot paper for his constituency. Nothing could be more simple than that.
I have a slight doubt about the method in Amendment No. 50 for choosing the additional members. That will not stop me from voting for the amendment, but if this matter is to be considered further it is worth thinking in terms of turning those who have been elected by the first past the post system for the constituencies into electoral colleges for each party. The additional members would be chosen by electoral colleges on a party basis, and that would enable them to choose those who are considered to be the best men in their parties.
I know that there will be talk about the party machine. The party machine, for better or for worse, for Left or for Right, is always with us. It has some advantages in that it enables people's merits to be sorted out. Therefore, the suggestion should not be utterly disregarded.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend see any fatal objection to the system proposed by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), namely, that the person who polls the largest number of votes should be on the list? Surely the electorate should have a say.
No. I promised to speak for less than 10 minutes. I have been occupying the attention of the House of Commons rather too much lately.
I have no doubt about the value—indeed, the virtue—of having some additional members who can devote themselves to their Assembly duties free from the ever-growing demands of constituencies, demands which are always time-consuming and not always relevant to the problems of the day. The demands are sometimes of much triviality and sometimes the function of democratically elected members of local authorities is usurped. In any event, I hope that the Assembly members would try to "stick to their own last" and not have a roving commission among the local authorities.
I see the value of having additional members who are able to devote themselves in the way I mentioned. There is something to be said for additional members of any Parliament or Assembly, as the Germans have found.
No, I am sorry. I am about to conclude.
Any system of proportional representation in Scotland and Wales might lead to coalitions, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington said, that would be a positive advantage in the multi-party circumstances of Scotland and Wales. It would reduce the risk of party conflict between the Executives in those two countries and central Government at Westminster—which will, of course, be party Government. If there were coalitions in Edinburgh and Cardiff, there would be much less party conflict and less risk of the breaking up of the United Kingdom which is feared by opponents of devolution.
For these reasons I shall vote for Amendment No. 50, but I stress that I shall do so in the context only of the Bill as it affects the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies.
I shall not comment on the speech by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) other than to disagree fundamentally with his idea about the nomination of members from the party list. That is just what we are trying to avoid in the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. We have already far too many nominated people in Wales.
The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) referred to the sovereignty of Parliament. My colleagues and I believe that sovereignty lies with the people. That is why we think that when the majority of the people of Wales wish to make a certain change in the constitution or to go all the way to self-government with Plaid Cymru, they have every right to do so. Many hon. Members recognise that, although they may not be willing to admit it.
The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans)—and the hon. Member for Wrexham mentioned this also—was somewhat confused and appeared not to know the difference between the single transferable vote system and the alternative vote. STV would not give the Labour Party more seats in Wales, but the alternative vote might.
I point out to the hon. Member for Aberdare that the Plaid Cymru constituency party in Aberdare has not thrown out its prospective candidate, neither has the party nationally. This contrasts with what is going on in London, where Labour Members are being thrown out of constituencies they have represented for many years by their constituency parties.
I said what I did as an aside, but I should like to take up what the hon. Gentleman has said. The candidate who fought the election in 1974 was employed by Plaid Cymru when he was a candidate. He was dismissed from his job by the party and there was an attempt by other members of the party in the constituency to have him suspended from the party. That is a fact.
The person in question left his job, but it is inaccurate to say that he was thrown out of the party.
I come to matters that I believe to be more pertinent, beginning with the hon. Gentleman's comments on the unfairness to certain candidates not elected, when the top-up system is used. That system is much fairer to the electorate, and fairness to the electorate is much more important than fairness to defeated candidates.
I regret that Amendment No. 59 in my name and those of my hon. Friends was not chosen first in this grouping, because it is a general amendment opening up the whole question of proportional representation. The amendment on which we shall vote first narrows the question down somewhat. But although I have certain reservations about the scheme outlined by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) it is by and large preferable to the first past the post system to which we are accustomed here.
The fundamental consideration should be fair play. We have in Wales a word for it—"chwarae teg"—and we believe this fair play is very important. It should be clear to all hon. Members that the present system does not provide fair play, as is most obviously seen in the fact that the Liberal Party has so few representatives here after securing a fairly substantial vote at the last General Election, and in the position of the SNP. I am not grinding a party axe, because the system would not give us in Plaid Cymru all that many more seats—probably four here instead of three—but undoubtedly there are groups which are unfairly treated by the present system.
I am certain that if Westminster were being redesigned we would not adopt the first past the post system. When we have a chance to establish a new and fair system with the Assemblies, I cannot see how we can justify continuing the inequities of the present system. If we believe in representative government and draw constituencies of roughly equal sizes, the idea must be that there is some correlation between the number of electors and their representatives, some proportionality. That is what the amendment seeks.
The Government's credibility and mandate may be disputed when they visibly represent a small minority. It is in the interests of good government that the electorate should know that there is a proportionate basis at General Elections.
Proportional representation was the only unanimous recommendation of the Kilbrandon Commission. In Wales the one fear expressed in many places is of one-party rule in the Assembly. We have had experience of the uncertainty of the past. The PR system avoids some of the detrimental policy somersaults that we have seen over the past two or three decades in the United Kingdom. For instance, the steel industry has been nationalised, denationalised and renationalised. I am not saying which course is right, but going backwards and forwards is certainly not the best thing. The same applies to the chopping and changing over investment grants: continuity is needed for better government.
The hon. Gentleman referred to what he sees as the one fear in Wales. Is it not a greater fear among some people that the Assembly might take a decision which by its nature would be irrevocable—namely, to separate itself from the rest of the United Kingdom? Would he accept that that is the greatest fear for many people?
The point is that from General Election to General Election different Governments would be formed. There would be alternatives and moves from one system to another over a period of years. We have seen that in Northern Ireland. I do not want to follow that road too far, but we have seen a model of government come and go in Northern Ireland. What is important is the wishes of the people. That is why I underline my support for PR, because that is the system which most fairly represents the wishes of the people.
The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) described PR as a damper on radicalism, Socialism and change. Surely the point is that he must persuade more people to call for that change and win their hearts by his arguments in order to get an overall majority for his view in a proportionally representative Parliament.
In Wales, for the last two generations, one party has had virtually absolute power in some areas. In those areas people think that the tendencies normally associated with absolute power have grown up. This is not good for democracy. It is beneficial—particularly for Wales—to have strong opposition. In the Assembly the danger is that there will not be a strong opposition without this sort of system.
In the last General Election Labour had 49 per cent. of the votes and 63 per cent. of the seats—23 out of 36. Labour would dominate an Assembly elected on the present basis. If the sort of system advocated here were adopted, Labour would have exactly half the seats—in other words, there would be a brake. The one thing that people in all parts of Wales want to avoid is the one-party domination that we have experienced in some of the valleys of Glamorgan and Gwent. We have no party axe to grind because in the Assembly elections, as in the Westminster elections, we would not greatly benefit from the proposed system.
The model of PR that we want should be one that allows a relationship between the member and his constituency. For that reason, I would reject the full list system of the sort which may be operated in Israel. It is important to minimise the degree of multi-membership in a constituency.
For example, if three or four members represented one area, I can imagine the problems in a constituency like mine. People bring problems to my surgeries, I write to the local council and get an answer which might be occasionally unsatisfactory to the constituent. He therefore goes to the next member, who does the same thing. The poor local councillor may have to write three or four times on the same problem. So the multimember system has problems in that direction.
It will also mean that Assemblymen would be less representative of all the people. People would tend to go to the member of their own party. There might therefore be a polarisation, with certain parts of a socio-economic group going to one member or another, leaving some members ignorant to some degree of feeling among a particular section of the electorate.
Yes, I accept that. That is one of the weaknesses of the topping-up system, but on balance it has advantages. However, it presupposes that the topped-up members keep in contact with constituencies. Presumably, if they are going to fight elections next time and stay in, they will need to keep contact with a certain constituency so as to be elected, either directly or through the topping-up process.
The third reason for objecting to the multi-member system is that in the rural parts of Wales if constituencies were to be large enough to allow this, their size would make them impracticable. One could not imagine the whole of central Wales as one constituency: it is just not on. We already have enough difficulties in rural seats in keeping in touch with villages. In my constituency I have 92 centres of population. I hate to imagine the situation under multi-member seats.
Under a PR system we would also ideally look for a built-in element of alternative votes. We should be looking for a figure of 51 per cent. for the directly-elected members in addition to whom there would be the topping-up members. This is not contained in the model, but I should like to see that happen and instituted by the Welsh Assembly after the first election. Only a topping-up in that way would provide for true proportionality.
The amendment goes a long way towards that objective and the system can be adapted after the first election to meet other shortcomings. In Wales under the existing boundaries we feel that the proposed system is the best available. However, we feel that a figure of 50 members is too small to man the committee system proposed in the Bill. Our Amendments (a) and (b) provide for the 50 figure to be made up to 60 members.
This is relevant on the question of power-sharing in committees in the Assembly. There must be a base from which to draw members on to committees that is fairly representative of the country as a whole. Therefore, we need more like 75 or 80 members. But with only 36 constituencies—unless the boundaries are drawn differently—it means on the topping-up basis that there will be 36 members directly elected and 24 topping-up members. What we should like to see after the first election is 55 single member seats in Wales with 20 topped-up members in order to give a fair balance.
A number of objections have been advanced to these proposals and I shall seek to answer them. The status quo has been argued because of the vested power bases. People who have power under the present system want to retain it. That is a grossly reactionary attitude and I ask people to think again. I believe that under the PR system we can bring people together, even though they may be from different parties, to obtain solutions to our social problems.
It has been said that Assemblymen in government without a constituency basis would be put at a disadvantage and would not have first-hand experience. But in reality that is what happens now. We have members in the Government who are in the other place. Indeed, my predecessor in my constituency is now in the other place in the Government. Therefore, what is being suggested in the amendment will have its merits in parliamentary terms.
Some people object to the topping-up system because they believe that un-elected members will interfere with the elected members. But I suggest that the present model contains such a danger in respect of the two or three-member constituencies. Therefore, if the amendment were accepted, that danger would be lessened.
Another objection to the topping-up system is that members will not keep their constituency interests. But that problem would be overcome if members were required to live in various constituencies or if members were adopted as candidates for the subsequent election by constituencies. Assemblymen elected with only 35 per cent. of the vote in a constituency would have fewer votes possibly than people who come in under the topping-up system. I believe that the Labour candidate for Carmarthen at the last election would come up with a greater proportion of the vote than certain other members elected directly. Therefore, that would not necessarily be a problem.
The hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) said that this proposal was too complicated for the electorate to understand. We cannot accept that. Why should we suggest that the electorates of Wales and Scotland are less intelligent than are electorates in Germany and other countries?
The point was made that members elected under this system would not be answerable to anybody. However, once elections have taken place for seats in this Chamber, I suggest that until the next election some hon. Members are more answerable to their party Whips under the present sysem than they are to their constituents.
Another point advanced against these proposals was that the geographical distribution was unfair. But it would vary from election to election. There would not be any built-in unfairness. There are benefits that are apparent. Some Mem- bers of Parliament would be free from constituency duties to take on more general work in the Assembly or to take on roving commissions in the local councils and other authorities. The topping-up system avoids selection by the party machines, makes for a genuine representative Government and leads to genuine power-sharing in an Assembly.
An opinion poll was conducted in Wales before Christmas on the question of the proportional representation system. In that poll 58 per cent. of the respondents wanted PR and only 18 per cent. did not. A total of 61 per cent. of Labour voters wanted PR. That is something of which the Government should take great notice. To deny PR in this case is to knock down any arguments for changing the number of representatives of Wales and Northern Ireland in this Chamber. If the Government deny the proportionality of the number of electors to the number of members in this Chamber, they deny the logic of the argument which has been put forward from Northern Ireland for more than 12 representatives.
Does the hon. Member realise that when we talk about PR we talk about unfairness between parties? When we talk about it in relation to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, we talk about the relationship to the electorate in whole countries, which is quite a different matter from the idea of unfairness between political parties.
The hon. Member talks about these roving Assemblymen and councillors. Some of us might think that they would be breathing down the necks of councillors and driving them to absolute distraction. Have I got it wrong?
May I put the hon. Member's mind at rest, in case he still suffers from a bad conscience at the over-representation of Wales and the under-representation of Northern Ireland, by telling him that the results would be exactly the same as far as the number of seats was concerned under a PR system as under the first past the post system?
I do not dispute that. That was not the argument I was making, and I see that the right hon. Member acknowledges the fact.
To summarise—different people vote for different parties for different reasons. We see different attitudes in different areas. Labour Party members in Scotland want PR there to stop the Scottish National Party. Conservatives in Wales want PR there to stop the Labour Party. Liberals everywhere want PR to advance their own cause. It strikes me that the nationalists are the only people who advance PR simply because they think it is a good thing and they want to see fair play.
I urge the House to support Amendments (a) and (b) to Amendment No. 50. and if Amendment No. 50 fails, I shall request a separate vote on Amendment No. 59. If both amendments fail, when the referendum takes place I shall urge the Government to add another question to it. They should ask the people in Wales and Scotland whether they want elections thereafter by the PR system.
I think that the shameless nature of the conclusion of the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) was unfortunate when set against his disarming frankness in the earlier part of his argument. I have never heard in a single paragraph the case against PR put better by an advocate of PR.
The hon. Member said that he did not want to see the Israeli solution imposed on Wales, yet this is perfect proportional representation—the whole country is a constituency and those who represent it are a perfect microcosm of the nation. However, as the hon. Member pointed out, it leaves the country without a link between the member and the constituent in a single constituency. He said that he was in favour of that link in some form but he admitted that in the topping-up procedures envisaged in Amendment No. 50 that link between the individual member and the individual constituent is profoundly threatened, as it is in any topping-up procedures under the various STV systems.
For that reason, I cannot take too seriously the hon. Member's fervent advocacy of proportional representation in theory and his claim at the end of his speech that he and he alone advocates it from a position of principle. There are those in the Liberal Party who, as the iron has entered into their souls over the years with their exclusion from power, have come to believe, or have persuaded themselves to believe, that they are in favour of proportional representation out of pure principle. Perhaps that is the position of the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston).
In this debate I speak as a fervent English supporter of devolution, unlike many of my hon. Friends who are opposed to proportional representation. I am opposed to PR for two reasons. First, it will not advance the cause of democracy in the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom it will be introduced for the United Kingdom Parliament as well as for the two Assemblies and as well as for election to the European Parliament.
The right hon. Member says that that is all the better for his purposes, but he must listen to mine. For the United Kingdom Parliament, PR would be a retrograde step. I hope to show that it would not solve but might exacerbate the problems of Scotland and Wales. I say that with some knowledge, after much study and with greater humility because we have all made mistakes over Northern Ireland with PR. When we have used this device in the past we have not always been over-successful with it. There are those who tell us that we must have PR because—and this is always the argument out of the back of the hand, not the argument of grand principle which is advanced in the Chamber—somehow we can stymie the SNP advance. That is absolutely wrong.
In the case of Northern Ireland, I regret to say that I believe we were wrong to think that the introduction of fancy franchises into the Province would do anything to break the Orange solidarity, which is the fundamental fact about Protestant nationalism, which many of us on the Labour side have failed for a long time properly to understand. I have to say that because it is essential to my case that the arguments advanced for PR elsewhere in the United Kingdom are properly understood.
If the Scots are to assert for themselves a separate identity of a separate national State, and if in that Scottish national context they are to assert it in the sense of separatism and of taking power for themselves, ultimately the United Kingdom Parliament cannot stop them. English Members of Parliament cannot stop them. Charles Stewart Parnell was entirely right when he said
No man has a right to fix the boundary of the march of a nation.
We must meet the SNP and Plaid Cymru on their own ground, and we must carry the argument to them in Wales and Scotland. That is the argument for a United Kingdom. I support the Union strongly, not for its advantages, notional as they may be, to the people of England, some of whose people, I must warn hon. Members from the Celtic fringe, are getting heartily sick of some of these arguments. There is the grave danger of an English backlash from 85 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom. That is not something to be laughed at.
We believe that if we meet the arguments about the Union on the ground of the Scots and the Welsh, and take nationalism in that sense entirely on its own ground and its own case, we can defeat them. But to cobble up some franchise of this kind, to tinker with the vote and to believe that we can beat those arguments in that way is mistaken and wrong.
There are two points that will tackle this problem in the United Kingdom. I shall examine why proportional representation will not tackle the problem. We are now told that proportional representation may control the emergence of a new party in Scotland. We have been told in the past by advocates of proportional representation that it is a necessary crutch that will allow a party which has been unable to attain a major party status for the past half century to limp along. The arguments are not contradic- tory, though they are sometimes contradictorily advanced.
The system that we are being asked to accept will inevitably, if granted by Parliament today for Scotland and Wales, be advanced tomorrow on the grounds of precedent for the United Kingdom Parliament. I am opposed both to the system of the single transferrable vote and to the topping-up system proposed in the amendment. I am opposed to STV because it will lead to a plurality of parties and an extension of bargaining and jobbery after elections rather than before them. That is not an advance for democracy.
The argument that is often advanced by the Liberal Party refers to the number of votes that the party had in 1974. But it is not the sole or prime function of the United Kingdom Parliament to represent a microcosm of the nation. Many hon. Members who say that nevertheless come to me saying that they have stood out against their constituents in supporting policies that would be opposed by 60 per cent. or even 80 per cent. of voters.
I shall come later to why the system has been successful in Germany and whether that success is due to proportional representation. In general, proportional representation has led to a plurality of parties because it is easier for that to happen in a PR system. We have the great advantage in this country that large parties are in themselves coalitions and they are seen to be so by the electorate. With STV or other proportional representation systems, where there are hemi-cyclical politics, the parties splinter and fragment. This has happened in Holland, Italy and many other countries. I accept that it has not happened in Austria and in one or two other countries.
I shall not go into the question whether there is jobbery in the Irish Republic. Circumstances there are due to the history of the Republic and the nature of the two political parties, frozen as they are in the disputes of the civil war—treaty and anti-treaty parties. That is a major factor in the politics of the Republic. That is why that country has so few parties, and why a Socialist Party has failed to emerge as one has in the United Kingdom. The Netherlands and Italy do not have perfect proportional representation but they have a form of PR. Reformers in those countries wish to move to a system that has the historical stability that this Parliament has enjoyed. With the exception of one or two instances, there have been stable Governments of one form or another in the United Kingdom.
I should like to explore my hon. Friend's mind on this subject. Like him I am not enamoured of the amendment, but I would like to know what he thinks about this possibility: if both Assemblies were created and if one or the other Assembly subsequently decided that it wanted to introduce a form of PR, would my hon. Friend be in favour of, for example, the Scottish Assembly having the power to do that?
That is a difficult question, because we cannot foresee the circumstances in which it might arise or how the Assemblies would exert the powers they are given or the powers they take—and I am sure that the powers that they are given will not be those they will ultimately wield. We cannot go into hypothetical questions about what might happen.
The topping-up system is absurd. It purports to preserve and maintain what is generally accepted to be one of the strong points of our system, apart from stable government—the link between a member and his constituency. The argument is that we shall continue to have single member constituencies but that in addition—through what is appropriately known as the "Droop Quota"—we shall have a number of selected people who will be sent to the Assembly. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) suggested that such members would not have the right of access to Ministers or be able to trespass on the prerogative of elected members who were returned on the first past the post system. But who on earth will stop them?
If such a member has been sent to an Assembly, having just failed to be elected on the first past the post system and he believes that he has a mandate and wishes to establish himself as a concerned and caring member so that he may be elected under the first past the post system at the next election, he will seek to build a reputation as a local ombudsman, as will other members.
It is bunkum for my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian to suggest that the additional members will not have access to Ministers, be able to ask questions or seek satisfaction for people in their areas. Of course they will be able to do that, and they will have every right to do so.
Let us consider some of the problems of our society which this tinkering with the franchise is supposed to solve. We are told that coalition of the kind advocated by some hon. Members has brought great benefit to West Germany and that there has not been a pluralising of the parties there. In fact economic success, the federal system, with which I am rather impressed, and the fear of extremism—remembering how a Nazi Party came to power under the perfect democratic constitution of the Weimar Republic—have combined to give West Germany its stability. It is accidental that the arrangements between the Social Democratic Party and the Free Democrats—who have been preserved in aspic by their system because they are the perpetual bridesmaids of the coalition system—have made one of the least relevant elements in West Germany's success.
That success cannot be adduced in favour of proportional representation or coalition any more than I could claim that the enormous problems of Italy—with 35 Governments since the war and utter chaos at times—is a crunch argument against coalition or proportional voting.
I do not believe that proportional representation has helped when we have had it in the United Kingdom. I said earlier that it may have exacerbated problems in Northern Ireland, and hon. Members should consider that argument carefully and look at the two periods when it has been in operation in the Province.
There is no evidence that it did anything on the first occasion between the Government of Ireland Act and 1929 to eliminate the problems of mutual suspicion between the majority and minority communities, and I deeply regret that there is little evidence that it has done so in the five years since the ending of Stormont.
Before voting on the amendment, hon. Members should look at how we can grasp the essential problem of democracy. The essential problem of democracy is how to face up to hard choices. The hon. Member for Caernarvon said how terrible it was that we should oscillate between parties which believed in nationalising the steel industry and those which did not. But what does he believe in? He should believe in one or the other. If we have a belief, we have to take sides in the argument. I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis), if he were still in the Chamber, that this is what adversary politics is about. Adversary politics is now a pejorative phrase, but it has made the House of Commons what it is over the last 200 to 300 years. The odd lapses of the last few years, which must be set against the background of relative economic decline over the past 50 years, should not be ascribed to the failure of democracy. We have often failed to grasp the hard choices of politics in the way we should have done. I believe that those would go if we had a system of coalition set in perpetuity over us by proportional representation where changes of Government were no longer followed or immediately validated by General Elections. It is the right of recall there, if the policies of the Government change, which I want for all the electorate and not merely for those who support the Labour Party.
I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead). He was correct when he argued that it was totally improper to try to deny the rights of the Scottish people if ultimately they should seek independence. However, he missed the point of the argument of those who support the amendment.
If we had a situation where 50 per cent. of the Scottish electorate came to a settled conviction that independence was in their interests, it would make no difference what electoral system applied in the Assembly or elsewhere which would enable that objective to be attained. That was the flaw in the hon. Gentleman's argument about Northern Ireland. If proportional representation failed in Northern Ireland, it was not because of the failure of proportional representation as such but because its proponents in that context failed to realise that the supporters of the Ulster Unionist parties constituted an overall majority of the Northern Irish electorate. In a situation of that kind it does not matter what electoral system is applied.
The question is not whether proportional representation will dish the wishes of the majority of the electorate. It is whether it can help ensure that in a major constitutional problem the proposals and policies desired by only a small minority of the electorate are allowed to overcome the wishes of the majority in that part of the United Kingdom.
When ultimately we come to vote on this amendment, I hope that we shall decide the matter not on the basis of some hon. Members who wish to see proportional representation at Westminster and who, therefore, will vote for the amendment to encourage that objective, nor of those hon. Members who will oppose it because they fear that it will lead to proportional representation at Westminster. Whatever our views may be, surely it is sufficiently important to judge the amendment on its merits as it will affect the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. If hon. Members believe that it will harm the workings of government in Scotland and Wales, let them oppose the amendment. If they believe that it will help it, let them support it, irrespective of their views on a proper electoral system for Westminster.
In supporting proportional representation, I look solely at the situation in Scotland. That is the part of the country for which the Scottish Assembly will be responsible, and it is only the circumstances of Scotland which are relevant to this argument.
There are three factors which the Committee should take into account. The first is that in Scotland we do not have a two-party or even a three-party system. At the moment we have five political parties represented in this House, and it is very likely that for the foreseeable future at least four of them will command the support of a substantial proportion of the electorate and that three of them will command the support of a very large proportion of it. This is a major factor which the Committee cannot ignore.
But there is an additional point which is often overlooked and in this respect Scotland is different from the rest of the United Kingdom. Even before the rise of the Scottish National Party, no political party in Scotland traditionally was able to point to the support of even half the Scottish electorate at any General Election.
This is not simply a recent development since the rise of the SNP. The Labour Party—the so-called traditional majority party of Scotland in the eyes of many of the public as well as in those of Government supporters—has never in its history got the support of 50 per cent. of the Scottish electorate. The nationalists have never approached it. The only party to do it since the First World War was my own party in 1955. The Scottish Tory Party then managed to achieve 51 per cent. of the Scottish vote. In this context, Scotland is different from the rest of the United Kingdom.
On a number of occasions the Conservative Party has achieved a majority of support in England. In Wales the Labour Party traditionally achieves more than 50 per cent. of the vote. In Northern Ireland the Unionists have traditionally been able to command and speak for the majority of the electorate there. But at no time throughout this century has any political party been able to claim to speak for the majority of people in Scotland. If the situation is even more exacerbated in recent years because of the rise of the Scottish National Party, that is a further argument demonstrating what is already a historical and political fact.
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) made great play of the argument that the real political basis of those who support proportional representation for the Scottish Assembly is an attempt to dish the nationalists and prevent them from achieving the fruits of their political growth. That is an important argument which must be considered.
I believe that there is a fundamental difference between a political system which leads to unfairness, on the one hand, and a political system which leads not merely to unfairness, but to the probability of a grave constitutional crisis, on the other hand. It has been pointed out to the Committee that, according to the opinion polls, opinion in Scotland is split fairly evenly among the Conservative, Labour and Scottish National Parties and that any one of those three parties could become the majority party in the Assembly at the first Assembly elections.
Clearly, if the majority party were the Conservative or Labour Party, there would be a great feeling of unfairness and resentment among the other political parties, just as at the moment in the United Kingdom as a whole there is resentment because the Labour Government have only 39 per cent. of the electorate behind them. I should argue that the system and the situation would present an even more grave development if by chance, by luck, or by the arbitrary distribution of votes the party in control of the Assembly were the Scottish National Party or any other party which sought a major constitutional change in the arrangements within the United Kingdom.
Will the hon. Gentleman satisfy my curiosity? Would he rather have a coalition, because a coalition it would have to be, with my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) and others with whom he has differences on the running of the economy than with Members of the Scottish National Party who believe that there should be a separate Scottish State? Which coalition would the hon. Gentleman choose?
If the main issue were to be determined by the population of the United Kingdom, I should even be prepared to join a coalition with the hon. Member for West Lothian. It would be a matter to be determined according to the issues before the electorate at the time.
The hon. Gentleman is surely as good a democrat as anyone. The question whether coalitions would be necessary would be determined by the electorate. If the electors wish to give majority support to one political party, they will do so. There would then be no need, irrespective of the electoral system, to contemplate coalitions or any other joining together of political parties. However, if the electors by their votes in a democratic society decided, freely and properly, to distribute their support evenly among three political parties, is the hon. Gentleman, as a convinced democrat, saying that the wishes of the other two-thirds of the electorate should be disregarded and that a minority Government should be imposed upon the population as a whole? If he reflects no that, I do not believe that is the kind of system that he would wish to justify either to his constituents or to the electorate as a whole.
I return to the point that I was making when the hon. Member for West Lothian intervened. If there is Labour or Conservative domination of the Assembly, that will result in a great feeling of unfairness among the rest of the political parties and among those who did not vote for the party that came into power. If it were the Scottish National Party, a grave constitutional crisis would develop from not merely a minority controlling the Assembly, but a minority that would use its position to disrupt the constitutional framework of the United Kingdom.
I should like to give a parallel from the House of Commons. For example, we have many grave differences between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, but as yet there is no difference on a fundamental constitutional issue. If, however, the Labour Party were to adopt for its next General Election manifesto a decision to abolish the Monarchy, and if the party got 39 per cent. of the support of the electorate and it were nevertheless to form a Government here and use its majority to force through legislation to achieve such effect, and if the other place did not exist—as it will not exist so far as the Scottish Assembly is concerned— we would have the domination of not merely a minority but a minority in a unicameral legislative system seeking to impose a grave constitutional change without the support of either the majority of the electorate or the majority of those concerned.
As yet it does not include such a recommendation in its official policy.
I freely accept that major differences exist betwen the two sides of Parliament. I have been confining myself to the constitutional future of the United Kingdom. I was merely illustrating that if there were to be a major conflict and if a minority party sought to impose its view irrespective of its minority support among the electorate, that could lead to a grave crisis which would have disastrous consequences for the nation. In a purely Scottish context, if under the present system we had a nationalist party with only 36 per cent. of the vote seeking to use that minority support to break up the United Kingdom, that is the sort of constitutional crisis that would develop.
This is not hypothetical. We can look at Quebec and the grave constitutional crisis that Canada faces because a minority party controls the Quebec Assembly. It has been pointed out already that this is a minority party, but it was not said how it had come to control the Assembly. Although its share of the vote rose from 30 per cent. to only 41 per cent. at the recent election, its share of scats rose from six to 65—a ridiculous explosion of representation as a result of a relatively modest improvement of its support among the electorate.
Surely the hon. Gentleman cannot, on the one hand, say that it is right for the Scottish people to demand the right to develop their own political system and, on the other hand, criticise a party in Canada for using the existing electoral system there in order to develop its programme to change the political system.
I am not for a moment criticising that party. It is perfectly entitled to use the system that existed in Canada and Quebec when it fought the election. However, given that we are in the process of legislating for a new Assembly and that we have it within our power to determine the most sensible electoral system for that Assembly, and given what has happened in Quebec on the first past the post system and that a grave constitutional crisis has developed as a result, it would be sensible for the Committee to take all this into account in determining the appropriate system for the Assembly.
I should like to return to the basic argument that the hon. Gentleman was putting forward before he became side-tracked. That was on the question of the position that would arise if a minority Scottish nationalist vote led to a minority vote but the major party position in the 71 seats. What the hon. Gentleman says would be true if all the SNP were madmen, but there are certain sane elements, for example, Professor MacCormick, who sees the point clearly and understands that the SNP is a party concerned basically with constitutional change, and therefore argues that it would attempt to secure, by one means or another, presumably a plebiscite or a referendum, a majority of the votes in Scotland before it considered that it had a mandate for independence. I do not doubt that what the hon. Gentleman says is right. I am simply concerned—