HC Deb 04 July 1917 vol 95 cc1133-255

(1) In a constituency returning three or more members, any election of the full number of members shall be according to the principle of proportional representation, each elector having one transferable vote as defined by this Act.

(2) If at an election for one member of Parliament there are more than two candidates, the election shall be according to the principle of the alternative vote as denned by this Act.

(3) At a contested election for a university constituency, where there are two members to be elected, no person shall vote for more than one candidate.

(4) His Majesty may by Order in Council frame Regulations prescribing the method of voting, and transferring and counting votes, at any election, according to the principle of the transferable or of the alternative vote and for adapting the provisions of the Ballot Act, 1872, and any other Act relating to Parliamentary elections thereto, and with respect to the duties of returning officers in connection therewith; and any such Regulations shall have effect as if they were enacted in this Act.

(5) Nothing contained in this Act shall, except as expressly provided herein, affect the method of conducting Parliamentary elections in force at the time of the passing of this Act.


With regard to the first Amendment on the Notice Paper, dealing with Clause 15, I think that the Committee may properly desire to decide the question of the methods of voting in universities, without it being necessarily involved in the question of Sub-section (1), and I propose, therefore, to take that Amendment not where it is on the Paper, but following the decision of the Committee on Sub-section (1). I think that will be the logical order in which to deal with these questions. The first Amendment, which will raise the general question of voting in other than university constituencies, will be the one standing on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for South Salford (Mr. Montague Barlow), to leave out Sub-section (1).


I beg to move to leave out Sub-section (1).

4.0 P.M.

I understand that it is your desire, Mr. Whitley, that on this Motion we should have something in the nature of a Second Reading Debate on the whole Clause. The whole question of proportional representation is one which has been under discussion for some time. We had an animated and interesting Debate on this subject upon the case of London, followed by a Division, in which each side claimed a victory, but now the trial of strength has to be taken again, and it is to be taken under different circumstances. The supporters of proportional representation have agreed to abandon the case of London, and to confine their delicate attentions to town constituencies in other parts of the country. I may say frankly, by way of preface, that there might be something to be said, at any rate much more to be said, for a general application of the principle whole-heartedly to the whole of the country, but I do not think there is very much to be said, except on the principle of trying it on the dog, for applying the experiment in this very limited and half-hearted fashion to a certain number of town constituencies. I think the feeling among the town constituencies concerned is that, while they might have been prepared to come in a general scheme, they do not see why they should be singled out for a limited and what, under the circumstances of the case, cannot, in our view, prove anything but a somewhat unfortunate experiment. The particular constituency with which I have the honour of being connected. namely, South Salford, is a third of an area which will be very directly affected by the proposals in this Bill. I speak possibly with all the more caution on the subject, because at one time I must frankly admit that I was myself an advocate of the principle of what is popularly known as "P.R." That was the time when I had not had the same practical experience of political life as I have had now. Many of us know occasions in our lives when, on theoretical grounds alone, we have arrived at a certain conclusion which the practical facts of experience have brought us subsequently to modify. I am frankly open to confess that in my own case this is one of those experiences.

I do not want to put the case against proportional representation too high. A good deal has been said about the difficulty of working it, about the mathematical abstractions involved, about the sums in algebra, about the coloured papers, and so on. I do not think we need attach a great deal of importance to those objections. We are accustomed to calling ourselves a stupid nation. It is not in the least true. In my humble opinion, we are one of the cleverest nations on the earth, and if proportional representation can be worked elsewhere I have not the slightest doubt that it can be worked, possibly with some difficulty but still worked, here. The main case put by supporters of this great change, because it is a great change, is this: They say that you will redress very obvious inequalities. You will secure-representation, if not for all views, at any rate for a very much larger number of views than you do at the present time. That in itself is assumed to be a very desirable object. I should like to enter one word of caution here. It is very easy to throw stones at the party system. We have all done it in our time, and I suppose we have all had to defend it in our time. The evils of the party system are obvious, but I am not at all certain that a much greater danger to our modern political life than the party system is a no-party system, or a multiparty system, a system of groups where it is quite impossible to fix responsibility, groups which come and go with a breath of wind, which are formed to-day and gone to-morrow. Without drawing any unfair comparison, or saying anything which would be interpreted in the least unpleasantly, we have in certain neighbouring countries experience of the group system which at any rate does not prove an argument favourable to inducing us to plunge into something of the sort ourselves.

In any case, so far as this particular Clause is concerned, broad questions of public policy really do not very much arise, because admittedly this is an experiment of a very limited character, and it would apply to a certain very limited number of towns. There are three divisions in Salford. We are exactly the kind of area which was in the mind of the draftsman of the Bill, because we have a population of something like three times seventy thousand, or a little over. We have three members, and we exactly fit the conception of the draftsman. The effect would be that instead of Salford having one member allotted to each of the three areas, there would be three members allotted to the whole of the area. Here we come to the great contention of the supporters. I have dealt with the argument that proportional representation would secure minority representation, and I have spoken of the danger of having too many minorities represented rather than too few. In addition, they say, "The caucus, the party machine, is like the human heart, deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Let us destroy it.'" And they say that this is the best means to up and smite it. They say that not only will proportional representation, as advocated in this Clause prove, if not destructive, at any rate a large handicap on the caucus, but it will mean that personal canvassing, personal effort, and personal work in the constituencies will become impossible, and that therefore that which is now a great impediment to a great many men will be removed and you will tend to improve the type of Parliamentary candidate. Those two things hang together. It is said that you will destroy the power of the caucus, and that you will relieve the Parliamentary candidate of a great deal of work. That and another are the two points that I want to make strongly.

Are you going to destroy the power of the caucus by this piece of mechanism, and are you going to relieve the Parliamentary candidate of a burden? My own belief, after very careful consideration, is that the inquiry should be directed the other way. I believe that it will increase the power of the caucus, and that it will impose a greater burden upon the member of Parliament. If you have a large list of men from which to select candidates, and if, instead of the two-party issue, you have a series of issues—and if you do not have a series of issues the whole case for proportional representation falls to the ground, because the whole case is that your elections are going to involve the representation of minorities, which means an enormous number of smaller but still what their advocates consider to be vital interests imported into the elections—you are going to confuse the issue very much from the point of view of the ordinary elector, or if "confusing" is considered to be a word of animus, I will say that you are going to make the issues much more complicated, more numerous, and more difficult. If you do that, surely it is a matter of obvious common-sense deduction that you must increase the power of the caucus, because if the issues become more complicated, more numerous, and more difficult, the average elector is bound to appeal to his party organisation to assist him. The effect must be that he will have to accept the dictates of his party organisation even more than he does at the present time.

Secondly—this is the other aspect of the same question—it is said that the individual member who may possibly now be able to canvass the electors over an area of 70,000 population cannot possibly canvass the electors and do effective local work over an area represented by 250,000 or something more in population. I am not at all sure that will be so. I am not at all sure that this proposal, so far from making it impossible for any candidate to undertake this work, will not have exactly the reverse effect. It will put more and more power into the type of candidate, who, for purposes of shorthand, I may call the "grubber," who goes down to his constituency and works. I am not decrying that work. We have all done some of it, and in many respects it is interesting work, but it does not deal with the larger political issues which, after all, are the main duties of a Member of Parliament. It is the business of a Member of Parliament to get to know his constituents, but the man who is always at work in purely local matters, devoting his time to them, and giving not very much time to this House, is not in my view doing what is the main work of a Member of Parliament. The effect of increasing the areas must be to put into the hands of the man who devotes himself entirely to the smaller local issues a great deal more power than he has even under the present circumstances. One thing is quite clear. Whatever else results, the expenditure will be infinitely greater. I am not complaining. A Member of Parliament, as part of the responsibilities of his office, ought to bé prepared to give whole-hearted approved to local charities, because in many cases other people will follow his lead.


Especially poor men!


If you increase the area three or four-fold, you make burdens of that kind infinitely greater. Therefore, if it is suggested that increasing the area will relieve the candidate of one kind of burden and enable you to get a better man, I think the argument is over-weighted by the fact that you increase the financial burden and so destroy the advantage which you might otherwise secure. That is the first point I want to make, because primâ facie the suggested effect on the power of the caucus is rather an interesting feature of the case for proportional representation. The second point I wish to make strongly is this: The effect of turning a member who now represents a third of an area into a member for the whole of the area must inevitably, in my view—this was the reason which converted me—destroy what I consider to be one of the most valuable, if not the most valuable, experiences and powers of a Member of this House. I mean the close personal contact between a Member and his constituents. Speaking from the point of view of an ordinary, humble, private Member, I may say that if it were not for the interest and for the privilege of help afforded by that contact between a member and his constituents, I should think that the position of a Member of this House was a very unsatisfactory one indeed. We are told that a man is limited to one side of politics or the other, but we all of us know that directly a man is elected it is his duty, and, indeed, his privilege to undertake all the small personal obligations of research, of asking questions, and of assistance which fall upon him, and he undertakes those obligations for all his con- stituents irrespective of party prejudice. Therefore, to say, as is urged, that the minorities in the one-member constituencies are not adequately represented— that is, for the purpose for which the constituencies want representation, which mainly is personal help over their personal difficulties—is not a sound argument. I believe that in single-member constituencies, if the member is any good, he does for these purposes fully, frankly and freely represent all parties in his constituency. Remember that this whole matter has been carefully considered before in England. There is nothing new about the proposal for proportional representation. We had something very like it from 1867 to 1885. I can remember the London elections under the old conditions, when there were three, four, or five members for an area, and the kind of scramble that used to result, and the very surprising conclusions at which the electors arrived. Those experiments were deliberately rejected in 1885. Those experiments were either by way of the transferable vote or the cumulative vote as practised under the school boards. They were carefully considered in 1885, when the matter was hotly debated.


The hon. Member is quite mistaken. There never was a transferable vote in this country.


Technically, that is correct, but the Noble Lord knows perfectly well what I mean. Those experiments were deliberately rejected in 1885, so much so that when, in 1910, the Commission came to consider the matter again, they said that in their view it was not desirable to return to the old state of affairs, that the single-member constituency had been adopted after consideration, and that, roughly speaking, it represented the sense of the community. It would have been possible for me to have considered the proposals, as they affect certain particular constituencies under this Bill. I was at one time rather tempted to go into that, but it is much better, on the whole, that we should, as far as possible, avoid the cases of particular towns or what the effect on those particular towns is going to be. We have to consider the perfectly broad issue. It would be broad if it were applicable to the whole of the country. We have to consider this experiment in connection I with the broad issue, and I hope we shall consider it on broad lines. On the two grounds which I have put before the Committee, namely, the danger of the increased burden and the destruction of the relations between the private Member and his constituency, I hope the Committee will vote against the proposal.


Before I put the Amendment, I might say that I have been approached by certain hon. Members asking whether the Amendments proposing to exclude particular cities will be taken. In my view they are not in order. The Committee, I think, must decide this question as a matter of principle; otherwise we shall have no end to proposals for the exemption of particular cities and boroughs. In that I do not include the Amendment standing in the names of a number of hon. Members to insert after the word "constituency" the words "outside the administrative county of London."


Why is that distinction made?


Because, on the grounds of existing distinctions in local government, I think there may be a case for a difference between the case of London and the rest of the country. I can see no ground and can find no precedent for the addition of a series of Amendments dealing with particular constituencies, and I must hold this in the interests of the Committee as a whole and hold firmly to that ground.


If it is right to propose an Amendment excluding London, why is it not also correct to propose to exclude, say, Birmingham, where there are similar classes of population? It is only a question of degree. London returns sixty members, and Birmingham, under the new principle, will only return twelve. That is no reason why a proposal should be made to exclude London, and one should be ruled entirely out of order in moving to exclude Birmingham. Surely it is only a question of degree between the sixty and the twelve?

Sir J. D. REES

May I ask whether your ruling applies to the Amendment of the hon. Member for East Nottingham, which contains no mention of Nottingham, which, however, objects as strongly as London, and has an equal right to be heard?


Is it not a fact that there is in London a method of voting which is different from that in provincial towns?


May I point out that Liverpool is not one constituency, but consists of nine different constituencies? Is it not in order for an Amendment to be taken referring to the whole of those constituencies in the name of Liverpool?


Is it not a fact that London consists of a number of boroughs, and why is that case distinguishable from that of other boroughs? It may be difficult to answer, and we believe it is, but we feel very strongly about the matter.


The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Hemmerde) has mentioned the considerations in regard to London and the reason for the distinction. It is quite impossible for me to accept these Amendments. There are well-known rules against admitting a series of diminishing Amendments, which is what it comes to if we deal with individual cases separately. That is quite an established rule in the Committee proceedings of this House, and I cannot in any way depart from it. Hon. Members who hold these views have a clear opportunity of expressing their views in the Lobby on the question I am about to put to the Committee. It is clearly a vote on principle and not on particular areas.


Would it not be in order to put down an Amendment to exclude all borough which would have more than ten members, or all boroughs which would have more than five members? In that way the boroughs would be treated not individually, but as a class.


On that point I must deal with the matters I see before me, and not with hypothetical cases.


Would it not be in order, if the case of London is a separate case, to take one, or a group, or all the provincial cases, and deal with them as one case, so that the decision in any one particular might be applicable to the whole of the provincial boroughs, treating London as one question and any area or a particular provincial borough as another question?


That is exactly what can be done by the method I have adopted. The Committee will have a clear opportunity of giving a vote as to whether this principle is to apply to provincial cities and boroughs and also-whether it is to apply to London boroughs.




Separately. It will have an opportunity of dealing with these particular questions separately. If the Committee decides that Sub-section (1) in principle is to stand, the Committee must have decided something, and it will have decided that either in London or in the provincial centres that the principle is to apply. That is perfectly clear, and hon. Members will know what they are voting for.


Would it be in order to move that all the boroughs in Lancashire should be excluded?



Colonel GREIG

Do I understand that your ruling also leaves open the question, assuming that we come to a decision on the case of London and the provincial boroughs, whether there should be proportional representation in the universities?


I gave that decision at the beginning of the proceedings. It is a separate question.


Would it not be in order on the Schedule, in dealing with particular constituencies, to remove a constituency from the class of constituencies dealt with in this Sub-section which have more than three members, and to break it up into its separate divisions and treat them as separate constituencies, and so to bring that particular place within the purview of this Clause? Take, for example, Nottinghamshire which will appear in the Schedule as a unit. Would it not be quite in order to move that Nottingham should be divided into East, West, and South Nottingham, so that there will be three separate single-member constituencies, and therefore out of the purview of this Clause?


Before you give your ruling on that, Sir, I would ask you to consider whether that point, as put to you, may not really be a subtle ecclesiastical method of obscuring the issue?


I think the Chairman should by the last person to attribute motives. With regard to the point raised by the Noble Lord, I do not think that that eventuality should be in hon. Member's minds when they are giving their votes, but, as the Schedules are at present blank, I cannot anticipate what my ruling may be when they are filled up.


As the Amendments are on the Paper, will it be possible for the Committee to consider at all the question whether proportional representation should apply to places other than London, if the Committee decides to leave out the whole of Sub-section (l)? We have not yet been able to consider the question of the application of proportional representation in the way which would command the greatest support in this Committee.


That is the case. If the Committee negatives this Sub-section, it has negatived the application of the principle to the provincial boroughs and presumably to London also, because the Amendments excluding London are down in the names of hon. Members who support Sub-section (1). It is a quite clear and definite opportunity for the Committee to express its considered view.


Do we understand by your ruling that we cannot hereafter move an Amendment excluding boroughs with less than five members?


I must again say that I can only deal with Amendments which are in front of me


I do not ask for more than that the matter should not be excluded by your present ruling.


I do think that the Committee has a clear opportunity for giving a common-sense decision without any confusion, and of coming to a conclusion on the Amendment at present before it. I am certain that it will not be my duty, if the Committee affirms the decision one way or another, to allow a series of proposals to exempt certain provincial towns. That would destroy the principle which the Committee would have decided. That is the principle which will guide me, even in these hypothetical cases.

Sir J. D. REES

If this Amendment is defeated, a city like Nottingham is condemned to be the subject of this experiment.


Order, order ! The hon. Member is not entitled to argue the merits with the Chair. He can see, I think, which way he ought to vote.


Do I understand you, Sir, to say that if the present Amendment is negatived you will take the Amendment on the Paper dealing with London?


Yes. If the present Amendment is negatived I shall then proceed to call the following Amendment in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for South St. Pancras (Colonel Sir H. Jessel), to insert the word "constituency "the words" outside the administrative county of London." That is quite clear.


The position has changed substantially in two or three ways since the House discussed the matter on the Instructions to the Boundary Commissioners, and it is desirable that we should appreciate what the change is. Those who are supporting proportional representation to-day have accepted the view with a considerable measure of regret, that London should be excluded from its application. We do not do that because we do not think proportional representation would work well in London and be an advantage to the community, for we still think it—indeed, we should like to see proportional representation applied to the whole country. But we recognise that London has been treated by Parliament as differing from the rest of the country in cognate matters for a long number of years past, and consequently we recognise that the conditions in London to-day are different from what they are in the large provincial boroughs and in Edinburgh and Dublin.


In what respect?


In this respect, that London has been turned by Parliament into a number of separate boroughs with separate entities, with definite boundaries, in which a certain growth of public opinion of a local character, almost a sense of nationality, has grown up. Each London borough is to-day rather proud of what I call its own nationality and the supporters of proportional representation have recognised that that has been the underlying view which has given strength to the opposition expressed in the House by various Members representing London boroughs. Rightly or wrongly, we have given way to that expression of opinion. We shall be told, of course, that we are opportunists. I, for one, frankly admit that I am. I am such a tremendous believer in proportional representation that I am perfectly willing to see London excluded temporarily, provided only the country will give proportional representation a trial. The other respect in which matters have changed is this, and it is a very important aspect in view of the main speech which has been made by the hon. Member (Mr. Barlow), who bases his opposition to proportional representation in the main, as he says quite frankly, on two points, namely, the expense to the member of a large proportional representation constituency and the difficulty that he would have in keeping in touch with his constituents. These I understand to be the two main objects.


I do not think I founded it entirely on the matter of expense. I said it would give a great advantage to the person who devoted his time to working in his constituency as opposed to the man who took up the larger issues of political life.


I think what I am going to say deals with that objection equally with the other objections my hon. Friend has made. If that is so, if in the opinion of the Committee the answer that we put forward to his objections is a good answer, of course we claim my hon. Friend as a supporter of proportional representation. The change is this: It was objected previously that by-elections are a great obstacle. That objection was based on a similar consideration to my hon. Friend's objection, namely, that with a large constituency and one member falling out—take the case of death—and a new member coming in, he would, ex hypothesi, have to fight the whole constituency, which would be both expensive and difficult. We have in the last few days put down an Amendment on the lines of what I indicated on that occasion I, for one, should be willing to do by which each proportional representation constituency would be divided up into wards. Take a five-member constituency. It would be divided up into five wards, which probably would be coterminous with the single-member constituencies which are now being marked out by the Boundary Commissioners. Five of these would be put together and they would form the one proportional representation constituency. Having divided your constituency in that way you then, on a General Election taking place, allocate one of each of the five members to one of each of the five wards, and for the purpose of expense, of subscriptions to charities, of keeping in touch with a section of the constituency of a manageable size, the ward would be just as available and useful and suitable as the single-member constituency to-day. Some hon. Member asks, "How do you allocate one member to each constituency?" Imagine the first General Election taking place after this Bill, with proportional representation in it, has passed into law. There would be sitting members for each of the new constituencies in the majority of cases, or for what would be approximately the new constituencies. Obviously, in the first instance it would be perfectly easy at the first election to do one of two things— either to let each sitting member go on till he is re-elected for what is, in effect, the old constituency or—and this is a perfectly simple way—let each member be allocated in order of election on the proportional representation system of election. I assume for the moment, although I do not believe, that every member of the Committee understands what that is. It is perfectly simple. The essence of it is that as soon as a member has obtained his quota of votes—that is to say, the number of votes necessary to put him in—he is elected. The votes given to him in addition to these are then transferred to the next member. As soon as he gets his quota he is elected. My hon. Friend (Mr. Barlow) very candidly said, "I understand the thing perfectly well, and recognise that it is perfectly simple, and I do not believe there are any practical difficulties about it." And I am grateful for evidence, particularly when it comes from the other side. That will be a perfectly simple way of allocating each member, one after the other, to the different wards. When that is done, what practical difficulty is there?


Will the hon. and learned Gentleman explain whether there is a choice of wards?


Whether the members should have the choice or the wards?


The members.


I was proposing chat the member should have no choice, but that ho should be allocated in order of election according to a pre-arranged order of wards. It could be done in two or three different ways, but obviously even to-day, where new members have to be chosen by constituencies, as a general rule a member is invited to stand. It may be he would much rather stand for some other constituency than that which asked him, but, being a sensible man, he accepts the offer when he gets it, and I cannot imagine there would be any practical difficulty in appropriating the members to the different wards of the constituency. After all, they would all be members of the one constituency, and if the different wards showed a strong preference—if it was found by experience that the wards wanted to choose their individual members—it would be perfectly easy to arrange that.


How could they choose without an election? I only want to be helpful. I do not see how you can settle it without a second election.


I am suggesting that the order of allocation of the members to the different wards of the constituency should be decided in advance in the sense that you call constituency A the first, constituency B the second, and constituency C the third.


Who decides which are to be A, B, and C, because apparently the man who comes out on top goes to A. Who decides the rather delicate and difficult question which is A and which is B?


I cannot answer which is the best system, but the Boundary Commissioners could perfectly well be told to number the constituencies 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. The point to remember is this. Before the candidates are known, there cannot be any choice beforehand as to which is the best candidate. One ward cannot prefer unknown candidate X to unknown candidate Y, and therefore you could perfectly well settle the order of the wards in advance, and then when the election takes place the candidates would be allocated one after the other to different wards.


Supposing there are five by-elections during the lifetime of a Parliament, you would then have five separate elections.


Another way of doing it which would be perfectly simple would be to have a second count of the votes after the members had been elected, and the members elected would be allocated to the different wards in order according as to whether member A or member B got the most votes for that ward.


What would happen under my hon. and learned Friend's proposal if three different wards all express a preference for the same candidate?


I have just given the answer to that. If you took the number of votes given to each elected member that came from each ward by a second count for that purpose, you could then ascertain which candidate got the most votes from each respective ward, and then you would allocate the ward to the member who got most votes from that ward. It is perfectly simple. I do not see any difficulty at all about that. The real big answer is that several different systems of allocating members to wards have been thought out, and if proportional representation is in principle worth having, we are not going to reject it because of a difficulty as to the way in which you are to decide which member, when elected, is to be the representative for that ward for the purpose of charitable subscriptions and of keeping in touch with the electorate, and that sort of thing. Of course, I understand the desire of my hon. Friend to have the question answered because I have no doubt he would like to get my constituency when we are re-elected for Liverpool; but really, if you take the system I suggest of a second count of the votes for the purpose of ascertaining from what part of the constituency the votes that are allocated to different members come there would be no difficulty at all. You would then get a perfectly conclusive proof of which ward preferred which member, and that is in effect the popular system of election.


May I ask whether that would not apply only to the area?


I really do not think we are having an orderly Debate. Let each side put its own case.


I am obliged for your protection, Mr. Whitley, but at the same time I am very glad to have had these interruptions, because they deal with a point that has, I am sure, in many minds loomed very large as a practical objection, and I pass from it with a request to the members of the Committee present just to turn over the suggestion I made, and to consider whether that would not in effect give to the ward their own choice as their member. I think the Committee will recognise that it was not entirely my fault that I spent so long a time over that point, and I pass now to the other respect in which the practical position in this Committee has changed since the last Debate. It is this: In the last Debate those of us who spoke in favour of proportional representation urged very strongly indeed that the House should bear in mind that this Bill is based upon the proposals of the Speaker's Conference, that that Speaker's Conference was like a piece of building the stability of which depends upon the continuance in their respective positions of the various planks, timbers, and stones, and we said that if you take out one you do not know bow you will disturb the equilibrium of the whole fabric. There was a threat of disturbance to this Bill far more wide-reaching than most people realise in the discussion on Clause 7 as a contingent result of the taking out of this plank of proportional representation. On Clause 7 we were discussing the business vote. One of the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference was that the business vote should be given as a second vote, not only in different boroughs but in different constituencies of the same borough. That proposal was a concession, as it was put in this House, by the Liberals to the Conservatives. The Conservatives argued in this House that that concession was irrespective of proportional representation. Both the Liberals and Members of the Labour party argued that it was conditional upon the acceptance by this House of proportional representation, and that if proportional representation were withdrawn that concession would go with it. I know that there are a number of members of the Conservative party who take a very strong view indeed as to the importance of preserving this second business vote, and I want to say that if pro- portional representation is withdrawn we shall see a pure party division of this House on that subject. I recognise at once the strength of the Liberal and Labour case, that whatever the history of the Speaker's Conference was, at whatever stage in its proceeding it was agreed that the business vote should be given, yet this House must take the conference proposals in their final form in the letter to the late Prime Minister, and that in their final form the balance of these proposals included proportional representation on the one hand and the second business vote on the other. That is what I understand the Liberal and Labour argument will be. It will be a strong argument, and, speaking as a Conservative, much as I regret it, I see that there is very great strength in that argument. Supposing the majority of the House took the view that if proportional representation went the second business vote went in the boroughs, where would that lead us? We cannot tell if we take out one plank in this fabric to what extent that removal will bring other planks down with it.


Does not that apply to London?


I believe that is a perfectly just observation, and I regret very much the taking out of London. I should like to see it kept in on that ground. I should Jake to see the whole Speaker's Conference proposals kept in this Bill without any modification of substance, but after all the withdrawal of proportional representation proposals from London his been put forward, not almost unanimously, but by a large majority of the London members of different parties, and I do not think it could be said that the withdrawal of proportional representation, so far as London is concerned, should be treated as a ground for the Liberals demanding the withdrawal of the second business vote. That is my view. I want to consider this thing not from the point of view, so to speak, of the questions of detail that have been cropping up in different interjections in the course of the Debate, and particularly in points of Order which have been addressed to the Chair, but on larger and wider grounds. What will this House be mostly concerned with in the Parliament that follows the War? Problems of reconstruction. In the first General Election there will be no main party issue. We have all heard the argument, and it has a certain force in it, that one advantage of the single-constituency system is that you get a swing of the pendulum slightly exaggerated in such a way as to give a larger working majority, and making the Government of the day more effective as the instrument of government. That is an argument entitled to weight, but it is an argument that presupposes a main cleavage of opinion among the electors on a main party issue that is well defined. At the first election after the War there will be no main party points. An hon. Member asks, Why? I think the rest of the Committee will agree at once why that is so, but I will answer the question. Just because we shall be preoccupied with questions of reconstruction of a complicated kind involving give-and-take in every problem. What is the Reconstruction Committee doing to-day with a large number of sub-committees of very distinguished men? Working out solutions of a large number of problems which will demand immediate solution as soon as the War is over. What do these committees represent? Are half of them one party and half another? No; every one of these committees is, so to speak, a coalition committee, just as the Government is a Coalition Government representing different points of view, the party points of view never appearing at all.

Mr. DENNISS rose—


If the hon. Gentleman will abstain from his seventeenth interruption, I would ask on those questions what will be the position? There will be a Report to the Cabinet from a large number of these committees, through the Reconstruction Committee, recommending measures of reconstruction embracing a number of different streams of opinion, just as the Speaker's Conference made suggestions representing a number of different streams of opinion. In a House that has to deal with those problems we shall not want a strong working majority of one party. On what issue could the election take place for such a purpose? It cannot. What we shall want is men sent here from the constituencies with a very wide measure of discretionary authority from their constituencies to take decisions on a number of subjects which cannot possibly be put before the electors at all at the next election. At that election we shall be utterly unable to get a mandate from our constituents on one-tenth of the important problems that will have to be solved in the next Parliament. I say, therefore, that the essential thing to do in the next Parliament is to get every side of public opinion in the constituencies represented, no large minorities left out, and good men chosen by the constituencies. Let me give an illustration. We do not want men like Mr. Lincoln, the German spy, who was put up by one party for Darlington some years ago, and who could not have got in under a proportional representation system at all. They would not have had him. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because under a proportional representation system one of the great advantages is that the electors join together in knowing the type of man they want. You get a large number of people joining together and a strong local man is nearly always forthcoming, I understand from those with practical experience of proportional representation.


May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that Darlington is a single-member constituency?

5.0 P.M.


I am perfectly alive to that fact, that a single-member constituency sent Mr. Lincoln to this House. In the Press just recently, and in certain, quarters of this House, it has been said —by Lord Eversley in a pamphlet issued under his signature—that for practical purposes we have tried proportional representation in the past in this country and it was a failure. My hon. Friend in his speech inadvertently said that not only the cumulative vote but the transferable vote had been tried. The transferable vote, which is the essence of the scheme before the House, has never been tried in this country, and therefore it is idle to refer to the experience of the cumulative vote or the limited vote under the Act of 1867 as evidence against proportional representation. I think you may say that both of them gave some representation to minorities, and were therefore an advantage. I think you can say that, but to say that you cannot get anything like the same advantage under proportional representation and the transferable vote is, I maintain, absurd. One other objection was made on the point of expense. The Bill proposes in towns 4d. as the limit for expenditure. It is said that the single candidate standing for a proportional representation constituency would not himself be able to stand the expense on that footing. I recognise that the total expense for a single candidate standing would be considerable, but surely it is perfectly easy to put a limitation in the Bill by which a single candidate should have a maximum limit of expenditure of some figure, like &£1,000, such as we all recognise under existing circumstances is reasonable; or it might be lower. I for one am all in favour of reducing the cost of the election, and preventing the extreme system of canvassing, posters, and so on, which involves so much expense. I take a very strong view that it is very important indeed that the poor man should be able easily to get into this House. The difficulty with regard to proportional representation can easily be met by a limit of that kind. I will refer to one other objection which has been raised. An hon. Member has circulated to Members of the House some statements with regard to proportional representation in Tasmania. He has stated that a representative of that country has come here and suggested that the system had not worked well there. But the answer to that is that after he returned to New Zealand that Minister introduced two measures of proportional representation for New Zealand and himself piloted them through the Parliament. Therefore we may, I think, come to the conclusion that that objection is disposed of, and we may claim the facts as evidence in support of our case, I would appeal to the Committee not to decide this question of proportional representation on the basis of minor points, points of difficulty in working, or points of local interest. Just think for a moment what is the position of this House. We are the Mother of Parliaments. We are here to set an example to the British Empire so far as we can, and to show the best system of representative election that we can devise. We ought not, therefore, to allow any local considerations or minor details to outweigh our consideration of this matter. At the present time the absence of proportional representation is causing trouble in more than one part of the British Empire.

I will take the case first of Australia. Adelaide is represented in the South Australian Parliament by fifteen members, every one of whom belongs to the Labour party. The other parties in Australian politics represent 40 per cent, of the electorate of Adelaide, but they have not a single representative in the Parliament, because all the fifteen seats are held by the Labour party. Again, in the mining districts of Western Australia, the ten members in the local Parliament all belong to the Labour party, and the employers and the rest of the community do not hold a single seat. Under proportional representation the minority party would have approximately a proportionate share of the representation. But, as matters stand, one side of the community under the present system is entirely shut out. Then, again, take cases where racial questions are involved. Take the case of the Orange Free State. An hon. Member near me suggests that that is not England, but I am coming to that in a moment. In the Orange Free State General Botha contested fifteen seats, but he did not get a single representative elected, although he polled 36 per cent, of the votes. In regard to South Africa, Sir Percy Fitzgerald wrote recently to Lord Grey recalling the fact that the South African Convention of 1909 unanimously recommended proportional representation in elections to the South African Assembly, but, owing largely to the opposition of one of the influential political organisations, that particular recommendation was dropped. Sir Percy says that that was a bad day's work, and he adds: I really believe that we should not have had any riots or rebellion in South Amen if we had had it. Take the case of Quebec. There to-day the great bulk of the seats are held by one party under a system where they have not proportional representation, and that party is apparently going en masse against conscription. If there had been proportional representation in Quebec no such thing could have happened. Unfortunately, to a large extent you have there differences of race as well as of party, and as you have no proportional representation the result is that in particular areas you have a state of affairs in which one race or one party has complete domination to the absolute exclusion of the other.

Let me bring the matter nearer home. In the Government of Ireland Act the provision inserted in regard to proportional representation is couched in exactly the same words as we seek to apply in this Bill to-day. It is true it is only applied, with regard to the Lower House to Belfast and Dublin. But what is the position today as regards Ireland? Upon what basis has the Irish Convention been framed? Is it not upon proportional representation, or something very similar—proportional representation of all the different interests in Ireland? The Government of Ireland Act will be in the melting pot if the Convention, as we hope, comes off. Can any person conceive a more disastrous thing than a proportional representation which is not to be made general in Ireland? We know the one thing that is wanted to unify Ireland is to put an end to a state of things under which in one geographical part of the country one party has complete domination to the absolute seclusion of the other. Without proportional representation one may perfectly well expect to see the whole of the South and West of Ireland swept by Sinn Feiners. Under proportional representation no such result would be possible. We have this example very near at home, and if we in this House reject proportional representation will it not be a very difficult thing for the Convention to advise its adoption in Ireland?

We should remember that we are here in this House to set an example to all the Legislatures of the Empire—not to dictate to them, but to show them what we think is best. One of the great merits of British constitutional progress has been that we have not rejected things on theoretical grounds; we have not rejected them without trying them. Now, we have never tried proportional representation, and I do urge the Committee to give it a trial in this country. That surely is the wisest thing to do when you find the objections to it are mostly theoretical objections, mostly difficulties which you think may exist in practice, but which practice may very likely dispose of altogether. I will only end with this, that if ever we are to try proportional representation in this country now is the right time to try it, because the first Parliament after the War —it may or may not be the next Parliament—will have to deal with a vast variety of topics upon which the party lines of the past will still remain obliterated and on which party lines will give no guidance, or very little guidance. Because of this I do ask the Committee to say, "We will not reject this thing without trying it." May I wind up by making an appeal to individual members of the Committee not to go into the Lobby against it on any point of practical difficulty in working it out? Give it a trial, and, above all, do not go into the Lobby against it unless you are quite sure that you do not believe in it.


I am one of those who speak on this question as having no personal interest so far as my Constituency is concerned. It does not affect me. I am speaking in the general interest. With reference to one or two points made by the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Scott), he says that the next election will be a non-party election. He may be right or he may be wrong, but we are not legislating and establishing the franchise for the next election only. Therefore, you cannot consider the question upon that basis. When he tells us that Mr. Lincoln would not have been elected for Darlington under proportional representation, I cannot follow the working of his mind. Mr. Lincoln was elected by a large majority. He captured a large majority of the electors of that town, unfortunately, against a very popular local candidate. Unfortunately he did so, but if representation has any force at all the man who polls a big majority must be in. If proportional representation means that the man who polls a big majority is to be out, then I do not understand it. We were referred to South Africa, Adelaide, and other parts of the world. I am quite prepared to grant that there may be such exceptional conditions in certain parts of the world and in certain parts of the United Kingdom that proportional representation may be the lesser evil of two, but it does not follow that it is desirable to adopt it here. I would like to say a word to those who do not believe in proportional representation, but who, in the last Division on this matter, voted for it. That Division only showed a small majority, but it did not mean that the small majority represented all those who voted who were against proportional representation. Every man who voted against it was against it, but a great many who voted for it did not approve of it and did not like it and they voted for it simply because it was part of the Conference compromise. That means that a large majority in the Division were against it. I want to ask those hon. Members whether they are going to take part in imposing a system in which they do not believe upon constituencies who do not want it? They are not justified in doing that. Let those who vote for this thing impose it upon themselves and have it in their own constituencies. They are voting to put it upon constituencies in the main other than their own. Artemus Ward said during the Civil War in America that he was prepared to sacrifice all his wife's relations. A good many Members of this House seem prepared to sacrifice any constituency but their own in this matter.

In regard to the Conference proposals, pressure is being put upon Members to accept a system they do not believe in because it is part of the Conference recommendations. I do not wish to undervalue the weight of that contention. The hon. Member (Mr. Leslie Scott) pressed it. In my view the compromise suggested by the Conference was only a suggestion to this House. We are surely entitled to review it and to revise it. We are the House of Commons. If we fail to revise and consider the merits of that suggestion we fail in our duty, and the responsibility for the measure will be ours. We cannot delegate responsibility to anybody else. We did not delegate it to anybody else. We did not appoint the Conference. We did not select the members. They did not represent this House. They represented special views in this House. I make no complaint of the selection. I think it was a wise selection. If you were to effect a compromise it was desirable that you should consult those who take strong views on various points. But it was the weakness of the Conference. When you have members on a committee holding strong views on particular points they are very apt to be willing to consent to almost anything else if you will only put their particular point in. That is how you got some points accepted which would never otherwise be accepted. The strong advocates of women's suffrage would agree to almost anything in order to get women's suffrage put in. The strong advocates of proportional representation would agree to almost anything else if they could get their plea, "For goodness sake let us have proportional representation!"

If the recommendations of the Conference are not to be touched, if they are sacrosanct, then you must swallow them as a whole, and you ought not to have any discussion on Amendments of the sort we have been discussing here. The only point you ought to discuss would be whether this Bill does really give effect to the recommendations of the Conference, and you ought not to discuss anything else. You are not following that principle. The supporters of proportional representa- tion who appeal to us on the ground of compromise are not doing that. They are willing to alter the recommendations when it suits them to do so. The Committee and the Government are altering them in other directions. Already the Government are considering or accepting the proposal to give agriculture a greater share of members than it is entitled to. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. Leslie Scott) is one of the advocates of doing that. That is a contravention of one of the fundamental principles laid down by the Conference, that all the votes should be of equal value. They are setting that on one side. I am not objecting to some of these things; I am merely illustrating the fact that they are altering the compromise and departing from it and then they appeal to us not to depart from it in regard to proportional representation. It is being considered whether a vote should be given to certain soldiers and sailors under twenty-one years of age—an important departure. We are also asked to agree to abolish the Poor Law relief disqualification, which again is an alteration of the recommendations of the Conference. We have also had a suggestion, and it is being considered by the Government, to add 5,000,000 more women to the local government franchise. I do not object, but my point is that the advocates of proportional representation are not abiding by the results of the Conference. They admit that they are free for discussion and decision here, and I claim the same right for ourselves. The Government has exercised discretion and is discriminating amongst the recommendations of the Conference. They have decided that the question of women's suffrage and proportional representation shall be left to this House. That is discriminating and using discretion. Surely Members of this House have an equal right to discriminate and to exercise discretion!

The Second Reading of this Bill was obtained on the distinct, definitely stated understanding and condition that women's suffrage and proportional representation were to be left to the free decision of this House. It is a breach of that understanding to call upon us not to exercise that free discretion and decision here on the ground that the Conference recommendations are being departed from. It was on the condition that these matters were to be left to the free decision of this House that the Second Reading of the Bill was obtained. I took that to mean that we were to vote according to our view as to the merits of the questions, and that we were not to be threatened with the Bill being destroyed. I claim the right to give a free vote here without being threatened with reprisals by a defeated minority. On this question of accepting the recommendations of the Conference I wonder whether, when we have a Conference which has been suggested for dealing with the question of the Second Chamber, and it makes certain recommendations, those same Gentlemen will occupy the same position with regard to those recommendations and deprecate any departure from them? I shall be very interested to see. The right hon. Member for St. Pancras took, I think, a more correct view. He said this Bill is not intended to represent or procure a compromise, but the greatest common measure of agreement. Just so. But agreement where? Surely here! The greatest common measure of agreement in the House of Commons. If that be so, how is that greatest common measure of agreement to be arrived at? Surely it is to be arrived at by accepting the decision of the majority on the various points! Carry that principle out and you get the greatest common measure of agreement. A compromise and the acceptance of the greatest common measure of agreement involves a good deal of give-and-take. The divisions of opinions on the mainly disputed points in this Bill do not run on party lines; they cut right across party lines. The question of women's suffrage and proportional representation cut right across party lines. The reasonable thing, therefore, is to accept the decision of the majority. The Conference suggestion as the basis of compromise is, on the whole, an exceedingly good one, and the acceptance it has met with in this House indicates that. Personally, I am prepared to accept it entirely except on this one point. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Well, a large proportion of Members of this House are voting against it on a number of other changes, and are urging a number of other points, and they are advocates of proportional representation. They are trying to upset me compromise on a number of other points.

Proportional representation is to me a very objectionable departure. It is a departure that would never be agreed to by this House under ordinary circumstances. Advantage is being taken of exceptional conditions to foist an objectionable fad upon constituencies which hate it. I shall accept the vote of the House of Commons on this point without telling the House of Commons that, if I cannot have my way on this, I am going to vote against something else that I would have accepted if it had not been for this. That is playing the baby. This proposal should be decided on its merits and not because someone else is swallowing something that he does not like, and he wants this as a kind of jam to enable him to get the other down. We are all swallowing a good deal that we do not like in this Bill. A good deal is said about a microcosm and mirror of the nation. It is said that this House should be a microcosm or mirror of the nation. In my opinion it is not desirable or necessary that it should. We have got cranks enough. There are plenty of every description and kinds and groups and shades of cranks in the country, and the object is to get more of them here. The ideal is a House of Commons that will give us the best, the most effective and the most efficient Government, and you will not get that by collecting here a microcosm of all the conflicting and discordant elements of the nation. That is the way to get a bear garden and not an efficient, deliberative, legislative assembly. The object of a General Election is to ascertain the opinion of the majority of people of this country and to secure a House of Commons that will give effect to it. To secure efficiency a substantial majority is necessary, with effective and responsible criticism by an Opposition which is prepared to assmue the responsibility of office. This is not the place for irresponsible and self-advertising people, nor is this the place for the ventilation of the propaganda of every fancy proposal of every group and faction in the country. Outside is the place for them, in the Press and on the platform. Let them convince the public and induce the public to send their representatives here. This should be a businesslike legislative assembly, which will particularly watch the administration of the laws which it makes and the authorities which it sets up. It should not be a mere debating society, a public meeting for demonstrative, propaganda or advertising purposes. If the microcosm and mirror theory were a sound one the Cabinet ought to be a microcosm and mirror of this House of Commons, and a nice mess it would be. It would be paralysing, and you would never give any policy a chance. It would have the same effect upon Parliament.

In common with other hon. Members, I have read this morning a Whip in which it is said: We would submit that proportional representation would give more accurate representation in Parliament of the opinions of the nation, more freedom of choice to the electors, more freedom of members and candidates from undue pressure, and more stability to the Government of the country. I dispute every one of those assertions, and I particularly dispute the last. I say that the result would be precisely the opposite. Stability of Government ! Why, the literature that they have circulated tells me that according to their method of calculation—


Have you read it?


Yes, perhaps I know as much about it as the hon. and learned Member who is always insinuating that those who oppose this do not understand it, and has said so this afternoon. By their methods of calculation, which I do not adopt—and I am not sure that they are accurate—they show that under proportional representation in 1886 we should have had a Liberal majority of eighteen; in 1895 a Conservative majority of two; and in 1900 a Conservative majority of two; and that is the kind of thing that is to bring about stability of the Government of the nation. Why, the thing is ludicrous, and it is obvious to anyone who can look at it with plain common-sense that it will not conduce to stability of the Government. A House of Commons with a small majority dependent on what we call independent members and representatives of minorities with specialised views, means a weak House of Commons, a weak Executive, always on the tremble and the wobble. If the majority are to rule, it is desirable that they should have reasonable and sufficient power to develop, carry, and administer their policy, and a half-baked, milk-and-water policy, neither one thing or another, is doomed to fail when it is put upon the Statute Book. I am one of those who believe that party government is essential to the success of popular representation. You must have a definite substantial majority for successful and efficient party government. Proportional representation encourages and is intended to increase the representation of groups, sections, and minorities. In other words, it is intended to reduce the power of majorities.


Has it done that?


That means weakness in decision and inefficiency, and it is what they anticipate and what they desire. The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University urges, as an argument for proportional representation, that the Parliament Act, the Home Rule Act, and Welsh Disestablishment could not have been passed under it because the Government would only have had a majority of thirty-eight. That means that though there would have been a majority for the Government which had decided in favour of this policy, yet the Government could not carry it into effect because the majority was not strong enough. They put forward in the interests of stable government, and of good government, this plan which would render majorities inefficient, and really mean a weakening of the majority rule and a strengthening of the minority. Is that the kind of thing we want? The hon. and learned Member has referred to the problems which we shall have to face after the War. We do not want them faced by a Government on the wobble. We want clear views, and a Government in power with a majority behind it that can put its decisions through, and not a Government that will have to bargain with every minority here and there, so that the value of their legislation would be destroyed. Nothing could be more unfortunate, and nothing would be more certain to be disastrous than that kind of thing. The truth is that proportional representation is desired by a large number of its supporters in order to hamstring majorities. Some of them do not want legislation. I shall not do the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University any injustice if I suggest that he is not unduly anxious about legislation, and I should not do my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London, who, though very strongly opposed to this Bill, voted for proportional representation, any injustice if I suggest that he is not very anxious to facilitate much legislation in this House, and that his vote given for proportional representation had behind it a lingering desire, or hope, or knowledge, that it would facilitate the hampering of what we call pressing legislation.

The Whip tells us that proportional representation would give more freedom to Members of the House of Commons. It means smaller majorities. Their own figures show that. I have been in this House a member of a party with a small majority. Those who sat here from 1892 to 1895 as supporters of the Liberal Government of that time know what it is to be in power with a small majority, running at most up to forty, and sometimes down to ten. Do they think that that promoted freedom? No. You could not be over the line for a moment. You must keep within the traces. It was bad for freedom. If freedom is what you want it means large majorities, so that you can run loose a bit. Proportional representation means small majorities; small majorities do not mean more freedom to Members. Every statement in that whip I venture to say is inaccurate. Then again, I say that small majorities in this House are undesirable, as groups and separate parties will tend to grow, and the danger of the group system is weakness of the Executive, continual changes of government, log-rolling, bargaining, not less pressure but more, and a kind of political blackmail. What is wrong with the present system of single-member constituencies? Mainly a lack of equitable distribution of the electorate into constituencies something like equal in size, and what we have got to guard against is those specious pleas for excepting this, that, or the other place because it has got a history —in some cases it is better not to refer to it from the electoral point of view—or because of a particular industry, and all that kind of thing. That is where very largely you get the inequality. So far as I can understand there is no school of minority thought of electoral importance in this country that is not already represented in this House. No practical advantage would result from proportional representation. It would almost certainly disappoint those who are expecting a party result from it.

Those who have had most experience and most knowledge of the attempts made in the past to manipulate the electoral arrangements of constituencies for party objects know perfectly well that there is no greater delusion under the sun. You cannot do it, and you would be very much disappointed, and I think that even the philosophers who are in favour of this— because it is supported by these politicians on the one hand who are, so to speak, on the make for party reasons, and by the philosophers—will also be disappointed. The philosophers will not get the result which they expect they will, and I am certain that the party managers will not. The hon. and learned Member said "omit London." That is buy-off opposition. That is the kind of bargaining we shall get under proportional representation, not a clear decision, not a decision on the merits, not the rule of the majority, but the very thing I have been objecting to, bargaining and political corruption. You are going to omit London because London Members are opposed to it, but will you take a vote of the members of the constituencies upon which you propose to inflict it, and if they are opposed to it will you omit it in their case? If not, why not? I believe that you would find extremely strong opposition, quite as strong as the opposition from London, among those who represent the other cities and boroughs upon which you wish to make this experiment. Try to stand to your guns and your principles, if you have got any.

If it is confined to the boroughs outside London returning three Members of Parliament or more, I understand that there will be twenty-two of those boroughs or cities. At the present time I understand that they are represented by forty Unionists, thirty-three ' Liberals, and nine Labour Members. That does not look as if the present system was working so very unfairly, taking it as a whole. Then what is going to be the result of proportional representation in those constituencies? Take your three-member constituency. There will be only one minority member. Who is it to be? What about the other minorities for which you are concerned? Take a Conservative city with three Members. The Conservatives will get two. There are a Labour minority and a Liberal minority. Only one of them will get the other seat. You are going to get inefficient representation of minorities under this system. In four-member constituencies the result would almost invariably be two and two. You would practically disfranchise the place, because two against two count for nothing. Minorities can get no look-in there. The two big parties will monopolise the representation. Then in five-member constituencies the last man who goes in there would be put on largely as a third or fourth preference, and would represent directly scarcely anybody. In most cases that would be so, and there would be a great deal of chance mixed up in the matter.

Proportional representation will not give better or freer representation than you get now. It would put a premium on the candidate who is the second or third or fourth choice of many and the first choice of very few. That is a parody, a travesty of representation. You would have members returned with fewer than half the first votes recorded for men who would be rejected. I have looked up the specimens of elections that the advocates of proportional representation give. They select one from the Wilmot Division of Tasmania. I am justified in assuming that they select it because they consider that it is a favourable representation of the results of this system. There were six seats and ten candidates. The candidate who got the fewest first votes, and, therefore, was the direct choice of the fewest voters, was elected. A candidate who got twice as many first votes as he did was defeated. Then we had a proportional representation election taken here through the Press by the society itself in 1908. They elected five members. They set out twelve candidates; 21,672 persons voted. The man who was elected third on the list out of 21,672 voters got the first vote of only 260. The thing is a travesty. They are suggesting that this is to be the result of proportional representation. I see in his place the hon. Member for Stirlingshire, who has propounded a scheme and one has to sit up half the night with a wet towel round one's head to study it out. I will say something about that later. I would suggest to hon. Members that when they propound their system they should not give us examples; it is fatal.


On a point of Order, Sir. Is the right hon. Gentleman entitled to criticise the system of alternative voting in single-member constituencies when the discussion is on proportional representation in multiple-member constituencies?


That is what I am talking about.


The subject is so complicated that I do not feel justified in calling the hon. Member to order—now at any rate.


The case to which I am now referring is that of a multiple-member constituency, and the candidate that was lowest and had only one-tenth of the total poll in first preference votes, under this system, came out top. It is ludicrous! Then we have the Lord Courtney scheme, which I understand the Government were going to adopt, if we are so unfortunate as to have this in the Bill. The other day the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary—I am referring now to an answer to a question—alluded to the Municipal Representation Bill of Lord Courtney, and I gather that this scheme is the one to be adopted, and no doubt something of the kind was suggested. I have got the Bill, and those who talk about this subject should read this Bill and then they will know all about it. I trust they will not vote for this scheme until they do read the Bill. Lord Courtney, in that Bill, illustrates his scheme. He takes a vote of over 6,000 people, and he elects the man who got a direct vote of 157 out of 6,000. That is the kind of thing we have right through the whole business. I have here the scheme to which the Home Secretary referred. It is to give municipalities an option, and the Bill is very short. When you have got through its few Clauses there are what are called rules, and an explanation of the system, with illustrations of how it will work. This explanation and illustrations fill eighteen pages of small print; it is a most complicated and intricate business, and I advise every Member, before he votes on the scheme, to look at this proposal. It is one of the most ridiculous things that could be put before us as practical legislation. But this scheme is illustrative of the kind of thing you have got to have if you adopt this system. This Bill dealing with municipal representation was sent down from the House of-Lords, and it was printed on 14th March, 1914, with its eighteen pages of small print to explain it. Is it not ridiculous?

Much is said about experience elsewhere When the advocates of proportional representation refer to experience elsewhere they include in that experience all kinds of systems of minority representation and refer you to all of them as examples of success. They point out that Belgium and other places have adopted that or the other system, but we need not go all round the world for systems of minority representation, because we have had three tries in this country to give representation to minorities. There was the scheme of 1867, what we called the three-cornered constituency, which was a deliberate attempt to secure in large boroughs the representation of minorities. The plan adopted was that in large places like Liverpool or Birmingham, or other large towns that had three members, each elector in those places was to have two votes. That was the system adopted. When it was proposed in this House it was rejected by three to one, but the scheme was inserted in the House of Lords, and, in order to get the whole thing through, it was accepted when it came back here. Everybody was soon sick of it, and in 1885 it went out without a single mourner. We had another scheme in connection with the School Board—the cumulative vote; but, in 1902, when we abolished School Boards, no attempt whatever was made to get the county councils, or any other body, to introduce in any way a system that would replace the cumulative vote, which gave undue importance to minorities, and sometimes led to the defeat of the majority, because the majority could only secure success under that scheme by the most careful engineering, manipulation and electoral scheming, while it meant adding to the powers of the caucus. In 1885, having had two trys, the system of single-member constituencies was adopted as the most practical and simple method, and the one most likely on the whole to work successfully. In 1909 we had a Commission to inquire into proportional representation, and they did not recommend its adoption. Then, just a word about the by-election difficulty. The hon. and learned Member for Liverpool made a suggestion, and, what is it?—That, before the General Election, the constituency should be divided into wards or divisions, A, B, C and D, and the candidate who heads the poll is to be the member for the A Division, the second for B, the third for C, and so on. It may be that the constituents in A voted against the man who is declared elected for that constituency, because it is not known where the votes come from.

I submit that if this system of proportional representation is a sound one for some constituencies, why not for all? Surely, if it is good for anywhere, it is for Wales, or the Home Counties, or the West Riding of Yorkshire, where the minority is as much unrepresented as the minority in Birmingham or Liverpool. The constituency for which I sit has never had any other than a Liberal member, and the minority there is unrepresented precisely in the same way as in other districts. If there is any justice or logic in this system it ought to be faced as a whole. I see that under it the universities are to return two members, and each elector is only to have one vote. That would make the minority and majority equal, doing away with the advantage of the majority. If this system is sound and just, why is it not to be given to all two-member constituencies By what is the minority in the City of London represented?


I do not think there is any.


My right hon. Friend knows that unless there has been a great change since the last election, there is a minority, and if you want these minorities represented, why not there? This system would enormously increase the work of an election, and the cost —I am not talking of subscriptions and charges of that kind—of an election would be greatly and unavoidably increased. That means, again, that there would be greater difficulty in getting suitable candidates. When you talk, therefore, of weakening the power of the caucus, you are under a great delusion. The caucus would have to provide the funds for the poorer candidates, who would be under the thumb of that caucus. You would not get men of independence as candidates, and the power of the caucus would be enormously increased. The power of money and the power of organisation would be increased, and it would introduce a very undesirable personal and individual rivalry between candidates. Another serious matter is that the polling papers would not be so quickly filled up. We know the difficulty that we have at the close of the poll, when very often, in large industrial areas, men crowd in at the last moment. The voter can make his cross fairly quickly, but if he has to select and number the candidates one, two, three, four, five, you may take it that he will occupy a fair amount of time in marking his paper, and thus greater difficulty will be caused at the close of the poll. The whole system, I submit, would be very undesirable, and of no advantage whatever.

6.0 P.M.


I may say that the Committee have listened, as I have, with interest and with refreshment to the robust and animated speech of my right hon. Friend. I do not think that the case against proportional representation could be more cogently or more agreeably stated. My right hon. Friend has referred, as though it were something of a platitude in politics, to the drawbacks of small majorities, and the incidents which attend them, in this country. It so happens that I have been a Minister of the Crown when the Government of the day had the smallest majority on record, and next when the Government of the day had the largest majority in its support on record. I am not at all sure, looking back on my experience of these two diverse conditions, which of the two I would prefer. A small majority is by no means an unmixed evil. There is a strong sense of discipline and responsibility and of support for the Government.


That is my point.


When you have got a very large majority a Member may feel that it does not matter very much whether he supports the Government or not. I believe the Whips' experiences are the same, and on the whole they prefer working with a majority which is not too large. In the Parliament to which my right hon. Friend referred, and of which both he and I were members—that is from 1892 to 1895—as he truly says, the majority of the Government never exceeded forty, and sometimes dropped to ten, and on one occasion, when discussing the Welsh Church, to seven. I am not at all sure that it does not compare favourably in actual results with Governments which were much better situated as regards their numerical support. But that is by the way. I am not going to detain the Committee for more than a few moments. The matter is not one which excites my passions, and I am not sure that it even arouses any very ardent enthusiasm. But it is one, I think, of very great importance, and upon which the Committee and the House of Commons should pronounce, as my right hon. Friend has declared and us I think, a perfectly free and unbiassed judgment. In what I am about to say I speak only for myself and for nobody else, and I do not seek in any way to influence those who are accustomed to act with me in political matters. I believe, and this is a rare experience for most politicians who have sat here during a generation, that this is one of the few things as to which I have never committed myself and as to which I have no words to eat, and as to which I have no profession to recall. Therefore I can speak with a free mind and without any of those compromising memories which sometimes haunt us in trying to reconcile our past with our present.

My right hon. Friend told us that this is a perfectly ridiculous thing. He did so with a great deal of humour and good humour. He has shown us the difficulties and complexities of the scheme put forward in different countries at different times to give effect to the principle. It is, as he knows, the principle of proportional representation, that is to say, getting under a democratic system a larger share for minorities than is obtained by the single majority vote. That has always had theoretical support from John Stuart Mill and many other very good democrats-who have studied and written about and are our main authorities upon the principles of representative government. I freely admit it has been scouted for a generation past by the working party politician on both sides as unintelligible, as impracticable, and as opening an-avenue to the possible domination of the State by freaks and by faddists. That is the real effect on the argument presented by my right hon. Friend. In late years, as a quite dispassionate observer of these things, I think there have been signs all over the democratic world, that it has been slowly but steadily forcing its way into the domain of practical politics. It has been adopted and worked out, I agree in very different shapes adapted to and governed by local conditions, in Denmark and some of our own Colonies and, I think I am right in saying, in some of the cantons in the Swiss Republic. I would remind my right hon. Friend that two oil three years ago the Government, of which I was a member and the head, felt constrained to adopt it in the Home Rule Act for self-government for Ireland. I am not quite sure whether my right hon. Friend resisted it. [An HON. MEMBER: "He voted for it!"] I do not remember that he protested against it.


I think there were special circumstances there.


Try it on the dog.


If there are special circumstances in the case of Ireland in which the principle may be applied, after all, it becomes a question not of principle but of expediency and a matter of expediency. Quite apart from this Bill and the large extension of the franchise which-this Bill proposes, I must confess, speak- ing for myself and only for myself, that of late years I have been growingly impressed not only with the unfairness but with the illogical application of the representative principle by the adoption of the simple rule of majorities in our own country and in regard to our own Legislature. I will give very familiar illustrations known to everyone, and which affect the different parties. In the case of Wales the Conservative or Unionist minority has had little, or hardly any, representation in this House. In the case of Ireland, the considerable Unionist minority in the South and West never returned a single member to this House within my experience. In the case of some of our big cities, take Birmingham as an example, you have a Liberal and Labour minority there practically without representation. That is not a satisfactory state of things. Although some remedies are worse than the diseases which they are prescribed to cure, there is a disease in the body politic which I think all reflecting politicians, to whatever party they may belong, feel is a matter for consideration and possible treatment, and from which all parties are sufferers. In the three cases I have given the Conservatives in the one case, the Irish Unionists in another, and the Liberal party in the third are the main sufferers. The Labour party suffers too. There is a very large Labour minority in a considerable number of constituencies in this country which finds no representation at all. I do not believe in what is called virtual representation, by which an electoral minority which has no member of its own is supposed to be represented by a member of the same political faith elected from a totally different part, of the country. That is not representation at all. That is, indeed, as my right hon. Friend called it, a travesty.

It follows, from what I have said, that many of us, and I am one of them, were prepared to welcome when the time came, as it now has come, for the reconsideration, and, to a large extent, the reconstruction of our representative system, the opportunity to consider whether or not as am experiment, and I quite agree there is nothing complete or logical in the proposal now before the House, the time has not come when we ought to look about us and see if these anomalies and injustices could be, if not entirely removed, at least mitigated and rendered less urgent and less flagrant. There are these new facts. In the first place, and I do not complain of it, we are adding no less than 8,000,000 voters and, I think, doubling the electorate. That is a larger step in the way of political enfranchisement than I suppose has ever been done by any Legislature at any time in the history of democracy. As I say, I am wholly in favour of it, and I should like it in some respects even to go further, for I think there will still be left off the register without direct voice in the government of the country a body of intelligent people just as well entitled to vote as those on the register. Nevertheless, it is an enormous step, and it is a wholly unexampled increase in the aggregate of the electorate. If that is to take place without any mitigation or precautionary measure, the dominance of majorities in consequence of the suppression of submersion of minorities, instead of being diminished, will be increased. That seems to me to be a strong argument in favour of taking some practical step, if it can be taken, to secure that the minority shall not remain wholly voiceless and unrepresented. That is one consideration, and there is another equally important, and that is the proposed increase, and here again I am in hearty agreement with the proposal, in the number of large constituencies, by which I mean not single-member constituencies, but constituencies represented by two, or three, or four, or five, until we come to, I think, as high as eleven or twelve members.




My right hon. Friend just now said that the division into single-member constituencies in 1885 was intended, there were other motives, but amongst other things, to give effect or larger effect to the opinion of minorities. I myself do not think it has been a very successful experiment. At any rate, in so far as it was intended in substitution for those vast bodies ranging from three to fourteen members, it has meant that the security of the minority has completely disappeared. Unless you substitute something in its place your latter state will be worse than your former, or now.


The Bill does not do that; that is the point I made.


I thought I had mentioned the point made by the hon. Member. Of course, I quite agree to that. I mean that you must, with this large number of members, have proportional representation, otherwise the minority will be very much worse off than it is at present. That is an additional reason, together with the enormous increase in the electorate, for devising some system of proportional representation, indeed it is absolutely necessary. There is a further factor, a new factor in the case. We have heard from my hon. Friend that the Speaker's Conference unanimously adopted this proposal. Of course, it is a perfectly free vote. We are not bound by the resolution of the Speaker's Conference. For myself, I am not in the least bound. But the fact remains that the Speaker's Conference did come to that decision, and that therefore the whole scheme of redistribution is more or less bound up with it. That, I think, will have a very important bearing upon the judgment the House pronounces upon this particular proposal! You cannot treat the matter as if it were in watertight compartments. You must have regard to its relation to the general scheme as a whole. These new considerations and arguments are largely reinforced by the arguments, already growingly strong, in favour of devising some machinery for giving representation to the minority. I do not care to go into the question of precisely how many seats would be affected by this proposal. I believe in its modified form something like 114 borough seats will be affected.


Oh, no, many more!


If you group the boroughs it would mean, I think, more like 150.


I am assuming that the boroughs remain as they are, because I do not think the grouping of boroughs is practical, and I cannot imagine that that particular part will go through. Consider the grouping of Bradford and Halifax, of Rochdale and Oldham, or some of the suggested groups? It seems, as I say, to be a proposal that is not practical. Therefore I am dealing with the matter as though the boroughs remained as they are. From that standpoint, and leaving out the universities, the seats affected would number 114 or 115. The hon. Member asked, If this change is good for these boroughs, why not for the whole country? Why, he inquired, do you leave out portions?


Why do you not apply it to Scotland?


It is applied to Glasgow and Edinburgh and, I think, Dundee.


That is exactly where we do not want it.


I thought it was more extensively applied to Scotland than it is. At any rate, Edinburgh and Glasgow are two important and integral parts of Scotland, as my hon. Friend well knows. But the suggestion is very natural. Why should this privilege, if it is a privilege— this boon, if it be a boon—be withheld from a large part of the country and only applied to these 115 seats? The answer to that is, I suppose, that the Government are proceeding, by way of the Speaker's Conference, tentatively and experimentally. In the first instance, they are applying it to constituencies in which the application of the system is most easy, and perfectly feasible; if the experiment turns out successful they will extend the ambit, and in time embrace the whole country. It is applied, as my right hon. Friend reminds me, to places which are natural units, that have a natural identity and concentrated populations. My right hon. Friend referred to the experiment of 1867. Eighteen years after, however, it was dropped. It was not proportional representation, though it was something like it. It seems, indeed, to rest upon the same principle, and the same criticism applies to the causes that led to the cumulative vote. That was not proportional representation, and no one has ever claimed that it was. Whether the cumulative vote was successful or not, I will not say, but of this I am sure: when the Education Act of 1870 was passed it would not have gone through unless the cumulative vote had accompanied it. The cry then, by some means to represent small minorities, particularly religious minorities like the Roman Catholics in our big towns, was so strong that I do not think Mr. Foster could have carried his Bill unless he had consented to adopt the cumulative vote. However, that is not proportional representation. That is not the scheme which is proposed here.

There is one argument used by my right hon. Friend, and which I have seen used elsewhere—that is, that apparently the result of giving what is called artificial representation to minorities will be to force into this House a considerable infusion of faddists, crotcheteers, and what are sometimes called cross-benchmen. I confess I am not very apprehensive of that. Such people cannot gel to this House without votes to support them. Under any system of proportional representation, under any system of preferences given to different candidates, so robust a faith have I still, towards the end of my political life, in the good sense of my fellow countrymen, that my belief is that they will not get a sufficient number of votes materially to alter the composition of this House. There are some men who ought to be here, whom it is very desirable we should have here, but who would never get here under the conditions of a pure majority vote. To suppose, however, that there will be anything like an upheaval in personnel or a paralysis of our work by the advent of a large and substantial crowd of the men of the description referred to appears to me to be a pure chimera. I quite recognise the many difficulties, and the possible risks, in a change in our existing system. I myself attach far more importance to the provisions of the Bill in regard to redistribution than I do to the provisions with respect to proportional representation. I think many of the scandals, most of the scandals, which are great, and growing, of our existing system—scandals, I mean, in the disproportionate weight of the vote in one part of the country as compared with another—are due to the illogical and irrational distribution of the ballot. Geographical rearrangement on some such lines as proposed in this scheme will have a larger effect than anything else in making the House a really representative House, and in equalising the weight of the vote. I think that is far more important than the mere extension of the franchise which this scheme presents. Nevertheless, I myself still feel that when redistribution has taken place that minorities in many places, unless some effective provision is made, will still be under-represented. I do not want to see the House—to deal with a Greek word which has not yet become acclimatised in the English language—I do not want to see the House a microcosm of the country. I think, quite consistently with the elementary and all-important principle of our representative system, that with the new order of things, the House of Commons may and will become a very much clearer reflection of the general opinion of the nation. Whether it results in a large or a small majority is entirely beside the point. What you want is to get a reflection of the general opinion of the nation. I believe that the House will more really approximate to that if an experiment of this kind is tried, and if it turns out successful, as I hope it will turn out successful. At any rate so far as my personal opinion i8 concerned, and as the result of long reflection and observation, I am disposed to give a hearty support to the attempt which this Bill proposes to make.

The MINISTER of BLOCKADE (Lord Robert Cecil)

I have arrived at the conclusion that this is a desirable change in our electoral system. I am therefore prepared to oppose the Amendment which challenges that principle. I am not a great lover of change. I should not be disposed to support a very considerable change of this sort unless I was quite satisfied that there was something in our electoral system at the present time seriously evil which ought to be dealt with. It is obvious that there is a, definite evil. That is not really disputed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley. It is admitted that this House does not represent the opinion of the country. The right hon. Gentleman gloried in it. He thinks that is right. He thinks that it is altogether wrong that the majority in this House should correspond with the majority of the people of this country. It has happened, and it may happen, that a majority in the country is not represented by a majority in this House. That I quite agree. But it shows the length to which the misrepresentation of opinion can be carried under the existing system. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that on more than one occasion efforts have been made to give more accurate representation to minorities. He said that in 1867 the attempt was made. I agree it was made, and it was persisted in until 1885, when a different system to secure representation for minorities was brought in. It is quite true that neither of these two attempts was entirely successful. I do not quite share his view as to the 1867 effort. It seems to me that it was rather a good plan than a bad one, but, admitting it was not a success, the true conclusion to be drawn is that in the last fifty years politicians and statesmen in this country have been convinced that there is something unsatisfactory in our method of representation. They sought about for some means to secure better representation of minorities, and, if I may say so, I entirely agree with them.

I do myself think that the present system must produce an exaggeration of the balance of opinion in the country. Assuming the constituencies are all more or less affected by a movement of opinion which is running through the country, you might even have, and you have in some cases in Wales and some of the big towns, such a state of things that the minority secures no representation at all. In a previous Debate the case of British Columbia, where the legislature was entirely on one side, was mentioned. I cannot myself think that is right. It is said that it is the same for both parties, and that sometimes one side gains by it and sometimes another. There is an argument which, I think, may be worthy of the consideration of some of my Conservative Friends. It is not true that a sweeping Conservative majority in this House is a compensation for a previously sweeping Radical majority in this House. No doubt it might be true that, under our System, a Conservative majority could repeal everything a Radical majority had done. I do not think that would be an entirely satisfactory state of things; you would have a hopelessly unstable system of government. In point of fact, a sweeping Conservative majority is of no greater advantage than a small Conservative majority, assuming that they do not desire to carry out great changes. You only want a sweeping majority if you want to carry great contentious legislation, and the right hon. Gentleman cannot expect me to be an advocate of great contentious legislation. I was rather interested to hear the admission of my right hon. Friend that he was not sure that the Parliament of 1906 was really a more desirable Parliament from the point of view of the Government of the day than the Parliament of 1892. I can understand my right hon. Friend may have had some doubts as to the desirability of having certain of his supporters present at that time.

But you do not want a sweeping party majority; there is no advantage in it whatever. It does not produce the best kind of legislation or the most stable kind of legislation, and from the point of view of the conservative-minded man, I do not care whether he sits nominally as a Liberal or nominally as a Conservative. Some of the passages of my right hon. Friend's speech just now might have been uttered by the most [An HON. MEMBER: "Hide-bound!"] I would not like to say hide-bound, but most convinced Conservative in the House. But wherever he sits, a conservative-minded man must recognise that great alternations of political power in this House are bad from his point of view. A Conservative majority —I am using the word "Conservative" in the true sense—cannot undo the harm done by a majority of a reckless Radical description, and therefore what is really desirable from the point of view of genuine progress in this country is moderate progress carried on, not by great sweeping majorities, but by majorities of a more moderate character. It is quite true my right hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley regards any right of minorities as absolutely ridiculous. The tone of his speech was that the minority must submit to the majority, and I agree that it is obvious it must to some extent. Our present system exaggerates the power of majorities; that is the essential vice of it. There is a celebrated phrase of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol that "Minorities must suffer," and I agree minorities must suffer, but the larger they are the less they will suffer.

I think there is another and a much more serious point. I do feel most profoundly that the prestige of the House of Commons is not what it was. I do not think there is any use in concealing the fact that the House of Commons does not hold the same position in the country it used to hold. I regard that as a most disastrous state of things. The right hon. Gentleman referred to it as an efficient deliberative assembly. I cannot conceive any expression which would less accurately describe the present House of Commons, and I know there are a certain number of my hon. Friends who agree with me in politics who do not regard altogether in their heart of hearts the decay of the position of the House of Commons as an unmixed evil. I really would press upon them that it is a most dangerous evil from every point of view. The House of Commons is the repository of the chief political power in this country. If you allow it to sink in public estimation you are destroying the very foundation of the Government of this country. To the most conservative and the most ultra-reactionary it is equally important that the position and the reputation of the House of Commons should be maintained. Can anyone doubt that one great cause of the danger to the House of Commons is the exaggeration of the party system? I do not think there is anyone who really doubts it. You see it stated in every newspaper you take up. Any man in the street will give it immediately as one of the great causes of the deterioration of the House of Commons. The exaggeration of the party system, I am convinced, is a very great danger to the House of Commons, and I think so for this reason. Under the present Parliamentary system there is necessarily a tendency—I do not want it to be thought that I am attacking existing Members of the House of Commons—to exclude from this House any person who is not prepared to accept the full party doctrine, whatever it may be. In the middle of the last century there were always a large number of men in the House who were not attached, or were attached in the very slightest way, to the various parties. There is nothing approaching that at the present day. Anyone who recognises that a person can scarcely attain a seat in this House unless he is what is called a good party man will see the real cause of a great deal of the deterioration of prestige.

I do not know whether hon. Members have considered how many of the greatest Parliamentarians would have been excluded by the present system. I believe if you called to mind the Parliamentarians of the last century you would find the greater part of the leading men would probably be excluded by the present system, having quarrelled with their party at some time or other. Gladstone, Disraeli, the late Lord Salisbury, the late Lord Derby, would have been excluded if Members of the House of Commons under the present system, and I do think that one of the most urgent reforms of the constitutional government of this country is to try to diminish the vehemence and violence of the party system. I believe that proportional representation would have that effect. My objection to groups is almost as strong as that of some hon. Members, but I think it would give greater opportunity for men of individual character and weight to get into this House, and I am sure it is desirable that that should be done. I do not dispute that there are dangers and difficulties about this plan. I quite admit that there are disadvantages in greatly increasing the size of constituencies, and the possible increase of expense. As to the increase of size, there is an exaggeration about that. I believe there are advantages in large constituencies which at least counterbalance the so-called personal touch which exists in the smaller constituencies. I believe there is a greater tendency to decide questions on real political issues, and less on personal and local issues, in the larger than in the smaller constituencies. As I have sat for both kinds of constituencies myself, I can be said to have some experience in this matter.

What I do say is that a system by which minorities in constituencies may be able to secure for themselves representatives of their way of thinking must surely tend to increase the individuality and the mental character of the Members of this House. I believe that is of enormous importance. I cannot exaggerate to the House of Commons the evil which I think threatens it, or rather the whole country and the whole Empire, from a gradual decay of the prestige of the House of Commons. I feel that every Member of this House should think twice or thrice before he rejects this particular proposal, which is the only proposal I know that has ever been put forward which could, and I think will, have the result of diminishing that evil, and increasing the respect in which this House is held by the country.


I am not going-to argue that a scheme of proportional representation will not be understandable by the electorate, or that it will be difficult to work, neither am I going to argue that there are no merits in proportional representation. I do not even contend that the present system of carrying on elections is in every way satisfactory, but I am afraid that there is a tendency not to look carefully at the imperfections of a system of proportional representation. Everyone rejoices to know that the Conference intended to make elections-cheaper throughout the United Kingdom and in individual constituencies. In single-member divisions we have reduced the cost of elections to the individual candidate, but, instead of reducing the cost when you come to five-member constituencies, it is going to be tremendously increased under the system which is suggested. I will take the figure of 125,000 given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Herbert Samuel) as being the electorate in a five-member division. In a constituency of this kind to send a postcard round to the electors would cost &£250, and it would cost an individual in a five-member constituency on his own &£2,600 to fight that seat. Is that democratising the constituencies? Is that making it easier for the working man or any other man to get into Parliament? I contend that this is making it impossible for any individual man unless he sticks to the party ticket to get into this House. If two members elect to run together in a five-member constituency it will cost them £1,950, and if three men join it will cost them £1,300. I submit that in a five-member division it would be impossible for a man of individual opinions and thought, unless he had tremendous wealth or a big syndicate behind him, to become the representative of any particular opinions in that constituency.

There is one other point I want the House to consider. A lot of hon. Members talk about reflecting the opinions of a division. I submit that a more important thing to do is to make every citizen throughout the length and breadth of the land take a keen interest in politics. How are you going to do that with a five-member division? The smaller the unit of representation the keener the election, and the more closely can you follow that election and the more interest there is taken in it; and the larger the Parliamentary unit the more apathy and less interest there will be in the election. Take the case of a five-member division. At the present time time there are five separate divisions, and you have in each division an active chairman, with a committee and a body of supporters. Turn those five divisions into one and you will only get one chairman, one set of officials, one committee and one general council. Take another point. You might have at present, if this scheme is put into operation, three of one political opinion and two of another opinion. The result of the election would toe that certain opinions would be represented, one, two and three, and I take it that that would continue election after election. You have then to select No. 4. When you vote you know he is not going to get in, so you are not at all keen about No. 4, but you let him come in. He will probably be the son of one of the other candidates. In this way you will not get any keenness at all in the selection of candidates because you are not selecting candidates for immediate election, but for Nos. 4 and 5 men, and you will have other candidates waiting for their turn to come into the one, two and three positions. Consequently, you will get no keenness.

The position of Liverpool is a fair example of what would result. In that city the organisation, instead of being organised in different Parliamentary units, you would have one unit for the whole of Liverpool. You would have one council dealing with nine or ten divisions, and there would be no life in the Liberal party because it is all in one centre, and you will have two or three big meetings for the whole of Liverpool. Hon. Members say that interests ought to be represented here, but I say that is wrong, because principles ought to be represented here. Interests will be represented if you have proportional representation. I had occasion some time ago to find out how many municipal employés can vote, and I found that out of every twelve to fourteen men on the register in Liverpool and Birkenhead one is a municipal employed There one out of every twelve to fourteen is employed by the municipality in connection with the school board, the tramways, gas and water, the health department, the great sanitary departments, and so on; and what would the result be? In every Jive-member division they could return a municipal employés representative to this House every time. It may be said in reply, "Why should they not do so?" I say that that is too narrow a basis on which to work, because we should be voting not on general principles but for a particular interest, and a representative of these municipal employés would come here to raise their wages and conditions against, the interests of the public. I think that is too narrow a basis on which to elect anyone to this House, and Members of Parliament should be elected on much broader lines. Five-member constituencies will allow interests to be represented to exploit the public for the benefit of particular interests. I think that is a dangerous practice.

I hope proportional representation will be defeated, because if it is not you will get wire-pulling in excelsis. There will be much anxiety as to who is to be fourth or fifth, and if any scheme is calculated to turn friends into enemies before the election is over a scheme of proportional representation will do it. Such a system will sink all individuality—in fact it will kill it. We are told that this is a compromise. We have also been told that we are free to do as we please in this House on this vote. We are free and unfettered to do as we like with regard to this particular question. I have no intention to wreck this Bill. I believe practically in every other part of it. I want women to have votes. I want expenses reduced. I am in favour of registration reform, and I want the qualfications for registration to be reduced. I want the franchise extended, but I do not want proportional representation. It is said that this is an experiment. Fancy, an experiment now of all times to be carried on in all the large industrial centres in the United Kingdom at a time when the electorate is going to be increased by millions, and when there will be plenty of other problems to occupy this House! I hope the new Parliament returned when the War is over will be elected on everything but proportional Representation as modified by the Conference, and that that Parliament will be able to deal successfully with the problems at issue.

6.0 P.M.

The SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Mr. Chamberlain)

I regret that I have practically been absent from the House almost continuously during the discussions on this Bill. There is one other subject dealt with in this measure on which I hold strong views which are not held by a majority of this House and that is a subject on which I would gladly have spoken had I been able to get an opportunity, but I was not able to do so. I am unwilling on this occasion to let this discussion go by without giving expression to the strong convictions that I hold, and I hope the House will pardon my intervention so soon in this Debate having regard to the graver preoccupation and more urgent duties which prevent me giving more constant attendance during the Sittings of the House. Nobody who has listened to the speech of my Noble Friend the Minister of Blockade or the remarkable speech of the hon. Member who has just spoken (Mr. Rees) will doubt that we are raising here a very large question. I regret that it should be raised now even for the purposes of the Bill we are now discussing. The great changes Which this Bill proposes naturally arise out of the discussion of the special circumstances of the time which has left us without a register at any time, or, at any rate, of an efficient kind, on which to take an appeal to the country, and people are convinced that there is a special class of electors who by the circumstances of the time are precluded from voting by the ordinary qualification, and for whom some special arrangement must be made. The moment you handle this question you find you are confronted by large franchise questions, and wherever we turn in the Bill, even in the provisions to which I object, of the extension of the franchise for the first time to women, it is in every case an extension of a present practice and it is a development of an existing system. What we are now asked to do in this particular matter is to reverse a separate practice, go back on the past and consider decisions of this House and to choose a few constituencies for a hazardous and mischievous and an utterly unnecessary experiment. Those who proposed this thing, as it is submitted to the House, have no confidence in it. If they had confidence in it, and if they really themselves valued the arguments they use at the value at which they ask us to accpt them, would they have been content to apply it only to London and to a few other big towns? Would they have been content, as they are doing now, to exclude London? Why do they do this? It is because they have no confidence that they are really right.




You met with opposition from London, and you have not that kind of confidence in your general principle which would authorise you in your own opinion to override the sentiment of London in this matter. The London members are numerous. The Birmingham members are few. You dare not do it to London, and you say, "Let us do it to Birmingham. Let us do it to Glasgow, to Liverpool, to Cardiff, to Edinburgh, and to half a dozen selected constituencies." They are to be made the victims of an experiment in a system in whose efficacy its authors have no faith.


Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the advocates suggested this limitation in its application?


Will the advocates vote to extend it to the whole of the country?


They would if they got the chance.


If they will follow up immediately the proposal in this Bill to apply it to half a dozen great towns with an Amendment consequential upon it to apply it to the whole country, that is a very proper proposition; but I venture to say that the House would not accept it, because a great number of gentlemen are prepared to have done to my Constituency and to half a dozen others what they are riot ready to have done to their own.


We have accepted this because it was proposed by the Speaker's Conference. We do not propose to follow the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion only because it would be a violation of the spirit of the Conference.


This Bill issues from the Speaker's Conference. Did the Speaker's Conference think that this scheme was right? Did they think that our present system was open to all the objections that we have heard to-day? Did they believe that this new system would cure it? If so, why did they confine the cure to a few selected spots? Is there no minority anywhere except in Glasgow and Birmingham? [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Wales?"] What about any district that you may take? What about the two-member constituencies? Are there any series of constituencies which will give you more glaring instances of how a few votes may make all the difference between success and failure than the two-member constituencies? Cast your eye around, and you will find case after case where thousands of votes are given on either side and where the difference between two members on the one side and two members on the other is a difference of a few hundred votes or less. These constituencies are excluded by the proposal which we have before us. Nothing is taken except London and the great towns, and now we are told that London also is to be excluded and that only a few of the great towns are to be taken.

I am not going to argue this question on the lines of the old party divisions. If I refer to them at any stage, it will only be for the sake of illustration. It would be idle for any of us to argue any question of electoral reform on party lines. What are the parties going to be? If I consider only "Is it good for me or for my opponents?" I must know who my opponents are, and I do not know. I hope that there are very few as we stand at the present time here in this House who would be disposed to contest the seat of a fellow Member in the midst of this War. New issues have got to shape them selves, and we have got to group ourselves in the great upheaval which follows from the War. I do not doubt that out of that parties will emerge again. I do not believe that any system other than the party system is possible or workable in a democratic assembly, and I am certain— yes, without qualification—that in proportion as you weaken the party system you increase the tendency of votes to be given on less worthy issues. You divert attention from large issues to petty issues, from public issues to personal issues, and you I make the Floor of this House not the scene! of a great inquest into the interests of a, nation, but a place of haggling and barter between conflicting interests, none of them having a majority and each of them seeking to sell their minority or to purchase; some additional votes which will turn their minority into a stable majority.

I confess that I find it difficult to follow the attitude of men in this House of a different party training from myself. I came in in time to hear my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal party (Mr. Asquith) expressing himself a convinced supporter of this proposal. I was brought up as a Radical. I sat at the feet of John Bright, and the whole of the Liberal party with the exception of a few theoretical philosophers regarded this proposal or anything like it as anathema, denounced it up and down the country as a Tory doctrine to defeat the democracy, and resisted it consistently and persistently. Do you think that the other party was in favour of it? There were as many and as important people in the Conservative party of the old days who were against it. Are all the settled and reasoned arguments to be thrown aside in a day in the midst of a great War when we are filled with other preoccupations, because the Speaker's Conference, as an incident in a work which they were set to do, thought it would be interesting to make this experiment on our vile bodies? What are you going to do with the House of Commons? What is it that you want to do? There are some people—I think my Noble Friend the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) is one—who, if you could get to the bottom of their minds in a real heart to heart talk, would admit that in their opinion nothing but a minority ought ever to be represented. There are others who think that the majority may be over-represented. Of the two, I would sooner have the majority over-represented. I am told by my Noble Friend the Minister of Blockade that the defect of our present system is to exaggerate the power and the numbers of the majority. No system will give you an exact measure of the political forces in the country, but if you must err on one side or the other, then in my opinion, in the long run, no matter to which party interest it accrues, the interest of the country is that the majority for the time being shall be strong, so that the Government of the day shall be effective.

I have seen it said somewhere that a careful calculation shows that on a due allocation of Members to votes the Parliament which met in 1906, when I sat one of a small minority, would have been a Parliament where the balance between the two sides was only thirty-eight or forty votes, or something like that. [An HON. MEMBER: "Ninety votes!"] My hon. Friend, I think, has seen the same calculation as I have. Let us call it ninety rotes. I have been in the minority, and I have suffered the penalties of a minority. Can anybody say that great turnover in the House did not correctly represent the great turnover in the country? In my opinion it did. We had been in office for a long time. We had lost the confidence of the country. We had lost it unmistakably. We were defeated, and we ought to have been defeated. Anything less than almost a cataclysmic change in the House would have failed to represent the feeling in the country at that time. I remember the present Viscount Grey denouncing us while we remained in office and saying that hitherto as long as he had been in the House it had been a settled convention that Ministers at least should themselves pretend that they believed they had the confidence of the country, and that the Government of which I was a member did not even pretend to believe that. I think that was rather true. If we made any pretence, it was a very hollow pretence. In those circumstances, whether we were right or wrong to remain in office, we deserved to be defeated when we went out, and the country would have been misrepresented unless there had been an overwhelming majority for the Government returned. Generally, parties are much more evenly balanced. I mentioned Mr. Bright just now, and I would ask hon. Members to listen to a short sentence, full of sound sense and far-seeing wisdom, like so many of his sentences—


What year?


It is from a speech which he made in this House on 5th July, 1867: Every Englishman ought to know that anything which enfeebles the representative power and lessens the vitality of the electoral system—which puts in the nominees of little cliques, here representing a majority and there a minority, but having no real influence-among the people—every system like that weakens and must ultimately destroy the power and the force of your Executive Government. The more democratic your Government becomes the more necessary it is to preserve the power of its Executive. The more democratic it becomes the more necessary it is to preserve the power of this House to act and to prevent action being stultified or estopped by that even balancing of parties, that haggling of minor interests, that holding up of their votes by minor interests, till they are purchased at the cost of their own particular concerns by one or two of the greater and more evenly balanced parties. You take a certain number of constituencies because they happen to be large towns. You propose to cut them up into sections, returning five, four, or it may be three members. What is going to be the result? In very few cases will either of the great parties in the State, whatever those are, be able to carry all the seats in one of those Divisions under the provisions of the Bill. At once there will be a tremendous inducement to candidates and possible members to strike a bargain. That is what has happened under every system which, by artificial methods, has endeavoured to secure artificial minority representation. There will be an endeavour to secure a bargain. One party will say, "If you, a minority, give us two, and you take one, we will save both our pockets, there will be no expense, and the town will be saved great expense." You will have hole-and-corner arrangements which will settle the representation of the great communities. Instead of setting your voters free, they will have no choice.

The hon. Gentleman who spoke immediately before me spoke of the expense. What is going to be the position of a gentleman whose constituency has chosen, to return him for a five-member constituency? What expense is he to contemplate if he stands on his party ticket? No poor man could stand for one of these constituencies unless he is paid by a party or interest which wants a representative in Parliament. You say you want to eliminate the machine. Where did the caucus have its birth? In Birmingham. Why? Because the House of Commons, in its wisdom, chose to take Birmingham and half a dozen other big towns and tried to provide, apart from the general arrangement for the country, for an artificial minority representation of those towns. That is how the whole machinery of the caucus was produced. The majority of the day was driven to this machinery because of the attempt to destroy the power of the majority in the town. What resulted? Did the voters have greater freedom of choice? At any moment, if the leaders of both parties had agreed, they could have prevented a contest behind the backs of the electors by giving the minority one member and taking two for the majority. I have known such bargains. We have all known of such bargains being made. In the case of Birmingham it was never done because it was fought continuously. What was the result? That the voters had to be drilled in a system under which they did not vote for the man whom they preferred or the man to whom they wished to give their confidence, but they voted in order to return the ticket. I remember that at the first election I ever attended there was a song which had the one refrain: '"We'll carry them in; we vote as we are told. That was done through skilled agency work. Do you want a sort of Mr. Schnadhorst in every constituency to which this applies, acting with the aid of members of the proportional representation and the Senior Wrangler of Cambridge working out what is the exact mathematical proportion of members that they can hope to carry, and then, with an elaborate system of preferences, instructing the voters, "In this way you can do it, and in the end it will be right."


That is quite unnecessary.


The hon. Gentle man is good enough to tell me that that is quite unnecessary.


It is the object of the whole thing.


Is the object of the whole thing to eliminate the machine?




I never heard of an instrument less fitted for the purpose. The object of the whole scheme is to get in nobody knows who, elected by nobody knows what, in a manner that no fellow can understand. The object is to prevent the majority from securing what the general electoral system of the country would give them and to secure for a minority in any particular place a representation which anywhere outside these particular places they could not have. Is that a reasonable proposal to put before us? I am not in the least alarmed by the suggestion made by the Minister of Blockade that men of great distinction and of great public service would be unable to get seats in this House without this system. They will get seats whatever the system is. The cases of Mr. Gladstone, the late Lord Salisbury, Mr. Disraeli, and Lord Derby have been mentioned. A budding Gladstone or Disraeli may be undiscovered by a constituency, but a man of such force, character, and power will make his way through any seat. You do not need artificial arrangements of this kind to provide people of that sort with seats. That is not the kind of man this system will help. I quoted just now from Mr. Blight. May I quote here what Mr. Disraeli said in a speech made in the same Debate: I hare always been of opinion with respect to this cumulative voting and other schemes, having for their object to represent minorities, that they are admirable schemes for bringing crotchety men into this House— an inconvenience which we have hitherto avoided, although it appears that we have now some few exceptions to the general state of things. He continued, and I quite agree with him: I do not think we ought to legislate to increase the number of specimens. You do not want to find for a little coterie that stands apart from the great movements of our times, which sees things in a different perspective from the mass of our countrymen, which puts some single object into prominence and importance out of all due proportion to its intrinsic importance or weight, and say, because they are but few and a minority, and because they are eccentric, because they have not the same common sense and the sense of proportion possessed by the majority of electors, therefore we will make special arrangements to enable them to carry a member and to send him here to represent them. That is not the way to collect the real opinion of the country. That is the way to collect the opinion of little interests, of small sections, and of particular interests. The hon. Member who spoke last cited the case of the city of Liverpool in regard to the number of electors who were in municipal employment. He said, quite truly, that the immediate result of this system would be to return the municipal employés representative. That is not the kind of representation you want. You want labour representation, but you do not want particular classes and public employés banding themselves together to get a representative to serve their interests as apart from the interests of the nation. You want to get representation of the broad currents of national opinion, and of the great forces of the time. Anything which weakens their expression, anything which hampers the Government—which ought to give effect to their expression— anything which renders futile the decision of the country on these big issues, or hampers it by the introduction of these petty and comparatively unimportant matters, is destroying our democratic system, destroying our representative system and is turning our backs on all that the wisdom and experience of the past have taught us, and, in my opinion, and I say it gravely, is doing the greatest injury that any single act could do to the representative character and the effective authority of this House and of the Government, which is its creation.

That I feel strongly both upon the issue itself and upon the importance of the issue, the Committee will see. I do urge that it is not a question on which we ought to reverse our settled practice in the midst of a great war. I urge that if this thing has the great merits expected of it —I think it has not—you ought to have the courage of your opinions and apply it throughout the country. If there is one place where you ought not to apply it, it is to the big town. I will tell you why. I think you will find it is a reasonable argument if you will give me candid consideration. The late Prime Minister said just now that, at any rate, these towns were units with an identity of their own. You are not going to treat them as units. You are going to split them up into three or four constituencies of arbitrary size, unlike those of the rest of the country. But they are units. Where in any unit has a minority the same chance of getting representation as in our big towns under our electoral system to-day? You take a constituency like Birmingham, as it has existed in the past, with seven members, and you divide it into twelve constituencies. Do you mean to tell me that in taking a vote in each of those constituencies a minority cannot return a member, and you therefore say it is fair that you should gerrymander the city of Birmingham so as to give that minority, which cannot in twelve different constituencies turn itself into a majority, some constituency in which it can get a seat?

Take a county with two or three seats. Take a town with two seats or one. The minority has no chance. Take a big city like Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, or Glasgow. The minority has every chance. If it is not strong enough to get a single seat out of the seven or twelve, then it is not our business, and it is not in the public interest to create an artificial system in order to give it a seat. I do not want the Committee to misunderstand what I say about Birmingham. Nothing but the peculiar circumstances and the singular unanimity of agreement would have enabled the Liberal party in the old days when I first watched polities, or the Unionist party in the later days when I took a part in them, to carry the whole of the Birmingham seats.

My father had great personal influence, singular personal influence, perhaps almost unique influence in Birmingham and was bound by public service to the community. I was never under the illusion that when that influence was withdrawn by death we could permanently maintain for one party the whole representation of the city. What would have been unlikely in any case, the War has rendered impossible. I might add that in making my plea for single-member constituencies I do not for one moment suppose that when we emerge from the welter of war the party, whatever it is, with which my fortunes are joined, or any other, will be able to carry every seat. I am not anxious lest, if I stand for Birmingham under one or the other system, I shall fail to find a seat, but I say that you are stultifying our whole traditions. You are selecting us for an experiment in which you have not sufficient confidence to apply it in cases where it is far more urgently needed, if it is needed at all, and you are making us the victims of this experiment, to the necessity of which neither you nor we, nor anyone else, can give consideration or reflection which under the circumstances such a vast change would involve. I feel it is an injustice to the City of Birmingham and the other cities, and the injustice is increased and not lessened by the attempt to secure this provision by the surrender of London, to which on every principle of equity it ought to be applied at least as much. I feel that it is much more than the fate of a constituency or of a community which is at stake. It is the character of this House, the efficiency of this House, and the stability and power of government in this House and in this country.

Captain AMERY

I rise with very considerable hesitation and some regret in order to express my difference of opinion from my right hon. Friend and colleague in the representation of Birmingham. My difference from my right hon. Friend on this question extends not only to the question itself, but to the whole attitude which we take up in regard to it. My right hon. Friend treats this as a great question of political principle, and on that assumption he very rightly challenges us, and says, "If this is your principle, why have you not the courage to ask for its application generally? You have no confidence in your view. You dare only press it where you think it is easy." For my part, and I think, speaking for most of those who are associated with me in advocating this reform, we do not regard this as a question of great political principle. We regard it as a question of a method of election in which we have such confidence that we believe if it could only secure a fair and reasonable trial in any part of this country, its advantages will become patent to all and that it is likely to be adopted by the country as a whole. But also there may be among us men who support this reform, or support this particular instalment of it who, interested in proportional representation and attracted by it, are yet very sensible of the strong arguments which have been brought against it, and who therefore instead of wishing to commit the country to it as a whole wish to pay consideration to the arguments which have been adduced by introducing the experiment in those areas where it can be most easily and most conveniently introduced with the smallest amount of dislocation of existing institutions and with the smallest amount of interference with the settled habits and outlook of the people. That is the justification for introducing it in those urban boroughs which already have an entity of their own. You are not breaking up something. You are not bundling separate bodies into one. It is the recognition of that argument that justifies the omission of London in this particular experiment because the London boroughs have developed into entities with a character of their own which object to being amalgamated with other boroughs, and it is for the same reason that I think I can speak on behalf of my colleagues who advocate proportional representation that we are not anxious to insist on the suggestion that contiguous boroughs elsewhere in the country should be pushed together and grouped into a single constituency from the point of view of proportional representation. It is as an experiment, but a most valuable and important experiment, that we wish to see it tried in those parts of the country where it can be most easily tried.

My right hon. Friend has advanced many objections, some of which are objections which exist in our present system— a matter which he rather seems to ignore. He talks about the right of the constituencies to have the man they prefer. Has a constituency always that right at present? When the party headquarters in some small local caucus fixes upon a Liberal or Unionist candidate, what choice is left to the average voter except voting for one man he does not like, or else bringing about the election of another whom he likes still less. At least you will under this proposal give the voter a choice, if he is a Unionist voter, of two or three Unionist candidates and of being able to vote for the man whose character, whose record and whose general principles he respects. Again, we are told by my right hon. Friend that every sort of illicit and discreditable bargain will be introduced into politics. Are there no bargains in our constituencies to-day? Was there no bargain between Conservatives and Liberal Unionists in the early days of the Home Rule controversy? Is there no bargain even to-day between Labour and Liberal, and between Irish and Liberal in our constituencies? We may be wrong. The experiment may disprove our view, but we believe that there will be less and not more bargaining at party headquarters under this proposal. And one of the things that leads me to believe that that may be so is the fact that those who are most concerned in the work of running the party machine are most strongly opposed to it. There is none of us who has worked in politics who does not feel a sense of gratitude to those who have given their labour in the ordinary humdrum, necessary work of party organisation. We have many intimate friends among them, but at the same time I feel that the views of those who are concerned in sharpening the efficiency of the party instrument are not the views which ought to govern us most in considering this great question.

My right hon. Friend, like others before him, talked of the question of expense. My hon. Friend (Mr. Barlow) talked as if large constituencies were bound to be more expensive than small ones. All my experience shows that it is the little pocket borough that bleeds the candidate. In the large constituencies a different spirit prevails. You cannot buy them all, and therefore you do not attempt to buy any. The same applies to the process called "grubbing." In a large constituency the candidate relies much more on public form, on speeches, and on the political activities of those who work with him than on the attempt to wheedle the wife of the voter by handshaking and effective little familiarities such as baby-kissing. As to the official expenses, I cannot for the life of me see why conducting five elections in five constituencies should be more economical than taking the whole thing in one. I do not see that more officials are involved, or more polling booths. On the contrary, all the ordinary principles connected with organisation would lead me to imagine that there will be a certain economy in connection with election expenses in this matter.

Then there is the charge continually made against the reform we advocate that it means the representation of cranks. That is a very serious charge. If you had electorates returning fifteen, twenty, or thirty members elected at the same time you would get cranks returned if they represented a fifteenth of a thirtieth of the electorate. But under a system where you have three, four or five members, no one can get returned who does not represent at least a fourth or a fifth of the electorate, that is a serious and sober body of opinion. What happens to-day under our existing system, where you have a close contest between men of two parties, and where there is no alternative for a body of cranks commanding fifty, sixty or 500 votes but to give them to one of the two opposing candidates? The candidate who knows that 200 votes make all the difference between defeat and victory will swallow their demands and those who back him up on other grounds, much as they detest the doctrine to which he has committed himself, dare not vote against him for fear of preventing the party getting in. On the other hand, if you have a fairer system of choice, a sound Liberal or a sound Unionist who did not commit himself to that would have a better chance of being returned than a man who, in the heat of a close contest, is prepared to swallow anything. I think that is the answer to the suggestion that municipal employés, for instance, might dominate the situation. I know constituencies where postmen and municipal officials have swung elections by going solidly for one candidate. But no one representing a tenth of a constituency could return a member for that purpose. Therefore, I think, that fear is undoubtedly an exaggerated one. If we were sitting in secret session I might say something about the extent to which the present system has let cranks into the House.

This reform, in the opinion of those who press for it, makes for stability and real soundness of judgment. Stability and strength of government does not depend on the mere size of a party majority, but on the character of the men who are returned. The fault of the pre sent system, undoubtedly, is that it encourages the return of extremists. If a man swallows the party ticket, it does not matter how much he goes beyond it, or what fads he adds on to it. The men of his party are bound to return him. If, on the other hand, in any matter, if it be such a question as Tariff Reform, he falls short of what is the official party programme and approximates to a middle position, then he is at once a traitor to the party, he weakens the cause, he diminishes the fighting spirit, and must be kept out at all hazard. I do not think proportional representation will do away with parties. I do not think that a man who stands on a purely personal ticket and throws all party aside will be returned, except in very few instances, but I think the tendency will be for the moderate rather than for the extreme man to be returned, and the effect on the Government in this House will be very great. The things that paralyse the Government in this House are the extremes. A party may be returned with an immense majority, and yet be incapable of carrying out practical legislation. My right hon. Friend referred, with a frankness which I confess amazed me, to the result of the 1906 election. He seemed to regard it as a blessing in disguise, not only for the Unionist party but for the country. I confess that, looking back upon it not as a party man, I should have thought it would have been better if the Liberal party had been returned with a majority of fifty, sixty, seventy, or eighty votes, with a better control of its own majority, and a programme which it had a better chance of carrying out. Those first three years of the Liberal Government were not their most effective years, and one of its weaknesses in the country was that, despite its immense majority in this House, we went up and down in the country and said that the majority was an accident, and that there was no majority in the country corresponding to it. It was on the strength, of that that the House of Lords had the confidence to take the line of opposition which, whatever view we took at the time, was not a fortunate thing for the progress of political institutions in this country.

I do believe that we want to get away from the old party dogmas. Let us be divided on broad questions of political principle, but for Heaven's sake let us remember that this country is more than its party organisations. We have to face a time of tremendous difficulty and trial. We are often told that we are fighting this War for democracy against autocracy, and what not. I prefer to say that we are fighting for England against Germany, but I do say that this War, and even more than this War—the years that will follow— are going to put democracy on its trial. Here in this country we have scrapped the old party system because its conflict and bitterness and friction were incompatible with the efficiency required for the conduct of this War. They are equally incompatible with the efficiency and unity that are required after this War. If we think we can revert to the old, inefficient, miserable methods with which we carried on before this War broke out in the critical years afterwards, we shall either end in revolution or in the wholesals disgust of the people of this country with Parliament and democratic institutions, and shall drift towards some form of efficiency—Cæsarism, or what not, which frankly throws away the old-established principles on which we have gone. My right hon. Friend kept on speaking about the views of men fifty years ago, when the tightness of party ties was very different from what it is to-day. He seemed to think that the judgments of John Bright, and Mr. Gladstone, and that great statesman whom he succeeded in the representation of West Birmingham, under very different conditions, were applicable to-day. I believe that if we want to preserve what is essential in the spirit and traditions of the House of Commons we have to reform its whole machinery. I do not look on proportional representation as more than a small instalment of the reforms that will have to be carried out in order to make our electoral and our representative system correspond to the complexity of all the problems that we have to face in the future. All I say is that if we approach these great problems in the spirit of thinking that what was good enough in 1867 in going to be good enough for us in future, if we approach it in the spirit of imagining that the parties of 1914 are going to be the parties of next year and the year after, if we approach it with the outlook of the old keen party man working to down the other party in his particular constituency, then I am sure there are bad times ahead for this country and this House. We have to be experimenting, we have to try to find ways and means of bringing democracy up to date with the immense needs of the time, and I say that the earlier we begin with that the better, and if we do find an opportunity in this particular proposal to try an important experiment of that sort, under conditions which make it both easiest to try and easiest, if necessary, to reverse, we should be very foolish if we hesitated.


The former Prime Minister in his speech gave three examples of the advantages, or the disadvantages, of our present system. The three examples where minorities were not fairly represented at the present time were Ireland, Wales, and Birmingham. Proportional representation is not to be applied to Ireland, it is not to be applied to the whole of Wales, and of the three that the right hon. Gentleman gave, the smallest is to have the only advantage, if there is any of proportional representation. The theory is that under this system minorities will be better represented, and that you will therefore get something nearer equality of representation. If minorities are represented in some parts of the country and are not represented in other parts of the country you will not only be no nearer a fair system but you will be much further away from it than you are at the present time. Supposing that there is, as I think there is, a great deal of force in the argument that minorities might possibly be better represented under the system of proportional representation, the question comes of what we are prepared to sacrifice in order to get that advantage, great or small as it may be. In the first place, you have to sacrifice the confidence of the elector in the manner in which your voting is taken. In the second place, you have to sacrifice a great deal in the increased control of the party machine, the greater control of either the Liberal or the Conservative caucus. You have to sacrifice the man of intelligence, very often, to the man with the money-bags. You are going to have the disadvantage of money being a very much larger influence in all the constituencies where proportional representation exists than it is at present, or than it has ever been at any time. You are going to sacrifice the advantage of a member representing very directly his own particular constituency, being known by them, liked by them, and trusted by them, and you are going to sacrifice beyond that all the advantages of having a strong Government in power whichever party may be for the moment in a majority.

8.0 P.M.

I say you are going to sacrifice the confidence of the electors in the system that you adopt, and we could not have that more thoroughly exemplified than in the speech of the Member for Liverpool (Mr. L. Scott) who got hopelessly entangled in the first part of his speech by suggesting how you would deal with by-elections. His proposition is that as soon as you come to a by-election you should throw over proportional representation, you should divide the constituency at once up into three, or five, or seven single-member constituencies, you should allot, on some plan of chance, a member to each constituency, and you might very conceivably allot the member who had the least interest and the fewest votes in one constituency as the representative of it. That emphasises, or rather that shows, the difficulty of a constituency in trusting to the result of their voting. The right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir T. Whittaker) has shown that proportional representation does not by any means certainly give the electors the choice they desire. In many cases those who would have in the ordinary course a smaller number of votes may come out as elected over those under ordinary conditions who would have a larger number of votes. I maintain that, first of all, the members will dislike the manner of voting. They will distrust the way in which the votes are being counted up. May I remind the members of the Committee that it is not at all an uncommon thing for difficulties to arise at the present time in the counting of the votes? You have at every counting of the votes at the present time representatives of all the candidates represented, and they watch very closely, and they need to watch very closely, that the votes are properly counted. It is not at all an uncommon thing for these scrutineers to see bundles of fifty votes with two or three votes for one candidate on the top and forty-eight or forty-seven votes for another candidate underneath. You have at the present time the definite means of checking, and the electors have an absolute faith in the fairness and honesty with which results are given. But under this system, in the first place, they will not understand it, and, in the second place, they will not trust it. It is a very striking thing that in all these discussions no Member of the House has ever attempted to explain the method of election or of counting. No man on a platform would attempt to explain it, and the shortest summary of it that has ever been given takes something like eighteen or twenty pages of the OFFICIAL REPORT. My second point, after that as to the dissatisfaction of the electors, is with regard to the control by the party machine. I do not intend to labour that, because it has been dealt with by the senior Member for Birmingham so ably. If you have three, five, or seven members in the constituency, it is absolutely impossible to organise that constituency except under the management of the party. Any man working on his own—it has been proved in the past, in the old days in the three-corner constituencies—has no possible chance of being elected. So you come to this, that in a constituency of three, five, or seven members, no one will have any chance of being elected unless he is nominated by one or other of the party caucuses. Now the hon. Member for Birmingham, who spoke last, was inclined to dispute the point of the added cost of the elections—that it would be very much more costly to fight an election under this system than under the single-member system. Let me point out one or two very simple ways in which this is true. An average constituency under the old vote would be about 12,000 electors; under this vote, with the added electors and with the women's franchise, the electorate would be about 24,000. Now, in a constituency previously, in one of the largest constituencies of, say, 24,000, it was impossible to post circulars, to post one set of literature to all the electors, under about £120. Now you change it from a constituency carrying two members to one carrying three members. That would bring it close on £200. You double your number of voters, and that would bring it practically to £400. That means that in a three-member constituency it would be practically impossible to issue your first series of papers to all the electors under a sum of something like £400. As a rule two sets of literature are sent out, and you at once come to the unusual expenditure of £800 in one of these large constituencies. If you make it five instead of three, you raise the cost from £800 to £l,300. This means that under proportional representation in these large boroughs you must first of all have a man who is the nominee of a party machine; and you must then have a man who is able to find that very large sum of money, or else he will not only be nominated by the party machine, but controlled by the party funds, because they will have to find the money for him. This means that in the future, instead of getting free from the control of the party, you are going to be more than ever in the hands of the party, and more than ever in the hands of the moneybags.

The contrast to that, in a single-member constituency, is very striking; and, after all, the former Prime Minister, at the end of his speech, told the House perfectly frankly that in his view the great solution of the difficulty of the unsatisfactory representation that there is at the present time was not in proportional representation, but in the equalisation of the electoral areas of, the country; and you cannot think of any real difficulty, which has been the subject of argument, why the present system should be abolished and proportional representation should replace it. There is no practical difficulty which has been mentioned that will not be solved by redistribution, and by giving every constituency practically the same number of voters. There is, to my mind, in this solution the greatest security for the highest type of members that you can possibly have being sent to this House. The great strength of this House is that a member shall be known in his constituency, shall be liked by his constituency and shall be trusted by his constituency; and that he shall be sent just as much by his personal character as by his political views. Now it is absolutely impossible, under a system of three, five or seven members, that any candidate for a constituency shall have these conditions of intimate connection, knowledge and mutual trust in his constituency that he can have in a single-member constituency.

I want to deal for a moment with the subject of the exclusion of London. I want to appeal to the hon. Members who represent the different London constituencies not to make that ungenerous and unprincipled bargain which they are being asked at the present time to make.


We have already decided on that.


The point has been argued during the day by many hon. Members who have spoken for London why London should be left out. London is being left out, and all the world knows it, because the Members for London dare not face the electorate if they tried to bring London in. I say it would be an ungenerous and an unprincipled bargain to make that they should remain out and to leave the large constituencies throughout the rest of the country to come in under this system of proportional representation merely because they are not hanging together equally as well as the London constituencies are. I suppose there are some Members of this House, and there are a good many candidates in the country, whose only hope of getting back or of coming into the House is through proportional representation. I am not at all sure whether their presence here is worth having. I am quite sure it is not worth having at the expense of the want of condence in the electors of the system. I am quite sure their presence is not worth having if we lose that intimate touch between the Members of this House and their constituencies. I am quite sure that this minority representation is not worth having if you place membership of this House a great deal more in the hands of the moneybags of the country and less in the hands of the intelligence of the country. I am quite sure that the minority representation is not worth having at the expense of the strengthening of the party machine and at the loss of the individuality of the Members of this House. I hope that those in the country will be joined by those Members for London who themselves honestly disapprove of this scheme, and that they will give us the same support that they will want from us when the rote on London comes on, and that they will enable us to defeat a Motion which has in any form in the past proved elusive in this country, and which, to my mind, in this particular form is absolutely the worst of all the systems that have been invented to try and bring the minority man into the House.


I rise to support the proposal of proportional representation and its adoption as an essential part of this Bill, mainly for two reasons. In the first place, I am convinced of the justice and soundness of the proposal in itself; and, in the second place, as a member of the Speaker's Conference, I support it because I look upon proportional representation as one of the essential principles upon which the decision of the Speaker's Conference rests. We have heard, in the course of the afternoon, no less than four speeches against the adoption of proportional representation. Two of them have been delivered very moderately, and that includes the speech to which we have just listened from the hon. Member for Leeds. Two singularly vehement speeches have been delivered by the right hon. Member for the Spen Valley and by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India, who were, by their tone, much more redolent of the Debates of pre-war days than anything we are accustomed to hear in the House at the present time. Almost all the speakers against proportional representation have objected, in so far as this Clause is concerned, to any importance whatever being attached to the findings of the Speaker's Conference. I am quite sure that neither Mr. Speaker himself nor any member of the Conference looks upon the findings and Reports of the Conference as in themselves sacrosanct; but surely, while it would be a mistake to look upon the findings of the Conference as being of the same authority as Holy Writ, there is a great difference between taking that view of it and looking upon the findings of the Speaker's Conference with the disdain which we have heard expressed in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Spen Valley, and, I regret also to say, in the speech of the Secretary of State for India. But all these Gentlemen who have condemned the Speaker's Conference and who object to placing any weight whatever on the Conference have, in their speeches, consciously or unconsciously, certainly incidentally, paid a very high tribute to the wisdom displayed by the Conference. Why, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Spen Valley and even the Secretary of State for India, have said that, with the exception of this single proposal, they agree in principle with every recommendation of the Speaker's Conference! Well, surely, if the Conference has stood the test of such diverse criticism from all quarters of the House in regard to the multitude of its findings on other matters, it is entitled to say to the Committee that its deliberate recommendations in regard to proportional representation ought not to be disregarded. On the contrary, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal party in the House pointed out, a Conference composed as this was, and which devoted such a great amount of time under the able direction of Mr. Speaker to the consideration of these problems, is worthy of the consideration of Members of the House, and no Member would lightly disregard the findings to which it deliberately came. I say nothing more as to any claim I make for the respect which should be had for the findings of the Speaker's Conference.

Looking to the criticism which one might have expected in regard to this Bill, I think it may be said that almost every form of criticism that could be intelligently anticipated has been delivered against proportional representation. You have the type of critic who says, "No one can understand proportional representation. It is quite true that proportional representation is scientifically correct, but in its working oat it is an utter sheer impossibility." I distrust the frankness of the hon. Member who says that he is unable to understand proportional representation. I think the scheme is simplicity itself, and I think hon. Members who take up that attitude fail to do credit to their own intellectual capacity. I rather sympathise with the attitude of mind of a simple-minded person like the present Prime Minister who says, "Proportional representation may be a good thing or a bad thing. I am not going to express any opinion about it because I am a very busy man, and I have never had time to consider it and have not made up my mind about it." I can understand that attitude towards proportional representation, but I have never yet met a Member of this House who has been able to say that he does not understand proportional representation if he confesses that he has given thought and attention and care to the study of this problem.

Amongst the speeches which have been delivered, the one which probably calls for reply is that delivered by the Secretary of State for India because he occupies the most responsible position of those who have up to the present spoken in opposition to proportional representation. He told the Committee that he feels very warmly on this subject, and certainly he spoke with almost as much vehemence as I ever heard him speak in any Debate, even in pre-war times. And yet, of all the speeches which have been delivered in this Debate against proportional representation there was not one weaker in argument or less worthy of the case for the opposition to the adoption of proportional representation than the speech of the Secretary for India. At the beginning of his speech he said that to adopt proportional representation we should be reversing settled practice. That is nothing more nor less than a statement of the usual conservative position which opposes every change in the Constitution, big or small. He spoke of proportional representation as being a hazardous and mischievous ex- periment. Surely those are very formidable words. Could any member of the Committee who listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman say that he advanced one cogent argument which would justify the use by him or anybody else of such opprobrious terms in regard to proportional representation and its adoption in this measure? Another point in his speech which I heard with some amazement was that the people who advocated proportional representation did not believe in it, and that if they believed in it why did not they make it universal? Would it be fair to say to a Member of this House who has believed in protection as strongly as the right hon. Gentleman that he was really not a believer in Protection because he would not adopt the Protection in any shape or form unless he was allowed by legislation to apply protection to every article to which protection could be applied? That was not the scheme of his distinguished father. He was surely a strong Protectionist, and yet he was prepared in his advocacy of Protection to take, in the beginning, any right which the House of Commons would give him to protect any article of trade or commerce.

Sir J. D. REES

Does the hon. Member hold that cities differ so, that some are suitable objects for this experiment and some are not, just as different articles of food are suitable subjects for protective duties?


This proposal applies to constituencies returning three or more members outside London The thing that is sought to be done in this Bill is to establish the principle of proportional representation. Another point which illustrates my argument, and which was mentioned by the Secretary of State for India, was that he said, that although he objected to giving votes to women, he was willing to swallow his prejudice and to extend the franchise to women. He is willing to agree to this Bill with the franchise for women in it. There were plenty of people in this country advocates of women's suffrage who believed in women's suffrage when the principle of votes for women was applied so far as municipal elections alone were concerned. I submit that in so far as the right hon. Gentleman and others say that those who advocate proportional representation do not believe in it because they cannot get all they want, that it is one of the most illogical and one of the most baseless arguments I ever heard uttered in this House, and is absolutely unworthy of the great reputation of the Secretary of State for India. Another objection which the right hon. Gentleman took is very easily dealt with. He asked how could anyone say chat, proportional representation is a suitable way of arriving at the composition of the House of Commons in war time. Whoever said it was? The Speaker's Conference was set up by the Coalition Government, of which the Secretary for India was a member, not to make suggestions for legislation in reference to the franchise for the War period but to guide the House in arriving at principles of legislation which would govern the country after the War. What is being proposed to the House in this measure is not an expedient to deal with the present War emergency, but a scheme of legislation for the government of the country in the period following the conclusion of the War.

Another strangely weak argument is that which the right hon. Gentleman adduces from Birmingham. He says that there is no place in which minorities find it easier to secure just and adequate representation than in that city. Birmingham returns, I think, twelve members, and out of the total number there is not a single Labour member. Can anyone say that the great labour community in Birmingham, through whose activity Birmingham has achieved its greatness, is not worthy of securing at least one member out of the twelve? I think that the one instance which the right hon. Gentleman has given has answered entirely the whole of the rest of his case. The object of the Conference has been met fairly by the adoption in this Bill of the principle of proportional representation. If it is adopted, even with the omission of London, this is a compromise on the original Clause in the Bill. The recommendations of the Speaker's Conference were arrived at after much consideration, but they are all in the nature of a compromise, and even with this further limitation the Bill would still be giving effect to the finding of the Conference. In recognising the principle of proportional representation we shall be ratifying what the Conference has agreed to. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir T. Whittaker) spoke with great ability and vehemence against this proposal, but I may remind him that when the Home Rule Act was going through this House and a proposal to introduce proportional representation was submitted, not only did the right hon. Gentleman not protest against it, but on every occasion he voted in favour of it. No one who listened to him to-day could imagine that he had ever in his life touched such an unclean thing as he would make out proportional representation to be.

There is no difficulty in working proportional representation out in practice. Everyone who has studied it admits that, theoretically, it is a perfect system, and if it is said that it is difficult to work in practice, you find the answer in the fact that in Belgium, several of the British Colonies, Switzerland, and many other countries, proportional representation is not only part of the legislation, but has been worked successfully for a great number of years. This destroys the argument that the working out of proportional representation is difficult, not to say impossible. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir J. D. Rees) suggests that the system of proportional representation in these various countries is different from the system proposed in this Clause. I ask him to consider, from the point of view of complexity, whether or not the proposals in this Clause are not infinitely simpler than the proposals adopted anywhere else. We have the testimony of most distinguished Belgians as to the way in which the system works in their country, and we have the testimony of those who see it in operation as to its success in those countries such as Sweden and Switzerland, where not only do they think it a system which is possible of being worked with ease, but they would never think of reverting to anything like the system, of single-member constituencies. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley, when he was reminded that he had voted for proportional representation, as applied to Ireland, said that he was prepared to make exceptions, that it was not nearly so wholesale a thing as was now proposed. But when proportional representation was introduced into the Home Rule Act it was not because the House of Commons considered that there were circumstances special to Ireland which differentiated Ireland from Great Britain so far as the practicability of proportional representation was concerned. No one ever said so in this House. Proportional representation was introduced into the Home Rule Act in order to provide for the more adequate representation of minorities. The object of introducing it into the Bill now before us is to make it possible to secure more adequate representation for minorities in this country. It is because I believe that proportional representation is capable of achieving this end, and is, indeed, the only means by which this end can be achieved, that I support it.


Reference was made by the last speaker and others to the fact that I and other Members voted for proportional representation in the Government of Ireland Bill. When that proposal was made the argument was put forward very strongly that it would form an experiment from which we might be able to form an opinion as to the suitability of proportional representation as a method of election. Owing to the fact that that Act of Parliament has not been put into force up to the present we have not any experience to guide us at present as to the effect of proportional representation. I, as one of those who represent a city which would come under the five-member constituencies, object very strongly to the introduction of this system at a time when we are calling on so many thousands of new electors, including women, to vote in our cities. It does appear to me that the next election would be a most unfortunate time indeed for the introduction of this novel system. Those who interest themselves in the next election will find it difficult enough to guide new voters how to exercise the franchise without putting before them a system which requires a very great amount of teaching, and which from time to time even the teachers understand very inadequately. The point has been raised that it would be almost impossible within the number of hours allowed for polling to conduct an election. Where you have an electorate so large as that of my constituency, it is found difficult to get through the votes within the specified hours. Those who have had experience of elections know how people leave the recording of their votes to a late hour, and when we come to have working women and working men rushing to the poll, the numbers who come in at a late hour will be greatly increased, and under the present system the difficulties will be enormously enhanced. But when it comes to an exercise of preference under proportional representation, when the voter has to put his mark to one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight or nine, it seems to me that such a system would be utterly impracticable, and that many hundreds, possibly thousands, of artisans would be shut out from the opportunity of exercising their vote at all. In a large constituency like that of Bristol, where there are some four hundred thousand people to be dealt with, it would be an extremely expensive thing to contest a seat. In these days when we desire that elections to Parliament should be made easier, so far as financial considerations are concerned, I do not think we should deliberately create machinery which will be more costly to work and make it very much more expensive to enter this House, and the result would be that a seat in this House would be the privilege of the rich man, or of some nominee of rich men. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Asquith) referred to the Parliament of 1892 as having passed some very useful legislation with a small majority. I believe that Government had a majority of something like forty, and the result was that only legislation of an unimportant character, which the right hon. Gentleman described as useful, was obtained at all. The great measures to which that Parliament devoted itself were not carried. It had not the driving force behind it, nor had it any popular imagination behind it.

A Parliament elected under a system of proportional representation, if we are to believe the statement of those who are in favour of proportional representation, would be an exact reproduction of the minds of the people, through their representatives, but, in my view, any Parliament with a small majority would never be able to carry such legislation as we have bad in, the past, legislation which has improved this country, which has made this country so strong in its liberties, and legislation which was carried because there was a great popular force behind it. I cannot see how any Parliament with a small majority could ever carry a measure like, for example, Catholic emancipation. A measure such as that would never have been carried in a Parliament with a small majority. Great reforms in this country have never been carried unless they have had a great driving force at the back of them. The Disestablishment of the Irish Church was the result of a very large majority in the Parliament of 1868, the University Tests Act was carried by a Parliament that had a large majority, as well as other great reforms, which could not have been carried out unless there had been a popular driving force behind them. Therefore I go to the length of saying that I would rather have a Parliament which sometimes rather over-represented the sentiment of the people than under-represented it. After all, with a large majority in Parliament there would be strength and power in the Government to make some progress. I can quite understand men whose mental constitution is like that of the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil), who prefers a system of proportional representation for the simple reason that he does not want to carry important legislation. He is satisfied to go on quietly year in and year out without any reforms by legislation. For myself, I believe that when this War is over, and the country has settled down, we will have many problems to face, and I believe it would be very unfortunate if we had a Parliament elected which had not a satisfactory majority, with driving power behind it. After the War there are various reforms which will require our attention, among them the re-organisation of our finance, and economic and social reforms which will require great driving force, and will never be carried out by Parliament unless it has an adequate majority with popular driving power behind. I object, as a representative of the City of Bristol, to this experiment being tried in that constituency. If this is a good scheme, if the next election is to be fought on proportional representation, let us have it all round. I am very much struck by the fact that nearly all the speakers who have addressed the House to-day in support of this very radical and extraordinary change in connection with the electors of members to this House, come from constituencies where proportional representation is not to be applied at all. With the exception of the hon. Member for South Birmingham (Captain Amery) those who have supported this measure do not come from the constituencies that would be affected by this proposal. One of the Members for Liverpool spoke strongly in its favour in the pre- vious Debate, but, with those exceptions, I believe nearly all those who will be affected have, so far as they have spoken, done so against this proposal. I sincerely hope, having regard to the fact that you are to have a very large electorate which will require a good deal of instruction, that we shall not attempt at the next election to try to introduce this novel system into our elections.


My hon. Friend who has just spoken made the observation that no one had spoken in favour of proportional representation except those who came from districts which would not be affected. May I offer myself as an illustration and as one who comes from what will be a large constituency and as one who has been in favour of proportional representation for a good many years? In my opinion this is not a party question. For some years past I have been a member of the Proportional Representation Society in Manchester and the vice-presidents have been Sir William Houlds-worth, who was an honoured Member of this House for many years, and Sir Alfred Hopkinson, who was also a Member of this House and both Unionists in politics; while another member of that society was Mr. C. P. Scott, who was also for many years a Member of this House and a Liberal in politics. That, I think, indicates quite clearly that the subject is not by any means a party one. My hon. Friend also made the observation that he rather preferred that Parliament should over-represent current opinion sometimes than that it should be under-represented. As I understand proportional representation, what we want to get is a system by which we shall have the accurate representation of public opinion. It is because I believe the system of proportional representation to be the best method of trying to get at accurate representation that I am so strongly in favour of it. There is the question of cost also raised by the hon. Member. It seems to me the cost is just what this House determines it shall allow. In the Bill there is a sum named per member, but I believe there are Amendments which would cut that allowance down to a much smaller sum. In any case the question of expense is one which is material and should be looked into very carefully. We do not want to erect something which is going to be a system which will keep out men of ability and make men dependent simply on a long purse, and I am quite sure that is, a matter of common ground for us all.

From time to time, and again to-day, it has been raised as an objection to proportional representation that the system is an unintelligible one, and would be found very difficult to handle by the voters. I confess I am left very cold by that statement. I cannot see why we should underrate the English elector and put him on a lower level than electors in other countries. It seems to me to savour of belittling our English people compared with people in other countries. The system has been used in this country, tried in sections and for different purposes, and has worked well. Although it may be a little strange at first to the electors, I am quite certain it will only be a matter of a very little experience until the electors fall in with it. We are told that there will be difficulties after the counting of the votes and uncertainty as to getting accurate returns. It may be that you will not get the results published on the same day, as is now the habit in many of the constituencies, but surely that is a matter of very small moment if the results are available the next day, and surely it is much more important that accuracy should be determined than that you should consider the saving of a few hours? This question is one of considerable importance, and I hope that the Committee will vote strongly in favour of it. If I were to go into details I should like to have referred to the experience of Manchester and Liverpool since the 1885 Parliament. It has always seemed to me that what happened in Manchester and in Liverpool has been a real argument for proportional representation. For a long series of years Liverpool has been represented by members in the Conservative interest in the main, quite regardless of the fact that there are enormous numbers of voters in Liverpool who would vote Liberal or Labour or Nationalist, which fact has always misrepresented Liverpool. You have had something of the same experience in Manchester. I do not hesitate to say that in my opinion the 1906 election, when the whole of Manchester polled Liberal or Labour, did not represent accurately the state of affairs in that city. You had a very large number of voters who voted Conservative. If we can by some mechanical means of this kind provide for the representation of minorities of that sort, I think that we shall improve the electoral system of this country. For these reasons, amongst others, to which I do not intend now to refer, I propose to vote for proportional representation.


I hope I shall not interfere with the natural order of the speakers if I intervene for a few minutes. I shall confine myself to that limit because I had the opportunity of speaking in the former Debate. Although I am strongly opposed to the general principle of proportional representation I confined myself on that occasion to its application to London. It is only in connection with London and in answer to the hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. L. Scott), and in answer to the appeal that was made by the hon. Member for Leeds to the London Members not to be bribed off their opposition to this Bill by the concession that has been made that I wish to say one or two words. Speaking as one of the oldest London Members—quite the oldest in the sense of having sat for the same seat for the longest period—and as chairman of a very representative Committee of Members opposing this scheme, both London and non-London Members, I desire to say that the majority of London Members, or those for whom I am entitled to speak, have not the slightest intention of deserting the non-London Members in their opposition to proportional representation. It would not be in accord with any conception that I can understand of political consistency or political honour that we should do so. No, Sir. We feel that if the supporters of proportional representation are so certain it is a good thing, they ought to have the courage of their convictions and seek to apply it to the whole country; and that if it is a bad thing, we have no right—Conference or no Conference, we here in the House of Commons have no right—to take one part of the country, whether it be London or any other part, and make the animal suffer under a sort of experiment in political vivisection in order to find out whether the treatment will or will not be good for another animal. We remember, or are acquainted with, the experiment, differing perhaps in method but the same in principle which was imposed on certain constituencies in the Bill of 1867, the confusion, stagnation, and general lowering of political tone which resulted from it in those constituencies for eighteen years, and its final abandonment in 1885 in favour of our present simple, straightforward electoral process. And we are not willing, if we can help it, to impose a similar injury upon those great centres of industry and political activity throughout the country to which it is now proposed to apply this scheme. Therefore speaking, as I say, on behalf of the London Members, for whom I am entitled to speak—I think it is a large number—I think it right—and I desired to speak earlier in the Debate— to say at once—and it is fairer and franker to say at once—that we are not to be diverted from our opposition to this scheme by the kind and disinterested offer that has been made of exceptional treatment for London.


The hon. Member who has just spoken last raised a point which has been raised by many of the speakers in this Debate—Why, if proportional representation is a good thing, should it not be applied to the entire country and not applied only to certain specified areas? We are all familiar with that form of argument. We also know perfectly well what would have been said if the proposal had been to apply the principle to the entire country. We should have been told that it ought to be applied gradually, and in the places best suited for it. If that had been done the scheme would have been rejected. There is a further point in that connection which may be remembered, and that is that as recently as 7th, June, 1913, this House, by a vote of 311 to 81, inserted the principle of proportional representation in the Irish Home Rule Act.


Not quite this proposal?

9.0 P.M.


Exactly the proposal which is now put forward. This is the identical Clause spoken of. It is a curious thing that Members like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley, who made a violent onslaught on proportional representation this afternoon, voted—I believe my memory is correct—for the application of this principle to Ireland. If the argument of the right hon. Gentleman is correct, if this proposal is unjust, unfair, unworkable, and unreasonable, why should the Irish Parliament, the new Parliament, with an electorate certainly not so well educated as the British electorate, have this put upon them? The opponents of proportional representation used contradictory arguments in the same speech, and imagine that they can convince anyone who has given serious attention to this problem. I have heard most of the speeches and some most amazing things have been said. At one moment opponents of proportional representation, with great vehemence, say that the adoption of this principle will fill the House with cranks and faddists, and in another portion of their speech they equally inform the Committee that the machine would have entire control, and that no independent person would be returned to this House. That really is no exaggeration of that which occurred in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for India. He began by telling the House what a terrible thing it would be if no man of independent views ever came here. Then he said that proportional representation would lower the dignity of the House and fill it with minority men. He ended up with an historical explanation of the caucus in Birmingham—a subject with which no doubt he is very familiar—and he said that the evils of this system would be spread all over the country and that no independent person would be allowed into this House. I think we ought to have some option on the part of our opponents. Both sets of arguments cannot be true. Personally, I say they are both equally untrue.

Take the Debate to-day. I cannot assume that this is a new experiment which has never been tried before in the history of the world. The accounts of its working which have been obtained in those countries which have adopted the system of proportional representation are sufficient for me, and for many years I have supported the proposal for proportional representation. My case is not one of theoretical argument, but because I have been assured by responsible statesmen of the various countries where proportional representation is the law that the system works well, that it has created a new political life, eased down bitterness between parties, ensured steadiness of government, and toned up political life generally. Why do not our opponents deal with those statements made by responsible statesmen of countries like Belgium? It is always the Prime Minister or the Agent-General of Tasmania. After all, the French have some experience of democratic government. They have passed a law which comes into force after the War establishing proportional representation. You cannot take a constitutional country to-day which is being remoulded in which proportional representation is not included. It is useless to argue in a purely abstract and theoretical way. It is equally futile to endeavour to alarm the people in the kind of speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley. He may have read all the papers about it, but evidently he has not understood them. His mind may not be able to deal with the subject. The fact that he cannot deal with it does not impress me very much, in view of the fact that people of other countries have been found to be quite capable of dealing with the proposition, which any schoolboy of twelve could do after being shown two or three times what the thing was. Therefore all the alarmist results which the right hon. Gentleman predicts, and all these fantastic calculations, which may amuse the Committee, are quite beside the point.

One point to which, it seems to me, we have to address ourselves is a very simple one. Are we to have a system of representation which expresses the will of the people of this country or are we not? That is not a very difficult proposition, but most of the speeches I have heard seem to look upon popular representation in the following manner: "It does not produce the type of member I want, the kind of majority I want, or the kind of House of Commons I want. I do not care what the people want. I will not give them a system which will not produce the result I want." That is a most extraordinary idea. Let us give up talking about the will of the people and saying that we are a democratic country. That is not democracy. By democracy is meant that the people shall send to Parliament those whom they desire to represent them. Therefore, I myself am not in the least interested in the kind of argument that the municipal employés of Liverpool might want to return people to this House, which might be a very bad thing. Whether it is a good tiling or a bad thing it is not for us to settle. It is obvious that our present system does not give a minority representation or a fair representation of the desires of the voters. Surely a system like that is a defective one, and its supporters defend it by saying, "We admit that under the present system the people of this country do not get exactly what they want, but they get as much as is good for them. It is quite true that in this country parties are very equally balanced, and therfore the House of Commons ought to be equally balanced, but it would be extremely inconvenient to govern, and, therefore, because it is inconvenient to govern, the people of this country must be content with the present system." That is not my idea of democratic government. If the people of this country are equally balanced, this House ought to be equally balanced, and Governments ought to take that fact into consideration, and, instead of having alternate artificial majorities, you ought to have such a reflection of opinion that the majority in power would have to have regard to the large minority.

It seems to me to be a curious thing that so little has been learnt from the history of the War. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley in most eloquent language argued that we must be strong partisans, and that the Government must be supported by a strong partisan majority in order to govern the country in a strong way. We are engaged in the crisis of a great war, and we have done exactly the opposite. We have formed a Coalition of all parties to work together to guide the country in its most perilous hour. We have surely learnt that co-operation of different parties produces more rapid progress than the idea that we can only go on with extreme party men and party majorities. I hope I have learnt—and I think many men in this House have learnt—that there is another way of governing a country besides the old way of parties in and out of office opposing each other, not on principles but on party lines, and, after the War, it is perfectly certain that neither the country nor the House of Commons will revert to these ancient methods which have broken down in war. Proportional representation gives you a more correct mirror of the political opinion in the country than any system we have.

But what about the practical point, of which we have heard so much—the size of constituencies? I am astonished to hear arguments of the kind that have been used. After all, one has only to bear in mind the size of the areas in the United States of America, and the idea that a man who has been used to a comparatively small area cannot set about the work of electioneering in a large area seems the weakest of all arguments against a change which is so essential. Of course, electioneering will probably change more in kind than in substance. There are now returned to this House Members representing constituencies like Walthamstow or Cardiff, solving that un-soluble problem, representing areas which will have something like five members, and I have not noticed that their electioneering capacity has rendered them unable to deal with the situation. That is another bogey. But the greatest bogey of all is the question of expense— the idea that it must be much more expensive for a large area under proportional representation. That seems to me to be due to an entire misunderstanding of the system that will be introduced into electioneering. We are so obsessed with the idea of our old methods of electioneering, which consist in getting together as big a majority as we can over somebody else, that we do not realise that when the problem is simply that of securing a certain proportion of votes, and knowing that when that proportion is secure you are elected, it entirely alters the nature of your electioneering. What does all our electioneering machinery depend on today? We all know fairly well when we start an election how many votes each party has got. There is a small balance of wobblers. Both sides endeavour to use all means to turn that balance to its side. It is for them that we spend thousands of pounds on posters and electioneering literature. It is for them we provide motor-cars. It is for them we canvass, and it is for them that all the expense of electioneering is really incurred, because nobody expects he is going to get any large number of voters from the other side.

But all that will fall to the ground very largely under proportional representation. These people will become relatively unimportant. You have five candidates to 50,000 voters. You want 10,000 votes to get elected, and when you have secured those 10,000 votes you need take no further interest in the election at all. But it is a very different proposition when out of 50,000 voters you want to produce 25,100 to get returned, and that 100 will turn the whole election. I think that is the reason why, in the countries where proportional representation has been adopted, the people have found that it has favoured the poorer candidate. The larger you make a constituency the less power wealth has. I think that is absolutely true. Everyone who has experience of large and small constituencies knows that to be a fact. The larger your area is, the less will be the power of the rich candidate, and the more political thought and political knowledge will count; therefore, the larger the area I from that point of view the more the man of political sagacity and of political reputation will undoubtedly have the advantage. On the other hand, if you can appeal successfully to a certain section of the electorate which you know fairly well, and which knows you fairly well, that will enable you to be elected. It will abolish a great deal of the machinery and the effort which is now necessary to bring the wobbler into the fold at the last moment. I think nothing will have a better effect on political education and political life than to give up this chase of the wobbler. It has been said that small cliques have no influence at elections, but, in my opinion, that is simply one of the greatest delusions imaginable, because the small clique has more influence now in a constituency than it would have under proportional representation. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] You have a division. The agent comes and tells both candidates that there are 250 anti-vaccinationists in that division who can turn the election. The rapidity and the zeal with which both candidates suddenly develop anti-vaccinationist views is remarkable. Any small body of people who can turn an election in this way exercise an influence on candidates out of all proportion to their electoral value. That cannot happen under proportional representation to the same degree, and I do not think any of these small bands of people would ever between them be able to summon to their aid enough votes to return a member to this House, or any large portion of members.

I do not believe that under proportional representation you would return many free candidates. To get 10,000 men in any area to vote for a free candidate would be almost impossible. It is a big number to get to vote, and I think that danger has been much exaggerated. I also do not think you can do away with the party machine, and even that asserts a legitimate influence. What I say is, you will not have the position which exists to-day and which is a great political danger. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) spoke about Birmingham. He admitted that Birmingham at one time was entirely Liberal, and at another time entirely Unionist. He did not state that at the time it was entirely Liberal it had a large Conservative minority which had no representation at all, and that all the time it has been Unionist it has had a large Liberal and Labour minority which has had no representation in this House. He did not explain how he reconciled that idea with the idea that Birmingham was properly represented here. This proposal may present certain practical difficulties, but, I do not think they are very great, which may alter our ideas of the method of carrying on elections, but it is the only one which has been devised and which is in operation to-day all over the world.




In France, or, at all events, it is coming into effect in that country after the War.


They are opposed to it.


I do not see how it can be said they are opposed to it when it has passed the Senate and the Chamber, and it is merely suspended from being put into operation until the end of the War, like the Home Rule and other Acts which are suspended here. That is a fact. Then it has been adopted in Sweden, Denmark, Finland—


All small countries.


Of course, these countries are small, but wherever constitutional changes are being made to-day the principle is being adopted. I do not think that can be contradicted. There are variations in different countries, but they are merely a question of machinery and not of principle, and of all the machinery I have examined, I think the machinery which has been perhaps the best in its working is that of Tasmania. In spite of what you may say of the application of this system and of the difficulty of the elector understanding it, I remember well some years ago having a meeting on this subject in my Constituency, and after the meeting we took a test vote. We had practically no spoiled ballot papers, and we had no great diffi- culty. It may be argued that my electors are politically more educated than those in other parts of the country. I would be the last to deny that fact, but that experiment at any rate was entirely successful. I would say that any elector who could not mark a ballot paper with half a dozen or nine names is really so wanting in political intelligence as to make him quite unworthy of the franchise.

I want to make this observation: The opponents of proportional representation always endeavour to make out that it is difficult for the elector to arrive at the result of the election, but the elector has nothing to do with arriving at the result. The elector has merely to mark his preference on the ballot paper, and his preference for the transfer of his vote. Afterwards the matter rests with the returning officer. Although it may seem complicated on paper, I will engage to say that anyone in practice will find it very much simpler than a verbal or written explanation would make it seem, and in reality the result is even much simpler than the examples which are often given and Which, as a rule, are complicated. There will not be an enormous number of fancy candidates, and the number of people who will get the first preference will be much larger than some people think. The Member for Spen Valley (Sir T. Whit-taker) says that someone gets a few votes in the first preference, and finally gets elected. That goes to show how well the system works. You have three candidates. The first candidate may be a popular man, and he may get 20,000 votes, but he only wants 10,000 to be elected. Is it more reasonable that the other 10,000 votes should be wasted and not used or that they should be transferred to get in another candidate whom the elector wants to vote for in case his first preference is already elected? Obviously, in the cases to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, some one individual candidate received a very large surplusage of votes. That is what we want to prevent and to remedy. We want one vote one value, and this is the only system -by which you give a vote any real value, because a vote which is not wanted or utilised you can transfer where it is wanted and will be utilised. Until you adopt a system like this it is not possible to have one vote one value, because you have so many votes of no value whatever. Therefore those who speak of one vote one value ought to have no difficulty in voting for this proposal. I do not know whether it will be accepted or not, but, whatever happens, I am sure that not many more years will elapse in our political history before this method will be forced upon us, and before it will be adopted as the one fair way of giving different shades of opinion among the voters and shades of opinion among the different parts of the country that true representation in this House which is essential if this House is to maintain its positon in a democratic State of representing all classes, all kinds of opinions, and all parts of the country in that true and constitutional way which alone will give it that authority which will enable it to exercise the influence which it ought to exercise in the country.


The hon. Member who has just sat down has told us that members are elected by spending thousands of pounds on posters and motor cars. I now understand that which has puzzled me a great deal. The hon. Member was very eloquent in supporting this idea of proportional representation. He said it would enable the views of the people of the country to be more adequately represented in this House. That is a curious argument to be used by a man who is to-night in favour of passing through this House, which represents nobody, a Bill which will settle this great controversial question without allowing the people of the country to have a single voice in it. The people of the country are not to be allowed to express their views. It is to be forced upon them, and that indeed by a Gentleman who professes to advocate democratic government. "Government of the people by the people." Who are the people who are going to govern in passing this law? Not the people of this country, but this House which represents nobody. Very early in these Debates the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Hayes Fisher), who was then Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board, put this to the House. Supposing there were an election to-day, who would be the electors? The electors would be the people on a register four years old. They would be the octogenarians, the nonogenarians, the halt, the lame, the blind, the conscientious objector, and the young men who have escaped through their trade unions from military service. This House was elected upon a register now eight years old. If on a register four years old you had an absolutely inadequate electorate, what is the electorate which this House represents to-day?


Some are at the front.


Yes, those at the front are very different in their ideas from many who are here.


Can you speak for them?


I can speak for a good many of them. This House to-night is going to settle this question, and once we introduce this system in these boroughs it will be a very difficult thing to take it away. It is one thing to introduce a new system and another thing after a few years to do away with it. I therefore ask those Members of the House who flatter themselves that they are in favour of democratic government, and I ask those Members who in their constituencies have used the phrase—and I expect there are not many who have not done so—which I believe was originally coined by the present Prime Minister, "Government of the people by the people." [HON. MEMBERS: "It was before he was born."] Whoever invented it, I expect every Member has used that expression, and I ask hon. Members to consider how they can consistently take this question out of the hands of the people of the country and settle it for them. If there is any political consistency existing in the minds of Members, they will not do it. There have been a great many arguments adduced in favour of proportional representation on the basis that it would enable minorities to have better representation. It is by no means clear whether it would have that effect or not. Personally, I think it would, but it would result in one thing which would be very disastrous to this House. It would result in a Member of this House no longer being the representative of a constituency as a whole, but in his representing merely a certain group in that constituency by which he has been returned. To-day we are undoubtedly elected by the electors of the party to which we belong, but every Member, when once elected, regards himself as the representative of his constituency as a whole. I have heard it said over and over again by a Member after the election that now the fight is over the people must remember that he represents the whole constituency, whatever their political views were before. I think Members seriously and honestly do take that view when they take their seat in this House. That would be done away with. A man might be one of six, seven, or eight members of a constituency. He would be elected simply by a group, because it had been arranged that the first vote of all the members of that group should be given to him. He would represent that group, and not the constituency. This would have a very important effect upon the character of the Members of this House and upon their relationship to their constituencies.

Take, for instance, the case of London. I do not mean the limited area of the City, but the larger area of London. If this principle were adopted for London, no man would consider himself as representing anything or anybody except the group by which he was returned. He would not represent the City. He would not represent London. He would know the group by which he was returned. The whole of electioneering energy would be directed to that end. The power, the work, and the manipulation of the caucus would be rapidly increased. The caucus would work to get the votes apportioned amongst their men as accurately as they possibly could. The astute electioneering agent would be more valuable than over, his work would be more difficult, and it would have greater results than it has to-day. This is a measure which is calculated to increase more than ever the power of the caucus and of the electioneering agent and to diminish the power of the independent man who stands merely upon his merits without the assistance of any caucus or astute agent. It is a dangerous experiment to try. Our present system may be attacked, as it has been attacked, on the ground that minorities in certain constituencies are not represented, but, on the whole, it has worked well, at least as well as we can hope any such system as is now proposed can work. If you have two or three parties, as we have to-day in England, you find one party in a majority in one place and the other party in a majority in another. If you add all the majorities and all the minorities together you find, in the end, an approximate representation of both views in the House. No system which the wit of man has yet devised will enable you to give an exact representation in this House. Our system is an old one. It has stood the test of time. It has been the model upon which other Parliaments have been erected. We have not found it to work so unjustly as has been suggested, and I submit that this, is not the time when we should make a great experiment such as is suggested, especially as the people of the country have not had an opportunity of expressing their views upon it.


I cannot quite follow the last speaker in his suggestion that a member would lose personal touch with his constituents and would have less association with them if this scheme were adopted than he has in present circumstances. Whether it is a constituency with three members or five members, surely he will work in harmony with the colleagues of his own way of thinking, and they will arrange how they shall divide their men for voting. If we adopt this principle each candidate will, as he did before, woo one particular part of the constituency. It would be a very natural thing for the man occupying the seat at the present moment to regard his own division or ward as the part to which he should devote his special attention. In any case, if he did not, I see no particular harm in a man being in association with three, four, or five others of his own political party and being jointly associated with them in his constituency. The dangers which are foreseen in that direction are not really grave. Naturally any new scheme in connection with the franchise or the method of voting meets with much opposition from men on all sides of the House. Men naturally do not like to adopt new ideas. What has been urged against proportional representation was urged in 1867 against the scheme of three-corner constituencies, which I am bound to admit was not very satisfactory. The last speaker said that having once adopted proportional representation it would be difficult at any time to do away with it. The same thing might have been said about three-corner constituencies. They were established in 1867 and they continued for eighteen years, when, being found unworkable, they were dropped. Therefore it cannot be said that our present system of one-member constituencies is in any sense an old one, or one that we need particularly revere from the point of view of old tradition. That it has worked, roughly speaking, in a satisfactory manner, no one will deny, but those who believe in proportional representation think there are many grave inconsistencies in the present scheme.

The hon. Member for South Salford (Mr. Barlow) did not quite realise the aim of those who support proportional representation. He spoke especially of the fact that it would introduce many cranks and faddists, or men of one idea, into this House. I do not see why it should not. After all, the man who is a crank must go down to his constituency, or the constituency he hopes to make his own; he must speak there and make party followers, or there would be no vote for him when the election day came. We may trust the electors to find out soon whether or not he is the kind of crank they want to send here. An hon. and gallant Friend of mine said to me to-day, "A crank is not such a bad sort of fellow. He is sometimes amusing. He has one subject he ought to know all about, and upon which he is a crank, and, as a rule, he does not want to be made an Undersecretary and does not even want to be knighted." That was rather a happy way of putting it. If the House has a certain number of men of one idea who do not seek honours, although it is legitimate enough to seek office, but who are men who come here to do their duty and act independently, the House is all the better for having such men. The hon. Member who spoke last seemed to think that the scheme was suggested for that purpose. Therein he is quite wrong. The idea of those who advocate proportional representation is that it will bring in minorities which are mainly large minorities. It is not the small minorities that will benefit. They, of course, must suffer. I do not wish to weary the Committee by bringing forward individual cases, but there was the election of 1895, which must be in the minds of many hon. Members. That election was fought mainly upon Home Rule. Something like 38,000 more votes were cast for Home Rule in this country than were cast for the Unionist party, yet the Unionists had some eighty more members returned to this House than the Home Rulers. That is one case which surely shows every Member who believes in the present system of voting that there is something wrong in it. There are other cases in point, and to a certain extent the case of 1906. I remember those days when Manchester and Salford, with nine mem- bers between them, did not return a single Unionist to this House. That was very wrong. There was a large Unionist vote in Manchester and Salford which ought to have had some representation in this House. Whether the minority is Liberal or Unionist, if it exists for many years without any local representation there must be a tendency to political apathy. There is a tendency not to care and to say "We cannot get a Member in. We will not bother. We will not think about public work or public life at all." I do not mind on whichever side that minority is, it is a great disadvantage to the nation that men should get into that habit and say, "It does not matter. I do not care." There is also the case of Birmingham, in which there has been a large Liberal minority since 1886.

There is only one other point. I do not know whether I read it in a newspaper or heard it in this House or whether it is merely rumour, but I understood the Prime Minister had no time or no desire to bother his head just now about the question of proportional representation. I would not take his attention away for a moment from the much more serious and arduous duties of carrying on the War At the same time, I think the Committee would like to have had a few words as to his own opinion on the subject because he was a Member of the Government which a few years ago granted proportional representation in the Irish Home Rule Bill. He must surely have known something about proportional representation, and I think the Committee would like to be guided by him in some degree, at any rate, in this matter. Certainly for the British House of Commons to tell Ireland that in order to protect minorities in that country they must have this scheme and then deliberately to say we cannot do with it in our country seems to be making a laughing stock of the Mother of Parliaments. It would not affect me if no other country in the world had tried proportional representation. We are not supposed to take our views on this subject from other countries. We are the Mother of Parliaments, and it rests with the Members of this and the other House to decide what scheme of franchise we shall have. We must get at it by our own strength of mind and will, after looking at the question thoroughly. I honestly believe many Members of the House are still in the position in which I was a few months ago, and have been too busy to look into the whole scheme. I can assure them that the more they look into it the more they will see that, theoretically, it is perfectly right, and practically there are few difficulties about it. It has frequently been the case in this House that the theorists and philosophers have been perhaps smiled at—I do not say scorned. I have always regarded myself as a practical man, and for that reason I have the most intense federation and respect for the theorists and philosophers. After all, they first of all think these things out, and we more humble Members have simply to listen to what they suggest and think it over and endeavour to adapt it to the practical conditions of present day life. Therefore I feel that we ought to be grateful to the theorists and philosophers who some forty years ago were elaborating this scheme which is now before us—men like Mill and Henry Fawcett, at whose feet I sat as a humble disciple in my college days, and Thomas Hare, who I think wrote the first book on the subject, though I think this scheme was to take proportional representation throughout the country and not have any constituencies. I agree with the First Commissioner of Works that whether we pass this to-night or not it is as absolutely certain to come and to be found necessary within the next twenty years as anything can possibly be. I do not say this is necessarily the exact scheme, but it is the principle to which I refer, and, having that feeling very strongly, I shall most certainly vote for it this evening.


My hon. Friend indicated that only a few months ago he himself would not have arrived at the point of determination to support this proposal, and he also suggested that a great many Members had not had sufficient time and opportunity, owing to the pressure of other circumstances, to arrive at a definite conclusion on a matter of this kind, but he expressed a firm conviction that the day would come when we should all pretty generally agree that this proposal should be carried into effect. I rather agree with the line that he has suggested in this respect that the day has not yet come. When the day will come is a matter for the future and, if he is right, the friends of this movement should be very well content to leave to that future, when there will be such a general agreement, the carrying into effect of what they are proposing to do to-day. The burden of proof surely of the desirability of this change rests with the advocates of the change. For the most part those who have supported the proposal in this Debate have contented themselves with indicating that its opponents do not know much about it and ask that it shall be taken on assurances that the scheme has been thought out and will be successful. I think they should give us some proof that the present system has broken down and that the present electoral method is really in such a bad state that now of all other times is the time to effect this change. There is, I believe, a real danger of doing some mischief to the great changes which are coming into our franchise on this Bill, apart from this particular question. We are going to introduce a large increase of the male electorate and we are going to introduce an enormous women's vote into our franchise. Those proposals and this scheme for extending the vote to women should have a fair chance of success on the lines that are familiar and well known in this country. No matter how ideal the system of proportional representation may be when it is thoroughly understood and has been well digested, no one can profess to believe that to-day the system of voting is thoroughly well understood in this country, and it is imperilling a great experiment in the extension of our franchise when we tack this particular nostrum on to it in particular areas. If we are going to give the rest of the Bill a fair chance I think we shall do well to exclude this experimental part, which is only going to apply to certain areas, and is only going, according to the advocates of this scheme, at its very best to allow a few extra members to get in here who have not secured a majority of the votes of the electors who sent them. As far as I can understand it, it will be putting a premium on the gerrymandering of constituencies according to the most expert methods. It may very well be that a dummy candidate representing a few of the crank ideas may be run by a shrewd election agent for the purpose of his being placed at the bottom of the poll, so that his votes may be counted for somebody who will have a place higher up. I understand from those who are familiar with this system that there are various ways of making what is other than the express wish of the majority of the electors to prevail in the country. It would be nothing short of a disaster if the majority of the electors of this country were to fail to secure a majority in this House.


You have done it already !

10.0 P.M.


I do not agree with that. Hon. Members take the figures of the votes cast, but they ignore the returns where no contest takes place. They take the figures of the elections that have actually taken place. They put these together, and make what looks to be a very formidable case. It must, however, be borne in mind that in these elections there are large numbers of constituencies where you get a walk-over, and those votes are not counted in this fancy scheme of proving that this House does not represent the majority of the electors. I take it that under the existing system this House does represent the wishes of the majority of the electors of this country, and that it will continue to do so if we continue the present system until the time when there is no great franchise experiment being attempted, and the people have a full opportunity of acquiring the knowledge which my hon. Friend himself has only recently acquired, and which we ought all to have an opportunity of acquiring before we attempt this great experiment. The hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. L. Scott), who spoke this afternoon at the commencement of our Debate, attempted to clear the difficulties of by-elections. For a learned and able man, such as we all recognise he is, to be in such difficulties as he obviously was in in clearing up to the House this afternoon the difficulties of a by-election under this system of proportional representation was to show at once that it was no ordinary problem that we are faced with, and that when we are trying to carry on a scheme like this into operation it should only be by the overwhelming assent not of a bare majority, but of a large majority of this House. The difficulties of the electors will be something like the difficulties of Members of this House. The Division the other day in regard to this election question illustrates very forcibly the uncertainties and the doubts which are in the minds of hon. Members voting in this House. They are so evenly balanced—or they were in that Division— that it was not apparent as to which way opinion was going, even amongst ourselves here. How, after all that doubt and hesitation in the minds of Members of the House, are we to expect the country to have made its mind up absolutely and clearly that this great change in our method of voting is wise at this particular time? I say that the doubts and the lack of knowledge we have here will be found to be still greater in the country. We are asking the electors to do at a time like this a thing which I believe it is very improper to ask them to do in present conditions. I agree with what I think the hon. Member for Gloucester (Major H. Terrell) had to say on this point when he stated that the electors of eight years ago can have had no opinion that can be effectively reflected in this House at this time when they went on to the register. My hon. Friend says that we have settled women's suffrage. We have settled women's suffrage by an overwhelming majority of this House, and if there were an overwhelming majority in this House in favour of this question it would go a long way to convince me that I was mistaken, and that the question was ripe for that decision for which I say it is not ripe at the present time. I do believe this, further, that to-day my Constituents feel that they have in me a representative to whom they can apply, knowing that I directly represent a particular and a specific area in the city of Manchester. But I am quite sure that that link must be broken if, instead of an electorate of 10,000 or 12,000, we have an electorate running up into 100,000 or more, and that the personal tie and the personal association which is so valuable must be seriously damaged if not entirely broken.

Every private Member knows that in his correspondence questions of the most intimate nature are propounded to him by the electors, because they believe they have a claim on him as their particular representative. These intimate relations private Members can make use of to the advantage of individuals, and, to some extent, I think, to mitigate the severity of officialdom, and what seems to be to the electors the harshness in the relations which exist between Governments and themselves. They find through their Member an avenue where they can get some sympathetic help and consideration for various questions which he may not be able to solve or to get decisions on which are satisfactory; but they do feel that somebody in particular has a duty to them, that he discharges it, and, having discharged it, they have some association and link which they can get in no other way and through no other channel. Knowing that a Division is expected to be taken early, I will not detain the House, but I think the proposers of this scheme of proportional representation have failed to show that the whole system is wrong, or that this is an opportune time to make a change, and that they have not made good their claim that minorities will be more effectively represented, and that the majority will still govern in this country, under the scheme they propose.


I only desire to deal with a single point, and that in a very few moments. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has urged upon the Committee that there is no special reason why we should make this change—and I agree it is a very serious change—at this time. He has urged that whatever may be said for it in ordinary times there is no case made for such a departure, even as regards portions of the country, in the time in which we now stand. Now, if that is a well-founded claim, I agree that it is a very powerful argument in favour of omitting all application of proportional representation from this Bill, and the point which I wish to deal with, in a few minutes, because I do not want at all to interfere with what I understand may be said from the opposite Bench, is that point exactly. I do not believe that there is any foundation for the view that we can postpone this matter without injury to the effective construction of a reformed system for the next Parliament, and I believe that to be quite unfounded for this reason. I would ask the Committee and I would ask the hon. Gentleman to consider what is the special nature of the task which the next House of Commons has got to discharge. It is going to be one of the most important Parliaments that ever has been called together. It has got tasks of the most unusual complexity and difficulty to deal with, and I put it in one sentence by saying that the next House of Commons has got to be a consultative body rather than a ratifying body. There have been in our history Parliaments which, for substantial purposes, merely acted to ratify a vote. You have some domestic problem, which goes on for years, in the course of which people divide themselves into two parties. It is discussed from a hundred platforms, canvassed in a thousand newspapers, and before the General Election comes the subject of controversy is clearly defined, and Englishmen, being pugnacious creatures, have long ago chosen their sides. If you have a situation like that you have people returned, whether they be blue or red, and the Parliament will ratify the decision of the country.

The problem of the next Parliament after the War bears no resemblance to that at all, It is going to be a Parliament which will have to deal with problems which can hardly be defined, and certainly cannot be solved, before the election at all; a vast area of most difficult problems in industry, in social life, in reconstruction in endless ways; and my submission is this, and this is the only ground on which I feel intensely on this subject—I do not profess to be otherwise a tremendous enthusiast—my submission is that the next Parliament is a Parliament which ought to contain representatives of more than just two alternative points of view. I do not mean by that that you ought to have in the next Parliament people who represent merely little cliques and fads, and I think it is possible to show in a very few moments that that is not the effect of proportional representation. Surely it will be agreed that in the next Parliament, of all possible times, that is the time when we ought to try to get represented in this assembly the solid and considered view of large groups of opinion even though they do not capture at the moment an absolute majority in a given constituency. There are one or two considerations which support that. It seems quite probable that the next Parliament may be composed of persons who have not been through a very prolonged campaign at an ordinary General Election. It may occur more or less constantly, and without a full opportunity for platform debate and discussion which we have been accustomed to. It by no means follows, therefore, that a person who will captivate, in the course of a fortnight's campaign, the view of a bare majority, will be able to contribute to the exclusion of others that which is really desirable to the solution of these very difficult and novel problems of reconstruction.

There is a second reason. We are bringing in new classes of voters. Why? Presumably because we think that these great new classes of voters have got something to contribute in a point of view, in an attitude towards current questions, which we cannot safely go without. All these considerations go to show that you ought to try to encourage a system which will give you the representation of big and solid groups of opinion, even though they do not happen to command absolute majorities. That, to my mind, is the reason why there is a real case for not only doing it, but for doing it now. And I would point out that three arguments that are used against it are really arguments which I think can be effectively met, and have been effectively met in this Debate. I merely recite them, and suggest the answer, without arguing them, because others are going to speak. The first objection that is taken is this. It is said, "Oh, this is a plan by which you are going to get in cranks and faddists, and people who represent a mere contemptible minority of opinion." The system which allows a small body of fifty or a hundred people to have a real influence in an election is not proportional representation, but the present system. I appeal to anybody who has ever fought a closely-contested election. There you have the two sides drawn up against one another, each with its candidate, representing its point of view; the candidate on one side adopting one platform, the candidate on the other adopting the other; and the thing is going to be a very close affair. And what happens? Before election day there is a little body of this or that particular fad, fifty or a hundred people—people who think that the world is flat, or that you ought not to believe in doctors, or whatever it may be—a little crew of people, and they approach the candidates in turn, and they want to know. "What have you got to say on our particular fad?" And just because you are dealing with single-member constituencies, in which fifty or a hundred votes are going to make all the difference to your fortunes, it is for that reason that the small group of faddists or cranks may, in a closely-contested election, govern the whole thing.

The very object of proportional representation is to get rid of that kind of difficulty, and those who have really looked into this system, which is not complicated, will, I think, bear me out when I say it certainly is designed both theoretically, and I believe practically, to secure the exclusion of the merely contemptible opinions which ought not to bear more than a very slight influence. That is the first argument. The second argument used is, "Why do you apply it to the big provincial towns when you do not apply it elsewhere?" I only want hon. Members to consider what the argument of the other side is. It is this: The difficulty which many people feel about proportional representation is that, firstly, it is a system, which is going to combine areas which have no natural association. It may be going to take two towns which have nothing to do with one another and throw them into one. Secondly, it is a system which requires a constituency to be an area so large that it becomes very difficult to work and very expensive to deal with. If anybody wants to know why you apply this system, and to see whether it is not a system which really works, to provincial towns, it is precisely because neither of these two objections will apply. A big provincial town is a unit, and even if, for purposes of convenience, you divide it into two, you are not going to have one half of the town fighting the other half, and therefore no serious inconvenience will result. And, since big provincial towns give you a concentrated population in a small area, you do, to a very large extent, avoid a difficulty such as this, of having an acreage, an actual area, which is too big for convenient work. What we say is, see whether this system does not deserve what is said of it, both theoretically and practically by those who have considered it, in the very class of area which is most suitable for its application. That is the reason why it is applied, in the first instance, to the big provincial towns. The third argument says that it is going to encourage gerrymandering. I heard the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) descanting about gerrymandering just now. Surely everybody knows, even though he is not a Member for Birmingham, that under the existing system in the big provincial towns as soon as a man has several qualifications and can only vote once, the party machine exerts itself to decide and to secure in which division of the big provincial town "a" or "b" shall cast his vote and in which division he shall be artificially removed. That is the present system according to Schnadhorst, and to be told by those who represent the existing system that proportional representation in provincial towns is going to encourage gerrymandering shows a faith in the forgetfulness of hon. Members as to what happens now. The truth about the matter is that if you apply this system to the big provincial towns you apply it where it will obviously work most readily, and you are applying it not to encourage gerrymandering but to reduce the opportunities for gerrymandering. As it appears to me you are not encouraging those quite subordinate elements of cranks and parties, while you are securing that in the next Parliament, which is to be a Parliament of reconstruction and consultation, you should give an opportunity for representation to the views of various important groups of the community in a way which will be fruitful for the good of the country.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Long)

The speech to which we have just listened was very short. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman could have said a great deal more, but he restrained himself, having regard to the arrangement to take the Division on this question. I regret that I should in any way interfere with the flow of his argument. I must confess that in saying that my recollection goes back more to the past than to my experience to-night, because I never heard a great advocate, such as my right hon. and learned Friend, put a weaker case than that to which we have just listened. His speech is divided into two parts. In the first part he made his case for proportional representation, and I submit with great confidence to the Committee that if he established his case he proved the unsatisfactory character of the proposals now before the Committee because he admits, as he was bound to admit, that although this proportional representation is essential, in his judgment in order that we may have a representative Parliament which can deal with war problems and problems immediately after it, so lacking in courage are those who advocate this proposal that not only do they intend only to apply it to a portion of the country, but while applying it to a portion of the ocuntry they now, so I understand, have abandoned a great part of it. If there is anything in the argument as to the importance of proportional representation in order that your next Parliament may be really representative, it is absurd to make it in this form, which seeks only to apply to certain constituencies, and which goes absolutely in the face of the expressed opinion, so far as I know, of those constituencies. There is one rule, amongst many, to which I attach import- ance, not only in politics but in other affairs of life, and that is that you have no right to ask anybody to do that which you are not prepared to do yourself. Yet what the advocates of proportional representation propose is to impose upon certain other constituencies conditions of election which they would not accept themselves or impose upon the rest of the country.

We have heard my right hon. Friend, who is one of the most powerful advocates in the House of Commons, present the arguments in favour of this tremendous change, but earlier in the evening we had one of the greatest of our Parliamentary orators in the person of the late Prime Minister present the case for proportional representation. He told us that we ought to vote for it because—and he rallied some of his own Friends upon this—it formed part of the Home Rule Act. Is that an argument which can by any possibility be held to justify its application to the whole of the United Kingdom? We all remember the reasons that were given for its special application to only a part of the Irish Parliament. We were told that there were these divisions of race and religion which made it essential to do something to give one party which always worked together and acted together a chance of representation. Then my right hon. Friend, as his second argument, said, "You must not say that you will have cranks. The way to avoid them is to have proportional representation." But under proportional representation we should have the union of all the various cranks in order to get one of them selected. We know all these parties of fifty or sixty to which my right hon. Friend referred. I quite agree with my right hon. Friend that this House has not been entirely free from experience of them. If proportional representation is quite as perfect a machine as its warmest advocates declare it to be, it will not prevent the return to Parliament occasionally of some of these people who are described as cranks. Therefore, that is no argument. The late Prime Minister, having dealt with Ireland, went on to say, "Look at your Welsh representation; look at Surrey and Kent; look at the South of Ireland; look at Birmingham." But when we look at them and apply this Bill, we find that this Bill is only to apply proportional representation to one of these constituencies. Can it be argued that we are to do this in order to relieve the condition of things in these different places, when the advocates of the change propose that the new remedy shall be applied to only one of the constituencies which are suffering so much from unfair representation?

It has been said in the course of the Debates in this House that great disasters of all kinds will happen if proportional representation was rejected. Some people have gone so far as to say that they will have to reconsider their attitude on the Bill, and that possibly the Bill may be rejected. I am not afraid of those threats, especially when I know that they come very often from those who would not view the loss of the Bill with any great grief. Therefore, with regard to the final stages of the Bill, they are a matter for Members themselves. I think the majorities of this House, the increasing majorities, show clearly that it means to pass the Bill. The second argument, used outside this House, is that there is an agreement over the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference which makes our action not consistent with the rules of the game. I saw it suggested in one quarter that anyobdy who voted against proportional representation would not be playing the game. A more outrageous statement could not be made. When I hear the threat and when I hear it suggested that we are not playing the game as we ought to do, I would remind the Committee of the short history of this measure, and I do say with some authority, because it fell to my lot to explain in rather great detail on the Motion for the introduction of this Bill, and Motion for the introduction, and, in the regrettable absence of the Home Secretary, on the Second Reading. Speaking for myself, I believe in my heart and conscience that the passing of this Bill is so essential to the stability of our Realm, in the times in which we find ourselves, that I am quite prepared to make any sacrifice rather than see it wrecked; and if my colleagues in the Government were to say that the Speaker's Conference must be taken as a whole, and only on that condition could this Bill be passed, I myself would take the Speaker's recommendations as a whole, even though I objected to some of them. But when the Government made not that, but a different proposal, namely, that the enfranchisement of women and the adoption of proportional representation should be left to the House; then, the Government having made that definite statement, if the House had turned that down and said, "No, we will not take that arrangement; it must be all or nothing," then I could have understood those statements which have been made. But the House by an overwhelming majority accepted the conditions of the Government in regard to the Bill. What were those conditions? They were in regard to women's suffrage and proportional representation that the Government presented them as they came from the Conference, and they made it clear to the House that they must be accepted or rejected as they came from the Conference, and they left it to the House, a free House, to vote as they thought fit. How, then, can it be suggested that those of us who conscientiously resist the proposal of proportional representation are not playing the game absolutely consistently with the highest rules? The decision of the Government was accepted by the House on my right hon. Friend's Motion introducing the Bill, and it was accepted by an increased majority on the Second Heading. I submit on that decision we have the authority of Parliament as I believe no Government has ever had the authority of Parliament before. I repeat on this occasion that we have an absolute right, in whatever quarter of the House we may sit, to vote as we think fit upon this question as upon the question of women's suffrage.

What is the second threat? We are told that if this is rejected the Government will drop the Bill. In the earlier Debates my hon. Friend the Member for Herefordshire, a strong and very able and courageous advocate on the subject of woman suffrage, put me a question in the course of a speech. He said, "Will the Government drop this Bill if woman suffrage is not carried?" I asked him to remember that the Government had left it to the House. It is ludicrous to suggest on a question which we have left to the House, and upon which therefore we have undertaken to accept the decision of the House, if the House exercises its freedom and comes to a decision of which some of us disapprove, that, therefore, we will say that all this is to be wasted and the Bill is to be dropped. There can be no foundation for any suggestion of the kind. I do not believe in the system of proportional representation; but, if the decision of the House to-night is against my view, I shall accept that decision, and I shall support the rest of the Bill just as I have done before. Those arguments, therefore, do not really apply. There is no justification for the suggestion that we are going to drop the Bill supposing the Division goes against the view which some of us hold. There is also no justification for the argument that our position is such that this Bill cannot be altered in any detail. Why, Sir, many of us have supported proposals in this Bill either as to which we have some doubt or as to which we are altogether opposed. That is my position. I voted for woman suffrage and should be prepared to do so again But does anybody suppose, however low they may rate my intellectual capacity, that I am going to abandon all the convictions I have held for forty years of political life in a moment, and does anybody suppose that I came to that decision without some little difficulty and upon other grounds than those directly affecting the subject of woman suffrage? I voted for it, and would do so again, because I believe it to be an essential and inseparable part of this compromise. I voted on the Conscientious Objector Clause the other day, not freely as I may do to-night, but because it was a Government Division, and although I objected to it altogether I loyally accepted it, as of course I was bound to do, though I object to the inclusion of the conscientious objector. I say frankly I do not share the views of the Noble Lord (Lord H. Cecil) on this matter. I think if a man is afraid to risk his life in defence of the liberty of women and children he ought not to be allowed to vote for a Parliament which has the duty of protecting them. I gave my vote on a Government question, and I am not going to lessen my support of the Bill because I was beaten.

We have made material alterations in the Bill. We dealt with the question of lodgers, which was deliberately left out by the Speaker's Conference. It is too late in the day to tell us that you cannot alter any part of the Bill without being guilty of some breach of an honourable agreement. What has become of the advocates of proportional representation? We have heard a small number of those who really believe in it. We have heard very little of it, and I do not wonder. I had an opportunity which many hon. Gentlemen have not had. I was in a country where proportional representation was advocated, and its advocates took a very wise course. They sent into the country lecturers who not only lectured on the subject but gave practical illustrations of how an election should be taken under it. I do not believe there is any difficulty in taking the election. I do not believe in all those difficulties, but I do believe in these two objections, which to my mind are insuperable. One of them was referred to a moment ago. Since I first came to Parliament I have been very closely connected with the local government of this country, and I attach enormous importance to the influence which local associations and connections have upon the Members of this House.

What are we going to do? You had, when I first came into Parliament, great cities which returned three or more members, and in some cases you had minority representation. My Noble Friend opposite was the hero on one of these occasions. In 1880 a distinguished Nobleman died, and my Noble Friend put up for the vacancy, and, although opposed to the politics of the old member, was returned. That would have been impossible under proportional representation. Its advocates admit that. It gives you a correct representation at a General Election. When you come to a by-election the whole thing will be-changed. That is exactly what happened in the case of my Noble Friend. He stood as a supporter of the Opposition of that day. Mr. Gladstone was Prime Minister. He was confronted with many grave difficulties, and he would have been glad of a by-election or two that would have shown that the country was behind him. It was important to the Government in the discharge of its duties that an election should take place such as this; but what would have happened if it had taken place under the proportional representation?


The seat was won back the next year.


My hon. Friend interrupts to remind me that the seat was won back the next year. Is that supposed to be an argument in support of proportional representation? I cannot imagine anything which is less likely to commend itself to the House of Commons. Advocates of proportional representation have, I think, wisely confined themselves to general observations. I said I have had the advantage of seeing some mock elections. I do not believe that anybody knows, not even the warmest friends of proportional representation, what will be the practical effect of its working in the constituencies. My right hon. Friend said that he thought it would tend to increase the power of the caucus. I certainly agree with him. You will have a great many candidates. In some cases you will have nine or eleven I do not know how many. [An HON. MEMBER: "Fourteen!"] We know perfectly well that you can divide the constituencies of this country into two, three, or more parts according to the persons amongst them who represent the various parties. You always get large bodies of electors in each constituency who take very little interest in election matters or politics. They are got at the last moment by one side or another. They do not know now who the candidates are. How then will they know about the candidates when they get so many more? My hon. Friend said this proposal would add to the power of the caucus. To-day a card is distributed with the names of the candidates for whom the voters are recommended to vote. They take the advice of the caucus. What happens to-day in our parish council elections? You have something of the kind there. You have to vote for a large number of candidates in the scattered parishes of the country, and many a voter comes to these local elections not knowing the different candidates. There may be twenty or thirty seats. What happens? The local mentor, who oddly enough often belongs to the same political party as the voters, comes along and says: "These are the men to vote for." If you have that in the present day, how much more under proportional representation with the enormously increased number of candidates?

The last argument, I think, is much the most important of all, and this the advocates of proportional representation have abandoned. As the proposals came before us it was sought to include London, and, in order to include London, you have to throw two or three boroughs together. I am sure you cannot exaggerate the value to us in the House of Commons of close connection between municipal life and municipal government of a borough. That would be all gone. The great, ancient city of Westminster would be thrown into a hotchpotch with other boroughs, and you would have destroyed a separate existence which had lasted ever since the days of Henry the Eighth, in order to make an experiment which you are not prepared to apply to the whole of the country. If this proportional representation is really necessary in order to avoid some of the catastrophes with which you say you are now overwhelmed, then have the courage of your convictions and apply it to the whole country. I do not agree with those who say that majorities are sometimes too great. In 1906, for a variety of reasons, there was a complete political upheaval in this country, and the Liberal party was returned by an overwhelming majority. My right hon. Friend asks us to look upon that as being bad. Why? Because they made a bad use of it. A weapon is to be laid aside because the man who uses it does not know how to wield it effectively. The Liberal party were entitled to their majority and I believe in government by majority. I believe in strong government. I believe in the people having the power to express their opinion. My Noble Friend the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) was certainly one of the most eloquent and most convincing advocates, from his point of view, of proportional representation. He naturally believed it would enable the return in larger numbers of those who do not command the undivided support of a political party.


I never said so. My right hon. Friend obviously could not have listened to my speech.


Of course, if I misrepresented him I withdraw absolutely, but I was only going to say that proportional representation, as presented to us by its foremost and most brilliant advocate, is recommended to us on the ground that it would give to this House a representation of a fairer and more general kind. I doubt whether that would be the case, but, even if it were the case, I do not think it would be good either for this House or for the country. You have not got two parties in this House now, and you have not had two parties for a long time. You have groups of parties, and I believe they will continue. I frankly cannot see how you are going to make this House more representative of the nation by a system of this kind than it is at present, but, at all events, if you believe that it is the only way you can get a really representative Parliament, have the courage of your opinions, apply the proposal to the whole country, and we shall feel that you really believe in the proposal. I cannot believe that now. The proposal to-day is not what it was when it was originally presented to us. I believe it is an unsound one, and I shall give my vote, satisfied that I am entitled to do so by the expression of opinion in this House, and that I am giving a vote of which I believe my Constituents will approve, and which, I believe, will be to the interest of the country at large.

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Frederick Smith)



"Divide, divide!"


I ask the House to listen to me only for a few moments on a subject of which I am well aware hon. Members are very weary, but I do not think it would be right that the observations of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Long)—who I think will be ready to admit that I have been a loyal follower of his for many years—should pass without a word of reply on a subject upon which I profoundly disagree with his views. My right hon. Friend has told us that he is prepared to give his support to women in this controversy because he regards it as an essential part of the settlement. What puzzles me is that while he is prepared to do that in the case of the women, which was a majority recommendation, he is not in favour of supporting this proposal, which is a unanimous recommendation of the Conference. My right hon. Friend asks, "Why do not you apply this principle to the whole country?" The answer is, how do you suggest that we should attempt to apply it to the whole country? The Speaker's Conference recommended that proportional representation should not be applied to the whole country, but they recommended that it should be applied under limited circumstances to limited areas. In face of this the Secretary of State for India and the Colonial Secretary say, "Why have you not the courage of your convictions and apply this principle to the whole country?" You might as well cut a man's legs off and then say to him, "I will not argue with you because you are too small." My right hon. Friend has just said that we are seeking to impose upon certain constituencies what they will not accept themselves. I have been handed a paper which gives a return for every city which is affected by these proposals, and there is not one which has not one or more representatives who is in favour of these proposals. When these arguments are used at all, it is perhaps useful to consider their relation to the admitted facts.

The Secretary for India used an argument that extremely surprised me. He said that it was in the interests of the country that the majority, at a given moment, should be strong, and then both my right hon. Friends took the House into their confidence. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India said that in 1906, had there been an exact representation in this House of the views of the constituencies, there would have been a majority of thirty-eight. The figures which have been given to me confirm that statement. On that my right hon. Friend said that it would have been entirely wrong if the House of Commons which met in 1906 had had a majority of thirty-eight only, and he added, "We did not even pretend to have the confidence of the country then." I was a humble admirer of my right hon. Friend, I listened to his speeches, and I borrowed them for my own purposes in my own Constituency, and I am bound to say that I did not detect the slightest symptom of that view which for the first time he has expressed to the House to-night—that they did not even pretend to have the confidence, of the country. For six months before that election took place the Government of which my right hon. Friend was a distinguished member, must, under the circumstances of this admission so strange and novel to me, have known that they had not the confidence of the country, but I do not remember a single speech or a single observation made by anyone that made any such impression upon my mind. It is perfectly obvious to anyone who knows my right hon. Friend, and his conscientious discharge of his public duties and his proper regard for constitutional propriety, that if he had believed during the period of six months that the Government of which he was a distinguished member had no claim to the confidence of the country, it would have been quite impossible for him to have continued a member of it. Therefore, I dismiss this as an ex post argument, not seriously offered to the House, but as something mentioned in a momentary absence of mind in the circumstances of the day. Then the right hon. Gentleman said, "We do not want any haggling of minor interests and groups in this House." I have taken part from the other side of the House in many Debates during the last few years, and I have perfectly honestly put myself forward as the mouthpiece of the view that there was haggling between the different parties and sections in this House. Rightly or wrongly, I made that submission, and I thought at least I had my right hon. Friend with me. During that period under existing conditions there was going on this very system of haggling between minor parties and sections of which my right hon. Friend spoke. It may be a good thing or it may be a bad thing, but do not let us suppose that proportional representation is going to create it, and that it does not exist to-day. A very considerable section has contended, and still believes, that system has existed for the last five years. My right hon. Friend says. "No poor man will be able to stand under the changed conditions which you propose to introduce." I reply to him, "No rich man will be rich enough to stand if you once introduce proportional representation for the country as a whole." I do not pretend that will be the result of this small instalment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I say if once you have a system of proportional representation for the whole country with large constituencies there will be no one who will be either eloquent enough to impress the whole constituency or rich enough to buy the whole constituency. When they are asked about specific cases, I notice another extraordinary discrepancy in the arguments presented to the House. My right hon. Friend in one breath says that the result of proportional representation will be that cranks will be returned to this House. Strange and alarming as such a novelty would be, my apprehension is largely attracted by the next threat. In the next breath my right hon. Friend, who is usually a clear thinker, says that the machine will still work with him. How can you reconcile those contradictory apprehensions?

Let me further observe that the question requires to be analysed a, little more closely. It is quite true that the advance we can make here and now, through no fault of our own, is an extremely small one. On principle, it is very desirable to ascertain where every Member of this Committee stands. Is it or is it not your object that the House of Commons should be, as exactly as the necessary electoral adjustments permit, representative of the country? Our position is a very simple one. We say it is right, so far as electoral adjustments allow, at any given moment the House of Commons should exactly represent the country. What is the position of our opponents? [HON. MEMBEBS: "What about London?"] There never was a moment which was a better illustration of eleventh-hour wire-pulling than the case of London. I am no party to that compromise. It is a final condemnation of the existing system that the combined wire-pulling of both parties in London has been able to defeat this proposal so far as London is concerned. Who is there in the House of Commons who would pretend to justify a system under which, in the last two Parliaments, or almost in the last two Parliaments, not one single Conservative representative for Wales was in this House? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why is Wales not included in this Bill?"] I am not astonished at that question, but I am very much astonished that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Long) should have asked it. He said, "Why not apply it to Wales?" I will tell him why. It is not applied to Wales for precisely the same reason that plural voting is not completely applied—because it is a compromise, and because those who believe in proportional representation accept that compromise.


It is to be applied to Cardiff.


I am obliged to my hon. and gallant Friend. Surely everybody must see that those of us who are in favour of proportional representation would apply it everywhere. It is no good turning round on us and saying, "Why do not you apply it to constituency 'X' or constituency 'Y'?" We reply, "Take the whole alphabet and apply it everywhere." But we are stopped from getting that, and we are taking what we can get. I submit that under a complete system of proportional representation you make this House a perfect representation of the people. Under the existing system you tie yourself to an arrangement under which you may not have in this House one single representative of the Conservative minority in Wales or one single representative of the Unionist minority in the South of Ireland. If there is anybody in this Committee who believes in that, let him defend it by some kind of argument, because I have not yet heard one. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Chamberlain) said it was right that in the year 1906 there should be an overwhelming Liberal majority. I say profoundly that it was wrong, unless they had that majority in the country. If their strength in the country was a majority of thirty-eight it was right that their majority in this House should be thirty-eight. I know of no argument founded on any democratic principle which answers that argument.

11.0 P.M.

Many of my hon. Friends, who I think confine their attention a little too closely to a phase of politics which I believe to be absolutely extinct, are wondering whether the arrangements which will follow upon this Bill are in the interests of the Unionist party. I greatly doubt whether I those who entertain those apprehensions have realised the nature of the revolution which is involved in this Bill. I say plainly, as one who is prepared to support this Bill, that I am certain that, nothing in our politics will ever be the same when once this Bill has become law. Those who are attempting to trim their sails to the winds which died three years ago and will never revive had better consider the new and real problems of the future, and the party which for many years has justly claimed to have been the party which has stood for the defence of the cause of stability would do well to weigh once, and yet once again, the strange

seas on which we are to voyage when this war is concluded. There were great reactions after the South African War. Who can measure the reactions which will follow upon the conclusion of this peace? There will be revelations of incompetence, not only in this country but in every belligerent country. There will be sufferings. There will be immense war indebtedness to be paid, and any man who supposes that elections are going to take place under the old conditions and with the old controversies between the two parties is mad. New issues, new controversies, new parties are going to determine the future, and I say to those who heretofore in this House have defended the cause of stability and who think themselves concerned in the future to establish and maintain the centre of gravity of the State, your one chance of salvation is to establish an exact equipoise in the State between the strength of the constituencies and the strength of the House of Commons, and the degree in which you succeed in that object will be the measure of your success in maintaining those causes which minorities will always defend.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out, to the word 'returning' ['In a constituency returning'], stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 169; Noes, 201.

Division No. 64.] AYES. [11.3 p.m.
Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis Dyke. Cecil, Lord Much (Oxford University) Healy, Timothy Michael (Cork, N.E.)
Adamson, William Cecil, Rt. Hon Lord R. (Herts, Hitchin) Helme, Sir Norval Watson
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher Chancellor, Henry George Hemmerde, Edward George
Adkins, Sir W. Ryland D. Chapple, Dr. William Allan Herbert, Hon. A. (Somerset, E.)
Agnew, Sir George William Clay, Captain H. H. Spender Hewart, Sir Gordon
Ainsworth, Sir John Stirling Collins, Sir W. (Derby) Holmes, Daniel Turner
Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbartonshire) Cory, Sir Clifford John (St. Ives) Hell, Richard Durning
Amery, L. C. M. S. Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe) Hope, Lt.-Col. J. A. (Edin., Midlothian)
Anderson, W. C. Croft, Brigadier-General Henry Page Hudson, Walter
Arnold, Sydney Crumley, Patrick Jardine, Ernest (Somerset, East)
Baird, John Lawrence Cullinan, John John, Edward Thomas
Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.) Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas Johnston, Sir Christopher
Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (City, Lond.) Devlin, Joseph Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Notts, Rushcilffs)
Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Fredk. G. Dickinson, Rt. Hon. Willoughby H. Joyce, Michael
Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple) Doris, William Keating, Matthew
Barlow, Sir John Emmott (Somerset) Dougherty, Rt. Hon. Sir J. B. Kerry, Earl of
Barnes, Rt. Hon. George N. Elverston, Sir Harold King, Joseph
Barran, Sir John N. (Hawick Burghs) Farrell, James Patrick Knight, Captain Eric Ayshford
Barton, Sir William Ferens, Rt. Hon. Thomas Robinson Lamb, Sir Ernest Henry
Beale, Sir William Phipson Field, William Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)
Beck, Arthur Cecil Finney, Samuel Lane-Fox, Major G. R.
Beckett, Hon. Gervase Fisher, Rt. Hon. H. A. L. (Hallam) Larmor, Sir J.
Bethell, Sir John Henry Goldstone, Frank Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West)
Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine Guest, Hon. Frederick E. (Dorset, E.) Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert
Boland, John Plus Guinness, Hon. W. E. (Bury S. Edmunds) Lynch, Arthur Alfred
Brace, Rt. Hon. William Gulland, Rt. Hon. John William M'Callum, Sir John M.
Brady, Patrick Joseph Gwynn, Stephen Lucius (Galway) McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald
Broughton, Urban Hanlon Hackett, John Mackinder, Halford J.
Bryce, J. Annan Harmsworth, Cecil (Luton, Beds) M'Laren, Hon. H. D. (Leics.)
Buxton, Noel Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-shire) Maclean, Rt. Hon. Donald
Cautley, Henry Strether Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West) Macmaster, Donald
McMicking, Major Gilbert Peto, Basil Edward Swift, Rigby
Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J. Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H. Sykes, Sir Mark (Hull, Central)
MacVeagh, Jeremiah Pratt, J. W Taylor, Theodora C. (Radcliffe)
Mallalieu, Frederick William Primrose, Rt. Hon. Nail James Thomas, Rt. Hon. James Henry
Marriott, John Arthur Ransoms Pringle, William M. R. Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)
Mason, David M. (Coventry) Prothero, Rt. Hon. Rowland Edmund Thorne, William (West Ham)
Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.) Pryce-Jones, Colonel E. Thynne, Lord Alexander
Mend, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Rendall Atheistan Toulmin, Sir George
Money, Sir L. G. Chiozza Richardson, Arthur (Rotherham) Trevelyan, Charles Philip
Mooney, John J. Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln) Walsh, Stephen (Lanes., Ince)
Merrell, Philip Roberts, George H. (Norwich) Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)
Needham, Christopher T. Robertson, Rt. Hon. J. M. Wedgwood, Lt.-Commander Josiah
Newman, John R. P. Robinson, Sidney Weston, J. W.
Nolan, Joseph Rothschild, Lionel de Whitty, Patrick Joseph
Norton Griffiths, Sir J. Rowntree, Arnold Whyte, Alexander F.
Nugent, J. D. (College Green) Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland) Wiles, Rt. Hon. Thomas
Nuttall, Harry Scanian, Thomas Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N.W.)
O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.) Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton) Williams, Penry (Middlesbrough)
O'Donnell, Thomas Sherwell, Arthur James Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Worcs., H.)
Ogden, Fred Shortt, Edward Wing, Thomas Edward
O'Leary, Daniel Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook Wolmer, Viscount
O'Malley, William Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir F. E. (Walton) Worthington Evans, Major Sir L.
O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.) Smith, H. B. Lees (Northampton) Yoxall, Sir James Henry
Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William Smith, Sir Swire (Keighley, Yorks)
Parker, James (Hallfax) Spear, Sir John Ward TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr.
Pearson, Hon. Weetman H. M. Stanley. Hon. Arthur (Ormskirk) Leslie Scott and Mr. Wardle
Perkins, Walter F.
Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte Essex, Sir Richard Walter Lindsay, William Arthur
Armitage, Robert Fell, Arthur Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)
Ashley, Wilfred W. Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes (Fulham) Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)
Baldwin, Stanley Fitzroy, Hon. Edward A. Long, Rt. Hon. Walter
Banner, Sir John S. Harmood Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue Lonsdale, Sir John Brownlee
Barnett, Captain R. W. Fleming, Sir J. (Aberdeen, S.) Lowe, Sir F. W. (Birm., Edgbaston)
Barren, Sir Rowland Hurst (Leeds, N.) Fletcher, John Samuel Lowther, Col. C. (Cumberland, Eskdale)
Barrie, H. T. Ganzoni, Francis John C. MacCaw, William J. MacGeagh
Bathurst, Col. Hon. A. B. (Glouc, E.) Gardner, Ernest Macleod, John Mackintosh
Beach, William F. H. Gastrell, Lieut.-Col. Sir W. Houghton McNeill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's)
Beauchamp, Sir Edward Gibbs, Col. George Abraham Maden, Sir John Henry
Bellairs, Commander C. W. Gilbert, J. D. Magnus, Sir Philip
Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth) Goddard, Rt. Hon. Sir Daniel Ford Malcolm, Ian
Bennett-Goldney, Francis Goldman, Charles Sydney Mallaby-Deeley, Harry
Bentham, George Jackson Goulding, Sir Edward Alfred Mason, James F. (Windsor)
Bigland, Alfred Greene, Walter Raymond Meux, Hon. Sir Hedworth
Bird, Alfred Greig, Colonel J. W. Meysey-Thompson, Colonel E. C.
Blair, Reginald Gretton, John Moltene, Percy Alport
Boscawen, Sir Arthur S. T. Griffith- Haddock, George Bahr Morgan, George Hay
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W. Hambro, Angus Valdemar Morison, Hector
Boyton, James Hamilton, C. G. C. (Ches., Altrincham) Morton, Alpheus Cleophas
Brassey, H. Leonard Campbell Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord C. J. Neville, Reginald J. N.
Bridgeman, William Clive Hanson, Charles Augustin Nicholson, Sir Charles N. (Doncaster)
Brookes, Warwick Hardy, Rt. Hon. Laurence Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)
Burdett-Coutts, William Harris, Henry Percy (Paddington, S.) O'Neill, Capt. Hon. H. (Antrim, Mid)
Burgoyne, Alan Hughes Harris, Percy A. (Leicester, S.) Orde-Powlett, Hon. W. G. A.
Burn, Colonel C. R. Hermon-Hodge, Sir R. T. Paget, Almeric Hugh
Burns, Rt. Hon. John Hewins, William Albert Samuel Parkes, Sir Edward E.
Butcher, John George Hibbert, Sir Henry F. Parrott, Sir James Edward
Carew, C. Hickman, Colonel Thomas E. Pearce, Sir Robert (Staffs, Leek)
Carr-Gomm, H. W. Higham, John Sharp Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike (Darlington)
Carton, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward H. Hill, Sir James (Bradford, C.) Pennefather, De Fonblanque
Cator, John Hinds, John Philipps, Gen. Sir Ivor (Southampton)
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn (Aston Manor) Hoare, Sir Samuel John Gurney Phillips, Sir Owen (Chester)
Chamberlain, Right Hon. J. A. Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles E. H. Pollard, Sir George H.
Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham Hodge, Rt. Hon John Pollock, Ernest Murray
Coats, sir Stuart A. (Wimbledon) Hogge, James Myles Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)
Cochrane, Cecil Algernon Hohler, G. F. Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)
Collins, Sir Stephen (Lambeth) Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield) Quilter, Sir Cuthbert
Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J. Home, Edgar Radford, Sir George Heynes
Coote, William Howard, Hon. Geoffrey Randies, Sir John S.
Cornwall, Sir Edwin A. Hughes, Spencer Leigh Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel
Cory, James H. (Cardiff) Hunt, Major Rowland Rawson, Colonel Richard N.
Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth) Illingworth, Rt. Hon. Albert H. Rea, Walter Russell
Craig, Col. James (Down, E.) Jackson, Lieut.-Col. Hon. F. S. (York) Rees, G. C. (Carnarvonshire, Arton)
Craik, Sir Henry Jackson, Sir John (Devonport) Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, E.)
Dairymple, Hon. H. H. Jessel, Col. Sir Herbert M. Reid, Rt. Hon. Sir George H
Dalziel, Davison (Brixton) Jones, Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil) Remnant, Sir James Farquharson
Davies, Timothy (Lines., Louth) Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East) Richardson, Albion (Peckham)
Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.) Jones, W. Kennedy (Hornsey) Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardigan) Jones, William S. Glyn. (Stepney) Rowlands, James
Denison-Pender, J. C. Joynson-Hicks, William Rutherford, Watson (L'pool, W. Derby)
Denniss, E. R. B. Kenyon, Barnet Samuels, Arthur W.
Dixen, C. H. Kiley, James Daniel Samuel Samuel (Wandsworth)
Duncan, C. (Barrow-In-Furness) Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement Sanders, Col. Robert Arthur
Duncannon, Viscount Lee, Sir Arthur Hamilton Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)
Sharman-Crawford, Colonel R, G. Thompson, Rt. Hon. R. (Belfast, N.) Wilson, Captain Leslie O. (Reading)
Spicer, Rt. Hon. Sir Albert Tackier, T. G. Wilton, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Stanley, Lord (Liverpool) Tootill, Robert Wilson-Fox, Henry
Starkey, John Ralph Touche, Sir George Alexander Wood, John (Stalybridge)
Stavelay-Hill, Henry Walker, Colonel William Hall Wood, Rt.- Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)
Stewart, Gershom Walters, Sir John Tudor Yate, Colonel C. E.
Strauss, Arthur (Paddington, North) Walton, Sir Joseph Yeo, Alfred William
Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West) Warde, Colonel C. E. (Kant, Mid) Younger, Sir George
Sutton, John E. Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay T.
Talbot, Lord Edmund Wason, Rt. Hon E. (Clackmannan) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.
Terrell, George (Wilts, N.W.) Watson. Hon. W. (Lanark, S.) Montague Barlow and Sir Thomas
Terrell, Henry (Gloucester) White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston) Whittaker
Thomas-Stanford, Charles

Question put, and agreed to.

Remaining words of Sub-section (1) left out.


The decision of the Committee, of course, means that the remaining words of Sub-section (1) go out of the Bill without any further Question put. At the beginning of the proceedings today I dealt with the first Amendment standing on the Notice Paper, and I suggested that there might possibly be a separate case with regard to universities which might not be covered by the decision of the Committee on Sub-section (1). I still hold to what I said then; but, of course, it is necessary to bring up the proposal respecting universities in the form of a separate Sub-section limited to that particular subject. I have one handed in here by the hon. and gallant Member (Commander H. Craig) which he will be entitled to move.

Commander H. CRAIG

In view of what has happened, the Amendment which stands on the Paper in my name requires some alteration. I beg to move that "University constituencies shall for the purposes of a General Election be considered as forming a single constituency, and the election therein shall be according to the principle of proportional representation, each elector having one transferable vote as defined by this Act."


On a point of Order. Would not it be the proper place to move this Amendment on Sub-section (3) instead of now? Sub-section (3) deals with the university vote.


There is an argument either way. As the Clause originally stood it put the question of proportional representation first. It is true that the question of the election for universities is only specifically referred to in the Clause in Sub-section (3), I would make this proposal to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. If he is willing to defer the question until we come to Sub-section (3), I will give an opportunity for it to be raised on that Sub-section. If he holds me to what I said at the beginning of the Debate this afternoon, I feel bound to allow him to move it now.


I suggest, in view of the vote just taken, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman would do well to withdraw the Amendment.


I wish to make a proposition which will be helpful to the Committee.


The hon. Member must put it in the form of a point to me. There is no Question now before the Committee.


In view of the point of Order which has just been raised, the proposition I wish to make is that it would be helpful to the Committee to report Progress.


It is very difficult in present circumstances to know where we are. There are other Motions on the Paper in my name, and it is desirable that we should have a little time to consider the position.


The hon. Member is entitled to move to report Progress.


I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."


We are here to-night for the purpose of dealing with the principle of proportional representation, and if there is any other proposal which embodies that principle I think that we should deal with it now. I was not going to ask the Committee to go beyond Subsection (1), but if the hon. and gallant Gentleman has any proposal for reviving, even to a limited extent, the principle of proportional representation, I think, it would be convenient to deal with it tonight. I should like to hear the views of the Committee on this point.


I would ask that we might be allowed to report Progress now for this reason: It will be a very serious matter indeed if proportional representation is rejected by this House for university constituencies. If we cannot get proportional representation for university constituencies there are many of us who might think twice before assenting to having new university constituencies created. I am hopeful that university constituencies will be preserved, especially in view of the compromise of the Bill. But the proposal made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman for proportional representation in universities is in a very unfortunate form. It combines all the universities of England, Scotland, and Ireland together in one constituency. That is certainly not the only form in which proportional representation could be applied to university seats. Therefore I think, as the original Amendment has had to be recast, we ought to have time to put this proposal in a really workable form which may commend itself to the Committee, because serious consequences may ensue to university representation, and perhaps to the Bill, if we took a hurried vote at the present time.


It is true that the Amendment contemplated by the hon. and gallant Gentleman touches a question with which the Committee has been concerned to-day— proportional representation. It also touches an entirely different question, which we have not yet approached—the question of university representation. I think that the question might most profitably be considered in connection with the whole problem of university representation, and it would be of the greatest advantage if we had some time for reflection and for considering the principle of proportional representation in relation to university representation, which we shall hardly have this evening. I hope, therefore, that the Home Secretary will accept the Motion to report Progress.


I invited the views of the Committee, and, in view of what seems the general voice of the Committee, I will agree to report Progress.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.