§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House approves of the Instructions appended to the warrants appointing Commissioners to determine, for the purposes of the Representation of the People Bill, the number of members to be assigned to the several counties and boroughs in England and Wales and in Scotland, respectively, and the boundaries of such counties and boroughs and divisions thereof."—[Sir George Cave.]
§ Colonel SANDERS
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the words, "Provided that notwithstanding any of the provisions contained in such Instructions, the Commissioners shall be at liberty in determining such boundaries and divisions to have regard to area as well as population."
My Amendment has for its object the prevention of a serious reduction of Parliamentary influence in the rural areas. I do not think it is necessary for me now to labour the point of the recognition of the importance of the agricultural interest at the present time. I think it is generally admitted on all sides of the House, but I would merely like to say that during the Whitsuntide Recess I tried to find out in the West of England how far the proposal that had been made by the Government for the further ploughing up of land was being received, and in Devonshire I heard and I found that the attitude of the farmers was, "We do not like it"; but I think they all realise that it was for the benefit of the country that it should be done, and their feeling was that they were anxious not to put any difficulty in the way. That, I believe, is the feeling of the farmers, not only in the West of England, but throughout the country, and that being so, I wish to ask the House to agree that it would not only be a wrong thing, but it would also be a foolish thing, to do anything at the present moment which the farmers would undoubtedly regard as an injury to their future political interests in the country. There are three ways in which 636 the interests of agriculture may be dealt with by a Bill which has for its object the redistribution of seats: There is grouping, there is segregation, and there is the system of areas. These are dealt with in the Instructions to the Boundary Commissioners, and if, in the schemes that are issued, it appears to any of those interested that not sufficient attention has been paid to those matters, I am quite sure that would be one of the matters to which the Commissioners would direct their inquiries to be held in different parts of the country; so that if there should be any grievance on the subject that grievance would be one of the subjects for the inquiry.
It is with the question of areas that my Amendment deals. I am not sure that the borough members and the London members recognise what a very big thing for country members, and for members representing certain areas, this question of area is. My hon. Friend opposite, the Member for Tavistock, had a question on that subject on the Paper to-day; and there are some who are more affected by this Bill than he is. London members have a good deal of influence on this Committee, and the knowledge of and thorough study of this question of franchise by the right hon. Member for St. Pancas must have been absolutely invaluable to the Conference. The right hon. Gentleman can go to a couple of meetings in the evening and be home in time for supper, or at all events early in the evening. But it is a very different thing in the case of a member for a county constituency, who has to address his constituents when the House is not sitting. He cannot slip out in the course of the evening and come back again; he has to go a long journey by rail, and very often a long journey by road afterwards. It is not only a question of time and trouble, but it is a question of expense as well. I do not think any section of the House wishes to make a law by which a large country constituency can only be represented by a rich man. The various farmers' associations in the country are urging that they ought to have in this House more representatives who are actually tenant farmers, and who would best serve their particular interest. I think the House must be in sympathy with that claim, not only on general grounds, but because of our experience of tenant farmers in the House already. To such members 637 entering the House, the tremendous expense which large areas must involve is very serious. It is said that farm profits are pretty good now. I daresay they are, but they do not run to a Rolls-Royce car, and the expense of getting about in a large constituency, and still more so if the Bill were passed as it stands, would make the representation of an agricultural district practically impossible to any tenant farmer. Then there is the question of precedent for this matter. There is a very good precedent, a precedent set by this House in the Act of Parliament which it passed within recent years—the South Africa Act, 1909. In that Act, the method is provided for dividing the provinces into electoral divisions, and in Sub-section (3) of Clause 40, it is provided:
"The Commissioners shall give due consideration to—
in such manner that, while taking the quota of voters as the basis of division, the Commissioners may, whenever they deem it necessary, depart therefrom, but in no case to any greater extent than fifteen per centum more or fifteen per centum less than the quota."
- (a) community or diversity of interests;
- (b) means of communication;
- (c) physical features;
- (d) existing electoral boundaries;
- (e) sparsity or density of population;
That Sub-section in the South Africa Act exactly bears out the point that I wish to raise in this Amendment. Seeing that we have so recently laid it down for South Africa, I do not see how we can very well refuse it in our Instructions to the Boundary Commissioners in this country. I believe that opinion on this point is advancing. When I first ventured to raise it on the Second Reading of this Bill, it was received with sympathy, but I was told that what I was asking was practically impossible. I believe the sympathy still remains, but that the verdict on the impossibility is gradually fading away. If I look at the Order Paper to-day, it would appear that a very considerable number of Members of this House, and at least two members of the Conference itself, no longer think that it is impossible, and I am particularly gratified to see what I have always believed, that members of the Conference, 638 like anyone else, are sensible men, that they are quite open to conviction, and that they realise that it is possible that some points may have been overlooked in their Report, and that when those points are brought forward, they will not return a non possumus to them. I noticed that on the Paper there is an Amendment to my Amendment. I want to say one word about that. With the purpose of that Amendment I need not say that I am in absolute and entire sympathy. If we differ at all it is not on the question of principle, but on the question of expediency, and it has been represented to me in various quarters that the House is less likely to accept an Amendment which contains figures than one which only deals with the general principle. If that is so, and if the House or the Government, which is more or less the mouthpiece of the House, says that they prefer the Amendment without the figures being put into it, then I can only say I would rather take my Amendment as it stands than imperil it by accepting any figures to be put in. As the Amendment stands it leaves the matter in the hands of the Commissioners. I am quite content to do that, and, if I may say so without impertinence, I feel sure that agriculture can feel quite confident in leaving its case in the hands of the Commissioners of which you yourself, Mr. Speaker, and Sir Thomas Elliott, are two distinguished members. This Amendment gives the Commissioners what they have not had up till now, a free hand and if there is a strong expression of opinion in this House, as I hope there will be, I feel sure the Commissioners will use that free hand in the way in which I believe the House will wish them to use it. I am content to leave the matter there.
There is one other thing I want to urge on the Home Secretary, and that is that if this or any similar Amendment is adopted we might have a stay of execution, that is, that the inquiries in the country should not go on until the matter has been reconsidered. I believe that inquiries are taking place to-day, and that notice has been given of inquiries for later in the week. If they are to be fruitless that will cause a great deal of inconvenience, and it would be a great convenience to many of us if the Home Secretary could state to-day, or at an early date, whether it is possible to put these inquiries off. With regard to future inquiries I would like 639 to urge that time should be given between the date on which the scheme is published and the date on which the inquiry is held. I am not speaking so much in the interest of political associations, because in a matter of this sort they have to look after themselves as best they can. I do think, however, that the county councils have a right to be heard on this point. "When you are dividing up a county into new-sections it is only right that the county councils should be heard and should be able to give a considered opinion on the subject. In order to do that the county councils have to call their general purposes committee together. Everyone knows that the men who do the active work on the county councils now are very-busy. There are committees and engagements all over the county, and some of these men have practically every day filled up. To call an extraordinary meeting of your general purposes committee, therefore, is a very difficult thing, and I think time ought to be given, either for this subject to be brought before the ordinary-meetings of the general purposes committees or else, at all events, that a longer time should be given between these two dates, the date of the scheme, and the date of the inquiry, in order that the general purposes committee might have an opportunity of expressing their opinion on it. I commend this Amendment to the House. I believe I have a very strong case, and if anyone doubts me all I can say is that the more I look into it the stronger I think the case is. I ask, with great hope that I may meet with success, the House and the Government to accept my Amendment.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
On a point of Order. Might I ask with regard to all the Motions on the Paper whether we can have a discussion on most of the points, if not on proportional representation, on the Amendment which has just been proposed by my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Sanders)? The points appear to be population, area, characteristics, and the question of grouping. My right hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and Kinross (Mr. E. Wason) and I have an Amendment with regard to Scotland, and I think it might save the time of the House if we were allowed—the only new point I think is the question of grouping which would arise both in connection with the boroughs and the counties—to take that discussion.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
On a point of Order In connection with the suggestion that proportional representation would be completely outside the scope of these Amendments, though of course I accept that as a broad principle, I would just call to your attention, Mr. Speaker, the fact that proportional representation is one means of giving effective representation to a large class of voters, such as the agricultural voter, and that it is almost impossible to avoid reference to it.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There is no suggestion that proportional representation should be applied to the counties. That is not contained in these Instructions. The question of proportional representation is a separate question, on which the decision of the House can be taken. With regard to the question of the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir G. Younger), the Amendments on the Paper seem to-resolve themselves merely into two, or at most three, points—first, the question of area; secondly, of proportional representation; and, possibly, thirdly, the question of the regrouping of boroughs where certain boroughs are in counties other than those in which the main group is. I think that the most convenient plan would be to discuss the question of area now. Then we can pass on to proportional representation, and afterwards deal perhaps with the third question.
§ Mr. J. MASON
I have an Amendment dealing with narrow margins. I should rather like to know whether I can raise that now or whether I ought to wait. It deals also with the question of area.
§ Sir E. GOULDING
I have an Amendment which would not be covered by the subject of area. It does not deal with population solely, but also with the character and nature of the constituency. That also has reference to several other Amendments.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think the hon. Baronet will find that these questions are very closely allied, these questions of area and agricultural population—that is what I suppose he means.
§ Sir E. GOULDING
No. My Amendment has reference to the character and nature of a place of industry, of boroughs. It is the second Amendment on the Paper.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
May I ask whether in view of the fact that one of the Instructions to the Boundary Commissioners is 641 the segregating of rural and urban districts, which can obviously only be done on the ground of the respective characters of those districts, you would not allow reference to be made to them on this Amendment?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think that when we get a little closer into this discussion it will be found that there is really no difficulty. The points suggested can nearly all be raised on this Amendment. I certainly should not interrupt the hon. Member if he dealt with the question of the character of the areas or of the population. I think that would be relevant, and I should raise no objection to it.
§ Mr. E. WASON
May I ask whether it would be possible to discuss the Amendment standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutherland (Mr. Morton) and myself?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is already provided for in the Instructions—that there is to be no substantial difference in the total number of members returned.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. G. LAMBERT
Members of the Conference over which you, Mr. Speaker presided with such consummate ability, will remember that over and over again I warned them that the unit of 70,000 was bound to produce an unwieldy and unmanageable community in rural districts. I have had before me the clearest possible eivdence, that of my own Constituency, which has 40,000 population, but has eighty-one parishes and is thirty miles broad. In fact, it is triangular in shape and is thirty miles in several directions. If you add sixty parishes, as you would do under this Bill, to that area you would have something like 140 parishes, which I am perfectly certain no man in this House could adequately represent or cover. Let me ask borough members, who have no experience of carrying on a campaign in these rural constituencies, to realise what it means to have a constituency of, say, 140 parishes. If you address two meetings a night it would take you six weeks to cover even half the constituency. It seems to me that to create these large rural areas, to establish a definite unit of 70,000, is to make them quite unworkable and quite im- 642 possible. I know lull well that it has been said that those who support the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Colonel Sanders) wish to represent acres rather than people, but you must take into account the difficulties of the people in the rural districts. Many agricultural labourers have now to walk three to five miles from home. It is a marvel that they do it, and therefore when I am told that if we plead for a little extra indulgence for rural and scattered areas that means that we are unfaithful to the principle of democracy. I rather challenge that. Democracy, so far as I understand it, does not mean entirely counting noses. I cannot help feeling that 70,000 agricultural workers in Devonshire are more important than 70,000 workers in Whitechapel. I base: my case on the great statesman under whose ægis I entered this House—Mr. Gladstone. When he introduced the Representation of the People Bill on the 28th February, 1884, he stated very clearly his considered opinion:I do not think we ought to have any absolute population scale. I would respect, within moderate limits, the individuality of constituencies. I am certainly disposed to admit that very large and closely concentrated populations need not have quite so high a proportional share of representation in the country as rural and dispersed populations.That was Mr. Gladstone's considered opinion when he made his great speech in introducing the Bill which enfranchised the agricultural labourer. I fancy that no democrat could challenge Mr. Gladstone's authority in this matter, but I associate myself with the hon. and gallant Member for Somerset when he says that if you make these constituencies so large they can only be represented by a rich plutocrat or a very large owner of land, a man who can keep an agent in every village and subscribe largely to all the local charities but cannot get in touch with the electorate over such a large area. We agriculturists are told that we are back ward and unprogressive. Well, I have found more shrewd philosophy in an agricultural labourer than I have in almost any other member of the community. I know there are gentlemen coming down from urban districts who profess to be able to teach us our business. They are always endeavouring to teach us our business. I know a gentleman, a friend of mine, who was a very large grocer, and he came down and started a farm. He made a fortune out of grocery, but he found that cultivating the land was far more difficult than putting sand in sugar. We were told by my right 643 hon. Friend opposite that the urban areas were awakening to the importance of agriculture. That may be all very well, but we would like something more definite put into the Regulations which will guide the Commissioners. If these urban areas are to be awakened to the importance of agriculture, they must have knowledge. I have heard as much nonsense talked in this House about agriculture as almost any other subject. We had a speech from an hon. Member on the Labour benches, a very earnest speech, condemning the price of milk. I think he was obviously astonished when it was pointed out to him that a cow had to be milked fourteen times a week, and even a member of the War Cabinet can make a mistake in these matters. It is the greatest possible mistake, I can assure my hon. Friend, to think that a farmer's life consists in scratching the soil, scattering the seed, and then smoking his pipe.
Agriculture has been very largely neglected in this country for very many years. We are suffering from it to-day. Germany has not neglected her agriculture, France has not neglected her agriculture. It seems to me that the town magnet will always be sufficiently pliable to draw people from the country district into the town, therefore, if anything can be done to strengthen the agricultural representation, and I do not put this forward as a class measure at all, I am perfectly certain it would be to the benefit of the nation. With reference to the high price of food, no one regrets that such prices prevail more than I do, but I say it is largely due to the policy which has been pursued. I wish very sincerely, very warmly, and very earnestly that these prices could be largely reduced, but after this War is over we must go in for large constructive schemes. We are told that we ought to increase the importance of our agricultural industry. On Wednesday next the financial resolution of the Corn Production Bill comes on. The farmers of the country are asked to increase the cultivation by 3,000,000 acres and prices are to be guaranteed. What sort of a prelude would it be to the intelligent working classes to be told that the agriculturists of the country must lop off twenty or thirty seats in this House. It grows "curiouser and curiouser," as Alice says in Wonderland, and it will be strange to me if the Government do not make some 644 concession to my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Sanders). If this principle of 70,000 is adhered to, Wapping will be developed at the expense of Wiltshire. We shall have the cry, "Up Limehouse, down Lincolnshire." That does not seem to be the first great act of agricultural reconstruction which should be supported by a Government. We are told that democracy means equality. I agree in equality of number, and in one of the most democratic countries in the world, New Zealand, a rural constituency, is, I understand, allowed to put 28 per cent, extra on the population to balance the inconveniences compared with other localities. If these Instructions are carried out many constituencies which are now almost purely agricultural will be swamped by the boroughs that will be merged in them. If you have a constituency of 70,000, and a borough of 40,000 is put into it, naturally the dominating interest in that constituency will be that of the borough; therefore it will stamp out the rural district. I do ask the House most earnestly, while supporting heartily, as I am bound to do and as I wish to do, the decision of the Speaker's Conference, come to as the result of immense labour, to think once, twice, and thrice before they adopt these principles which are laid down in the Instructions to the Boundary Commissioners. I would ask them not in any spirit of class prejudice, but solely and simply in the interests of the Nation, not to withdraw some twenty or thirty representatives who are serving agricultural interests in this House.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
The point of view which the Mover and Seconder of the proviso have taken up is bound up, I think, with a proviso which a little later I shall move specifically dealing with Scotland with regard to area and population. This might be dealt with now, I should have thought, rather than later on along with a group of other questions which have been postponed. The objections we have in Scotland to the Instructions given to the Boundary Commissioners are equally strong, and I think, very valid. We object to a scheme being based wholly on population. No consideration of any other kind is imported into those Instructions, and if you rigidly adhere to the Instructions as they appear on the Paper Scotland would lose a very large part of its representation in this House. Such part as is left to it would 645 be wholly and differently distributed. These proposals do away with the fundamental principles of representation which have hitherto guided the House, and I maintain that something more ought to be taken into consideration. We ought to deal with areas with their characteristics, and we ought to deal with historical and separate interests, and so on. I say that, because the House knows that the Speaker's Conference has not adopted the principle of one vote one value. Not a bit of it. They have taken two population bases—one of 70,000 and one of 50,000—and they have discarded the other principle, and under the circumstances we are perfectly entitled, as I believe the Scotch Members will say we are entitled, to urge that other considerations shall be brought to bear in this matter, and that the Commissioners shall have an opportunity to deal with other questions which I hope will be advantageous to Scotland and to its representation in this House. I do not suggest any alteration on the figures. I think my hon. Friend (Mr. Sanders) wisely agreed that it would be better to leave them as they stand. I was interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lambert) say that in New Zealand 28 per cent, was added to the agricultural figures in order to bring out the proper representation. I was told the other day by Lord Selborne that in the South African Constitution they have a figure lower, but they have a margin of 15 per cent, on either side, so that it is practically 30 per cent, one way or the other. That is the principle that guides the Commission, or whoever do that sort of work there. We in Scotland feel that if these Instructions are rigidly carried out the effect would be that twenty-two consitituencies would lose their individual representation, the preponderating interest going to Lanarkshire and Glasgow, reducing the representation of the North of Scotland. No one can say that I have any party object in view in pleading for the representation of the North of Scotland because it is, on the whole, Radical. If we are to have such a thing as party— personally I hope that in future we shall have a national party—it cannot be said that I am actuated by considerations of that kind. I do say that these remote areas should be considered and the remoteness of the area ought to be taken into account. I am not certain whether, under the existing Instructions to the 646 Boundary Commissioners, there is any power to regroup portions of counties. I am not sure that the Commissioners have power to deal with that, but I do not think they should be lumped together, which will be the case if the Boundary Commissioners stick to the figures in the Instructions they have received. We do not want our present numbers reduced in Scotland. We do not think it fair that they should be reduced, but if the Instructions are not altered they will be.
That is our first objection. Our second is that, while asking that the members should not be reduced, there ought to be regard to the varied character of the constituencies, area, remoteness, and also antiquity. Certainly old constituencies which have existed for years would lose their individual representation and they would, in some cases, be joined with contiguous counties or burghs not altogether with the same characteristics, and which might also be antagonistic. I know what it means to have a constituency in which one part can be antagonistic to the other. My present constituency is divided by the Atlantic. I have three burghs in Argyllshire and two in Ayrshire. I have found that the fishing question is a cause of antagonism between the two. As that Constituency is to be aboloshed, I do not mind saying that the fishermen usually get the support of the candidate or member who are the biggest lot. The Ayr burghs have continued for a long time; I am sorry they should be broken up now. I do plead for more elastic Instructions to-the Commissioners with regard to Scotland, and I think that something like a Highland enclave ought to be formed for these northern counties and Highlands, and that they ought to have a much more generous representation than they would have under any scheme of which population alone is the basis, and that they are really entitled to it. This House has imposed a very expensive scheme of local government on those districts, precisely similar to that imposed on the very rich districts. It has been admitted that the people there are not able to afford to pay for that scheme of local government, but very little has been done to relieve them of the appalling burden of taxation caused in that way. That alone is a reason why they should be afforded opportunity to plead their own cause and to point out to the House how unfair it is to impose on them burdens which they are really not able to perform. It would be 647 possible also to avoid the difficulty raised by the right hon. Gentleman if some scheme were adopted in England of grouping urban areas, where a town or a large urban area was likely to have too great an influence in a county constituency. We have found that system to work very satisfactorily in Scotland. I content myself by asking that this elasticity should be imported into the Instructions so far as Scotland is concerned. I am quite sure that the Commissioners are able to deal with all these considerations. They would add to their difficulties, and the matter would not be so easy as a mere counting of noses, but they are all men in whom we have the most perfect confidence, and are full of common sense, and I am certain that Scotland would be perfectly safe in their hands, and that the representation would be enormously improved over anything that can be conceived under the rigid and inelastic scheme as it stands.
§ Mr. HEMMERDE
I find myself in complete disagreement with the views put forward by the last few speakers. I was envious of the Member for Bridgwater (Colonel Sanders) when he said that his constituency was, I think, forty miles across. I represent one of the largest agricultural constituencies in the country, and I have not had one single request from that constituency to support any preferential treatment for agriculture. I believe that to be an absolutely false position, and I desire to take this early opportunity of giving a few reasons why I think it is so. My hon. Friend who spoke last about the woes of Scotland gave us some excellent illustrations as to what we shall come to if we seriously give way to some of the requests which are suggested in the Order Paper of to-day. I absolutely differ from him in the view that you want to have homogeneous constituencies. I think it would be disastrous if we were to be reduced in this House to the level of the position of dockyard members. I am also very much against small constituencies, because we want to be protected from what I may call pocket boroughs. When I see people putting down Amendments to save constituencies described as of historical interest, whose main efforts during the last half century perhaps have been to achieve an unenviable distinction in the election petition reports, I begin to think the Government would be very wise if they stand firm upon the recommendations of Mr. 648 Speaker's Conference, which represents what both parties have been fighting for, more or less, during the last twenty years, namely, that we should have as far as possible one man one vote, and as far as possible one vote one value. I was surprised to find that my hon. Friend (Sir G. Younger) seems to think that there was no elasticity in the Bill at all.
§ Mr. HEMMERDE
Personally, I dislike altogether the fact that any borough or county with only 50,000 inhabitants is to keep its representation. I think we ought to get much nearer to the 70,000 mark. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. G. Lambert) gave us a lurid picture of the impossibility of a tenant farmer fighting an agricultural constituency with a population of 70,000. How many tenant farmers have been put up for agricultural constituencies during the past twenty years? It is not the fact that agriculure has been unrepresented during the last few years by the numbers of people from agricultural seats. Agriculture has had about thirty members more than its proper quota, and much good they have done it. It is not the numbers we want to change, but the quality of the representation. When agricultural divisions chose tenant farmers and agricultural labourers, we may consider the question then as to alterations in the method of election to make it possible for these estimable people to get about. But as a matter of fact, it is just as easy to fight a constituency with 140 parishes as with 110. I have got a constituency with 122 parishes, and I do not care twopence if the number is increased to 150, or reduced to 100. It means a great deal of time, but if you are a fairly active man you can get round your constituency once in two years. I have always managed to do so in the four years which I have represented my present constituency. I do not think it is a fair criticism to say that we ought to give up the recommendations, because it is impossible for any tenant farmer, or agricultural labourer, or a man with a limited purse to fight an agricultural constituency. My constituency is very large, and I am bound to say it is very cheap. I do not find it is expensive, or that it is expensive to get about. I think that as a matter of fact that argument is put forward by people who absolutely forget the fact that they themselves have never moved a finger during the last 649 twenty or thirty years to see that those men of small means could have an opportunity of representing agricultural constituencies. I should be much more impressed by their arguments if I thought they had done so.
If we are going to reduce the quota for agricultural constituencies and also to take on proportional representation, we should have a pretty state of things. It will be nice for the boroughs, because proportional representation will reduce the majority there, whereas to reduce the quota of population in the counties, will mean that the counties will get full majorities by single-member constituencies, while the towns will have their majorities largely cut down. Further than that, the towns will be in this position, that they will have constituencies of 70,000 or more, and if you are going to reduce the agricultural quota you will probably have to put up the figure in the towns, and you will have them hit in two ways and, I think, most unfairly. I cannot see how you can possibly at this time of day enter on any scheme of preferential representation for the counties. I do not believe there is any genuine demand for it. I have no doubt Chambers of Agriculture will pass resolutions in favour of it. People will always argue for what suits them. Scotland wants to get representation which under this Bill it apparently is not entitled to. I do not blame Scotland for asking for it, but, not being a Scotsman, I should certainly blame the Government if they gave way to the request. I do not want to disfranchise the North of Scotland, because I find myself in complete agreement with the views put forward from there, but I do not want to see the whole of this Bill mutilated for the purpose of keeping, let us say, the hon. Member for Sutherlandshire in the House I do not know with what Sutherlandshire would be grouped, but I do know that this is a question that ought not to be a question of any one Member, or any one country, or any one interest.
I stand here to speak as a representative of an agricultural constituency, absolutely protesting against this demand that the agricultural industry is to be overburdened with members in this way. When we are told that it is the only way in which we can mark our sense of the new interest in agriculture, I ask, whose new interest? For the last thirty years agriculture has been over-represented according to members as against population, and what 650 movement has there been during that time by agricultural Members on behalf of agriculture? It would be very interesting to be told to-day of some great movement that there has been in agriculture during the last thirty years that had the support and sympathy of agricultural constituencies. I remember the record of the agricultural Members on the Workmen's Compensation Act. Hon. Members will remember that in that Act, brought in in 1897, the agricultural labourers were actually left out. So far were agricultural Members looking after the interests of the agricultural labourers that I remember it required a by-election in Norfolk to wake up the Government to the fact that agricultural labourers should be included, and a new Bill was passed the year after to bring them in. I am perfectly aware of the fact that agriculture has often got things done in this House while it spoke through the constituencies. But I have never realised that agriculture has ever got anything done in this House by any combination of agricultural Members, and I do not believe you will get it in the future. I believe that the whole idea that you are going to help agriculture by anything like this is entirely fallacious. I think you will irritate the towns and set them very much against the agricultural districts.
We are told we are going to have in some agricultural districts cases in which a particular borough will be the determining voice in that constituency. I do not know whether that is going to be lad for the agricultural districts, but I am sure it is going to be very good for the town. I have seen a certain amount of electioneering in what are called historic boroughs, places that, fortunately, cease when this Bill has been passed. Nothing could be better for some of those boroughs, like Chester, Shrewsbury, Winchester, Worcester, and a number of places famous in history and equally infamous in the election petition reports. Nothing could be better for them than to have a little fresh air of the country, because the larger the constituency the less chance there is of corruption and making pocket boroughs to the members, and all the other discreditable episodes that disfigure electioneering in these boroughs. Let us have the constituencies as large as possible. If that means a little less getting about and a little less electioneering I doubt whether that will do much harm. If having a constituency a little unwieldy reduces the number of meetings 651 and the amount of political spade-work, I doubt whether you are going to do any very serious harm. If the Government once give way to this demand of the agricultural interest, based on no argument except that agriculture has got to be cherished and nurtured as it has never been before, then it will have to give way all along the line. You will have people from Scotland protesting. I have not yet heard of anyone protesting from Wales, though, as a matter of fact, I do not believe that Wales is going to lose anything under the scheme; we shall, therefore, probably get no protest from there. But we shall have one protest after another made on behalf of other constituencies. There are already rumours that London wants to conserve its divisions that have a population of 50,000. I cannot see why. I do not see any reason whatsoever why they should do so. I see no more reason why they should put forward that demand than that it should be granted. I want strongly to urge the Government to stand as firm as they possibly can upon this question. I do not want to be unreasonable in the matter.
There is an Amendment down here on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. J. Mason) that seems to me to cover the ground in dealing with cases just on the line. Personally I shall not have any objection in supporting any scheme of that sort. The point of proportional representation is not one we are discussing at the present moment; but on the other question, whether it be to protect historic boroughs, whether it be to protect towns from being mixed up with the country or the country mixed up with the towns, I absolutely am in opposition, for I believe that the more equal we get our constituencies the better, and the more general interest we get into our constituencies the better. I do not want to carve out special agricultural constituencies. I do not want to carve out special mining constituencies, any more than I want to carve the constituency of the hon. Member who spoke last into two different aspects of the fisheries question. We do not want it. We want to have less of the local appeal. We want to realise, and the House needs to realise, what has been said again and again, that when our constituencies have returned us we do not represent our constituencies; we represent the country. I protest against trying to divert the Government from the real pur- 652 pose of the Speaker's Conference, and I particularly protest against giving way to these demands based upon no real case, so far as I can see. Agriculturists have always been perfectly able to look after themselves. They will be better able to look after themselves if, after the War, they return people who have made a study of agriculture rather than people who happen to be the son or nephew of the local landowner.
§ Mr. J. MASON
I have no criticism at all to make on the figures which are contained in these Instructions, but the Instructions altogether seem to me to be more imperative and mandatory than is necessary. It is quite obvious that too great a rigidity will not only produce a considerable amount of friction, but will certainly in many cases lead to considerable unfairness. It seems to me that if we want this scheme as a whole to work well we must endeavour to make these Instructions as elastic as possible, so that one very difficult part of the Bill may have its course very considerably modified in practice. As regards the question of agricultural areas, everybody knows now that the agricultural interest is assuming an importance in the eyes of the whole country which it has not had for some time. It may fairly be argued that an industry which we see every day from the speeches of the President of the Board of Agriculture is being pushed for all it is worth ought, at least, to have fair representation. There is, however, no doubt that the argument as to the enormous size of some of these constituencies is a very real argument. There are many of these constituencies, not only of a huge area, but in the case, for instance, of one of the constituencies in the county of which I hold a seat—that is, the constituency of North Berkshire—there is not only an enormous area, but it is separated by a ridge of hills which are sparsely occupied and inhabited, and it puts a huge burden upon the Member who represents that constituency, and who has to get over it during the long winter months. I have heard the whole question of agricultural values very fairly put forward from both points of view. But there is another question affecting these Instructions which, to my mind, is of equal importance—that is, the extraordinary way in which these very definite Instructions will affect eases with a very narrow margin. For instance, no constituency has to have a member unless it has 50,000 inhabitants. There is cer- 653 tainly one constituency in Worcestershire where, I am told, the inhabitants are over 49,000. Surely that is such a narrow margin, a matter of a few hundreds, that it seems ridiculous that, owing to that falling short by only a few hundreds, that county should lose the constituency. No doubt there are other cases. Several have been brought to my notice.
There is another class that ought to be taken into consideration. The County of Herefordshire has a population, I think, of 115,000. It is now represented by two county Members and a borough Member. It loses its borough Member in any case. Owing, however, to the fact that it has under 120,000 inhabitants it will lose one of its county Members as well. Therefore, instead of three Members, it will be reduced to one. In a case of that kind where a district falls short of the necessary number for the two Members by only five thousand—and I have put my Amendment on the Paper in view of cases of the sort—it seems to me that the proper course would be to allow the Commissioners to do what is clearly the fair thing. In putting my Amendment on the Paper I wish most sincerely to disclaim any hostility to the proposals of the Government as a whole. Still more do I wish to disclaim any personal advantage which I might gain from it. Much as I regret that my constituency will have no separate representation in the future and that I shall have no seat, notwithstanding I know that my particular case of the borough of Windsor is beyond praying for, and that I must go, under the existing proposals of the Government we are all of us called upon to accept a great deal that we dislike. Why? We are doing it because we regard these proposals as necessary to get rid of controversy which we all dread in the future if we do not face it now. We want to clear the deck for the future. What is more we all know that at this moment if we do not adopt these proposals something has got to be done. Everyone knows that a register must be formed. Everyone knows that if a register is formed the question of the franchise must arise. If these things are to be done, if we are to face the question now with a view to putting this controversy behind us, as the Home Secretary said on the Second Reading, let us face the position in the easiest manner that we can, and that is by as closely as possible following the recommendations of the Conference over which Mr. Speaker 654 presided. I do not think that it shows any kind of opposition to the recommendations of that Conference to propose an Amendment of these Instructions which will allow a considerable amount of elasticity to the work of the Boundary Commissioners. I believe that way will very much help forward the proposals.
§ Mr. GOLDSTONE
I am inclined to think that there is a good deal of force in what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Windsor has just said; but it is really a question of degree. I should be disposed to welcome some amount of latitude to the Commissioners which would grant a retention of separate representation to a constituency where the defect was not more than about 500, which was one of the cases quoted by the hon. Member. But when he goes further and suggests that a county should continue to have, its present representation, though defective to the extent, I think, of 5,000, as in the case of Herefordshire, it appears to me that is pushing the thing much too far. There is a great deal to be said for adhering to rigidity in the Instructions which we give the Boundary Commissioners. If the elasticity is considerable we shall increase the difficulties of the Commissioners in arriving at decisions. It would appear to me that the object of the Amendment is to secure such a degree of elasticity that special interests will get representation to which they are not entitled if the proper view is taken of the proposals as a whole. We, therefore, are getting in this discussion what, in my view, is the reasonable suggestion of the hon. Member for Windsor linked up with proposals which go much too far. In this matter I am in hearty concord with the hon. Member for Norfolk, and I am bound to say that I regard him as the spokesman of the agricultural labourer, and as being, shall I say, a truer spokesman of the agricultural labourer than many of the Members of this House who sit for agricultural constituencies?
He tells us that he has not had any protest from any one of his constituents in this matter of the differentiation between the unit for the agricultural constituency and the unit for the town. I am bound to say that if this differentiation be accorded it can only be granted at the expense of the urban areas. If these proposals be accepted by the Government they may take it that they will have considerable opposition, and reasonable opposition, and strong protest from the 655 urban centres of this country. In boroughs you have units which may go so far as 90,000, whilst agricultural constituencies—so it is suggested—should be represented by members if they have a population of 50,000. What is actually suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Devonshire, and the hon. and gallant Member who moved this is that we will get a love for agriculture and agricultural interests in the urban centres if the agricultural interest is to get other and particular representation out of proportion to its rightful numbers. It seems to me that is the wrong way to begin our new scheme of agricultural development. It will create hostility in the urban centres. It will increase it. I would suggest to hon. Members who are now bringing forward their special pleas for particular representation, and their special pleas for the retention of individual seats that that is not the way to deal with the question, when we are, as it were, throwing the whole question of franchise and registration into the melting pot. The right thing to do it appears to me, is to take the decisions of the Conference, which was thoroughly representative, and to give Instructions to the Boundary Commissioners in as clearly definite terms as can be set down. One of the difficulties of the Commissioners will be to get out a Report in time to allow an election to be held at the end of the period for which this Parliament has determined to prolong its life. If the number of difficulties is increased, if the elasticity is increased which the Commissioners are allowed to exercise, so will the difficulties of the Commissioners also be increased.
It would be far better to adhere strictly to the proposals which are laid down in the Boundary Commissioners' Instructions than to go outside. The result of this would be much longer inquiries in the local areas, a far longer period before we can get a Report; of the Commissioners, and it will inevitably lead to hostility in the urban centres, who will find that their representation is disproportionately reduced in order to give special representation, to which they are not entitled, to some other places. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonshire spoke about the shrewdness of the agricultural labourer. We can also speak about the shrewdness of those who sometimes speak on his behalf. If the agricultural labourer is so 656 shrewd, it seems to me his political instinct will suggest to him immediately that he has no right to ask for representation out of proportion to his numbers. If I understand the agricultural labourer aright, he wants fair play, not a weighting of the scales in his favour. I should think that if he takes the long view he will see that if there is a settlement of this question in his interests, it cannot be a final settlement, and it will keep up the hostility between the urban centres and the rural areas, a thing to which it is very desirable we should bring an end as soon as possible. Then another point was made, I think by the right hon. Member for Devonshire, of the difficulty which would arise if small boroughs were merged in rural areas, but I put it to the House that the small borough which is to be merged will be certainly under 50,000 population, and that kind of centre has usually its main interests concerned with agriculture. As a rule it is the market town. As a rule it supplies the farming interests round about, and its whole interests are centred in the agricultural industry, which, as it were, is worked round it with a small market town as its centre. Therefore, in an area like that, you will get, it appears to me, a community of interests as between the small town, which will give its name to the constituency, and the area which is around it. The case made out does not seem to me at all a strong one, and, inasmuch as it lacks in strength, and would increase the difficulties of the Commissioners, I hope the Government will not accept the Amendment.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir G. Cave)
We are discussing, I am quite aware, a question of very great interest. In dealing with it, of course, my duty is to remember that we are in charge, not of a Government Bill in the ordinary sense, but a Bill which is the Bill of the House, on which I desire, so far as I possibly can, to obtain general agreement. Therefore, I should certainly be the last to meet the criticism or the suggestions of hon. Members who support this Amendment with any kind of antagonism. My desire is very reasonably and fairly to meet, if I can, with the general consent of the House, the grievance put forward. I think we are all conscious that we cannot have franchise reform without redistribution. That is impossible. In the second place, the moment you come to-redistribution you must meet certain 657 difficulties. We must adhere to some extent to territorial limits, and the moment you do that, of course, you raise inequalities, and possibly anomalies. Therefore, I am not at all surprised that the Instruction given to the Commissioners has raised a certain amount of doubt and difficulty, and has given hon. Members a certain amount of anxiety. Let me deal with the point that has been put. May I say about the agricultural case, if it is right to call it so, that I feel a great deal of sympathy with it. I think it is extremely convenient that the case should be put, as indeed it has been put to-day, upon the right footing. I do not think anybody makes the claim that agriculture as an industry ought to have a special amount of representation, because if that were put forward, it would be said at once by other industries. "Well, agriculture is an important industry, and perhaps the most essential to this country, but, at all events, our industry is also of great importance." The mining industry, the cotton industry, and the iron industry might say at once that those industries are essential to this country, and ought also to have special representation if agriculture is entitled to it. Therefore, I do not think it would be wise to put the claim upon that ground, and I do not think upon that ground it has been put to-day.
The real point is this: In the country districts the population is sparse, and the area of representation very large. It is difficult, if you make it too large, to obtain that community of local feeling, which is of importance in obtaining representation, and if you make the Constituency too large and scattered, it is impossible for Members to ascertain the views of their Constituents. Those were the grounds upon which hon. Members were entitled to put the case for rural and sparsely populated districts. That applies, of course, with very great force, I agree, to certain constituencies in the Highlands, and certain other parts of the country. I do not want to name them, because hon. Members are conscious of the facts. Therefore, that is a case, I think, to be met; but the point is, how is it possible to do so without doing injustice to other divisions and other interests? Simply to reduce the quota, the normal figure, for rural constituencies without making a change in the urban areas, would be to bring about such an increase in the Members of the House that I am sure the 658 House would not permit that course to-be taken. On the other hand, if you reduce the country figure, and put up the town figure as one Amendment suggests —if you make the standard figure for-rural constituencies 60,000, and that for urban constituencies 80,000 you infringe the principle of giving, as far as may be, one vote one value, which has been so often asserted by many of us in this House, certainly by myself, which principle is at the basis of representation. Therefore, to make so wide a difference would be not only against the principle of the Bill, but might lead to serious conflict in this House. Having said that, might I just correct a certain misunderstanding or omission? There is provided in the scheme which is before the House, a certain margin for differences or for hardships. For instance, someone mentioned the South African rule, going, above and below the normal figure. We do that here, and therefore it is a mistake to say that we do not in our scheme do what has been done in the scheme to which reference has been made.
I do not feel I could recommend to the House the acceptance of any one of the-numerous Amendments which seek to alter the figure which is to be the standard of representation. Indeed, having very carefully listened to all the speeches made to-day, I have not heard one Member who has recommended that course. Everybody sees what the great difficulties are in the way of it. How, then, are we to deal with this question, which, of course, is a very difficult one? I think it is right to fix our attention upon the real argument which is at the bottom of the complaint that is made, and I think what is really at the bottom of k is the question to which I have referred, namely, that of the very large areas of inconvenient size and inconvenient character. I think it is quite right that the Commissioners should be empowered, if not empowered already, to give special attention and special treatment, and to take special steps, so that a constituency of inconvenient size and inconvenient character should not be created under the Bill. I do not think anyone, if I asked the question outright, would say that it would be wise to create a constituency of that kind. Therefore, I am quite willing, if I can find the words, as I think I can that the House should add to the Instructions a supplementary Instruction giving the Commie- 659 sioners greater power—greater elbow room, if I may call it so—to enable them to deal with cases of this kind. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor, and other Members, pointed out, there are also other difficulties in working out the scheme as a hard and fast rule. I am fully aware that in many cases a certain amount of real hardship is produced in that way. I do not mean, of course, that constituencies which otherwise would have increased their memberships do not reach that result because their figures are just below the number fixed, but they do in other places lose members they have to-day, because it happens that their figure is just below the number that would give them either the one member or the two members. I think it is rather hard on a county or borough which has one or two members to-day that this 50,000 rule should be treated as absolute and one which cannot be infringed. I shall be very careful not to mention any particular place because it might Be felt to be pledging the Boundary Commissioners, which, of course, I have no right to do.
All I want to lay down is that I think there ought to be in their instructions some elasticity to enable them to deal with a case of that kind as well as the others to which I have referred. I am, of course, very anxious to carry the whole House with me because without the assent of the whole House it is very difficult, indeed to deal with almost any change in the scheme. Because I felt that I was very glad to have an opportunity of bringing before the House the Instructions given to the Commissioners and to ask for the observation of hon. Members upon them, I do strongly hope to-day, if we arrive at something like general agreement, that the difficulties in the way of the Bill, especially the difficulties which might arise when the Schedules come before the House, will be greatly diminished, and I shall feel my task is very much lightened. What I shall propose to-day is this: I think the Amendment now before the House is a little vague and a little difficult to give effect to. It does not give the Boundary Commissioners quite enough guidance to act upon it. I have said already that, so far as figures go, I do not think we could accept any of the Amendments, but there ! is an Amendment on the Paper by my hon. 660 Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. J. Mason) which runs in this way:Provided that the Commissioners may depart from the strict application of these Instructions in any case where it would result in the formation of constituencies unduly large in area, or where the narrowness of margin between the figure representing the estimated I population of any area and the figure required for any of the purposes of these Instructions seem to them to justify such a departure.I have mentioned that there may be difficulty, not only as to the area but as to the character of the constituency—for instance, a ridge of hills dividing it into two. I would suggest to my hon. Friend that instead of using the words "unduly large in area" he should use the words "inconvenient in size and character," which, of course, would cover a somewhat larger category of cases. I really think that does meet the main points which have been raised. I agree that it does not go the whole way, but I think it ensures that the Bill will meet the grievance of unworkable divisions, and other cases of hardship will also receive consideration.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
Will notice be taken of any immediate increase of population which might alter the whole character of the constituency?
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HEMMERDE
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the advisability of confining the Amendment to the case of counties, and not to small boroughs which have already been reduced to 5,000 from 7,000.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I think the rule ought to apply to boroughs and counties alike. I believe that the cases of hardship are fewer in boroughs, but I do not think we can make a distinction in these cases.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I think we all feel that. in the case of the constituency which my hon. Friend the Member for Sutherland-shire has represented for so many years it would be very hard to put upon him the duty of representing the still larger division. I think my hon. Friend's case is just the kind the Commissioners will have to consider if this Amendment passes. With regard to future population I think it is very difficult to put upon the Commissioners the burden of estimating 661 the present population and going beyond 1914. There are certain cases of an increase in population, but I think it is purely temporary, and the cases which have been referred to will right themselves very shortly.
§ Sir G. CAVE
As to all these points, if words can be suggested which will cover them and give the Commissioners greater authority to deal with special cases, they will be considered. I have taken the words suggested by the hon. Member for Windsor because they seem to be words which come nearer to meeting the points that have been raised. May I just add that I think many of us, and I think also the Boundary Commissioners themselves, might be disposed to treat these rules too much as hard and fast rules. They are not intended to be like the laws of the Medes and the Persians, but they are general rules for the guidance of the Commissioners; and, indeed, in that respect we have adopted the language of the Speaker's Conference, which only directs that these rules are to be followed as far as possible. If the Boundary Commissioners take upon themselves the authority which I believe they have, and which is in all our minds, of treating these Instructions as general guiding instructions which do not prevent them from dealing with special cases in a special way, I am sure when their Report comes before the House as a whole the House will think they have done rightly and have carried out the desires of all parts of the House. We do not want to tie the Commissioners down too closely, but I think they already have the right to deal with special cases in a special way.
§ Mr. T. DAVIES
In the case of some counties, if you take the whole county, you will not get the same number of representatives.
§ Sir G. CAVE
My hon. Friend is under a misapprehension, because that is not the effect of the Amendment; it is intended to redistribute counties so that the county as a whole will have the benefit of the population of the county, and in the case which the hon. Member put a member would not be lost. I will not argue the next Amendment, because I do not think it is a workable one, and it could not be accepted. I 662 have now said all that I wish to say, and I hope that after this discussion we shall endeavour to arrange a common basis amongst ourselves. I think the best way of doing this would be for the Amendment to be withdrawn. We should then have before us the Amendment of the hon. Member for Windsor, and if any valuable words can be added to that they may be suggested.
§ Mr. LAURENCE HARDY
With regard to what the right hon. Gentleman has said as to the possibility of the Commissioners regarding their Instructions as elastic, I would like to ask how that can be reconciled with the paragraph in the Warrant of Appointment in which the Commissioners are instructed to execute their duties in accordance with the Instructions appended thereto. Will it not be necessary to add some words, such as "as far as possible," in regard to the carrying out their Instructions.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
The Home Secretary, in the early part of his speech, said he was anxious to carry the whole House with him, and everybody who has heard his speech will not fail to appreciate the moderate tone and the conciliatory attitude in which he has approached this very difficult question. For my part, I confess that I think that the hard cases which have been the topic of some speeches are sure to arise in the nature of things -whenever you lay down an arithmetical limit. You will not get rid of the hard cases by substituting some other arithmetical limit, either higher or lower. I imagine that all of us are of the view that the decision to issue a general direction to the Commissioners is a sound one that the number of Members of the House of Commons of Great Britain shall remain substantially as at present, or, at any rate, shall not be greatly increased. It is, however, quite certain if hard cases are met by concessions because there are instances where the minimum number is not quite reached, you will thereby add to the total number of the members for Great Britain unless you are prepared at the other end of the scale to tell some constituency or other which is entitled to two members that it shall have only one. There is no other arithmetical methods by which you can add one and at the same time keep the same total and adjust hard cases unless 663 you can deal with an easy case at one end with the same latitude as you deal with a hard case at the other.
There is the area consideration which has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Sutherland (Mr. Morton). I do not know that I am very much in favour of drawing the distinction between county districts and town districts in any case, because that sets two parts of the population against one another, when for many purposes their interests are one. But be that as it may, we must remember that every concession made at one end of the scale has this effect—that it counts two on a Division, because just in proportion as you allow a larger number than ought to be allowed for one kind of constituency, if you are going to keep the total number the same, it means you allow a similar number for another constituency. All these considerations make me feel that while it may be desirable to give the Commissioners slightly more elbow-room, there ought to be something rather more restrictive about the Instructions than is contained in the Amendment before the House. When I look at the hon. Member for Bridgwater's proposal, I ask myself if I were a Commissioner whether it would add to the ease with which I should discharge my functions to be given directions so general, and I confess that I do not think it would. It is quite a different matter, however, to indicate on the face of the Instructions that it is intended, if there be a case where a technicality would carry you too far, that something should be conceded, even if it did not satisfy the arithmetical test. That is what the Home Secretary now suggests, and, although I am sorry to see this scheme invaded in this way, though not to a serious extent, I think it is the general desire of the House that this should be so.
May I be allowed to say that, while, in common with other hon. Members of the House, and other citizens of the country, I trust I realise fully the claim which agriculture has for great consideration. Is there not a fallacy lurking in the idea that because everybody in the country realises the importance of agriculture that therefore it should have a disproportionate representation? It is just the people whose claims are not regarded as they ought to be, who, if justice is to be done, ought to have special representation. If it be the case that public opinion throughout the country, now and for many 664 years to come, will realise more than it does now the importance of agriculture, I think there is a certain amount of confusion of thought in the idea that, therefore, the only way to get the balance through is to send an unusually large number of agricultural Members to this House, because one man, standing up here, speaking with authority and knowledge on agriculture, will command a much more attentive audience, and is more likely to get his views adopted. [HON. MEMBEBS: "No, no !"] Although I think the argument is a far better one if it is put on the ground of the difficulty of area and the necessity of seeing that there is an effective representation of what may be a scattered population, I do not, for my own part, see the force of the argument that, since we all realise how very important agriculture is, there ought to be a very large disproportionate number of agricultural Members.
On those grounds, so far as some of my hon. Friends and I are concerned, we shall be prepared to acquiesce and to do what we can to secure for the Home Secretary that which he desires, namely, a general assent to this qualification of the regulations which have already been laid down. When all is said and done, you cannot, and I hope you never will be able to, draw a mathematical line between agricultural constituencies and all other constituencies. There is an immense difference between a purely agricultural constituency, scattered and very difficult to work, with opinion perhaps difficult to focus on the most pressing problems put forward, and a concentrated urban constituency, but the division between boroughs and counties has long ago been found to be a rather artificial division. There are all sorts of gradations between a purely agricultural constituency and a purely urban constituency, and the right thing is to give the Commission a certain amount of additional latitude.
§ Colonel WEIGALL
On the principle of accepting half a loaf, however small, I, for one, am prepared to accept the proposal made by the Home Secretary. I am afraid the other day, in my simple bucolic mind, I could not understand his economic facts, but I hope to-day that I have been more successful. I gather that the view he put forward is that under no circumstances can any industry or sectional interest in the country claim ex- 665 ceptional representation. I agree in the main. He, however, goes one step further, and says that owing to the conditions under which it has to be carried out, he is prepared to say that the Boundary Commissioners shall be instructed to give exceptional treatment to agriculture. Agriculture as an industry is to have no exceptional treatment, but, owing to the conditions under which the industry inevitably has to be carried out, he is prepared to give the Boundary Commissioners instructions to allow exceptional treatment. I do not want to add anything to this discussion which is liable to create heat or partisanship. I could have shown that, although possibly agriculture cannot claim to have any additional representation in this House compared with other industries, yet owing to the risks which it runs from climatic reasons, it is on a different plane, but I do not wish to pursue that aspect of the question at all, nor do I desire to answer my hon. Friend from the North who has announced that he has had no representations from his constituents. All I can say is that his local chamber of agriculture gave a unanimous vote in favour of area being regarded as well as population, and I can only offer sincere sympathy to the agriculturists of his constituency, because obviously he is not in such community with them as no doubt they require and desire. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. G. Lambert) let fall an observation as to the shrewd philosophy of the agricultural labourer. I will give an instance not only of what I consider to be shrewd philosophy but also of extremely illuminating wit. I remember when I first stood in the wilds of Lincolnshire addressing an agricultural gathering in an out of the way village, I heard that my political opponent had advanced the theory that I was inexperienced, and therefore wholly unable to represent such a vast agricultural constituency. I never had very much hair on my head from the earliest days of my youth, and I therefore doffed my hat to my audience and showed my broad brow as a sign of wealth, wit, and benevolence. A voice from the back of the hall was immediately heard, "An empty barn requires no thatch."
I do not say that the House is anti-agriculturist, but it is certainly almost wholly urban, and that is the answer to 666 the hon. Member for Norfolk when he said, "What of the agricultural Members hero in the past?" Whatever we have tried to do, we have always had the haze of the urban element over us, and in the end it has come down in a thick fog. But now the agricultural community do lock forward, not without hope, to the Mother of Parliaments taking a rather keener interest in the future of agriculture than has been usual in the past. In other countries the agriculturist has been able to appeal to this interest sure of a ready response. I want to read an observation made by Bismarck in 1879, and which seems to me to be peculiarly applicable to this country to-day. He said:The position of the farmer of the country depends upon the revenue he obtains from the sale of his produce. The better the position of the agriculturist, the more prosperous the whole economic life of the Empire. If the time should ever come when the agriculturist cannot possibly carry on his industry, not only agriculture but the whole German Empire must go to ruin.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
There is an Amendment to this Amendment down in the name of myself and the last speaker and several others, in which this question of numbers in county constituencies is raised. I do not want to press that Amendment, and I only want to say a word or two as to the reason for putting it down. I fully realise the strength of the argument that you cannot give to one particular industry, as such, a numerical representation which you deny to other industries. I was very much impressed by the force of the observations that fell from the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Goldstone), but the Amendment was put down for a totally different reason. It was put down in order that we might ascertain from the Government what was their view in regard to a question of practical difficulty, which I think has been sufficiently realised now, and which the Government, in effect, say that they recognise. We approach it solely from the national point of view. It is quite true, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon) said, that in this House during this War the importance of agriculture has been keenly appreciated, but I believe it is the first occasion in the history of this country for nearly fifty years, and at any rate for forty years, when that observation could have been made. It is only during this War, and through what we have learned in this House during the War, 667 that the national interest in agriculture as an industry has been really appreciated, but one of the results of these redistribution proposals is that on their being carried into law something like thirty-three representatives of purely or predominatingly agricultural constituencies will disappear—that is what I am told; I will not vouch for it—either because of mere county redistribution in accordance with the figure of 70,000 population or because of regrouping, under which a small county borough will be amalgamated with a portion of the county in order to make up the minimum of 70,000, in which, of course, the preponderating majority will be urban in character. For these reasons, we have got to face the inevitable result of this House having far fewer representatives of agriculture.
I, for one, am not going to admit that it is only the representatives of agricultural constituencies who take any interest in agriculture, but at the same time, from the national point of view, we have to realise that in the next Parliament there will be far fewer men with a knowledge of agricultural conditions to tell this House the needs of the industry and the bearing of the measures that are brought up in this House. I cannot help thinking that the appreciation which this House has shown of the needs of agriculture during the War is very largely owing to the great knowledge and experience of so many agricultural Members whom we have had in the House during the War. That advantage will go. It is from that point of view, judging agriculture from the national standpoint only, that this Amendment was put down.
Agriculture has been spoken of during this discussion as having claims. I almost resent that mode of discussing the question. It is not a question of the claims of persons engaged in earning money in particular industries with which this House is concerned. It is because the nation must have a prosperous agriculture—as it seems to me, for three big reasons—that we want agriculture adequately represented in this House for the purpose of being adequately explained to the House. Is it not a selfish reason; it is a national reason. The three reasons are obvious: The greater production of food in this country as a measure of defence; a larger agricultural population as a means of what I may call racial reconstruction 668 after the War, in order that we may have a large, healthy community to reinforce the towns and make up to some extent for the wastage of the War; and lastly, and I attach the greatest importance to this from the national point of view, that we may have, year after year, a steady stream of suitable emigrants with which to people the Dominions. The Dominions want young men and young women from agriculture. Those are good reasons why the nation must have a prosperous agriculture. I hope and trust that the discussion to-day may not give rise to anything in the nature of antagonism between the towns and the country. It would be the worst catastrophe which could happen to the nation. I trust that one result of this Bill in the future will be that a general sense of fair representation on the part of all members of the community may make everybody realise that it is not a question of individual industries sending delegates to this House to answer their commands in the interest of that industry and not in the national interest. I want to wind up with one irrelevant remark, if Mr. Speaker will permit it. It is that in order that different points of view should be properly represented in this House, I am profoundly convinced that the one certain and simple method of securing it is that of proportional representation. I know that it is not proposed to extend it to agriculture, but the reason I do not propose that any, so to speak, particular over-representation should be given to agriculture under this Bill is because I trust and pray that the House may accept, if not entirely, at any rate the principle of proportional representation. I am perfectly satisfied that if this country once accepts proportional representation for any purpose, it will not be many years before it has accepted it for all purposes with regard to representation in this House. Then we shall get an absolutely adequate representation of the agricultural community in this House. For these reasons I shall not move the Amendment standing in my name.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. J. MASON
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the words, "Provided that the Commissioners may depart' from the strict application of these Instructions in any case where it. 669 would result in the formation of constituencies inconvenient in size or character or where the narrowness of margin between the figure representing the estimated population of any area and the figure required for any of the purposes of these Instructions seem to them to justify such a departure."
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I agree thoroughly with everything said by the hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. Leslie Scott), especially because he appeared to me to supply, in the course of his speech, a very complete answer to what struck me as being a most fallacious argument on the part of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon). The right hon. and learned Gentleman argued a short time ago, with reference to the representation of agriculture in this House, that-because the importance of agriculture is now very widely acknowledged and recognised, therefore there was less reason than ever why agriculture should have what he called over-representation, or what I should call adequate representation.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I was only pointing out that of the various arguments that argument did not seem to me to be the soundest. I did not intend to convey that I had any objection to the proper representation of agriculture, or anything else. I was only pointing out that other and better arguments might be used.
§ Mr. McNEILL
Of course there are many good arguments that might be used, but that is the particular argument which the right hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to regard as having no force, and it appears to me to be somewhat the same as if he were to argue that because everybody recognises the importance of modern science in education, there would be no need to have professors in science at any university. What you want to-day is to get knowledge of agriculture, and to have it brought before this House. It has been one of the boasts and glories of this House for generations that it brings together a large number of gentlemen with expert knowledge on all sorts of subjects of interest and importance to the nation. As the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool said, it is not to satisfy any particular claim that agriculture should have repre- 670 sentation, in the sense that we say a certain interest claims representation on a Committee, but it is in order that the actual needs and requirements of agriculture should be properly presented and that the methods dealing with agriculture in the national interest should have sufficient weight among the Members of this House. Therefore I feel strongly in agreement with-those hon. Members—and they are many —and with the still larger number of people out of doors, who look with the gravest possible apprehension to the effect the Bill will have from the point of view of agriculture as a national industry. I am not quite certain that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. James Mason), as amended by the Home Secretary, really removes the danger. I am not sure that it does not bring in a danger of its own, because we are told by this. Amendment that the Boundary Commissioners are to be informed that they are to have regard to inconvenience in size or character in redistributing- the various constituencies. It appears pretty evident that if you are going to have a large representation of the rural districts where the population is, comparatively speaking, sparse, you can only get that representation by having a member representing a very large area, and if in order to make a constituency less inconvenient in size you are going to cut up the rural districts into comparatively small constituencies and get the requisite population by throwing into them large urban and mining districts, or small boroughs which will lose their separate representation—if that is the way this Amendment is to be carried out, the effect from the point of view of rural representation may not be improved at all.
I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board if he will explain, now that the Government have accepted this Amendment, exactly what is meant and what he thinks will be the effect of the concluding portion, where the narrowness of the margin between the figure representing the estimated population of any area and the figure required for any of the purposes of these Instructions seem to them to justify such a departure? That contemplates that in certain cases the Boundary Commissioners are to be allowed to depart from the strict arithmetic laid down in the Instructions, where it seems to them that the margin is so small as to justify departure. What sort of considerations 671 are the Boundary Commissioners to have in their minds to justify the departure? I especially want to ask—I hope I shall get an affirmative answer—whether, for example, the antiquity of a borough or its historical associations can be taken into account? I am not sure that, comparatively speaking, sentimental considerations of that sort will meet with any great sympathy in the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear !"] I think that is very likely true. I do not myself by any means wish to press them. It would be very wrong to give any very large consideration to them. I should be very sorry if, for any reason of that sort, an obviously rotten borough were to be kept in existence with separate representation. But there may be cases where the margin is very small, where the population of an existing borough may be very nearly but not quite up to the limit entitling it to keep separate representation, and I want to know whether the words of the concluding portion of this Amendment would justify, in such a case, regard being had to the historical association or antiquity? The Instructions themselves, although in minor particular it is true, do recognise the existence of sentimental considerations, and take them into account, because it is laid down that where an ancient borough is merged in a county division, it is, at all events, to have the satisfaction of giving its name to that county division, which is a purely sentimental consideration with which I entirely agree.
Let me give an example of what I mean to the right hon. Gentleman. It is a case with which I am very familiar and which, to some extent, may affect my own position. Take the borough of Dover. That borough has had continuous representation in this House since de Montfort's Parliament of 1265. That would be no justification for keeping its representation at the present day if it had entirely lost its population and importance, but at the present moment its population, on the estimated figures contained in these Instructions, approaches within a very small margin—I do not know what it is exactly, but I believe it is within about 5,000 of the 50,000. If it had added Home 5,000 on the estimated population, it would be entitled to continue that very ancient and uninterrupted separate representation. The case does not end there, because this is one of those boroughs which has enormously increased in population during the War, and, 672 for reasons which I need not go into, my information is that, unlike some to which the Home Secretary has referred as having increased only temporarily, there are reasons to believe that in the case of Dover the permanent population is now practically up to and probably over the limit of 50,000, which would entitle it to keep separate representation. Therefore, on its merits, apart altogether from the Amendment now under discussion, the people of Dover might very well have pressed for special treatment, but now that the elasticity of the Instructions has been recognised, I should like my right hon. Friend to tell me whether in such a case as that the elasticity allowed to the Boundary Commissioners would justify them in treating such a borough as that in the way I have indicated? I wish my right hon. Friend would tell me what is contemplated —many beside myself do not know exactly —by the twelfth Instruction to the Boundary Commissioners. What is the intention when the Commissioners are told to segregate as far as possible adjacent industrial and rural areas'! If that Instruction is to be interpreted in a literal sense and carried out completely, it is one with which I entirely agree; but when one tries to imagine concrete examples of rural areas and urban areas which might possibly be segregated, there are such inconveniences with regard to the boundaries of administrative areas and other matters which have to be taken into consideration that it becomes very doubtful how it will work out; and I should be very glad if some representative of the Government could give us some information upon that point. I want also to ask my right hon. Friend with regard to Instruction No. 13. A very-large number of people are feeling a great deal of interest and a great deal of curiosity as to how it is going to be carried out. Why, for example, is it necessary that boroughs which are to be grouped together into a single borough should be all lying within the bounds of the same county? I believe in some instances in Scotland boroughs have been grouped together which are not all lying in one county.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is rather a separate matter. I told the hon. Baronet who has an Amendment on that subject on the Paper that that should be treated as a separate question.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I will not pursue it then, but the question which is involved in 673 Instruction 13 has got a bearing upon the total representation of agriculture throughout the country. I hope the idea in the minds of the Government is that, so far as possible, when boroughs have to lose their separate representation, they shall be grouped, and shall not be merged unnecessarily in the adjoining rural districts, because it is quite clear that wherever that it done, especially in cases where the boroughs have a population not far below the limit of 50,000, they will have the effect to a great extent of swamping the separate representation of the rural district, and therefore I hope very much that my right hon. Friend will tell us in that respect also how the thirteenth Instruction is intended to be construed, because all these matters of differences of treatment very largely affect the question in which many of us have such great interest; and it is because they are open to so many differences of treatment that I deplore very much the course which the Government has thought it right to take with regard to the discussion of these Instructions. I have asked more than once that we should have an opportunity of discussing them more in detail, in the same way that we should have done if they had been before us in Committee of the Whole House, and I must continue to protest against any such an opportunity not having been given to the House. But at all events, if the right hon. Gentleman will, so far as he can, inform us how these very doubtful points in the Instructions are intended to be dealt with, we should be in a better position than we are now to understand what is the policy of the Government in that respect.
§ Mr. HEMMERDE
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, after the word "may," to insert the words "in the case of counties."
I do this for two reasons. Firstly, because I do not think it is fair to agriculture that you should increase the number of small boroughs which have been retained under this Bill. There is going to be an attempt to bring into this Bill boroughs which are under the 50,000 mark. The proper quota is not 50,000, but 70,000, and there is really going to be a serious attempt to bring boroughs in which are 21,000 and 32.000 under the proper quota. You cannot bring them in without sacrificing a certain number of county seats. If you are going to keep the representation of the House as it is, if you are going to 674 give seats to these small boroughs, you are going to take a certain number of seats away which might possibly be given to counties. It is utterly unfair to talk about it being a hard case when a borough just comes under the 50,000 when the quota that we are all working for is-70,000. Now, I want to say a word about the sort of boroughs that we are asked to-save for separate representation. It is not the least good mincing matters in a question of this sort. The case which has been brought to our notice as a hard case I particularly ask the independent judgment of the House to consider, and I am perfectly prepared to divide the House upon this question. I moved some years ago against the two Front Benches, and carried a Motion to disfranchise the borough of Worcester for bribery as gross and scandalous as has ever disfigured any constituency in this House.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is very undesirable-to raise specific cases. We are now dealing with the general Instructions.
§ Mr. HEMMERDE
The case was as a matter of fact put forward as being a hard case, and I only wanted to point out that it was a borough with which the House has specifically dealt hardly within the last few years. Therefore, if we are to come to this, that we are to be asked to treat as hard cases certain small boroughs just under the 50,000 mark, surely we ought to be allowed to consider for a moment what has been the record of those boroughs during the last few years. I will not mention their names, but if I did it would very quickly convey to the House what I mean. We are asked to save three or four seats whose record is not worthy of this House. The hon. Members who represent them, who know that I have no possible animus because they are friends of mine, could easily get seats elsewhere. They will become part of a, county, and the fresh air of 'the county will be very good indeed for them. If you are going to leave the discretion to-the Commissioners, there is going to be an attempt to keep small boroughs just under the 50,000 mark. I cannot see in whose interest. Certainly not in that of agriculture, nor of free institutions. If we are going to begin keeping these seats of historic interest, we are going to do less than justice to our duties as Members of Parliament. They have not shown themselves worthy of their historic interest. They may have great traditions 675 but they do not always remember them on election day. As one who represents a clean, hard fighting, agricultural division, I protest against any attempt to bolster up these divisions or to give any Commissioners power to keep, as separate bodies for representation, these towns which have shown during the last 100 years that they are utterly unworthy of this House.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
May I ask whether I am allowed to speak on the main Amendment or must it be limited to the particular point of the Amendment to the proposed Amendment.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think we had better dispose of that first, as to whether the Amendment is to be limited to counties or not.
Captain Sir OWEN PHILLIPS
My hon. Friend (Mr. Hemmerde) has made a bitter attack on a number of historically interesting cities in this country, but I cannot help thinking that his attack was somewhat discounted by the fact that earlier in the afternoon he made some very sarcastic remarks about dockyard constituencies. I have a sort of recollection that he put up a very fine fight in a dockyard constituency, and I was wondering whether he made those remarks when fighting that constituency. I hope the Home Secretary in accepting the Amendment of the hon. Member (Mr. Mason) will decline to limit it to counties. There are certain hard cases which it is only fair that the Boundary Commissioners should have an opportunity of considering on their merits, and if the Amendment is accepted without any further alteration it will give that discretion to the Boundary Commissioners which will enable them to deal with the various cases which come before them on their merits, and I believe that will not only enable them to deal out fairer justice between the various constituencies but will enable them, without departing for more than a very slight extent from the limits set down in the Instructions, to maintain certain very interesting historical cities which have returned Members to this House for an enormous number of years, and therefore I hope the Home Secretary will refuse the proposed Amendment to the Amendment.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I am afraid we could not accept the Amendment. The object of the Motion is to enable the Commissioners to do justice all round, and if there is a case of real hardship, to deal with it.
§ Mr. HEMMERDE
I simply wanted 1o ventilate the question, and after what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I at once withdraw.
§ Amendment to the proposed Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir E. GOULDING
I have risen some ten times without having had the good fortune to catch your eye. The hon. Member (Mr. Hemmerde) has had the good fortune to catch the Chair's eye twice. In his last speech he has adopted his usual tone of introducing that personal element which is distasteful to the House as a whole and which he has become an adept in adopting, and he has shown that inaccuracy which is known to us all. In his previous speech he thought well to make an attack upon agricultural Members and to say more especially that agricultural Members on the Unionist side of the House have done nothing whatsoever to represent the agricultural labourers in the constituencies. He was, as usual, unfortunate in his example. He took the Workmen's Compensation Act, which he said was passed owing to some extraordinary exception dealing with his own constituency and as the result of his election.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Sir E. GOULDING
The hon. Member must remember that that Bill was introduced after an Amendment which I had moved to an agricultural Bill dealing with agricultural labourers. I was sitting then as the agricultural Member for East Wiltshire. That was not carried, and we then brought in a private Bill, mainly supported by Members sitting for agricultural constituencies on the Unionist side.
§ Sir E. GOULDING
In your absence, Mr. Speaker, they were introduced by the hon. Member (Mr. Hemmerde).
§ Sir E. GOULDING
Excuse me, Mr. Speaker, but it was said in your absence. This is the second speech we have had the pleasure of hearing from the hon. Member. In his last exhibition he has alluded to the city of Worcester, and I have the honour to sit for that city. No doubt he was a paid advocate in the Court in appearing before the Commission, but I do not think the House of Commons is the right place to advertise your qualifications for appearing on election petitions.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Really, I must stop this. It would be ridiculous to bring up these old stories and trot them out on these occasions. Do let us get to close quarters with the subject before the Committee.
§ Sir E. GOULDING
I quite agree, and I would not have referred to them if they had not been made by the hon. Member. I accept your ruling, and I apologise for referring to these matters. I am obliged to the Home Secretary for having indicated that he is prepared to accept the Amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. J. Mason). With regard to those cities and constituencies which were only a few hundred below the requisite number, when the Commissioners go to inquire into the facts connected with those constituencies they should have sufficient latitude to inquire into the nature and character of the constituencies and see whether there was justification for the continuation of the representation they had at the time. I put into the Amendment that I placed on the Paper the word "character," so as to cover the nature and character of the area. When the Commissioners go to make their inquiries they will find that some boroughs are dwindling boroughs, without trade and without industry, and that some places had had an extraordinary revival of trade activity during the last few years. We all know that since the War broke out there has been an extraordinary development in connection with men concerned with great industries in the country going up and down giving their advice and cooperation in order to restart industries with the hope of maintaining them when the War is over. That has been the case 678 in several constituencies, and it is the case in the constituency I have the honour to represent. Although, according to the figures, the population there is only a couple of hundred below 50,000 at the present time, I believe the actual population of the City of Worcester now is over 52,000. That is mainly due to the fact that there has been a revival of some of the industries, and individuals have come forward, more especially in the electrical world, to give their advice and their assistance in the creation of industries which we hope to develop and mature in the future. Therefore, I hope that in all these districts, when the Commissioners have this extra latitude, they will consider these particular places, and particularly these points of view: "Is the place a growing and developing place? Is it likely to increase its population, or, on the contrary, is it a constituency that is dwindling in population?" I am extremely obliged to the Home Secretary for expressing his willingness to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Windsor, and I should be obliged if he could see his way to introduce such a word as "character" into the area, so that the Commissioners could take into consideration the industrial side of these districts.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I want to deal with one point which arises on this Amendment and on this general discussion, and that is, I think, that the twelfth Instruction to the Commissioners directs them to segregate adjacent, rural and urban areas. I think the arguments the Committee heard this afternoon, although they had special reference to agriculture, are really arguments which turn on the great and permanent differences between rural and urban life. I think if the Commissioners realise that that instruction to them is one on which the House attaches great importance, many of the fears which have been expressed will be allayed, and that the real argument for dealing differently with areas in which the populations are dense, and areas in which the population is scattered, will have full weight given to them. I do not think in the long run that it is very desirable that you should have constituencies which consist of one or two towns, of 10,000, 20,000, or 30.000 people, and a fringe of villages as well, because where any constituency is 679 predominantly urban I think the rural parts of the in are at a disadvantage, and where a constituency is overwhelmingly rural it is very hard on the urban part which is put into it and lost in the rural area. Therefore, now that the House is asked to accept the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Windsor, which is to give to the Commissioners even greater freedom and flexibility of action, I hope that it may be used, and that the House will be glad, if it is used, to make this segregation of urban and rural areas as marked and as thorough as possible. If that is done, it is not the rural areas which will have any cause to criticise. I am glad that the Home Secretary did not accept an Amendment moved earlier in the afternoon. There are so many boroughs of England whose population is between 70,000 and 120,000, and if you are to follow administrative areas as boundaries you will have a great many urban constituencies with more than 70,000 population, and if these are multiplied too far there is a real grievance on the part of those who in that way have less electoral power than those with smaller constituencies. Surely the true division is between rural and urban, as far as that can be ascertained, and I hope that this Amendment will be interpreted as authorising the Commissioners to take that into consideration, and not as an encouragement to the Commissioners to go down and make separate constituencies of boroughs which are substantially under 50,000. My hon. Friend opposite spoke of boroughs of 20,000 or 25,000.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
If there are 20,000 below 70,000 they will have a chance as it is, and I maintain to go substantially below that would be to vitiate the general character of the Bill. There is one other Instruction to which I would like to draw attention, and that is the Instruction that the Com missioners are to follow Local Government boundaries. There is a great deal to be said for that when you are distinguishing between urban and rural, but the boundaries of rural districts are of all boundaries the most irregular and the 680 least helpful or significant, and I hope that when the Commissioners are dealing with the dividing of counties—though they would naturally not divide a parish save in some particular exceptional case— they will not consider themselves bound to follow all the wandering irregularities of the boundaries of a rural district which very likely has had three or four urban districts taken out of it, and which has-no figure like anything in the heaven above or the earth beneath. Parishes must have due regard paid to them, but I hope it will be understood in the light of this Amendment, which gives greater freedom to the Commissioners, that while the division between urban and rural is and must be the guiding one, that once that is adhered to there will be no attempt to follow the outlines of rural districts, but that other and more convenient boundaries for the purpose of election may be taken where it is proved to the Commissioners that they are in the public interests generally. I hope this Amendment will mark the extreme point to which the Government go in varying from the Report and recommendations of the Speaker's Conference. Those who were members of that Conference know how much time was given to this part of the Report. Like all the Report, it is a compromise; and I think if this is departed from too much you may impair the feeling of confidence on one side and the other as between town and country which we all want to preserve.
§ Mr. SALTER
I shall not discuss the question of agriculture, which, as it well deserves, has occupied so large a share of attention this afternoon, because this Amendment has been framed in very much wider terms than that, and raises the general question as to the circumstances under which the Commissioners are to be allowed to depart and are to be instructed to depart from the population basis. In connection with that, I desire to call the attention of the Committee and of the Home Secretary to certain districts which I think will be more vitally affected by these Instructions than any other. Those are the districts in which are situated great permanent camps in which His Majesty's soldiers are quartered on duty in normal peace times in this country. Certainly they are entitled to, and all I ask for them is, fair treatment, and I think I shall have no difficulty in showing that this Instruction in this Amendment will not give them that fair 681 treatment. The Commissioners are instructed to delimit the areas upon the basis of population and upon no other basis. The object of all delimination is to give equal value to every man's vote, and, therefore, there is an implied assumption that equality of population means equality of electorate. Unless an equal population gives you an equal electorate, it is quite obvious that the population basis is an entirely fallacious one. In the vast majority of cases, no doubt, equal population gives equal electorate. The ordinary constituency which will be created by the Commissioners will be a constituency, roughly, with about 70,000 persons; that is to say, the ordinary mixed civilian population of men, women, children, and young people. With the average civilian population of 70,000 persons or thereabouts, what electorate will you get? You will get a male electorate of roughly about 14,000 or 15,000, and I am told by those more familiar with this subject than I am that, assuming you have female suffrage, you would get female voters of half that number. Therefore, while the normal constituency will have a population of 70,000 with an electorate of about 20,000 or 21,000, these districts, where there is a great military camp, not merely a temporary camp for war purposes, will be in a very different position.
I have represented for eleven years the Constituency in which Aldershot is situated, so that I can speak with some knowledge of this matter. The Commissioners are proposing to create a new constituency, which may be called the Aidershot Constituency, which is to include the urban district of Aldershot and Farnborough, which is a purely military area—that is to say, consisting of the soldiers and the civilians who live by them—and a large agricultural district. They propose to create a constituency which will contain about 37,000 soldiers and about 36,000 civilians. Those 36,000 civilians will give an electorate of about 11,000, but when you come to the 37,000 soldiers how many electors will you get from them? There is no class of His Majesty's subjects who will be more profoundly affected by this Bill than soldiers. Soldiers have been practically disfranchised, and, representing a great many of them, I would say that probably not 1 per cent, of soldiers have got the vote. In the old days they were not occupiers. But when you change occupation into residence you enfranchise every soldier who is over twenty-one, and 682 I am certainly within the mark in saying that 90 per cent, of the soldiers in camp at Aldershot will have the vote. Therefore, out of that population of 37,000 soldiers you will get about 33,000 electors, and the electorate of this constituency will be from 43,000 to 44,000. At the present time they return one member. Is it fair to these soldiers that that should continue? If so it is cutting down their votes by 100 per cent. Unless these Instructions are altered this will take place not only in Aldershot, but in every other place where soldiers are quartered, where the proportion of adult men to the entire population is completely upset. Suppose that you had a camp with 70,000 soldiers, every one of them a registered elector, the Commissioners would, according to the Instructors of my right hon. Friend, come along and say, "Here is a population of 70,000. We must allow them one Member." That is not fair. When this Bill has passed the registered electorate of my present Constituency, on the next register, will I probably be about 110,000 electors. I j think that I have said enough to satisfy I my right hon. Friend that the Instructions i must be further amended. I have handed in a manuscript Amendment providing that the Commissioners will be instructed to have regard to the electorate and not to population in cases where it is proved to them that the ordinary ratio between electorate and population does not obtain. I look to my right hon. Friend with confidence to accept this Amendment?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Would it not be. better to dispose of the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Windsor, and then the Amendment of the hon. Member can be taken as a separate issue?
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. SALTER
I beg to move, after the words last added, to add the words, "Provided that it be an Instruction to the Boundaries Commissioners to have regard to electorate rather than to population where it appears to them that the proportion of the electorate to the population is abnormal."
§ Sir G. CAVE
I have been much impressed with the case put forward by my hon. and learned Friend. I do not 683 want to anticipate what will be done, but it may be that the case to which he refers will not be nearly so strong as it is under the Bill as it stands. It is possible that a great many of those soldiers at Aldershot and other places will be entitled to votes in other districts where they are in ordinary residence. In that event the point will lose very much of its importance. Still, as things stand, my right hon. Friend's contention appears to have great force, and, therefore, I am willing to accept his Amendment instructing the Commissioners to deal with the matter.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
I am very glad that my right hon. Friend has seen fit to accept this Amendment. It may affect the position of the City of York, which is a great military centre. Up to the present soldiers resident in York, as is the case in Aldershot, have not had the vote, or, at any rate, not one in ten of them. Under the new Bill I hope arid believe that something like 90 per cent, or more will have the vote as residents, and I should like to have the assurance of my right hon. Friend that this Instruction will apply not only in cases of single-member constituencies like Aldershot, but will also apply to all those constituencies such as the City of York, which at present have two Members?
§ Mr. BUTCHER
I am very glad of that assurance. I have an Amendment lower down on the Paper for preserving the double representation of York, where there is a case with special reasons, which I hope I shall be allowed some time or other to explain to the House. Therefore, I do not say anything more about it at present, but I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his concession, which I conceive will affect the position of soldiers in large military centres, and go far to rectify imperfections in the Instructions, and to rectify the great injustices which have hitherto fallen upon the soldiers of the country.
§ Mr. RENDALL
A large number of these soldiers to which the hon. Members have referred have homes in various parts of England, and therefore they will be on the register in all probability for these districts in which their homes are situated. The legal definition of residence is the place which a man returns as his home. Therefore all these soldiers who 684 have got homes have certainly got residences and they will be on the register in respect of these places where their wives live in these homes. Will they also be on for Aldershot, York, and so on! What have the Commissioners got to do? Have they got to decide whether a man should be on the register for one place or both places?
§ Sir G. CAVE
This applies to soldiers who are resident in Aldershot and not elsewhere, but in these other cases they have got a statutory residence elsewhere.
§ Sir G. CAVE
The Commissioners will seek expert advice as to the probabilities of the anticipations which have been referred to being fulfilled, and they will simply have regard to the circumstances.
§ Mr. HEMMERDE
In this particular Amendment which the Government are prepared to accept would the words be wide enough to cover the case of a constituency where there is a very large number of aliens in proportion to the population? We are told of one constitu-cency—for instance, in London—in which there would be an enormous number of aliens on a population basis and a very small electorate. It seems to me that this would cover not only the case which has been referred to, but also that point.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Colonel Sir HERBERT JESSEL
I beg to move, at the end of the words last added, to add the words:Provided that in carrying out these Instructions the Commissioners shall act on the assumption that proportional representation is not adopted.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
There is an Amendment on the Paper which deals with the city of York, in the names of the hon. Member for the Thirsk and Malton Division, the hon. Member for York (Mr. Rowntree), and myself:Provided that the city of York, as well as the City of London, shall continue to return two members.Is that Amendment passed over, or is it your intention, Sir, to call it later on?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I called upon the hon. and gallant Member for St. Pancras, who was fortunate enough to catch my eye.
§ Colonel Sir H. JESSEL
This is the first time since the commencement of the War that I have been fortunate enough, Sir, to catch your eye, and I hope I may be as lucky in the future, after the Amendment which I have moved, and which is in opposition to a proposal of the Conference. It may be asked in regard to this Amendment, why this question which it raises is not deferred until Clause 15 is reached, but I think that it should be moved at once, otherwise the Boundary Commissioners would be unable to act, and the constituencies affected by this proposal would be hung up for a long time awaiting the decision of this House. I therefore resolved to put this matter to the test at the earliest possible opportunity. There are two very important questions which the Government have resolved to leave to the unfettered discretion of the House of Commons. The first is the question of female suffrage, which has been before the House and before the constituencies for a great many years. It has been very prominently before the country, and also has been very lately and very considerably discussed by this House. The second question on which the House has to express its opinion is that of proportional representation. Can it be claimed by the advocates of proportional representation that it has been discussed either in this House or in the country to anything like the same extent as female suffrage. It was brought forward in 1884 by Sir John Lubbock in the Franchise Bill of that date, and it was thrown out by a largo majority. I believe, on that occasion, both Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Gladstone spoke with considerable effect against the proposal. I believe that I am right in saying that the House has not had an opportunity of discussing this question until seven years ago, when, I believe, a resolution was passed in respect of municipalities, which were to adopt proportional representation in respect of councils of a certain size. It seems to me that what was not good enough for the House of Commons was considered to be good enough for the members of municipal bodies, though I do not believe that either in London or in the country it has been adopted. In a pamphlet of the Proportional Representation Society reference is made to an election in one of the wards of St. Pancras, 686 where it was pointed out that the minority had no representation, and that the nine Members were all on one side. On these grounds a tremendous attack was made upon the present system of municipal elections; but in these cases a little learning is a dangerous thing, because the position has already been safeguarded by the fact that the aldermen of municipal bodies are elected not for two years but for six years, and therefore you do get a somewhat continued representation.
Further, if some prominent man fails to get on the council, he is very often appointed an alderman. My objections to this proposal of proportional representation are threefold. In the first place, in a single-Member constituency the representative knows the opinion of all the leaders not only on his own side but on both sides, and he knows also that the constituency have some hold over his action, but if a constituency which has enjoyed the position of having a Member to itself is to have one-fifth, or one-seventh of a member, that is not a position which it would be prepared to accept. My second objection is on the ground of the interests of Members themselves. First, I will take the ground of expense. In this Bill there are certain proposals for limiting the expenses of election, and it limits what is allowed to the returning officer, who is to be paid by the State. But there are other expenses, as many hon. Members know. In the large towns there are various directions in which Members arc called upon to respond to requests for contributions, and in the agricultural districts, also, there are many occasions, such as agricultural shows, and so forth, to which Members are called upon to contribute. The Member of Parliament has now to defend his own position by saying, "I will look after my own division first, and it is impossible for me to gratify the requests-which are made over the whole of the borough"—it may be a borough with three or four members. If you are going; to adopt proportional representation, the unfortunate members of Parliament will be shot at over a very large area, and it will make it very hard upon the man with moderate means. In a letter to the "Times" this morning, that respected Member of this House, Lord Claude Hamilton, states that in his own case he represents a very large constituency, and he points out how very difficult it is for a member representing a large constituency to go over the whole ground. He pointed 687 out, in reference to this proposal, that the physical strain put upon a Member of Parliament would be enormous. It is well known what a strain is put upon members for agricultural constituencies, owing to the large amount of ground they have to cover. If you take some of the big constituencies which the Bill will create, and if you have a system of proportional representation, the physical fatigue and hardship put upon the member would be immense. My third objection is that of the Prime Minister, who said:I express no personal opinion upon it. I have not got any. I have never made up my mind. I have really had no time to make up my mind. Until I am really forced to do so, I do not propose even to consider it during the War. It is an entirely novel step.The Prime Minister has a very acute and able mind, and if he cannot understand this question, how can you expect not only the old voters but the new voters, of whom a great number are to be added to the register, to understand a complicated system like this. I have only to ask the House to look at the Amendment Paper and at an Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Stirlingshire, who speaks about "black, brown, green, grey and white," and "Table 1," "Table 2," and "Table 3," and so on, to illustrate how very difficult it is to understand, but I assume that the hon. Member, who is an expert, will tell the House the whole thing in detail. We already get a good many spoilt papers, and what would happen in the various areas under proportional representation I really do not know. The proposal of the Conference is that this proportional representation should be applied to large towns and to London. If the proposal is adopted at all it should be adopted universally, and not in London only. The hon. Member for Liverpool spoke of the good a system of this kind would do to agricultural districts. It has nothing to do with agricultural constituencies in the Bill. We are merely to have this new-fangled system forced upon us, that it may perhaps benefit the agricultural constituencies. All I can say is that if the hon. Member is so keen about this, why did he not put down an Amendment that it should be applied to agricultural constituencies as well? I know, of course, that one of the chief arguments in support of this proposal is the argument about minorities not being represented. We know 688 that in large portions of Wales, and I think of Scotland and portions of Ireland, the minorities have no representatives at all.
This proposal, however, really only affects the large towns. I do not wish to weary the House with a discussion about London, but there is one point that I think should be considered. After a great deal of trouble and thought and expenditure of much time, you have at last succeeded in getting some sort of local life in London, yet you are going to mix up Marylebone and Paddington, and Westminster and Chelsea, and do all sorts of things, making the confusion which existed before worse and more confounded than ever. It would be some sort of argument if you were to apply it to the whole country, but the present system works out pretty well if you take the whole country together. Where you get a large majority in one way, as in Birmingham, in Leeds you get a large majority the other way, and so, taking the representation of the country as a whole, what you gain on the swing-boats you lose on the roundabouts. I think that is a very fair way of looking at the matter. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald)—I do not always agree with the hon. Member for Leicester, and, in view of recent affairs, I do not know whether he is going to be here to-night or not—pointed out very forcibly that, after all, the majority must rule. One of my objections against this system is that you do not seem to get a proper majority, and you do not get a majority dependent on any person. You collect a heterogeneous assembly of groups, whose allegiance is divided on one question and who may coalesce on another. That system appeals to the sort of mind which wishes there were going to be three Lobbies. Here a man has to make up his mind one way or another, for there are only two Lobbies. This other system affords an opportunity for a man not to make up his mind, because some sectional candidate has some particular theory or some particular hare to run. I think you will get a great many freak candidatures with proportional representation.
Again, it is said that if you introduce proportional representation you are going to get rid of the party machine, and that certainly is an allurement to a great many people. I agree to a certain extent that you ought not to look at every question 689 from a party point of view. Perhaps in recent years there has been a great deal too much of party appeal about matters that were not really of very great importance to party, but if you introduce proportional representation, far from doing away with the party machine, you are going to increase its power. What is the ordinary man likely to do? He sees a list containing a lot of names. In a big constituency it is impossible for him to know all about the candidates. What is the first thing he does? He goes to a party agent and says, "I want to have a list," and so far from minimising the power of party you are absolutely increasing its power. I do happen to know a little about elections in London. For the London borough councils we have a tremendous lot of candidates, and a great many of the candidates on the one side or the other very naturally are not known to the constituencies. They are all tabulated for the benefit of the voter, who does not know them. You will have that sort of thing exemplified tenfold when you get proportional representation in the large constituencies. It is said that under the. present system of constituencies you cannot get any individual opinion. Surely that is not true. I think this House is extremely representative. You get here representatives of every kind and shade of opinion—railway interests, both directors and representatives of the men, agricultural Interest, business interest, postal interest, and trade union interest. You have every sort and kind of interest represented. I believe, personally, that the single-member system is far the best in this respect.
I notice that by far the strongest advocates of proportional representation are members of the Second Chamber. I am very glad to find the Government has promised—and I have no reason to doubt it will not keep its promise, but I hope it will remember it has made the promise—to have a second important conference with regard to the remodelling of the Second Chamber in this country. If the Noble Lords are so keen about the matter of proportional representation, I hope they will advocate that system for the new House of Lords, or for the new system of the House of Lords, and leave Members of the House of Commons to their own devices. I am afraid I have detained the House rather long, and I hope hon. Members will excuse me going into details. I agree there is a great deal to be said 690 for the alternative vote, but for the transferable vote I can see no points at all. It is a curious thing that only a few years ago a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into electoral systems. The chairman was Lord Richard Cavendish and the other members the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, Sir Francis Hopwood, our respected Clerk of the House of Commons, Sir Charles Elliott, the Agent-General for New South Wales, and the hon. Member for Durham. That is a fairly strong body. I omitted one name, that of Lord Lochie. What was their Report? It was:Our present system of single-member constituencies was deliberately adopted in 1805 because it was simple, economical, and went far to secure variety of representation. The systems of minority representation were at the same time deliberately rejected.Yet in spite of all this we are asked— primarily, I believe, because some of the members of the Conference, like the Prime Minister, did not know much about it—I will not say that, but they had not studied it sufficiently—to sanction a great change like this at a moment's notice. And it. is a great change, one that is going to revolutionise a great many of the most important constituencies in the country. I have been reading most carefully about the system, and it always comes back to one. two, three. That is the thing that keeps sounding in one's ears when one takes up a book on proportional representation. It is not one, two, but it is one, two. three, and you go on eliminating. It reminds me of an old nursery rhyme:One, two, three, mother caught a Flea,Put it in the teapot to make a cup of tea.First she put the milk in, and the flea began to hop,Then she poured the water in, and the flea went pop.I hope that that will be the result of this proposal of proportional representation.
§ Mr. BURDETT-COUTTS
I beg to second the Amendment. I do not like to do so without saying a word about it, although I must confess I am somewhat bewildered as to the position into which the course of the Government has led us. It appears now that we are discussing—I did not in the least anticipate that it would be discussed on these Instructions— the whole question of the principle of proportional representation. I am bound to say I thought that was a matter for discussion on the Bill in Committee. I thought it would come in Clause 15, and I am very curious to know, if this Amendment is carried—it apparently destroys proportional representation—what position we shall be in when we come to Clause 15 in Committee. Are we to dis- 691 cuss it again then, and are we going possibly to reverse the decision come to on this Amendment? I confess I am quite at a loss as to the position in which we are. In any case I would not attempt to detain the House on the general question of proportional representation, but I propose to say a few words upon the limited aspect of the case in its application to London. Upon that point I feel very strongly opposed to the proposal of the Conference. I think I can state my view very briefly. It has always appeared to me that the sole claim of proportional representation lies in the grievance that it sets out to remedy, namely, the non-representation during the whole life of a Parliament, and in many places during a far longer period, of large minorities. I will not stop to discuss whether that grievance is not subject to a prior law of democratic government, that the majority must govern, or to what may be called its corollary, that it is better that a Government should be strong and definite than that it should be weak and compromising. I will not stop to point out the many other grievances which proportional representation, in seeking to remedy one grievance, creates. But the point I want now to make is with regard to the application of proportional representation to London. I can quite understand the advocates of proportional representation finding a strong argument in districts like Wales, where the minority has very inadequate representation on one side, and in districts like the Home Counties, where the minority has inadequate representation on the other side. But the one place where the grievance, on which proportional representation is based, does not exist is London, and to my mind it is illogical and almost monstrous to attempt to make London the corpus vile of this great experiment.
To illustrate what I say, we have had many valuable contributions upon this subject in the public Press, which appears now to be almost the only guide for the politician. There was a very valuable contribution from a former much respected Member of this House, Lord George Hamilton. In order to give effect to the information that is given in the columns of the Press I must put together with this letter of Lord George Hamilton certain communications from a great student of this question who is still an active- 692 minded politician, that is Lord Eversley. I put these two communications together. What do they come to? They come to this, that after 1832 the Conservative cause was under-represented to an extraordinary degree in London, until in 1868 there was only one Conservative representative for the whole of London. That was under the system of great constituencies which will be re-created and restored by proportional representation. And that was the result of those great constituencies, that you had the Metropolis of this country represented by only one Conservative, the rest. being Radicals. What took place when the system was reversed and single-member constituencies were introduced in the year 1885? Slowly but surely this extraordinary inequality was reversed. I will not trouble the House by giving the steps, leading up to the elections of 1906 and 1910, which really brings us to the present time. At any rate from that state of things, that extraordinary inequality in 1868, which Lord George Hamilton brought out, we have come now under the single-member system to the present state of things, when the representation of London is almost equally divided between both parties. I say that after that it is absurd to suppose that this single-member system, certainly in a great city like London, leads to the under-representation of minorities. There are other points which appear to me to be of great importance in the application of the principle of proportional representation, but I am confining; myself to London. I entirely agree with what the hon. and gallant Member who moved this Amendment (Sir H. Jessel) said, that one of the great features of London life has been the increase in what you might call the solidarity of local life in the administrative areas that have been created in London, and I think that is due entirely to the growing importance of local government embodied in the borough councils.
Now we have a proposal in the Bill to take those administrative areas as the foundation of your Parliamentary borough. That is an admirable proposal, but what does this proportional representation as applied to London, amount to 1 It will absolutely destroy the whole of that structure of local life, which is defined by the boundaries of the administrative area. I think that would be a great and unpardonable error for any Government to commit because it is 693 this vitality in the local life of London constituencies which lies at the basis of the true principle of representation. It is the closeness of the representative to the people he represents, it is the intimate responsibility between the two which, to my mind, is by far the healthiest element in our Parliamentary system, and that you will entirely destroy by these great constituencies. Moreover, there is the strain placed upon each Member because each Member is supposed to represent, under proportional representation, a constituency of 350,000. Each Member is supposed to represent the whole of that great population. If he does not—and I see my hon. Friend, who is a great supporter of proportional representation (Mr. A. Williams) shakes his head, where does proportional representation come in? How-do the five Members split up the constituency? Does one say, "I will represent this part," and another that part, and so on? That is against the principle of proportional representation. It strikes at the basis of it. Therefore, I revert to the proposition that each of the five Members is bound to represent, and will be responsible, to the whole of this 350,000 population. It is an impossible strain to put upon any Member, and it strikes at the fundamental principle of representative government in that it must, and will necessarily, destroy the close relation between a Member and his constituents. I have confined myself to the application of proportional representation to London, and it is mainly in order to protest against that part of the measure that I beg to second the Amendment.
§ Major NEWMAN
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, at the end to add the words,except in boroughs entitled on a basis of population to return three or more Members.I would like first to deal shortly with a couple of arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Burdett-Coutts). He told us that we did not want proportional representation, at any rate, in London, but, as a matter of fact, London is fairly divided between the two great parties. I quite admit that it is very fairly divided at the moment between the two great parties, but are there only two great parties now? Surely in London and Greater London, with a population of something over 6,000,000, there is a certain percentage of what are 694 known as the working classes. I take it they have a right to their own representation, to return members to join the Labour party in this House. How many Labour Members are returned for London?
§ Major NEWMAN
I do not think there are. I see one opposite, the right hon. Member for Woolwich. But in the East End of London, Stepney and Tower Hamlets, how many Labour Members are returned? What is the reason?
§ Major NEWMAN
Precisely, because if they put up they would have no chance with the other great parties; but under proportional representation they would have their chance. If they could get their quota they would return representatives to the House, as they ought to be able to do. The hon. Member for Westminster alluded to the letter by Lord George Hamilton, who said that in the time of the big constituencies in London and elsewhere—that is, before 1885—Conservatism had no representation in London, that they could not get a representative in this House for many of those great London constituencies. It is a curious thing, but, as a matter of fact, in 1868 there were two members returned to this House for Greenwich. One was Mr. Solomons, who was put down as a Radical, and the other was Mr. Gladstone, who was returned as a Liberal. At the election in 1874 it might be said that obviously the Radical and the Liberal were again returned. Not at all. Even. Mr. Gladstone, with the eloquence and power that he possessed, could not get in at the top. He was beaten on the total of votes by Mr. Board, a Conservative, so that in Greenwich we had in 1874 a Conservative and a Liberal, the Liberal being Mr. Gladstone, the junior member. Here is another instance. In 1868 Chelsea, a big division, returned two members, two Radicals, or Liberals as they were then called. In 1874 there was one Conservative and one Liberal. Then take again a better known division, the City of London. In those far away days the City of London used to return four Members to the House of Commons. In 1868; it returned three Liberals and a Conservative, the Conservative being at the bottom of the poll. In 1874 it returned, not three Liberals with one Conservative at the bottom of the poll, but three Conservatives at the top of the poll and one Liberal 695 at the bottom. I could mention other instances, but I will not detain the House by doing so. As far as my Amendment goes, and speaking in a very humble way, to my mind the Conference over which Mr. Speaker presided presented to this House and the country a very carefully drawn, a painstakingly, carefully drawn sketch of a very difficult subject. It was an accurate sketch, but in a great many aspects and to a great many people the sketch presented was not a likeness of the, subject. It is obvious where you have a sketch that a great many people do not like certain parts of the picture. There are parts certain people will not agree with. They will criticise severely a great many people in the picture. When they look at it one person may like the shape of the foot, another the shape of the nose, and another may say it is unwieldy. I am told that this House has too large a corporation for its work. But, after all, what have we to do? In this House all we have to do is to finish off and make a regular picture of the sketch, and if we are going to do that we must finish off our work fairly and without prejudice. It is obvious that if we dislike the nose we must paint it out, and if we dislike the foot we must paint it out, and if we dislike the paunch we must paint it out, and we shall not have a picture at all. All we have to do is, as far as we can, to shade off discrepancies and harshnesses. We can do no more; we ought to do no more.
I submit to the House that as regards proportional representation, if you strike it out at once you have turned against you certain interests and certain individuals both in the country and, more important perhaps, individuals and interests in this House, who are in favour of the Bill as a whole, but who, if proportional representation is taken away, will be turned from favour to hostility, active or passive. The gallant Member for St. Pancras (Colonel Jessel) said very fairly that proportional representation had not been properly explained either to this House, or, what is more important still, to the country, before it was put into the present Bill. I quite agree, but after all we have to remember this, that we are in the middle of a great War, and that politics, as we knew them, have been suspended.
§ Question proposed, "that those words be there added."