HC Deb 07 April 1914 vol 60 cc1897-944

I beg to move, "That, in the opinion of this House, the system of the alternative vote in Parliamentary Elections is urgently needed in order to do away with the admitted anomalies of minority representation."

The Motion I have placed on the Paper I am now moving in the hope of eliciting from the House of Commons an expression of approval for a certain reform of our electoral system, known as the Alternative Vote. I do not think that anybody in this House believes that our present system is really satisfactory. But before attempting to commend any reform of it to the House, I think I should say a few words about the unsatisfactory nature of the evils of which we complain, and of the particular remedy it is proposed to apply. Most of us have had some experience—sometimes through our fault—of what are roughly known as three-cornered fights, and I think very few of us, to whatever party in this House we belong, think that they have really satisfactory results. I do not say that in any party spirit whatever. I do not want to make any party points; in fact, I specially wish to avoid doing anything of the kind, because I am going to try and show that our present system is really unsatisfactory to all parties, and I would like if I can to enlist the sympathy and support of all parties in endeavouring to remedy it. Of course, it is perfectly true that if we look at the present situation only, the Liberal party is one which just now suffers most and is hardest hit. I am perfectly willing to make a present of that to hon. Members opposite. But if they think that that is a very good reason for stereotyping our present system, I beg of them to take rather longer views. I think that would be taking an extremely short view.

It is within the political memory of most of us that the Conservative party itself was acutely divided on the fiscal question, and that we had Unionist Free Traders and Unionist Tariff Reformers fighting one another, and standing for the same single-Member constituencies. Only a short time before that the Liberal party was split from top to bottom upon the subject of the South African war; and I think he would be a very bold man who would prophesy that perfect unity was likely to reign for ever within the ranks of either of the great historic parties. Therefore, I submit that if hon. Gentlemen opposite take the view that they would retain the system because it is detrimental to the Liberal party, they would be taking a very short view. It occasionally happens that in a three-cornered contest, under present circumstances, one or other of the candidates gets the majority of the votes cast. In that case, of course, all those evils which we associate with the system do not arise. But that is not a very common circumstance. As a general rule, no candidate in a three-cornered contest gets an absolute majority, and it is then we say that an unsatisfactory state of things comes into existence. If the Liberal wins, the Conservative Press at once urges, with a great deal of force, that there was an anti-Government majority. If the Conservative wins, the Liberal Press urges, with no less force, that the majority have voted in favour of all the items on the Government programme. If a Labour representative wins, both Liberals and Conservatives say that an anti-social majority has been recorded by the constituency. Therefore, I suggest that our present system is not really satisfactory to anybody.

Having described the evils of the present system, let me say a very few words about the remedies we propose. We are not trying an absolutely new-fangled experiment which has never been put into practical operation anywhere. The system which I am commending to the House has been now for some years in actual operation in two Australian Colonies—Queensland and Western Australia—and from all accounts we hear that the Alternative Vote is working very fairly, smoothly, and well. The Report of the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the electoral system, after stating objections to the system, goes on to say:— We have set out these objections in full, if not at undue length, because it is desirable that no more should be expected from the system than it is able to give, but, when all due weight has been given to them, the Alternative vote remains the best method of removing the most serious defect which a single-Member system can possess—the return of minority candidates. and accordingly, we recommend its adoption in single-Member constituencies. Let me explain the Alternative Vote. We may suppose that the elector is invited to indicate his preference by putting a single cross to the name of his candidate. He indicates his preference by means of a cross or figure 1 against the name of the candidate whom he wishes to see returned, or least wishes to see kept out, whichever way one likes to put it. And then, if he so desires, he can express what is called a special preference by putting against the name of the candidate he thinks next best to be returned, the figure 2, and against the name of the third candidate the figure 3, and so on. Let me explain for a moment how it works out. When an election takes place, the candidate who has received the least number of what we may call the first choice, as expressed by a cross or a figure, is eliminated; he is treated as a defeated candidate. His ballot papers are then examined to see what preferences are given by the electors who voted for him as regards the other candidates, and those ballot papers are then divided among the remaining two candidates until one or the other gets an absolute majority of the votes cast. This is rather a difficult matter to explain lucidly in a few words, and perhaps I may make it a little clearer by giving an imaginary illustration. Let me suppose that three candidates are standing for a single-Member constituency, and be it remembered that the Royal Commission did not recommend the application of the alternative vote except in single-Member constituencies, and the Bill which my hon. Friend the Member for South Islington had in charge this year and last year expressly provides that it should not be applied to any except single-Member constituencies.

We have three candidates for a single-Member constituency, A, B, and C. It is found on examining the ballot papers that on the first preference expressed A has received 4,000, B 3,500, and C 3,000. It is clear that 10,500 votes have been cast, and that, therefore, the highest number polled, which is 4,000, is not an absolute majority of the constituency. As C has received fewest votes, he is therefore eliminated and treated as the defeated candidate. All his papers are examined to see what second preferences have been indicated. These second preferences are examined, and it is found that 2,000 second preferences have been given to B, and 1,000 second preferences to A. A has now 4,000, his original number, plus 1,000, making 5,000. B has 3,500 first preferences, plus 2,000 of C's second preferences, making 5,500. Therefore, B has an absolute majority of the 10,500 votes cast, and is therefore elected. It will be seen at once that this has the same effect as the system of second ballot as practised in France and Germany, and in most other countries where the single-Member constituency is adopted. Suppose that the second ballot had been applied to this election C would be eliminated in exactly the same way because he would have got the fewest votes in the first instance. An election would have taken place a week after the original elections, and all such voters as originally had given votes to C would be invited to make a preference between A and B. By the system which I am attempting to describe they exercise the preference at the same time as they cast the original vote. I think we shall all agree that if we have got to make a choice between the second ballot and the alternative vote, that the alternative vote gives a very much better result. I think most of us have had experience of the lassitude and weariness and fatigue which comes over a candidate towards the end of a long and hotly contested election. I think very few of us would contemplate the prospects without a shudder if we were told that no definite result had actually been arrived at, and that we were to return to another week of oratory and canvassing, and the prospect of making the same point and answering the same questions for the fifth, fiftieth, and five-hundredth time, which is a distinguishing feature of so much of our electoral life.

The Resolution which I am moving speaks of the evils, admitted evils, of minority representation, and by that I mean not that I think minorities should have no representation at all, but that they should not have, as they have in certain instances in single-Member constituencies, monopolised representation. It has been pointed out to me that the phrase I have used is rather ambiguous, because the expression, "minority representation" has really got a special meaning of its own. The system of proportional representation exists for the purpose of giving to minorities—not, indeed, a monopolised representation, but precisely the representation to which they are entitled by their numbers. Let me say at once, here and now, that the system which I am attempting to advocate is in no way inconsistent with or antagonistic to the system of proportional representation. There is one great and essential difference between these systems, and that is that the alternative vote is a system which can only be properly applied to single-Member constituencies. The feature of proportional representation, the essential feature, is that it is a root-and-branch attack on the whole system of single-Member constituencies, and you cannot work it unless you sweep away single-Member constituencies, and adopt a system of large, multiple constituencies which return six or eight or even ten Members.

Therefore I would like to point out that there is no quarrel whatever between the alternative vote and proportional representation. The alternative vote is an attempt to mitigate the evils of the present system, while proportional representation would be the substitution of an entirely new system, starting on an entirely different plane. There is, I think, this to be said. It is true that the alternative vote, if it were adopted, might, to a certain extent, lead to proportional representation, because it would make the voter accustomed to mark a paper one, two, or three, as he would have to do in proportional representation, instead of with a simple cross. Some people have told us that it would be extraordinarily difficult to educate the voter up to this method and to make him understand it. I venture to differ from those persons. I think that as long as you are able to explain to the voter that all he has got to do is to mark a ballot paper as he would mark a race-card—that is, his fancy to win and his idea as to second and third place—then, I think, there would be no difficulty in explaining the system to him. In any case, I understand that that particular difficulty has not arisen in either of the places where it is now tried.

This morning there has appeared on the Order Paper an Amendment standing in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for the Honiton Division (Major Morrison-Bell). As we all know, the hon. and gallant Member has identified himself in this House with conspicuous industry and no small measure of success with the cause of redistribution. I would like to point out to him that redistribution would be no remedy at all for the particular evil about which we are complaining. If he were to succeed in getting every constituency in this country mathematically equal in numbers, this evil of the split vote would still exist. The present system of single-Member constituencies dates from a time when there were only two parties in each constituency, and it is quite clear to every one of us that that time has utterly passed away and will never return. The Labour party has now made its appearance. It has every right to make its appearance, and it has got every right to stay, and it has got every right to make itself heard and represented in this House, and, if it so please, to contest every single constituency in this country. Of that there is no possible doubt. It follows from that, as we are now working under a system which was originally devised at a time when there were only two parties in this country, and as that condition of affairs has now entirely passed away, we have got to adapt our machinery to the new conditions, which have come to stay. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has embodied in his Amendment a quotation from the Report of the Royal Commission from which I have read an extract. He asks us to say that this House declines to add unnecessary complications to an electoral system on which a Royal Commission has reported that none has been devised more simple for the elector, more rapid in operation, more straightforward in result, advantages in an instrument for use by a large electorate of varying intelligence which it is difficult to overestimate. Most of us have got experience of large electorates of varying intelligence, although we do not always agree as to which are the most intelligent. I have no doubt whatever that the constituency which returns the hon. and gallant Member is one of a very high degree of intelligence, but most of us have in our experience struck some of the denser patches, and opinions vary as to the one which displays the greatest degree of intelligence. Be that as it may, if anybody read the hon. and gallant Member's quotation from the Report of the Royal Commission, and if his knowledge of its recommendations were limited to that quotation, then I think he would go away with a very false idea as to what those recommendations were, because he would think that the Royal Commission had recommended and set the seal of its approval on our present system. If anybody reads the passage from which the hon. Member takes his quotation, he will find that the very next sentence reads:— But it suffers from the defects of its merits, a certain brutality and a roughness of justice which its opponents call by a harsher name, besides other defects to which, perhaps, no virtues correspond. A little later on they point out how the present system under certain circumstances absolutely results in the return of the least popular candidate in a three- or four-cornered fight. They tell us that the disadvantages of the present system have been pointed out by the representatives of both great party organisations which strongly pressed for reform. We have these evils before us now, and I have endeavoured to show what they are. I now venture to commend to the House this system by which they may be remedied. The Royal Commission in their Report say, as regards the alternative vote:— We recommend the adoption of the alternative vote in cases where more than two candidates stand for one seat. We do not recommend its application to two-Member constituencies, but we submit that the question of the retention of such constituencies, which are anomalous, should be reconsidered as soon as opportunity offers. Of schemes for producing proportional representation, we think that the transferable vote would have the best chance of ultimate acceptance, but we are unable to recommend its adoption in existing circumstances for elections to the House of Commons. On that recommendation of the Royal Commission we found our case at the present moment, and I ask the House to set the seal of its approval on a system which is proposed as a remedy for our present discontents. I beg to move.


I rise to Second the Resolution which has been so ably moved by my hon. Friend.

I should like, first of all, to thank him for using the opportunity which he has secured in the ballot in support of a Bill dealing with the Alternative Vote, which I have brought in several times, because, as I have not been successful in the ballot, my Bill has not had any chance of getting forward. I think that all parts of the House will agree that the time has arrived when some change must be made in our mode of elections, and I hope that we shall pass this Resolution unanimously. It may be said that this is a party move because, admittedly, at the present time the system which we propose might be of more advantage to the Liberal party than to any other party. But, as my hon. Friend pointed out, all parties in the past have suffered very severely from three-cornered contests. The Conservative party did so particularly, not only in 1886, but in 1906. In the latter year the Liberals gained seats in Birkenhead, where a Tariff Reform and Free Trade Conservatives were fighting; in Greenwich, where the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) was defeated by a split vote; in King's Lynn, where a well-known Member of this House, Mr. Gibson Bowles, was defeated by a split vote; and in the Attercliffe Division of Sheffield. In all these Divisions seats were lost to the Conservatives through split votes. I myself fought in a three-cornered contest in 1906, but I was more fortunate, because I obtained a majority over both the other candidates I think, therefore, that we may ask all parties to support this Resolution. Most of our Friends in the Labour party are. I believe, in favour of some reform. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) attended a dinner at which I was present some months ago and made an excellent speech in favour of some reform in our methods of election. The Labour party might say that this system would be of no advantage to them. Possibly not at the present time, but I think that ultimately it will be of advantage, not only to every party, but to the nation as a whole. Only last week the hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division (Mr. Barnes), speaking at Glasgow, made a remark about the Prime Minister bringing in a measure to deal with three-cornered contests. The Bill which I brought in was supported by the hon. Member for the Barnard Castle Division (Mr. A. Henderson) on lines which have been pointed out by the Mover of the Resolution.

The question has been considered for many years by experts in electioneering, whose evidence was given before the Royal Commission, and I think we can come to the conclusion that there are only three practical solutions of the difficulty—proportional representation, the second ballot, and the alternative vote. I agree with my hon. Friend that this proposal will in no way put a stop upon the proportional representation system. Personally, I think proportional representation is the ideal system for elections, and, although I am supporting this proposal very strongly, that does not weaken by one iota my faith in proportional representation—in fact, I should say that this was one step towards proportional representation. But if we were to ask for that great reform now, it would be such a drastic change, and would effect such a revolution in elections, that I am not at all sure that the country would be ripe for it. I feel sure, however, that they would welcome the alternative vote. Under the proportional representation system we should have to do away with single-Member constituencies, we should require a redistribution of seats, and a Boundary Commission would have to be set up. I hope that we shall have before long an example of proportional representation in the Parliament in Ireland, where it is proposed to elect Members of the Senate upon that principle. The second ballot system has been used perhaps more than any other where three-cornered contests have been dealt with. They have it in France, Germany, and several other countries on the Continent. Under that system the two men who receive most votes, if one of them has not a majority of the votes polled, are voted upon at a second election, which is held usually a week afterwards. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, that is a very expensive way of dealing with the matter. It involves a horrible waste of time, and a big waste of energy on the part of the candidates, and it is a very great strain on one's supporters that they should be asked to go through a second election—in fact, I think there would be a great deal of difficulty in finding candidates ready to go through two exciting contests. We all know the heat of a week's electioneering, and to have an exciting penultimate round with a super-heat at the final would absolutely put an end to reasonable politicians lives.

Therefore, we are brought back to the system of the alternative vote, under which you all get the advantages of the second ballot without any of its disadvantages. Voters would go calmly into the booth and express their preferences at once. They would mark their first choice, and then, if that man were not elected, their vote would be transferred to the candidate against whom they put the figure 2. No redistribution is necessary. A certain number of seats will exist as they do now, although I admit, as the hon. and gallant Member on the other side will no doubt tell us, how necessary redistribution is! We agree with him that it is necessary; but this is a little reform which can be carried out rapidly. It is a step towards all those other great reforms. It can be carried out so rapidly and so easily, and without the least upsetting of electoral conditions! Its great advantages are that the whole of the voting can be put into one operation. One argument against it is that the voter would have to learn how to do this. It has been put very clearly by my hon. Friend who moved the Resolution. He has stated that a voter usually knows how to make a racing card, and will therefore soon know how to mark his voting paper. My experience of the electorate is that they are not nearly so dense as politicians are fond of making out. After twenty-five years of free education there are very few illiterate voters, and I think we have arrived, or are arriving, at the time when the illiterate voter need not be counted. It does not need a great deal of education to put a cross or the figure 1 against the name of the candidate whom you like best, and then the figure 2 against the second candidate.

It has been argued that the papers will be very difficult to count. That is an argument which hardly needs any consideration at all. They may take a little longer to count, but we work very long hours at election times, and it does not matter very much whether we stay up to eleven or eleven-thirty p.m., provided the result is more satisfactory! There will be no greater expense. Possibly what was said by the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London, when we brought in a Bill to extend the hours of polling, may be said again. He took up the cudgels for the returning officers and their staff. But we do not have elections every week, or every month, or every year. The returning officers are well paid, I believe. If they are not well paid we must arrange to pay them better. If their staff is not paid properly, by all means let them be paid for the work that they do. These arguments are absolutely futile. All opposition is very trifling compared with the improvement which this alternative vote would be if brought into operation. Until it is done we shall never get in Parliament a true reflection of the feeling of the country.


I beg to move to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to insert the words, "this House declines to add unnecessary complications to an electoral system on which a Royal Commission has reported that none has been devised more simple for the elector, more rapid in operation, more straightforward in result, advantages in an instrument for use by a large electorate of varying intelligence which it is difficult to over-estimate."

9.0 P.M.

In dealing with the Motion which the hon. Member has put before the House, I wish, of course, to deal with it entirely from the point of view of the alternative vote. I only say that because I see that the hon. Member is surrounded by devotees of proportional representation. I shall endeavour to deal with this question without unnecessarily bringing in party politics, and in the same spirit in which the hon. Member moved the Motion. It is very difficult, however, in a way, for hon. Members absolutely to eliminate the party point of view. It is so obvious that the difference between the hon. Member getting his Alternative Voting Bill before the next election and his not getting it quite easily means sixty votes on a Division. On a private Members' night we are all very friendly, but we cannot quite ignore that point of view when dealing with the party opposite. That does not mean, however, that one cannot put one's case without unnecessarily exasperating the feelings of hon. Members opposite. It will be necessary for me at the outset to refer to what happened at the annual conference of the Liberal party at Leicester in 1908, I think it was. There the National Liberal Federation passed unanimously a resolution for the early adoption of the second ballot. I am not aware as yet whether that resolution has ever been eliminated from the party programme. We shall very likely hear to-night, possibly from the right hon. Gentleman, in what position exactly his party stands on this question of the second ballot when he states his attitude towards the Motion before the House. So far as I know, that Resolution has never yet been taken out of the party programme of hon. Gentlemen opposite. May I, therefore, without going into the question of the second ballot—and I shall not go into the question of the details of the alternative vote, because both the Mover and Seconder of the proposal have put them clearly before the House—give the opinion of a gentleman whom I think everybody will admit is an expert on these questions, Mr. Humphreys, of the Proportional Representation Society, on the second ballot, before I dismiss it. In a letter dated 23rd February last, which appeared in the "Morning Post." Mr. Humphreys says:— It is now known that the second ballot brings in its trains more evils than it cures. To its universal condemnation on the Continent"— And this answers the point that the hon. Member made about the Colonies— we can now add the verdict of New Zealand and New South Wales. In both colonies it has given intense dissatisfaction. In New Zealand, the Second Ballot Law passed in 1908 was repealed last year. After five years both politicians and the public had had enough of it. That, I think, dismisses the second ballot. I imagine that the second ballot has been very quietly dropped, and is no longer on the party programme of hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is necessary really to consider the view held by experts on the second ballot, because the second ballot and the alternative vote are so very similar in character that everyone must admit that in condemning the one you condemn the other too. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Well, I hope what I put before the House will help hon. Members to qualify their "No, no!" But before, I leave the question, may I refer briefly to another congress, the Trade Union Congress, held in September of the same year, 1908. Instead of doing what the Liberal party did, going blind on the second ballot, they took a cautious attitude, and said—I am quoting again from Mr. Humphreys' book, (page 81):— The Trades Union Congress at its meeting in September, 1908, less eager to pronounce in favour of a reform of such doubtful value, 'passed a resolution in favour of an authoritative inquiry into proportional representation alternative vote, or second ballots, so that the most effective means of securing the true representation of the electors ‖. I do not know when the inquiry was set up, but there was an inquiry set up, and that inquiry reported to the Labour party at Glasgow at the recent Conference—that is, six years later. I quote from the "Daily Citizen" of 30th January. The question really then was not second ballot, as it may be with the official Liberal party, but the question was between proportional representation and the alternative vote; and after a day's very interesting debate, and after a great deal of explanation from hon. Members and gentlemen entitled to give an explanation, the Congress came to a vote, and there voted for proportional representation 704,000, and against 1,387,000, and proportional representation was beaten by 683,000—a very substantial majority. And what happened to the alternative vote when, after six years, a vote was taken. The result was still more remarkable, for there voted in favour 632,000, and 1,324,000 against, so that the majority against proportional representation was 683,000, and against the alternative vote 692,000. I must say for myself I entirely agree with both verdicts, but it only shows how very much more cautious and sensible the Labour party was than he Liberal party. The Labour party had taken time to think about what the Liberal party went for bald-headed, and now apparently the Liberal party are prepared to go for the alternative vote, which is also discredited. I do not wonder at the heading which the "Daily Citizen" put to these Debates:— Labour Electoral Iteform—Astonishing result of brilliant debate at Congress. I agree it was an astonishing thing. The Labour party are further than Liberals on this question. They have got away from the second ballot, and they are now hesitating between the alternative vote and proportional representation; we have yet to hear from the right hon. Gentleman opposite exactly where the Liberal party are. Let me very briefly refer to the alternative vote, not to give an ex- planation of it, but to try and connect up what I said about the second ballot with the alternative vote. I really cannot give a better source of authority than Mr. Humphreys. Towards the end of his letter, in the "Morning Post," of February 23rd, he says:— In more recent years the alternative vote is favoured, but recent three-cornered contests have made it clear that the alternative vote will result in many of the worst evils associated with the second ballot, and, indeed, it is nothing more than the second ballot in condensed form. And Mr. Anderson, the former chairman of the Independent Labour party, writes, in an article in the "Manchester Guardian":— So far from getting rid of any of the real difficulties, the alternative vote adds to them some fresh difficulties of its own. 9.0 P.M.

So I think a case for the alternative vote has yet to be made out. From my point of view, I believe substantial justice is done if you redistribute on equal areas and let the majority in these areas get the seat. I come now to another point which I consider very important. Of course, what we are really anxious to know in this Debate is what is the attitude of the Liberal party, because from the speeches that have been made we do know in a certain sense what the Labour party think of it; so in order to help hon. Members to come to a decision I will give a short quotation of what is thought of the alternative vote in the Labour party. The gentleman who opened the debate at Glasgow, Mr. Fred Knee, gave a very good reason from the Labour party point of view. He said:— If the Liberal party were sweet on that, it was one reason why the Labour party should be chary of it. And Mr. Anderson in the same Debate is reported to have said:— The alternative vote would be disastrous for the Labour party. And winding up the Debate, the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. George Roberts), who concluded it, said: When he contemplated the alternative to proportional representation, that is the alternative vote, he could not doubt that method would be disastrous to the Labour movement. I only quote these extracts showing the Labour view, as perhaps these opinions escaped the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and he might like to know them. I come now to my chief objection to the alternative vote. I am going in these arguments to use only what has appeared in public print. I do not wish in the least to introduce any party heat into this matter, but I look upon this objection which I am about to put as vital. My whole point of view of our complicated electoral system is this: I deny in toto and absolutely, and I will give reasons, that there are more than two parties in this House. I deny in toto that there is a Labour party in this country. If that seems brusque or harsh I will give chapter and verse for it. Legislation in this House is carried by two parties, and two parties alone. Why? Because there are only two Lobbies, the "Aye" and the "No" Lobby, in other words only an "Aye" and a "No" party. In this House there are two parties—the Government and the Opposition.


Are there more than two Lobbies in the French Chamber?


Would the hon. Member like to introduce the French system of groups which has meant eight, if not nine, Governments since 1910. I do not want it here. The safety of this country is that there are two parties, and I would rather see the Liberal party in power for twenty years than see the French system introduced here.


When there was only one party in this House, were there two Lobbies?


My historical inquiries do not extend so far as to enable me to answer the hon. Member, but for the last one hundred years, or during the lifetime of the hon. Member, there have been two parties. I want to treat this argument seriously, and I put this forward quite seriously. I know there is what is called the independent member. There was a Gentleman in this House, an independent Member, whom I suppose everyone in this House admired for his courage and brilliancy, and that is Mr. Harold Cox. I cannot think of anybody to be compared with him except the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University. I quote Mr. Harold Cox as being an independent Member, and in order to see how far an independent Member can show his independence, I have taken pains to study Mr. Harold Cox's Division Lists. I took the year 1908, because that volume looked considerably thinner than any of the others, and, as far as I can gather, I find that Mr. Cox voted in 220 Divisions in the 1908 Parliament, and I can only find that he voted in twenty-one Divisions against his party. I challenge anybody to point to a man who could be considered more independent in this House than Mr. Harold Cox was. We all like to be thought independent, but you might as well talk about the independence of a goalkeeper in a football match who every now and again turns round and kicks a goal against his own side. I defy anybody to point out an hon. Member of this House in regard of whom I could not at once say whether he is an Aye-Lobby man or a No-Lobby man. I am going to support the point of view that there are only two lobbies and two parties in this House by a quotation from the speech made by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) at the Glasgow Conference, reported in the "Daily Citizen" of 30th January. He said:— Every Labour Member in the House of Commons knew he was dependent for his seat upon the good will of those who belonged to other political parties. (Cheers.) So long as Labour Members were returned by Liberal votes, as nine-tenths of their members were, they had no right to expect independent action from their members in the House of Commons. (Cheers). I do not know whether the proportion of nine-tenths may be taken as correct or not, but no doubt the hon. Member for Blackburn has stated what is the fact. You have a Labour party in the House, but you have not got a Labour party in the country. The majority of voters are either Conservatives or Unionists, or Liberals or Radicals, and though you have your Members in the House of Commons they might just as well call themselves anything else, because they are bound to go into the Government Lobby. I have further authority for this statement in the speech delivered in the same debate by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) the Leader of the Labour party. Speaking later in the same debate the hon. Member for Leicester is reported in the "Daily Citizen" to have laid about him with Blue Book and Royal Commission Reports for his cudgels. He thwacked Mr. Anderson smartly and then he turned and belaboured Mr. Snowden. We are told we are going to be independent in Parliament. We are not. Thus spoke the Leader of the Labour party. It would be impossible unless the Members of the Labour party continually voted with us to be independent. This is how our laws are made. Mr. Speaker does not call upon various Members by party, but he says, "Ayes to the right and Noes to the left," and as long as you make your laws like that there are only two parties in this House. In the "Labour Leader" of 19th February, 1914, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) wrote an article entitled, "A Great Labour Gain," in which he makes this comment:— The one important thing about this action of the Labour party in embracing Mr. Kenyon is, What sort of a Labour party are yon going to make out of such material as this? Has the Independent Labour party struggled all these twenty-one years, have its tens of thousands of men and women sacrificed and laboured to get a Labour party in Parliament, composed of Mr. Barnet Kenyon, Mr. W. E. Harvey, Mr. W. Johnson, Mr. J. G. Hancock, and others who might fittingly he classed with them? You say you want a fighting policy in the House of Commons. You want something done in Parliament which will mark off the Labour party from the Liberals. And your executive and your party caucus fill the party with Barnet Kenyon to do this fighting and to show how very different we are from the Liberals. I am not going to offer any suggestions as to what the Independent Labour party should do. I will wait and see what it will do. That leading article was answered next week by the junior Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie), and he said what he was more or less bound to say, considering that the Labour party cannot act on their own, and in view of the fact that they are really the left wing of the Liberal party. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil said:— Under these circumstances, what other course was open to the executive of the Labour party than to admit Mr. Kenyon to membership in the party? Mr. Philip Snowden seems to contend that the executive ought to have insisted upon his resigning and seeking re-election as a Labour candidate. Resignation would undoubtedly have been the heroic course, but I repeat that in building up a Labour party, where the elements are so mixed, it is common sense rather than heroism which must dictate the course of action. You may call yourselves what you like, but you are a Labour party consisting of a lot of generals—

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)

How does the hon. Member connect all this either with the Resolution or the Amendment which he is going to move?


I was endeavouring to connect this with the alternative vote, and I was arguing that it would complicate your electoral system, because it was no use making preparations to elect three parties when there are only two, and I was endeavouring to give quotations to prove that my point of view was supported by the hon. Member for Blackburn, the hon. Member for Leicester, and the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil. I shall always oppose any tampering with our system, whether it is in the shape of the policy of the alternative vote or proportional representation, for the reason that I do not want to have a lot of groups in this House. I want two stable parties to carry on the Government of this country, and therefore I say that this House would be ill- advised, especially as the alternative vote is so very discredited generally, to commit itself, either to the alternative vote, or, I go further, and say to proportional representation. There is only one independent party in this House, and it is composed of those right hon. Gentlemen who occupy the Speaker's Chair. They are independent because they do not go into the Lobby. Nobody else can be independent. You must either be an "Aye" or a "No"; you must either be for the Government or for the Opposition; you must, in the present-day term, be progressive or non-progressive. You cannot be independent. You are sent here to support a party and keep a party in office, and we on this side to try and put that party out. For those reasons, and on that broad principle that there are only two parties, I beg to move this Amendment, and I trust sincerely that the House will accept it.


I rise to second the Amendment.

I ought, I think, at first to explain to the House that I sat on the Royal Commission whose report has been quoted. I confess I coquetted with the alternative vote. It has a specious attraction for the rather young, and, when it was put before me, I confess I yielded to its seductions, especially as when compared with the glaring demerits of the proportional vote, which we had discussed at great length, it seemed to me comparatively innocuous. Further reflection has modified that view. Of all the systems compared with the second ballot, I think the alternative vote is rather better, because the alternative vote is the second vote rolled into a single election. You have not got the disadvantage of a second election, or the trouble of bringing the people up to the poll, and also the opportunity for those most unpleasant intrigues familiar to us all. Therefore, if you want under any system a second choice, I think the alternative vote is the best, but I do not approve of it, because I regard an electoral fight as a struggle between two policies, to which you can only say "Yes" or "No." There really is no third course. An election is not choosing the best men to come to Parliament. There lies the great mistake of proportionalists. It is not as if we went throughout the length and breadth of the land, and picked out all the best men in the professions and trades to come here. We do not do that. It is partly that, and partly a struggle between two conflicting ideals. It is much more ideals than men, and I think that ideals are more important than men. When you come to a big clash between two ideals, say, Free Trade and Protection, you do not choose the best men of necessity, you go for that policy which you think will suit the country best, and for that there are not grades or varieties. It is either a plain "Yes," or a plain "No." For that reason the single-Member constituency, with all its faults, and they are great, and with all its defects, and they are plain, does suit the necessities of our electoral contests far better than any of these fancy systems.

It always seems to me that these fancy franchises can show a very good paper case, but when you come to examine them you find the working out is exactly the opposite of that which is claimed. Take as an illustration proportional representation. We are told that it would break up the party system, and that the best men would be sent here. I believe in the party system, and I think that it is the best system. Assume that it is not, and you can show to demonstration that proportional representation will increase the party system. Take a simple case. Take Birmingham, with its seven Members. It would be one constituency. Supposing one of the smaller parties, the Labour party, wish to fight in Birmingham, they can now take one or two seats, and they can concentrate all their force of speakers and posters and Press campaign on those two seats. If the whole seven seats were rolled into one and they wanted to fight, they would have to spread their energies over the whole of the seven seats, whereas the two big parties who are always fighting the seven seats gain by the concentration, by the unity of effort, and by the power of throwing all their forces into a doubtful seat. All that is against the small party, who diffuse their force, and who lose the power of attacking what they think are favourable seats. Just the same is true of the alternative vote. It will not help the small parties at all. In so far as it operates at all, it will go against the Labour party, and all small parties in this House, for in the end the two big parties with their great organisations will get the advantage.

Just take the case which the Mover of this Amendment quoted. He gave a case in which an election was held with three candidates and where the second on the poll was ultimately returned at the top. At first sight, that seems rather absurd. It seems to me like "Alice in Wonderland." After all, the first man ought to win. I believe that would happen. I do believe now that the Labour party, with its large choice of single-member seats, can choose a good seat and often win it; but I believe, if we had the alternative vote, that they would find that when their man got first, he would in the end be defeated. All the arguments used in favour of the fancy franchise break down in practice. Then, again, what is the position of Parliament, and what are the conditions under which Parliament works?

We hear a great deal of the independent member, but we do not see much of him here, and I am very glad that we do not. If a man cannot work with his fellow men, his place in not in Parliament. If we want to live a life without any give and take in human affairs, always getting our own way to the last, I say that we had better go and live in a desert. If we want to get things done, we must make allowances for our fellows; we must know that they have desires and wishes like ourselves, and that we can only get something by giving way here or there. If you want to do things you have got to work with men. That is the great defence of our party system. It is an absurd travesty to say that our party system is one which compels a man to surrender his convictions and to give up all that he holds dear and to accept a lower standard of morality than that which rules him in private life.

The real truth is that when you act with any large body of men you must expect them to get their way just as often as yourself, and also that you have to give way to them. If you get done one hundredth part of what you expect done, why, it is all you can hope for. It is your only way of getting anything done. When we see the conditions of political life here we also see that it is not good to compare with foreign countries. On the Commission on which I sat we were very much impressed by the case of Belgium, and we were told that the system, which answered well in that country, would answer well here. But there they have not the big issues we have to deal with here. They have administrative questions, and when their Parliament is returned at the same election there are lists of supplementary members; there are no by-elections; there is a fixed date of re-election, and the whole body partakes more of the nature of a board of guardians. Although I do not wish to speak disrespectfully of any foreign country, I must say that our issues here and our contests are on a far bigger scale and a much wider basis than theirs.

We have to recognise that the great questions that move us are questions that do not admit of any variety of opinion. You have to make up your mind one way or the other, and so when you examine the system of the alternative vote you see that even as with the second ballot at one stage there has to be a clean division. On the second ballot that division into Ayes and Noes comes after the first election, but in the case of the alternative vote the division into Ayes and Noes comes at the same time as the first election, because Members in marking their papers will say, "If our man does not get in we will back A or B, as the case may be." We may here and there have a man sitting for a constituency who has not a majority of the votes, but, taking the result of what the Commission called rough justice, and looking all over the Kingdom and seeing the number of constituencies of all sorts and kinds, with all their different parties, it is far better to leave them so with all their varieties, because any small party which comes up, like the Anti-Vaccination party, really has a much better chance than if you go in for a system which, though at first it seems very plausible and calculated to help that much belauded but little copied individual the Independent Member, really has the opposite effect.


Reference has been made to the proceedings at the last Labour party council, and I wish to say at once that I am now speaking as an individual Member of this House and not as an official representative of the party to which I belong. The Labour party, like every other party in the House, is very sharply divided on this question of electoral reform, and therefore I am prepared to make the hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke a little while ago a present of every allusion he made to us in that particular, except on one point. I do not think he is quite justified in laying it down that there never can be more than two parties in politics, and never more than two policies. I think we have to recognise that a third party has come to stay, and I am sure he will accept it from me that, in the opinion of that third party, it has a policy and principles distinct and apart from either of the other two parties in the State. I am in no way speaking disrespectfully in this matter, but I do suggest that if this were an occasion on which it would be in order, I could demonstrate that point. I think the advent of this third party into politics has rendered some change absolutely inevitable. Nobody can defend a system whereby men are returned here on a minority vote: I do not care whether those who succeed in this respect come from the party opposite, or from hon. Members above the Gangway on this side, or from among my own colleagues. I have often said that I want an electoral system which will secure to each party in the State a representation proportionate to its numerical strength in the country, and I cannot conceive any other democratic principle than that. To-night we have recognition of the fact that some change is desirable. The hon. Member for Durham has told us that when on the Commission he recognised that some change was necessary and that he coquetted with the alternative vote. Now he tells us that unless we are prepared to work in general harmony, we ought to be outside the House. I hardly see the force of that, because whether I am sent under the alternative vote system, or the proportional representation system, I am sure we can work harmoniously together.

Nevertheless, while considering that a change is desirable, I do not think we should take the hon. and gallant Member seriously if he said he is in favour of the retention of the present system. Even he desires to make some change and, generally, he advocates the redistribution proposal, but I think the hon. Gentleman who moved the Resolution effectually disposed of that as a remedy for the unfortunate circumstances we encounter in three-cornered contests by pointing out if we had constituencies of uniform, equal arithmetical proportions, you would not then get over this difficulty of Members being elected for this House on a minority vote. I think I may take it there is a pretty general agreement that some change is desirable, and the alternative vote has been submitted as being calculated to effect the general desire of all parties. I agree that the second ballot principle is practically dead, although I do not know whether the Liberal Federation have expunged it from their programme. That, however, is no concern of mine. It may well be that any adaption of the second ballot, called the alternative vote, was not so prominent in those days, but I am certain we shall be told that the Liberal party is sufficiently up-to-date to discard the second ballot and embrace the principles of the alternative vote. In the course of the observations I am going to address to the House, I shall have to advance some objections to the alternative vote from the standpoint of my party, and not from the point of view of the mere partisan. I wish to point out that my party is only entitled to representation here, proportionate to its strength in the country. It is entitled to that and no more, and I have always made that admission in considering this question of electoral reform. In respect to the alternative vote, what the hon. Member for Durham has objected to as between the first election and the second election, not the second ballot, must inevitably occur in respect to the first and only election under the alternative vote.


I did not put it quite so strong as that.


Under the second ballot we might get over the first election without those bargainings or those understandings which the hon. Gentleman regards as being not altogether desirable as between the first and second test. That point may appeal to him as between the second ballot and the alternative vote. Nevertheless, taking the whole thing into consideration, undoubtedly the alternative vote is simpler, more economic, and certainly more effective for the purpose that most of us have at heart. I have for a number of years been a supporter of the principle of proportional representation. This is hardly the occasion upon which to argue the case for "P.R." at great length. In fact, I confess to the hon. and gallant Gentleman that in recent years I have got a bit weary of arguing "P.R.", not in this House, but in contests with my colleagues of this party. What do we desire here? I apprehend it should be our purpose to secure representation in this House for every party in the country. The Mover and Seconder of the Amendment agreed that that was so. At any rate everybody will acknowledge that a party like the Labour party, which has assumed definite and distinct dimensions in the country, is entitled to representa- tion in this House. The hon. and gallant Member may argue that in this House the party must co-operate with one or other of the large sections of the House, but that is a proposition distinct from the position in the country.


I argued that the hon. Member for Blackburn was returned on general votes and not Labour votes.


I might as well deal with that at once. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is not quite justified in that criticism of the position of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn was taking the case for proportional representation and claiming that by that principle Members of the Labour party will come here elected by Socialist and Labour votes. He was trying to prove something entirely different from that which the hon. and gallant Gentleman was trying to prove. Let me get back to the point I want to make. I claim that each party in the country is entitled to representation here, provided it has the requisite strength in the country. I confess I do not know how strong the Labour party is in the country. The electoral system is so confused that we have no definite data as to the respective strength of all parties in the country. At the moment I am not concerned with that, but I say that, given a reasonable following in the country, this party has a right to representation in the House of Commons. The alternative vote will not secure that for us. It is quite possible for a combination to prevent our having a representative at all.

Take the hon. Gentleman's illustration of the City of Birmingham. Under the present circumstances, we might be one-third of every one of the seven constituencies, and yet never get a representative in this House for the City of Birmingham. Under the alternative vote, there is no assurance that our prospects would be any better; but, under proportional representation, if we had one-seventh, or rather, just over one-sixth, of the electorate of the City of Birmingham with us, whatever the attitude of any political force towards us, we would be certain of getting our representative in this House. The hon. Gentleman entirely misunderstood the position. He argued as if we should be fighting each seat, and having to make the same proportion of expenditure and endeavour, as if we were fighting seven distinct single-member constituencies. Such is not the case. We have sections in every one of those constituencies. All those sections would be at work. We should not have to concentrate on any restricted area. We should know, if we had the quota in that constituency, that we should secure our representation accordingly, and that if we had got the quota, we should demonstrate that we were not entitled to that representative. Therefore, it must be seen that the principle of proportional representation would, at any rate, afford a minority party or a small party the chance of securing representation in this House.


May I point out to the hon. Member that it squeezed out the smaller parties in the only two countries where it has been tried, for the reasons that I gave?


I do not think so. The Belgian illustration has simply shown that the parties there get a representation proportionate to their strength.


The two big parties do.


I happened to be in Belgium a short time since and made some inquiries there, and although I gathered that they are not all satisfied with the Belgian system, for my own part I am free to acknowledge that the Belgian system, as the hon. Gentleman himself urged, was not quite applicable to the circumstances in this country. I am not here to argue any particular adaptation of proportional representation. My only purpose is to deal with the broad principle of that idea. Under the alternative vote there is no assurance that the smaller parties will have any chance at all, and I object to an electoral system which compels any party in the country to risk its chances of representation merely by the attitude of the parties towards it. We often hear criticisms of the so-called lack of independence on the part of hon. Members of this House, or even of some parties in this House. The hon. and gallant Gentleman seemed to give us a very simple way of demonstrating our independence—all we have to do is to transfer our allegiance to the party opposite and we should thereby demonstrate that we were fully independent. The hon. and gallant Gentleman will admit that the Labour party must be allowed to shape its own policy. I believe in proportional representation, because, in my opinion, it would make for that larger measure of independence. Certainly it would free the parties in the country. It would make for greater independence there, and when men are elected on that more independent principle in the country, they would certainly be freer to act in this House. I quite agree that when we are here we must conic into co-operation with other parties in order to carry out practical purposes. I want to emphasise this: Just in proportion as the Labour party grew, so it would have its influence on the legislation framed by the party in power. When the party opposite were in power and they wanted the support of the Nationalist party, of course they shaped their measures with a view to getting that support. Supposing we were a party as large as the Irish party and the Liberal party was in power, necessarily the Liberal party would have to have regard to the numerical strength of this party in the framing of any legislation they purposed introducing. Therefore, of course, if you have a group system—a third party and a fourth party, as we have in this House —just in proportion to the ability of the third or fourth parties to get representation in this House, so undoubtedly they are able to effect a proportionate influence on the legislative achievements of this Assembly. The House of Commons has already made a departure. The principle of proportional representation has been incorporated in the Home Rule Bill. Of course, the hon. Member and myself are not quite agreed as to whether that Bill is going to be carried into law and become effective in operation, but, at any rate, we shall have a very interesting experiment there.


Proportional representation working in three-Member seats.


I am not concerned as to the exact numbers. I am only dealing with the fact that the House has applied the principle in respect of the Irish problem. I should like to see the experiment applied to the large cities of this country—places like Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. I recognise the difficulty of getting the electorate to adapt themselves to a new and somewhat complex system immediately, and therefore I should like to see this experiment carried out. I agree with the hon. Member (Mr. Wiles) that we have no right to assume a low order of intelligence on the part of the general electorate. In your rural district councils, you impose upon the agricultural labourer a scope of selection which is certainly quite as perplexing as anything contemplated under the system of proportional representation. In London, of course, you have your borough elections, which involve a very similar thing. The case for the alternative vote has been urged to-night rather as a stepping stone towards proportional representation. I do not know whether it would be so or not, from the point of view of these hon. Members, but I am certain that experience of the alternative vote will give rise to such an emphatic demand from the Labour forces of the country that proportional representation would very soon have to be adopted in substitution for the alternative vote. Therefore, my purpose in rising is to say that, as we generally admit that some change is inevitable, I recognise, with those, who are promoting this Resolution, the absolute necessity of some change, and that the return to this House of Members on a small minority vote is indefensible.

I have gone into three-cornered fights and have almost felt ashamed of myself when I came here to find that the net result of my advocacy has been the return to this House of persons who are less acceptable to me than some others before the constituency. I want the situation to be left free, so that the natural right of the party with which I am associated may be carried out without involving the consequences that we all regret and deplore, but, as some change is inevitable, it should be a change of a character which will secure fair representation in this House, and when we have large third parties their ability to come here should not be dependent upon the attitude of other forces in the constituencies. In my opinion the alternative vote would not secure such representation. If you feel that the two-party system is the only one which can be advocated, and that there ought to be an understanding between those two parties to crowd out other parties, I can understand your position, but if you admit the right of a third party to come here, our electoral system must be adjusted accordingly, and in my opinion neither the second ballot nor the alternative vote will secure that, and further, in my view, I do not know of any other system than that of proportional representation which will secure it. I am in a difficulty to-night. I could not support the Resolution with great enthusiasm, and I have an even stronger objection to the Amendment, and therefore I feel that for myself I shall have to keep out of the vote. I wish to emphasise again that I am only speaking for myself and not on behalf of those with whom I customarily act.


I do not speak as an adversary of proportional representation, but it appears to me to involve a vast scheme of redistribution, because I cannot admit that it would be fair if it were applied in a sectional manner, and that there is one class of constituency, such as the very large cities, where an exceptional minority representation is secured, while there are vast areas in the country in which the present system would continue. I cannot see that it would be fair, unless it applied all round. I must join in repudiating the two-Lobby theory for constituencies which was advanced by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Morrison-Bell). What he wants is that there should be only two parties, and he says there are only two parties, and he wishes our system of voting to be such that there shall be only two parties represented in this House. I do not consider that the constituencies desire that. It is quite evident that they do not want machine-made politicians of two-patterns only to be sent here. The hon. Member (Mr. Hills) says that great questions do not admit of diversity of opinion. He says there is an "Aye" Lobby and a "No" Lobby. You are either in favour or you are against. But you do not have single questions going before constituencies. You have many questions on which each party may contain Members who have diversity of opinion—the Tariff, Land, Education and Social Reform. I do not think the hon. Member will find that the whole of the Members of his party agree with him on these matters. We ought to try to secure that every opinion should have an opportunity of expression in the electorate, and that Members should not come here as delegates, but as representatives, and the representatives of various interests should bring their opinions here to the point of argument and of decision. Here, of course, there are only two Lobbies, although there is a third course of abstain- ing, which the hon. Member (Mr. G. Roberts) finds convenient this evening. But elections take place before discussion in this House has matured opinion, and we have had a specimen of the maturing of opinion in the hon. Member (Mr. Hills) who, on this very subject, finds that his opinions have developed within the last year.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Morrison-Bell) condemned alike the second ballot and the alternative vote, and he gave us, not arguments, but the opinion of certain persons which may be of value in that condemnation. Even if on the whole he were right, I still hold that there is an evil existing in each of the constituencies that is affected, and even if it nullified or counterbalanced itself by the average on the whole Kingdom, the local injustice would remain, and I think the effect on the constituency is bad. There are some of my own Friends who argue that the adoption of the alternative vote would increase the number of three-cornered contests. That, I think, is a party argument. Their use of that argument shows that the present system is not merely unjust where multiple candidatures exist, but that a variety of interests in a constituency are stifled by the present system. It is also said that while it secures that the worst candidate will not be selected, it does not secure the best. I do not know that we are required to do more than to ask that we shall have the best available improvement on the present system, which permits the election of the worst and does not secure the best. With the alternative vote I think there probably would be a small minority of cases in which the best candidate would be barred. I think we must all join the hon. Member for the Honiton Division in desiring that we should not make this Debate take too much of a party character. It must be a test of our faith in representative government whether one can lift one's argument above party. The hon. Member drew attention to the fact that the adoption of this reform might cost sixty votes on a Division to the party opposite. They either desire to settle the whole question or to preserve their sixty votes. I do not know whether the Bill foreshadowed in this Resolution would or would not be in all cases to the advantage of the Liberal party.

10.0 P.M.

I think the primary thing we should endeavour to secure is that the minority in the United Kingdom should not have a majority in this House, and I think the absence of some such device increases the danger of the present system, and does not secure that the majority shall rule. No doubt hon. Members are familiar with the instances given in the analysis of the votes during the last quarter of a century which appears in the Report of the Royal Commission. Careful redistribution and registration reform are necessary to secure, under the present system, that the law of averages should give us that security—the security that a majority of votes give a majority of Members. The most glaring faults are, in my opinion, plural voting and the return of minority Members in the case of a plurality of candidates. I think it is pretty certain in this Parliament that we shall see the reform of the first abuse, and I think we shall act wisely if we secure the second. But if the Opposition desires that the whole question shall be dealt with, the Opposition, in my opinion, can secure that. No Liberal Ministry could refuse facilities to deal with the whole question. Let us have redistribution with one vote one value. One vote one value is not a monopoly of the party opposite. It is just as much desired by the party in this part of the House, and, in fact, by parties in all parts of the House. We should also extend the reform of the franchise by new registration arrangements to secure one voter one voice, and provide for multiple, candidatures. I do not consider that this Parliament will have fulfilled its duty unless it does something considerable to decrease the anomalies of our present system. If we cannot do the whole of that which is necessary, it is no argument for the continued existence of one anomaly to say that others are left. Multiple candidatures are a growing experience. I think they are a sign of vigorous electoral life. I think they are inevitable if the views of every class are to be duly represented here and adequately canvassed in the constituencies. I do not think you can. forbid, and I do not think you would be wise if you endeavoured to forbid, and tried to stop propagandist candidates. There are whole areas of social reform which cut across party lines, and the only way of developing public opinion is for what are called propagandist contests to take place. I shall have no hesitation in voting for the Resolution, for I feel that it is the duty of this House to secure, so far as it can, that its successor should have as broad a basis as possible of electoral support.


We have had a very interesting discussion, and this question has been dealt with from many points of view. I wish to put a point rather different from those which have already been stated. I presume that the object of our system of election is to secure that each constituency shall send to this House the man who represents the majority of the electors. Our main object in electing Members is to have, as fairly as possible, representation of the opinions of the whole country. Hon. Members have justified the existence of the present system on the ground that it brings about a kind of rough justice. That rough justice is secured by the establishment of injustices in different parts of the country which cancel one another. It is no comfort to me if I am suffering injustice to know that somebody in another part of the country is suffering injustice, even although he belongs to another party. An elector in any particular electoral area who is represented, or misrepresented, by a Member who has secured a minority of votes in that constituency suffers under a grievance which this House ought to remove. The Royal Commission gave instances of gross injustice. There was one very remarkable case during the election in 1909. In the Attercliffe Division of Sheffield 12,889 votes were cast in the election. The Member who was returned secured 3,531, and about 9,000 were disfranchised in consequence of the unjust operation of the present system. The injustice arises from the system enabling a relative instead of an absolute majority of votes in the constituency to decide. The extent to which that injustice is felt is much greater than appears at first sight. I have looked through the by-elections of 1912 and 1913. In 1912 there were twenty-one by-elections, and in 1913 there were also twenty-one. In 1912 five were three-corner contests, and in the following year seven were three-corner contests. As the result of these contests seven Liberals sit in this House by minority votes, two Tories sit by minority votes, and in only two cases—the case of Reading, where a Tory Member was returned, and the case of Chesterfield, where a Liberal-Labour representative was returned—was an actual majority vote registered in favour of the candidates who were returned.

There is a rankling sense of injustice on the part of electors who take all the trouble not only of voting, but of working for candidates whom they favour, when the operation of the electoral law is such as to deprive them of the fruit of the labours which would come to them but for the existence of that injustice. Will the establishment of this system of alternative voting rectify that? The second ballot has been spoken of. It has been practised in Europe and some of our Colonies, and it has been found not to effect the result for which it was established, and an hon. Member suggested that because the second ballot was condemned, and people were abandoning it, that that was in itself a condemnation of the alternative vote. I suggest that the alternative vote will do in most cases what the second ballot has set out to do and has failed to do. The alternative vote will secure to the Labour party, a better opportunity of representation in this House. It will enable them to put up their candidates in many more constituencies than they contest at present, and to test the constituencies and ascertain their strength without risking the return to this House of Members who, in nine points out of ten, are opposed to them. And it will enable them to return Members who, in nine points out of ten, are with them, and who only on the tenth point differ from them.

It will give labour an opportunity to establish its strength throughout the country, and will lead, I believe, to a very large access of numbers to the Labour party in this House, and will more or less do away with the wrong which now exists, which compels any member of that body, who, giving his first preference to the nominee of his own party, desiring to see representation of his own party here, is deprived of giving his second preference, and is thereby in many cases compelled to send back to this House a Member who, in nine points out of ten, will vote against his principles. The Royal Commission was very emphatic. I learn that the hon. Member for Durham has gone back on the opinion which he expressed as a member of that Commission. The Commission consisted of two Conservatives, and two Liberals, and of representatives of some of the great Departments, and representatives of Colonial opinion. It was not in any sense a party Commission. It examined members of all parties, and came to an emphatic conclusion. That conclusion was very emphatic indeed. In three separate places in their Report they give it as their opinion that the alternative vote really would effect to a very large extent, the purpose for which it is proposed. On page 305 they say— It was almost unanimously recommended to us by the men of wide practical experience, and diverse political opinions, whom we consulted. On page 307 they say— The alternative vote remains the best method of removing the most serious defect which a single-Member system can possess, the return of minority candidates, and accordingly we recommend its adoption in single-Member constituencies, and in the very last paragraph they repeat We recommend the adoption of the alternative vote in cases where more than two candidates stand for one seat. We do not recommend its application in two-Member constituencies, but submit that the question of the retention of such constituencies should be reconsidered. I do not believe that in any system of single-Member constituencies you can have anything like proper representation in this House. It is quite impossible under any such system. Even with the alternative vote you might have a minority of electors electing a majority in this House. The only system which to my mind can possibly make this House a real mirror of the opinion of the country is a system of proportional representation. The hon. Member opposite said just now that proportional representation in a constituency like Birmingham would add to the difficulties of small parties. He said that it is quite impossible for small parties to work a constituency like Birmingham, with six or seven representatives. On the contrary, I contend that whereas in a constituency like Birmingham a small party may have an insufficient number to elect any one Member under existing conditions, if they were able to poll all their members for the whole of the large constituency, they might quite easily get a total sufficient to enable them to secure representation in this House. While, therefore, I support strongly the Motion for the adoption of the alternative vote, I do not regard it as a solution of this question, and I hope to live to see the day when we shall realise the importance of making our system really representative, and I believe that that can only be done by the adoption of the system of proportional representation.


I rise to take, to some extent, the same point of view as my hon. Friend the last speaker, but I should like to consider for a few minutes the suggestion which has been made from the other side of the House that redistribution would be a cure for such evils as exist under our present system of representation, and that, with an adequate sys- tem of redistribution, we should not need to go further. No system of redistribution, however just and equal, would get over the difficulty that where you have three parties contending for one seat, or more than three parties, or different members of the same party contending for one seat, it is extremely likely that the minority of voters in that single constituency will get the representation. That is a fundamental injustice, and no redistribution can possibly get over that difficulty. Then, again, no redistribution can get over what is, to some extent, the same difficulty on a wider scale, namely, that, taking the country as a whole at one General Election after another, the proportion of Members returned for one party and another is hopelessly out of proportion to the strength of those parties in the country. Sometimes at a General Election you will get a very large over-representation of the party which has cast a majority of votes. Occasionally, but not so often, you actually get the result, as in 1886, that the party which is most numerous in the country gets the minority of the seats in this House. It is not sufficiently known that in 1886, if you allow for the unpolled constituencies, there was probably a majority of a little over 50,000 voters in this country for the Home Rule parties, although the Unionist party got a majority of, I think, 104 seats in this House.

No redistribution of seats can get over that. One of the most eminent statisticians has gone into the whole question, and it is quite clearly proveable that the redistribution of seats cannot get over that difficulty. No redistribution of seats will get over the cruel injustice that some parties are not represented at all in this House, and that people live and die in a particular place without ever being represented in this House. A man lives in a constituency and votes regularly, and for the whole of his lifetime he is represented by somebody who represents the exact opposite of everything that he wants to have voiced in this House; and you have parties, comparatively small parties, that can never get representation in this House at all. No system of redistribution will get over those difficulties. If you carry your redistribution out consistently in single-member constituencies, it will make the position of affairs much worse than it is at present, because it will multiply the cases where there are three parties struggling for one seat, and very nearly annihilate the representation of that which is the smallest party in this House at the present time, I mean the Labour party, which now largely owes its representation in this House to the fact that it gets one seat in certain two-Member constituencies.

If, on the other hand, you take the alternative vote which has been proposed to us, it would in many ways be a step forward. In the first place, it would secure that the man who is returned for a particular constituency should be the nearest possible approach to a representative of the majority of the constituency, and, if they are so divided that there is no one party which has an absolute majority of the whole, at any rate, they will have the opportunity of choosing the man who comes nearest to representing the majority of the constituency. There would be much greater freedom for the parties in putting up candidates in the different constituencies, and it would not have the unfortunate effect, as at present, that people are restricted in their choice to two candidates for neither of whom they care. You may have a man who is a convinced Socialist, and he has before him two Individualists, a Liberal, and a Conservative, neither of whom he wants. Then you may have a man of what are called moderate opinions, who has the choice of voting for one of two candidates, one of whom, to his mind, may represent the destruction of the Constitution, and the other the destruction of the trade of the country. His only choice is to vote for one or the other of those two. But the alternative vote would give parties greater freedom of putting up candidates, and at the same time give the electors much greater choice in the candidates for whom they are able to vote.

The advantages, from the party point of view, would be by no means all on one side of this House. It is a great mistake to suppose that on the second choice the Liberal candidate would get all the Labour votes. That would not be so. Either the Liberal or the Conservative candidate might sometimes get the majority. What is more, the Conservative might, in many cases, get a large proportion of the Roman Catholic votes on the second choice. Votes given to the Liberal on the Home Rule issue would on the second choice very often be given to the Conservative on educational issues. Also, I think there is no doubt that the Labour party would benefit in many cases, because there would be cases where people would vote for the Labour candidate who did not do so before for fear of letting in a man whom they disliked more than they disliked the Liberal candidate.

On the other hand, I think that, although this alternative vote is good, it is not good enough, and it has very many blemishes which have not been dwelt upon in this House to-night, and the first of them is that it would not give representation to any comparatively small party widely distributed throughout the country. You have the fact that at the present time the Labour party, which has hardly anywhere a local majority, is, nevertheless, widely distributed throughout the country as a whole. If you take the fourteen three-cornered by-elections which have taken place in this country since the General Election at which there have been officially recognised Labour candidates, the results are, in round figures, that the Liberals gained 87,000 votes; the Unionists, 76,000 votes; and the Labour party, 45,000 votes —not a very great difference in the size of those parties, especially between the Liberals and Unionists. The result in those fourteen seats has been that the Liberals got nine seats, and the Unionists five. The Liberals have got far more than their proportion of those fourteen seats, and on the other hand the Labour men have not got a seat at all, which is clearly a great injustice taking them as a whole, and perfectly just if you take the particular seat, because the object of our electoral system is to find the man who represents the largest body within the particular constituency.

If, however, you add the results of those seats, it works out a very great injustice. That would not be put an end to under the system of the alternative vote, which would however introduce another evil almost as great, because, while it would not give the minority, the smallest party, its just share of the representation, it would give it the perfectly unjust power of deciding, in practically every case, which of the two other parties was to get representation. If the Labour people had chosen consistently in those fourteen elections to give their second vote to the Liberal party they would have excluded the Unionists altogether from representation in the whole of those fourteen seats. If, on the other hand, they had chosen consistently to give their second vote to Conservatives in those fourteen seats then they would have given thirteen of the seats out of the fourteen to the Conservatives, and in only one case would the seat have been left with the Liberals. It is quite clear you are not giving the Labour party that to which they are justly entitled, but are giving them another power to which they are not justly entitled. What we want is just and real representation of the people of this country. I believe that men of all parties and of all opinions can agree upon that point. I venture to say that neither the present system, nor the present system redistributed, nor the alternative vote system can give it to us. I hope we shall rise to a higher view of this question than that suggested by the hon. Mover of the Amendment when he spoke of one system or the other costing one party or the other sixty seats. That is surely not the way we should look at it. I rather would commend to the House the words on this subject of the Prime Minister when he spoke at St. Andrews in January, 1906, and when he said:— It was infinitely to the advantage of the House of Commons, if it was to be a real reflection and mirror of the national mind, that there should be no strain of opinion honestly entertained by any substantial body of the King's subjects which should not find there representation and speech. No student of political development could have supposed that we should always go along in the same old groove, one party on one side and another party on the other side, without the intermediate ground being occupied, as it was in every civilised democratic country, by groups and fractions having special ideas and interests of their own. If real and genuine and intelligent opinion was more split up than it used to he, and if we could not now classify everybody by the same simple process, we must accept the new conditions and adapt our machinery to them, our party organisations, our representative system, and the whole scheme and form of our Government. That, I venture to think, is the true broad-minded generous view we ought to take of this question. I think that we can only get that by a system of proportional representation, but this alternative vote before us to-night will. I believe, be a distinct step in advance, and will give us, in spite of some disadvantages, many advantages, and I do not know how we are to get to the ideal system of representation of which the Premier speaks except by following this line. This alternative vote will familiarise us with a variety of political ideals and get us out of that pernicious view that everybody Who is born into this world alive Is either a little Liberal Or else a little Conservative, and will show us that there are great varieties of difference; and, secondly, it will familiarise us with the machinery, of the transfer of votes, for I think the Mover of the Motion, if I may say so, laid undue emphasis upon the difference—from the point of view of machinery at any rate— between the alternative vote and the proportional representation system. After all, the machinery is exactly the same, as far as the elector is concerned. He marks his paper in exactly the same way. The difference is that once you have got the alternative vote in single-Member constituencies, you go on to group your constituencies together, and thereby get a complete system of proportional representation. That is the only additional step to be taken after you have adopted the alternative vote. It is in the belief that we shall undoubtedly take that further step, with most admirable results so far as the public life of this country and the power and representative character of this House are concerned, that I support the Motion to-night.

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. J. A. Pease)

I rise on behalf of the Government to say that we welcome this Debate. We feel that the time is fully come for the views of the whole of the Members of this House to be expressed upon a subject of this character. We do not desire on this occasion to regard the question from a party standpoint. The Government Whips will not be named as tellers, and no influence will be brought to bear by any Member of the Government to induce Members to go into any particular Lobby. The object which the Mover of the Resolution had at heart was obviously to try and secure that Members of Parliament should be elected in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the constituents in the different electoral divisions. From his words, it might be conceived that he was also interested in protecting the rights of minorities. I think that the truth lies in considering the question from both standpoints. We ought to look at the question from the standpoint of whether the alternative vote is a device which would secure minority representation, and also of whether it would protect the majority from the consequences of a split vote. Looking at the matter from the first point of view, I would remind the House that minority representation is, no doubt, an excellent thing in itself, and I feel that the alternative vote also is an excellent thing in itself. But the alternative vote does not, and cannot be, expected to remove any grievance from which minorities suffer. If it had any effect at all in that respect I think it would rather add to their grievance.

Take the case of Wales in 1906. At that election Wales returned Liberal or Labour representatives to this House, and not a single Conservative representative, although there must have been something like 60,000 Unionist electors in Wales and Monmouthshire. Under the present system it is possible that in a three-cornered contest the minority might occasionally be represented, although they could not secure representation in a straight fight. But if you had the alternative vote it would be impossible, in a case of that kind, for a minority representative to be returned. Mr. Gladstone defended the single-Member constituency—he was mainly responsible for introducing the proposal into this House—on the ground that it would secure a fair representation of minorities. In the fulness of his experience, and with his unrivalled insight into electoral conditions, he held the belief that both parties under a system of that kind received a reasonable representation in this House. He regarded the wholesale return of Conservatives in a county like Kent as being a set-off against the wholesale return of Liberals in a county like Norfolk, or the West Riding of Yorkshire. His belief in actual practice has, I think, been proved to have been very well justified, because we see all kinds of opinions represented in this House, even with the three or four—call it, if you like, five or six—parties which at present compose the Membership of this House. We see also represented in this House the views of various bodies or particular interests held by a certain limited number of people. One has only to look at the Bills that have gone up to Grand Committee—the Plumage Bill, which embodies largely the view of hon. Members who seek the safety of the white egret; the Bill for the protection of grey seals, and the Bill for the protection of worn-out horses. There are individuals in the country who take a very strong view upon these particular questions that perhaps do not take a very comprehensive view of the very great issues which are before most Members of this House. I believe, therefore, after all, that these views really do find representation amongst the Members of this House.

Since 1884 there have been two very distinct tendencies in connection with our representative system. One is that the majority in the House has tended to be enormously in excess of the majority in the country. Take the election in which the Conservatives were returned—I take the figures from the Blue Book—in 1895. The Conservatives produced a majority, excluding Ireland—and in the evidence given before the Royal Commission—Ireland appears to have been excluded very largely because of the very large proportion of uncontested seats, of 211, while the voting strength in the country only warranted a majority of 37. If we take the Government majority in the 1906 election, exclusive of Ireland again, it was 289. Yet the electoral majority by which that was obtained under a system of proportional representation would only have given a majority of 77. These discrepancies only direct attention to the minorities, who chiefly suffer by them. Let me give a similar analogy in connection with the present Government. At the last General Election the Government majority was, exclusive of Ireland, 63, whilst the votes cast only justified a majority of 28. It is very easy to find arguments for these discrepancies. One mathematical expert who gave evidence before the Royal Commission pointed out that under the doctrine of chances, if 5 votes out of 9 were given in favour of a particular party, in the actual working out of our system, as it at present operates, it would mean that there would be a majority in this House in favour of the party whose voting power in the constituency was as 5 to 4. Whether that can be borne out scientifically or not I do not venture to say, but I think it has been well said that it is advisable in the interests of the country that the Government should be returned to power with a sufficient majority not only to enable it to govern, but to administer with some possibility of continuity and without its being imperilled every few minutes of its life that it might be dismissed by a snap division.


We do not pay any attention to that at present.


I think probably too much attention has been paid to it in the past, and that it is only on important occasions that it should carry much influence with the Government of the day. I admit that excessive disproportions are undesirable, and the question is: what is the remedy? Many Members of this House have advocated proportional representation. I believe that would be difficult to carry out, be- cause all the systems I have studied are somewhat complicated; and in addition to that they might tend to diminish the power of the Government, which ought to be reasonably strong in office. Then again, the other change which has occurred is that of the larger number of three-cornered contests, and these contests have been increasing. At the last General Election there were only five three-cornered contests, and, I believe, in these five, if there had been an alternative vote, no alteration could possibly have taken place in the result secured at the General Election, but in the by-elections that have occurred since that General Election, the figures are somewhat startling.

There have been seventy-two by-elections in Great Britain; there have been nine unopposed returns. Out of fifty contested elections twenty-two, or very nearly one-half, have been three-cornered contests, and of these twenty-two in six only has there been a clear majority in favour of the candidate returned as the representative of the Parliamentary constituencies, and in sixteen a minority representative has been returned, that is to say, that in 25 per cent. of the contested seats and in 22 per cent. of the total by-elections, individuals have been returned at by-elections to this House who do not represent the majority of the electors who voted in these elections. The hon. Member for Haggerston, I think it was, alluded to the case of Attercliffe in 1909. There was another celebrated case, that of the Colne Valley. In that election, not 30 per cent. of the electorate voted in favour of the candidate returned to represent that constituency. Of course, it may be said that, after all, these candidates with the alternative vote might have been returned. That, no doubt, is true, but the point is that the electors themselves do not know whether that representative has the majority of the electorate behind him. Such electoral incidents seem to me to somewhat discredit this House as a representative body. It forces us to look outside the House for the real meaning of the elections, and to indulge in arithmetical speculation. We all know how, on the morrow of the elections the party Press indulge in various figures to prove that every election is a moral victory, or to explain away the loss. It is much more satisfactory to an hon. Member of this House to be able to march up the floor and take his seat feeling that he can say that the electors have chosen him before all his competitors. If he can say that after a straight fight, if he can say that he has a majority of the electors behind him, he is in a much stronger position to express the views of his constituency than he would be if he only represented a minority of the votes recorded at his election.

Any system which enables discrepancies of this kind to occur obviously requires reform, and the alternative vote has this eminent advantage over the second ballot, that it telescopes the first and the second elections into one; it avoids all the disturbances to trade, the intrigue of a second election, and it secures the same personnel in the votes which are recorded. The issue is not varied, and, therefore, I can tell the hon. Member for Honiton that the electoral experts of the Liberal party agree with the experts of his own party in discarding the second ballot. Most of the electioneering experts in this country believe in the alternative vote, and have discarded the second ballot system as one which ought not to be adopted in this country. The alternative vote was strongly recommended by the Royal Commission, which has already been quoted by the hon. Member who moved this Resolution. I do not believe the alternative vote will meet every conceivable case. You might have a case where you have two extreme men returned at the head of the poll, and you might have a third candidate who took more moderate views on both sides of political questions very nearly receiving the same amount of support, and yet if you had the alternative vote you might have every single vote cast for those two candidates who tied for the first place recorded in favour of the third man, who is obviously the most popular man, and who would most adequately represent the Division.

At the same time, I believe that the alternative vote is a step in the right direction. It would be an educational step towards proportional representation, which many individuals desire to see on this side of the House. The great object of an electoral system is that it should be intelligible. There is a great flaw in any system which permits a candidate to be elected against the wishes of a constituency, but it is a graver flaw if the system is not intelligible to the ordinary elector. What I am anxious for is that our next step should be one which the electorate can understand, that it shall not be complicated, because that would deter electors from even attempting to record their votes, and a large number of votes would be spoiled, and the issue would be confused. The alternative vote does conform to the requirements of simplicity; it works well in Queens-land and Western Australia, where it has been tried, and it is an honest attempt to deal with a real and admitted evil. But there is a central preliminary which must be observed before it can be tried here, and that is that you must get rid of the twenty-seven double-barrelled constituencies which we at present possess. It is not popular. Well, if it be any offence—


No, the offence is the proposal to get rid of them.


You must get rid of these constituencies which return two Members. It is necessary that there should be single-Member constituencies all round if this alternative system of voting is to be given a fair trial. I believe that it will remove a real evil, that it will reduce, if not altogether abolish, minority representation, which is a growing evil in this country, and, for my part, I accept the Motion, and I shall be prepared to support it in the Division Lobby if any hon. Members challenge a Division.


I want to associate myself with the Motion that is before the House, but I want to make it perfectly clear, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. G. H. Roberts) that in doing this I am speaking solely for myself, and not for my colleagues on these benches. This is one of those questions on which there is a very interesting division amongst the Members of the Labour party, and, not only amongst the Members of the Labour party in this House, but also in the Labour movement in the country. I think that the Debate has clearly demonstrated that all sections of the House now realise that there is existing to-day a very serious electoral evil. Ever since I have been a Member, especially in important Debates, I have heard it repeatedly said by Members of the two Front Benches that this House ought always to reflect the opinions of the people of this country. I am quite sure that Members of all sections of the House have only to give our electoral system a moment's consideration to be convinced that under existing circumstances that is well nigh impossible. It ought to be possible for all sections of the community to find representation in this House. We are very far from that, and we shall not realise it to the full even if we accept the Motion that I am going to support in the Division Lobby this evening. I am fully convinced, however, that the operation of the alternative vote will be a very important step in the right direction. If the evil is admitted, as I have already said that I think it has been admitted to-night on all sides of the House, what are the different proposals that are put forward to remedy it? The supporters of the Amendment suggest that redistribution would assist in providing a remedy. In my opinion, to redistribute and to do nothing more would only intensify the evil so far as small groups, and especially so far as a party like the Labour party, are concerned. I can quite understand hon. Gentlemen opposite hanging on to the question of redistribution and not being particularly anxious to go very much further. We have only to look along those benches when there is anything like a full percentage of the Members present, and we can count a number of Members who occupy their seats in this House to-day on a distinct minority vote of the constituency for which they have been returned. I remember when I came here eleven years ago I occupied exactly the same position. I came here as the result of a three-cornered contest, one, I am sorry to say, of the very few cases where the member of the Labour party succeeded in obtaining more votes than the separate votes recorded for the candidates standing in the name of the two older parties. We have a large number here to-day, and therefore, so long as that continues we can quite understand that there is no very strong desire on the part of hon. Members opposite to alter the system. When I come to this side of the House I find there is an indisposition to do anything very thorough, because the result at nearly every by-election was that the most effective weapon against the Labour party in the election has been the cry that working men should not vote for the Labour candidate, as if they do they will secure the return of the Conservative candidate.


And a very good result, too.


I have no doubt the hon. Member for the City of London is very sincere in that interjection. But at the same time, that is not giving full and free opportunity for the electors to be represented in this House by the candidate or member of their party in whom they have the greatest confidence. It seems to me we shall never be in a proper position until that result is made absolutely certain. If the evil is there, what are the remedies suggested? Redistribution is only going to intensify the evil, because the more constituencies you create under existing circumstances, the greater will be the disadvantage under which the smaller parties or groups will labour.


Redistribution was not mentioned by me.


I was not suggesting that the hon. and gallant Member had advocated it. But what are the remedies that have been suggested? My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich and other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for North-West Durham, suggested that possibly a remedy might be found in connection with what is known as proportional representation. I hold this opinion, that if ever we get proportional representation in this country—and I do not deny that it has advantages—it certainly has advantages where the minority are concerned—if ever we get it, I am of opinion we will only reach it by having experience of the alternative vote. None of the supporters of proportional representation have pointed out to us to-night the very serious difficulty that there must be associated with the application of that system. I may point out what to my mind are very considerable disadvantages. First of all, I think to ask small groups that ought to have representation to contest under proportional representation some of the constituencies the advocates of proportional representation say must be set up, would be to impose a burden on small parties and groups which would be intolerable. The most formidable objection is: Has any one really suggested a satisfactory application of proportional representation to our by-elections that so frequently occur? The evils of the status quo come out most prominently in connection with by-elections. I have not heard a single advocate of "P.R." who was prepared to state a reasonable remedy for the difficulty of by-elections, or devise a plan whereby "P.R." could be applied in the event of by-elections taking place. Some say that we should not have by-elections. Some say we should have lists of candidates who should succeed. That is not going to be very popular with the electors. I find that in the great majority of cases, when a vacancy occurs, there is always a section in the constituency who, if the money can be provided by fair means, are going to try conclusions and see exactly what the result will be. Having regard to the difficulties of "P.R." I am driven to the conclusion that the House would be acting most wisely, in order to get out of the difficulty in which we are placed, to give a trial to what is known as the alternative vote. I am certain that until we have something in the nature of the second ballot—and I can see objections to the second ballot—until we have something akin to the alternative vote, which has been tried in some of our Colonies, the Labour party will be the party of all the sections in this House which is going to suffer most.

Figures have been quoted to-night of the number of three-corner contests. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke last referred to the number of three-corner contests at the last General Election. The number he quoted is no indication whatever. After all, the Labour party has to have the same regard to the electoral circumstances, and until they are put in a position where they are free to nominate in as many constituencies as they can find money with which to run their candidates they are not having their contests in this country under the free conditions to which, as a party, they are entitled. Personally, I have come to the conclusion that the only way in which we can be placed in a proper position is to get ourselves out of the very serious condition arising out of the electoral status quo, and so far as I am concerned I shall do everything in my power to alter the present system. Although I see the difficulties of "P. R." I would rather have "P.R." than the present system, but I would like to get "P.R." by giving the preference to the alternative vote. I therefore support the Resolution before the House.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 145; Noes, 23.

Division No. 61.] AYES. [11.0 p.m.
Abraham, William (Dublin, Harbour) Glanville, Harold James O'Malley, William
Acland, Francis Dyke Goldstone, Frank O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)
Adamson, William Gulland, John William O'Sullivan, Timothy
Allen, Rt. Hon. Charles P. (Stroud) Gwynn, Stephen Lucius (Galway) Parker, James (Halifax)
Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.) Hackett, John Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)
Barnes, George N. Hancock, John George Pearce, William (Limehouse)
Barran, Sir John N. (Hawick Burghs) Harmsworth, Cecil (Luton, Beds) Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham)
Beale, Sir William Phipson Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale) Pointer, Joseph
Beauchamp, Sir Edward Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West) Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.
Beck, Arthur Cecil Hayden, John Patrick Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)
Benn, W. W. (T. Hamlets, St. George) Hazleton, Richard Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)
Boland, John Plus Helme, Sir Norval Watson Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.
Bowerman, Charles W. Henderson, Arthur (Durham) Radford, George Keynes
Boyle, Daniel (Mayo, North) Higham, John Sharp Raffan, Peter Wilson
Brace, William Hinds, John Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)
Brady, Patrick Joseph Hodge, John Redmond, John E. (Waterford)
Brunner, John F. L. Hogge, James Myles Richardson, Albion (Peckham)
Bryce, J. Annan Hudson, Walter Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven)
Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas Hughes, Spencer Leigh Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)
Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, North) Illingworth, Percy H. Robertson, John M. (Tyneside)
Byles, Sir Wiliam Pollard Jardine, Sir J. (Roxburgh) Robinson, Sidney
Carr-Gomm, H. W. John, Edward Thomas Roe, Sir Thomas
Cawley, Harold T. (Lancs., Heywood) Johnson, W. Rowlands, James
Chancellor, Henry George Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth) Scanlan, Thomas
Chapple, Dr. William Allen Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East) Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)
Clough, William Jones, William (Carnarvonshire) Sheehy, David
Clynes, John R. Joyce, Michael Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook
Collins, Sir Stephen (Lambeth) Kilbride, Denis Smith, Albert (Lancs., Clitheroe)
Condon, Thomas Joseph Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade) Sutton, John E.
Cooper, Sir Richard Ashmole Lardner, James C. R. Taylor, Thomas (Bolton)
Cotton, William Francis Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West) Thomas, James Henry
Cowan, W. H. Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)
Crooks, William Lundon, Thomas Toulmin, Sir George
Crumley, Patrick MacNeill, J. G. Swift (Donegal, South) Verney, Sir Harry
Cullinan, John Macpherson, James Ian Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Ince)
Davies, Ellis William (Eifion) MacVeagh, Jeremiah Wardle, George J.
Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth) M'Callum, Sir John M. Webb, H.
Dawes, James Arthur Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.) White, Patrick (Meath, North)
Devlin, Joseph Molloy, Michael Wilkie, Alexander
Dillon, John Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N.W.)
Duffy, Wiliam J. Morrell, Philip Williams, John (Glamorgan)
Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness) Morton, Alpheus Cleophas Wilson, John (Durham, Mid)
Duncan, J. Hastings (Yorks, Otley) Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Essex, Sir Richard Walter Nolan, Joseph Wing, Thomas Edward
Ffrench, Peter O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) Yeo, Alfred William
Field, Wiliam O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.) Yoxall, Sir James Henry
Flavin, Michael Joseph O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)
Gill, A. H. O'Donnell, Thomas TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr.
Gladstone, W. G. C. O'Dowd, John Lyell and Mr. Wiles.
Baird, John Lawrence Eyres-Monsell, Bolton M. Rothschild, Lionel de
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Fell, Arthur Stanley, Hon. G. F. (Preston)
Barlow, Montague (Salford, South) Goldsmith, Frank Talbot, Lord Edmund
Bathurst, Charles (Wilts., Wilton) Gretton, John Thynne, Lord Alexander
Bridgeman, William Clive Hibbert, Sir Henry F. Touche, George Alexander
Cassel, Felix Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)
Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W. Pete, Basil Edward TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Major
Daiyrmple, Viscount Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel Morrison-Bell and Mr. Hills.
Denison-Pender, J. C. Rolleston, Sir John

Main Question again proposed.


rose to continue the Debate.

It being after Eleven o'clock, and objection being taken to further proceedings, the Debate stood Adjourned.

The remaining Orders were read and postponed.

Adjourned at Fourteen minutes after Eleven o'clock.