- (1) If at an election for one Member of Parliament there are more than two candidates, the election shall be according to the principle of the alternative vote as defined by this Act.
- (2) At a contested election for a university constituency, where there are two or more members to be elected, any election of the full number of members shall be according to the principle of proportional representation, each elector having one transferable vote as defined by this Act.
- (3) His Majesty may by Order in Council frame Regulations prescribing the methods of voting, and transferring and counting votes. at any election, according to the principle of the transferable or of the alternative vote and for adapting the provisions of the Ballot Act, 1872, and any other Act relating to Parliamentary elections thereto, and with respect to the duties of returning officers in connection therewith; and any such Regulations shall have effect as if they were enacted in this Act.
- (4) Nothing contained in this Act shall, except as expressly provided herein, affect the method of conducting Parliamentary elections in force at the time of the passing of this Act.
§ Adjourned Debate resumed on Amendment proposed [21st November]: At the beginning of the Clause, to insert, "(1) In a constituency returning three or more members any election of the full number of members shall be according to the principle of proportional representation, each elector having one transferable vote, as defined by this Act."—[Mr. Aneurin Williams.]
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BURDETT-COUTTS
I am very sorry to have to claim further the indulgence of the House in order to complete the case that I was putting forward against this ill-timed Amendment. I have dealt with the point as to the wastage of the large and complicated work done by the Boundary Commissioners, and the new work that will be put upon them, which was cheerfully outlined last night by the hon. Member who, moved this Amendment. I also dealt with the case of London, which a former Amendment excluded, and which is now to be included as to certain portions of it which are intertwined with other portions of London which are to vote under a different system. But the result, which illustrates better than anything the unhappy position in which the promoters of this Amendment are placed, is that by drafting necessities they have had to confine themselves almost entirely to three-member and four-member constituencies—a class of constituency to which all students of proportional representation know that the system is least applicable. With regard to three-member constituencies, I should very much like to come to grips with that particular question, but I cannot trespass upon the House to the extent of really doing so, and therefore I must confine myself to saying that it will be found that the operation of the single transferable vote in three-member constituencies will be almost exactly the same as the operation of the minority vote under the Bill of 1867, and will involve the same difficulties and objections. The main objection, which was illustrated by that minority system, is that this scheme will undoubtedly open up a tremendous field for the active operations of the caucus.
I remember when I first came to this House in 1885 that the Birmingham 1408 Caucus was a favourite subject of denunciation by my party on public platforms, and it was pointed out how the caucus in Birmingham, and also in Glasgow, 'exercised a rigorous and drastic control over the voters before the election came on, and that only by that means could the Liberal party in Birmingham secure, as they did for many years, the complete representation. It is bound to be so when a party can gain its ends by preparing these preferences and by a careful calculation before the election by a corporate and more or less scientific body which will be the party organisation; and that when that is turned into a weapon to control the freedom of the elector it is rightly called by the opprobrious name of caucus. I think there are eleven three-member constituencies which have been chosen by the promoters of this Bill. With regard to four-member constituencies the case is much clearer, because the operation of this system in those constituencies will result in one of two things— there will be two members on each side, in which case the voice of the constituency will be silent for years in this House, or it will result in three members to one, which is not proportional representation. Those are the prospects which await the three and four-member constituencies. I will venture, on the question of three and four-member constituencies, to read to the House a single sentence from a letter I received two days ago from one who has certainly been one of the deepest students of this subject for fifty years—I mean Lord Eversley. I sent him a list of the constituencies affected with the number of members that each will have under the Bill, and he writes me in reply as follows:The case against it for three- and four-member electoral divisions is overwhelming, and I am quite certain that if the promoters were giving evidence on the subject before a Commission or Committee they would be compelled on cross-examination to admit that the scheme cannot even be fairly tried otherwise than in constituencies returning at least five members.There remains, therefore, only three constituencies of the twenty-two chosen by the supporters of this Amendment. The main objections I have raised with regard to the caucus apply to these constituencies, and there are many other objections which I cannot take now. I would prefer to turn to the most remarkable feature in this Amendment, or rather in the subsequent 1409 Amendments to the Schedule, because no mention of it is made in the main Amendment. That is, the failure of the promoters to touch the larger constituencies, which are the very ones to which the advocates of proportional representation have always considered the system most applicable. Lord Courtney — the chivalrous and indefatigable champion of lost causes, and therefore the leading advocate of proportional representation—is, by his evidence before the Royal Commission, in favour of applying it to very large constituencies. He says a three-member constituency would be the minimum; but he would like to create fifteen-member constituencies. Yet that is the very class of constituency which the supporters of this Amendment do not touch. If you look at the consequential Amendments to the Schedule applying the principle, you will see that they carefully avoid such constituencies as Leeds with six members, Sheffield with seven, Manchester with ten, Liverpool with eleven, and Glasgow with fifteen (Lord Courtney's ideal number), which are not touched.
Then there is the question of the landed interest and farming. That is one more striking omission. I have actually heard it said during the last few days, that this Amendment will help the landed interest and the farmers' industry. But the Amendments do not include county representation. Not a single county is touched. It was a complaint made during the progress of the Bill by many county members that these interests were prejudiced by the Bill, and their representation in this House diminished; yet it is not proposed that proportional representation should come to their assistance, because counties are excluded, and it would be impossible now to include them. I do not for a moment grant that if proportional representation were applied to the counties, it would secure a special representation of those interests. Under the party system the fight will always be between two political parties, and with regard to an odd member party considerations are certain—from past experience—to dominate all others.
It is obvious then for all these reasons this Amendment embodies a maimed and ill-advised experiment even from the promoters point of view. Moreover, being partial in its application, it is unjust to the electors. It discriminates between different portions of the electorate in a matter in which every elector throughout 1410 the country should be on an equality. In a self-governing country, under a Parliamentary system, a man's vote is his most sacred possession. You have no right to tamper with it in this way or to divide up the people and attach to the vote of some quite different powers from those that you give to others.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Marriott) who so ably seconded this Amendment, made many appeals on behalf of proportional representation. He opened his arms very wide and enumerated in turn every party and every section of opinion, and said that each and every one of them is likely to be benefitted by this change. Surely, a miraculous result, as many of those parties are diametrically opposed to each other. I am going to be less particular, but not I hope less comprehensive. I am only going to make two appeals. One, on behalf of the people, to whom we in this House, although our title is long since extinguished by effluxion of time, are still responsible, and who know nothing of all this complicated machinery, have never been consulted about it, and have never given a vestige of opinion with regard to it, but upon masses of whom—arbitrarily selected—we are asked to inflict for no one knows how long, this Chimaera of proportional representation. I spell it with a big C in order to get the accurate definition of the word. The first definition is "a she monster represented as vomiting flames and usually having a lion's head, goat's body and dragon's or serpent's tail."
The second definition, in painting, is "a representation of a monster with incongruous parts"; and thirdly, "a frightful, vain, foolish, or incongruous fancy, or creature of the imagination."
§ Mr. BURDETT-COUTTS
To proportional representation, but if the hon. Member desires to give it a personal application, that is his own affair. I appeal also to this House, which is still jealous of its credit and sense of fair play. In the progress of this Bill many of us have had to surrender deep and sincere convictions which we have held for a lifetime. And when we make, or have imposed upon us, a sacrifice of that kind, we want to feel and be sure that something good and wholesome, something 1411 fair and just, is coming in return to the country we serve and love. Can that be said to this democracy of ours at home? Can it be said—as my hon. Friend referred to them—to the great democracies of the Dominions who, framing into their new Constitutions the birthright of freedom and self-government that belongs to all men of our race, are still watching and listening to us in this historic Chamber, and who look to the Mother of Parliaments as the model of fair and equal treatment to all. I do not think so. If this great Reform Bill goes forth from this House with this partial and unfair addition to it, it places a blot upon the measure which will remain, no one knows how long, and it will impair the reputation of this House for evenhanded justice and for fair and equitable treatment of the people.
Colonel Sir MARK SYKES
The House will realise the extraordinary divergence of view that there is upon this particular Amendment, but one of the reasons why I must strongly support it is that I believe it is only if this principle of proportional representation is ultimately carried that there will still be returned to this House persons like my hon. Friend, who has just sat down after pouring such withering scorn upon those who uphold the idea of proportional representation. I should like to submit that in considering the question of introducing proportional representation into this Bill there are two points of view from which we may regard it, namely, either the point of view of past experience of politics in this country, or the point of view of our anticipations of what future politics in England will be like after the War. I know that this is condemned as unnecessary, experimental, rash and complicated. Those are the objections. Of course, all that might be objected to many other points in this Bill, and if the political fabric of this country upon which politics is based—I speak only of politics—were going to be the same in the future as in the past, then one might agree with that. If that great cathedral structure of party politics as it exists now in this country—that magnificent thing, The Carlton Club, the Reform Club, the small Navy party, the compact Irish party, in the constituencies the plural and absentee voter voting either way, and that admirable system which we have had up to now whereby, when 1412 distribution Bills begin to get exhausted, one may have a hundred majority in the House and hardly anything like a majority in the country at all—if all that delightful state of affairs were going to continue, well, I am a Conservative, why should I venture to suggest that it should be changed?
But I do not believe that it is going to continue. I do not believe that the traditional cohorts of Blue and Buff are going to vote Blue and Buff, after this Bill, just as their forefathers voted. I do not think that at all, or that really any Member of this House believes that, in the future, elections—by-elections or general elections—are going to be fought on Eatans-will methods. I do not think that prewar cries are going to be revived. They are as dead as the Dodo. They are gone. This particular Bill, whether with proportional representation or not, has shattered the fabric on which all those cries and ideas were based. Does any Liberal or Conservative imagine, when peace comes. that this country is going to divide itself automatically into two parties, one under the Vicar, the Squire, and Moderate Alcoholic Refreshment, and the other under Reduced Naval Estimates and a Half-way House to Home Rule? All that lumber has been burned in the fire of Armageddon long ago. That being so, we have to consider that we have before us reconstruction, looming vast, immense debts, tremendous dislocation—because one feels that the demobilisation of the Army will be nothing to the demobilisation of the munition workers—women enfranchised on a very large scale, a large number of voters who, perhaps, have not been in this country for a period of months or years, and two moribund political party machines quite incapable of grappling with the situation at all. When this Bill gets the Royal Assent—if it does—we shall pass in a night from Lilliput to Brobdingnag. Therefore, as the change is going to be so gigantic, it is useless to consider past politics. It is in relation to the probable developments of the future that we ought to test whether we are going to support this Amendment or not. I want to give two reasons why I personally support it with all the strength of which I am capable. First of all, I feel that proportional representation is the only sure and certain guarantee of a certain propertied element obtaining representation in this House. It is the 1413 only honest way in which it can get representation in this House, and it is the only safe way. Anyone who has had experience of elections knows how much the plural voter has counted against those whom he has supported. The plural voter was always a gibe, an injustice, and a grievance. Indeed, every franchise Bill has contained some trick or other to give one class, a certain propertied class, a little pull over the immense and growing mass below. Even in this Bill we have a suggestion of it. There are the cities and the universities. Sooner or later they will become a grievance, and I am sure, if this Bill becomes law, that sooner or later they will go. It may take four, five, or ten years, but sooner or later they will go, and I think the city vote will go first.
Sir M. SYKES
Indeed, I fervently trust not. It is only my dreadful anticipation. I think also on the new franchise that the small propertied class will be proportionately even smaller that it was in the past, and that in very few constituencies will it be found that they will be able to carry the day. The most advanced democrats will admit, however, that really useful discussion and debate in this House cannot be properly carried on unless that element is properly and proportionally represented. May I put it in this way? Just as in the old pre-war propertied Parliaments the mass of the members represented the propertied classes, and the small block of Labour Members exerted in them influence salutary to the labour world, so in what I anticipate will be the labour post-war Parliaments will the contrary block which will survive under proportional representation exert a similar salutary influence in the opposite direction. I therefore hope that Conservatives particularly will support this Amendment, because I feel, if proportional representation is not included in this Bill, a great deal of water will pass under London Bridge before it is brought up again. I am certain of that, and by that time there will be nothing to replace. There will have been a vacuum which will have been replaced by other elements altogether. I hope, therefore, that Conservative members will not turn this down. I am certain that no Conservative party will ever come, as the Conservative party in Lord Salisbury's days, to unfettered government in this country, but if there is proportional representation, the Conservative forces 1414 and mind will have a certain influence in the destinies of this country in every Parliament that is elected afterwards. I put that reason from the party point of view.
I have one other reason. It is only proposed to apply proportional representation for the moment to cities, though I hope it will be extended right through the country. Education is at its highest in the cities, and civic vitality and self-consciousness are also strongest in the cities. I cannot help feeling that in all great cities—I speak of Liverpool, Hull, and cities that I know—there is a strong city sense of belonging to the city as a whole. Nobody who represents seats in those cities can fail to feel that there is a strong city sense which makes it additionally desirable. There is another reason. In a great city a man unknown to politics—the leader and the thinker—can make himself strongly felt, irrespective of the party machine. Owing to the existence of that city sense he can make himself felt in a city in a way that he cannot elsewhere, and though I said earlier that the party machines were moribund, I think in their place will grow up stronger ones than before. In that case I hope there will be a safeguard, so that the non-party man who impresses himself as a leader of the people may be able to get into this House. That was the old excuse for the party funds. They enabled people to put good men into the House of Commons. There may have been a grain of truth in that. At any rate, under the stress of war we have fallen back on the pocket-borough system in order to get persons like my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty (Sir Eric Geddes), who in normal times could not bother with the subscriptions, the cajolery, and the general business that candidates have to go through in order to get into this House. Possibly he did not wish to dip his hand so deeply either into his own or the party purse in order to cultivate the tedious social acts and defray the expenses which one has to cultivate and incur in his first apprenticeship to get here. But those arts and those expenses will, I believe, count for nothing under proportional representation in large cities. I believe those social arts and the capacity for spending a lot of money in a given district will not count for anything when you come to a city as a whole. No purse is deep enough to warm 500,000 firesides and no mouth is large enough to kiss 30,000 1415 [Colonel Sir M. Sykes.] babies. It cannot be done. In fact, under proportional representation, Napoleon will beat Mantalini in the cities every time, whereas with a strong party machine behind him and a good manner, rather harsh, brusque, poor and youthful Napoleon, Mr. Mantalini may get in with a very fair majority. To sum up briefly, I would suggest that if the House of Commons in the future is to voice minorities and important minorities, if the House is to be open to independent men who are not particularly tied down to party machines, and if consequently Cabinets are to be open to men of every class in the country, then this Amendment should be supported. On the other hand. to turn it down would be to rivet the chains of the new party machinery that is coming round the necks of the people tighter than ever and would eventually exclude all but professional politicians and leave a valuable, important, and useful portion of the country eventually entirely unrepresented.
§ Mr. GILBERT
I rise to oppose the Amendment, and should like to ask the hon. Member for North-West Durham (Mr. A. Williams), the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Marriott), and the hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke last, why, if they believe that proportional representation is such a wonderful thing and is going to do all they say it will, they do not put down an Amendment which will apply proportional representation to every constituency in the country? This Amendment is one of a series of Amendments put down by the same hon. Members, and, if they are carried, the scheme of proportional representation will be applied only to certain constituencies in London and to certain constituencies in the country. The six hon. Members who are in charge of this particular set of Amendments are the hon. Member for North-West Durham, the hon. and gallant Member for South Birmingham (Captain Amery), the hon. Member for the Attercliffe Division (Mr. Anderson), the hon. Member for Haggerston (Mr. Chancellor), the hon. Member for East Denbighshire (Mr. John), and the hon. Member for the Camlachie Division of Glasgow (Mr. Mackinder). These Amendments do not apply to any of the constituencies which they themselves represent. It is the most extraordinary doctrine I have ever heard inside this House or outside it. They come here and tell us all the wonderful things that proportional 1416 representation is going to do as regards the constitution of this house in the future. if they are correct, one would have thought that the first thing they would do would be to apply this new scheme to their own constituencies.
We were told in the Debate last night by the hon. Member for Oxford why we need not circulate the White Paper, which has been issued by the Government and which explains this wonderful scheme, to the electors. His argument seemed a very weak one. If we are going to seek the votes of the electors of this country, at any rate we are entitled to tell them the way in which the votes recorded are going to be counted. I do not think I am misrepresenting the Seconder of the Amendment in saying he admitted last night that the White Paper was a very difficult thing to explain to the electors. I would ask hon. Members to turn to pages 8 and 9 and 10 and 11 of the White Paper. I am. only an ordinary commercial or business man, but I have taken a great deal of interest in politics for a great many years. I thought I understood ordinary electioneering, but I do not think there is anybody in the House who has read pages 8 and 9 and the wonderful mathematical calculations worked out there who. will venture to go down and explain this. system to ordinary working-class electors. so that they can understand it. I can best put that point to the House by giving them the opinion of an hon. Friend of mine. I. asked him what he was going to do on this particular question. He had voted against proportional representation on the first occasion. He told me he was now going to vote for it, because he had had it explained to him, and he now understood what it was. I said, "Will you kindly explain it to me?" He said, "Old chap, I cannot."
The White Paper contains, in the First Schedule, a facsimile election for a constituency returning five members. There are ten candidates lettered from A. to K. On page 7 they give the result of the election on the first voting, according to which, the candidates returned are A., B., C., D. and E. After eight pages of explanation, calculations, minuses and pluses we come to page 14, at the bottom of which they give the result of this wonderful system of calculating the results of the voting. It is a calculation which, in any ordinary election, where thousands of votes are polled, would delay the announcing of the result by at least two days. At the bottom of 1417 page 14, A., B., C. and D. are returned in the final result. They were the four candidates returned at the top of the poll on the first vote. E the last candidate, is not returned, but G., who was seventh on the list, is returned. If that is a fair sample of an election under proportional representation, I would ask the House is it worth while to go to all this trouble in order to muddle the electors of this country? I have supported this Bill loyally all the way through, although it is true I have moved some Amendments with a view to improving it. One of my main reasons for supporting this Bill is that, because of my experience in elections for a good many years, I am a great believer in simplicity of elections. Our present system, under which we put a single X, is very complicated, but I believe that this Bill is going to make our elections very much simpler and easier for the electors to follow. It is because I am strongly opposed to making our elections much more difficult for the ordinary elector, and making it practically impossible for him to follow them, as I believe would be the case if you adopted proportional representation, that I am opposed to this system.
I have been through a good many elections, both Parliamentary and local, and know the difficulty in large constituencies, even now with the simple method of putting a [...]X, of getting people to vote on the ticket as their particular party wants them to. If we are going to complicate elections by having a series of numbers, as suggested by proportional representation, you will get a good many of the electors in a most awful tangle, and they will not know how to vote at all. Take a constituency returning five members. The probability is that in the future, if the three existing parties still fight, there will be five candidates from each of those parties—that is, fifteen strong party candidates. Then our Friends who are in favour of proportional representation are very keen on getting all kinds of minorities represented in this House. That means that at this election you are going to invite all kinds of minorities, with their particular cries, to put forward a candidate. You may have five candidates representing various classes of minorities. That means that there will be at least twenty candidates, and the ordinary elector will have to go into the polling booth and mark his preferences, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1418 and 5. I do not know whether hon. Members have had anything to do with local elections in wards where six, seven, or eight candidates have been run, and two or three parties have been fighting the election, and have seen the voting paper containing eighteen to twenty candidates. If so, I am sure they will agree with me that if you have a long list like that you will have the uttermost confusion in voting at any future election.
I am a London Member and am particularly interested in this question from the London point of view, therefore I hope the House will permit me to put the London case on this Amendment. This Amendment and the other consequent Amendment deal with eight London boroughs, or twenty nine London divisions. We have sixty-one London divisions under the Bill, sixty returning single members and the City returning two members The supporters of the Amendment pick out two or three parts of London, representing twenty-nine divisions, to which they propose to apply proportional representation. On behalf of London—I certainly speak for the great majority of my own party in London and I think I am voicing also the views of the opposite party in London— I say we are bitterly opposed to this piecemeal system of dealing with London. May I give an example? One of the divisions with which they propose to deal is the borough of Camberwell, which will return four members. Surrounding Camberwell are three divisions, Bermondsey, Deptford, and Lewisham, where proportional representation will not apply. Hackney is one of the divisions to which they propose to apply proportional representation. Surrounding Hackney are Bethnal Green, Shoreditch, and Bow, in none of which proportional representation will apply. In St. Pancras they propose to have proportional representation; in Hampstead, Marylebone, Finsbury, and Holborn, which surround it, they do not propose to have that system applied. In Stepney they propose to apply it, but at Bethnal Green, Shoreditch, Bow and Bromley it is not to be applied. I ask this House to deal with this question on a businesslike footing, and I suggest most respectfully that to apply this system to a county like London, where you have divisions next door to one another—where you have constituencies next door to each other, it is ridiculous, it is even worse than that, because you are going to have one form of election in one particular 1419 patch of London and another form of election in the divisions immediately surrounding that patch. The hon. Member who proposed this Amendment last night (Mr. A. Williams) stated that they were trying to carry out the original resolutions of Mr. Speaker's Conference. But to my mind their Amendment does nothing of the kind. I will read paragraph 16 of the Report of the Conference. It is as followsWhere there are contiguous boroughs which, if formed into a single constituency, will be entitled to return not less than three or more than five members, it shall be an instruction to the Boundary Commissioners to unite such borough in a single constituency.But this Amendment and the subsequent one say nothing of that kind. On the previous occasion on which we discussed proportional representation, it was quite understood that, so far as London was concerned, these one and two-member boroughs, if proportional representation .was carried, were to be joined together in order to make, three, four, or five-member constituencies. As, however, the promoters of this movement propose nothing like that, I want to suggest to the House that they are not carrying out the suggestion of Mr. Speaker's Conference, and to apply this patchwork system of election to the great county of London is a very wrong thing to do. May I put it in quite another way? In London we have other elections besides Parliamentary elections, and one of the points we are fighting for, as far as London is concerned, in this Bill is that all electoral divisions should be the same for local as well as for Parliamentary elections. We had in London before the War every three years a county council election, and in many of those county council elections the interest was second only to that which was taken in Parliamentary elections. But it is not proposed to apply this proportional representation scheme to county council elections; neither are you proposing to apply it to borough council elections or to elections of Poor Law guardians. It is only to be applied to certain parts of London for Parliamentary elections, and I suggest that nothing could be more absurd if you want to simplify voting and get the voter to understand who and what he is voting for. Nothing could be worse if you want to get him interested in all elections, and you will only prevent him voting if you are going to have this farcial system of elections in this great county of London. 1420 I hope the House will agree that, as far as London is concerned, it shall not be experimented upon in this patchwork way proposed in the Amendment before the House
The objection applies not merely to London. There are surrounding it various county divisions; some are quite urban in their character, and with the exception of West Ham, there is not a single proposal in this Amendment that they are to come under this scheme. Again I suggest to the House, it is quite absurd, where you get divisions so contiguous to each other in London itself, and such a close connection between London and the county divisions in the Home counties that you should apply proportional representation to certain divisions and retain the old system of elections in the other divisions. I am not, of course, entitled to speak for provincial members. But if one looks at the series of Amendments on the Paper, it seems that the Movers have adopted the same policy with regard to provincial towns as they have for London. They propose to apply proportional representation to Bradford and not to Leeds.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
I am sure my hon. Friend would not wish to misrepresent us. I explained very fully last night—I do not know whether he heard my speech —that we had no desire whatever to exclude Leeds, but we could not put Leeds in the Schedule because we had not the required materials, and it would be for the Boundary Commissioners to supply them. We ask for proportional representation as recommended by Mr. Speaker's Conference, and to carry that out we put down such Amendments as were in our power.
§ Mr. GILBERT
I am a new Member of this House, but I am informed that the right way, if our hon. Friends are keen on getting proportional representation for these various divisions, would have been to have moved the Bill be recommitted, in order to deal with the matter. I think I am not unfair when I say I can only deal with the Amendments which appear upon the Paper. I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's interruption. The hon. Member for North-West Durham, perhaps, will tell us how he proposes to deal with these questions? His Amendment deals with Bradford, but there is nothing affecting Leeds, and he did not tell the House last night how 1421 he proposed to deal either with Leeds or Liverpool or Manchester or Sheffield or Glasgow. There is no Amendment down on the Paper dealing with these large towns, and I am not unfair or unjust in only dealing with what appears on the Paper. Perhaps subsequent speakers will tell us why, if it is proposed to deal with Edinburgh, it is not proposed to deal with Glasgow: why the system is to apply to Salford and not to Manchester? There is no Amendment on the Paper dealing with Manchester or Liverpool, but there are Amendments dealing with Bradford, Bristol, Hull, Leicester, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Nottingham, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Salford, Stoke-on-Trent, Wolverhampton, Cardiff, and Edinburgh. There are none on the Paper dealing with Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield or Glasgow, and I fail to understand how it is proposed to deal with those places when there is no Amendment on the Paper at the present time enabling that to be done.
We heard last night a very strong appeal that this system of proportional representation should be carried out. The hon. Members who spoke in favour of it were very anxious we should have a proper Parliament, and they suggested that in order to get a proper Parliament minorities ought to be represented in this House. I am only a new Member of this House. Before I came here I was a strong believer in party government. I am now a still stronger believer in it than I was before. As far as the country is concerned, I do not believe you are going to benefit it by cutting up the membership of this House into a number of groups as is done in the French Parliament, or as was the case in the German Reichstag before the War. Such a thing does not make for a strong and stable Government. I am a believer in strong party Government, and that is one of the reasons I have for opposing proportional representation.
As far as London is concerned, we are strongly opposed to the application of proportional representation to it, and we shall fight strongly to have London excluded from the scheme if it is carried by the House. We believe that if it is applied to London you are going to create huge and unwieldy boroughs, which will be so enormously expensive for candidates to fight that it will result in voters voting blindly for a number of 1422 candidates who, in consequence of the size of the constituency, it will be quite impossible for them to know. We believe it would make it impossible for a Member to know his own constituents or even a small part of them. We believe that by destroying that feeling it will cause a lack of interest and enthusiasm among the electors. We believe that it will encourage street candidatures. We believe it will involve so very large an expenditure in the candidature for five-member constituencies that no man of moderate means, unless he is run with a number of colleagues, will be able to bear the burden. We believe it is so involved that it has been necessary to issue a White Paper of twenty pages in order to explain the system to the Members of this House. For all these reasons, I strongly oppose the Amendment. I shall vote against it, and shall do all I can to prevent the system, if it is adopted, being applied to London.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Frederick Smith)
The House has been kind enough to listen to me on more than one occasion when I have endeavoured to present my views on this question, and 1 therefore shall not trespass on its indulgence for more than a very few moments to-night. The arguments which are used against this proposal always seem to me to bear a very close resemblance to those which in the old days were used against the Daylight Saving Bill. In the early stages of that movement, when the late Mr. Willet, who rendered incomparable services, with very little recognition, brought his proposal before the House, I was one of the first to support it. It was never debated in this House without forty or fifty most ingenious Members being able to demonstrate by far more than ,forty or fifty arguments, that the whole thing was unworkable, that it could not be understood, and that if it were adopted it would be a great national misfortune. Nevertheless, it has been adopted without the slightest friction or difficulty.
When we come to deal with the question of proportional representation, it is assailed, as it has been by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, with a great variety of arguments. In fact, I think I counted no fewer than fourteen distinct arguments in the creed which he recited before he sat down, every sentence 1423 of which began with the words, "we believe." I do not propose, however, to analyse those sentences, or go into any detail at all. I shall address myself in the very few words I have to say to the questions which the hon. Member addressed to the supporters of this proposal. More than once in his speech he asked how it was possible to justify the present artificial limitation of our proposal. He asked how it could be said to be right to select certain boroughs and to leave out other boroughs. He asked us to explain why it was to be applied only to five-member constituencies, and why in London an arbitrary selection was being made of twenty-nine divisions for the experiment, while others were to be kept out. My hon. Friend appeared to think that this was a legitimate kind of argument to put forward. He further asked: "Why don't you recommit the Bill?" I think that those in favour of proportional representation are entitled to make this reply:" We must deal with the practical situation as it exists." No one can ask at this stage that this Bill should be recommitted, and I can imagine what the hon. Member would have said if we had come forward with such a proposal. My hon. Friend knows, as I think everybody in the House knows, that if those who are in favour of proportional representation could have their way they would sweep away the old system altogether. I do not believe there is a single supporter or proportional representation in this House who, if he could have autocratic power in this country, would not make a clean sweep of the old system of election and substitute for it proportional representation, and it is only because we desire to be in accord with the recommendations of Mr. Speaker's Conference, and because we see that therein lies our only chance of success here, that we have put our proposal in the form we have done. Yet we are told we are illogical, because we do not go further. I say, with great respect, that it is a grossly unfair argument to address to those in favour of proportional representation, and if he puts in, or in another place they put in, Amendments which go very much further, the opposition to those Amendments will not come from the supporters of proportional representation. I can imagine the attitude of our opponents if we had come 1424 and introduced Amendments which would have had the result of introducing proportional representation into every great borough in this country, and what would have been their speeches. They would have been the same. They would have said: "You are attempting a most gigantic experiment on a scale which, if it fails, will fling the whole of our electioneering machinery into confusion, the disastrous results of which no man can foretell." If you bring forward a small measure you are illogical, because you do not extend it, and if you bring forward a large measure you are rash, because you have not, in the first instance, tested it on a small scale. Let us at least get sincerity of argument on merits, and not arguments of that kind.
The hon. Gentleman dwelt largely upon the supposed inability of the opponents of proportional representation to understand it. I think they do their intelligence grave injustice. I have never been greatly impressed by the difficulties which are put forward, and I would point this out to the hon. Gentleman. He has told us—and I have no doubt with complete truth, in fact, I have every reason to suppose it to be the case—that he has studied electioneering matters for many years, and I understand that on the London County Council he has had long experience of such matters, and of public and administrative affairs generally. I know, at least, that he has had recent Parliamentary experience, that he has very rapidly arquired familiarity with our customs and rules here, and therefore I may take it that he is more than an average intelligent Member of this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am sure he will not dispute it; and it is really to be put forward with gravity that a Member of this House of more than the average intelligence of Members of this House is incapable of understanding a system under which the peasants of Sweden have successfully and intelligently voted in the past few weeks, and as a result of that election have arrived, by universal admission, at a far more exact expression of the Swedish national will than the Swedish nation has ever given in the whole course of its existence? I will not do the hon. Gentleman the injustice of believing that the Australian squatter and the Swedish fisherman are capable of understanding and voting under a system which he, with that long experience of which he has told us this afternoon, is wholly 1425 incapable of grasping. The argument is unworthy. It might he worthy of the attention of intelligent men, or it might be capable of imposing on intelligent men, if it had the advantage which the opponents of dayight saving had. They had the great advantage that daylight saving had never been tried, and therefore their abstract, dogmatic, and speculative arguments had some force; but here it has been tried, and the onus is imposed on those who tell us it cannot be understood, and that it is impracticable to explain to us how it is that it has been understood and carried out in the ever-increasing area in which it is operating to-day. The hon. Gentleman made some great complaint as if London suffered under some special hardship. London is in exactly the same position as any other part of the country. It is being proposed in this Amendment that London should be exposed to a partial experiment, partial not at the desire, as I have explained, of the supporters of proportional representation, but partial because of the opposition which has been put up to any wider proposal. What would be the result upon London supposing proportional representation were supplied as a whole—because I would always rather discuss it on the wider basis? It is sometimes said that you will disfranchise these places because half the Members of Parliament who will be returned will represent one party and nearly a half will be returned representing another party. What is important is that you should have in this House as the voice of London an accurate expression of the views of London. That is far more important than anything else. I can understand the merits of representative systems. There is much to be said for a system that is neither representative nor democratic, there is far more to be said for a system that is both representative and democratic, but there is nothing at all to be said for a representative system that does not represent; and that is the system under which we are living.
§ Sir F. LOWE
May I point out that London is now very adequately represented, and that there are sixty-one memers altogether, thirty-two Unionists and twenty-nine Liberals and Labour?
§ Sir F. SMITH
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right, but will he carry his historical research back a little and inform me how many Unionist Members there were in London in 1906, and what the membership in this House was compared 1426 with the admitted Unionist vote for the whole of London? You must not take exceptional periods to test these matters. The truth of the case is that where there are great upheavals of public opinion those upheavals are generally about three times more violent than they ought to be in representation in this House. That is undisputed, and no one has ever attempted to deal with that point. I have listened to this Debate for a considerable period, and have never heard one Member contend by argument that any argument could be brought forward to justify the fact that Wales should not have a single Unionist member. There is an immense Unionist electorate and population in Wales.
§ Sir F. SMITH
The hon. Gentleman there uses an argument which, if I may say so, is really typical of the attention which is paid to this proposal by those who oppose it. If what he says means anything it means that he admits that there are many parts of the country in which you cannot secure accurate representation unless you adopt proportional representation, and because he does not live there he says, "apply it to Wales" We want to apply it in every part of the country where it ought to be applied. The invitation to apply it to Wales carries with it the admission that it ought to be applied to all parts of these Islands. Let me add that I have always taken the strongest possible view that the immensely valuable proposals of Mr. Speaker's Conference depended upon a delicate equipoise, very easily upset. I attempted, on the Committee stage of this Bill, to persuade the House that they run a great risk if, when a matter of this importance has received the same care and the same deliberate examination as the other proposals which were considered by Mr. Speaker and his Conference, they arbitrarily select one subject included in those recommendations and pass it by while retaining the rest; and I have never concealed my view that a mistake was made when this subject was removed from the class of subjects which the Government as a whole invited the House to accept. The view which I then expressed, and the apprehensions I expressed, received a very striking illustration last night. What happened? A number of my hon. Friends, apprehensive that the area in which the plural vote 1427 would make itself effective was largely increased by the refusal of the Government to adopt proportional representation, made a most resolute attempt to defeat that part of the Bill by an Amendment; and let me remind the House that it was not only a resolute attempt but very nearly a successful attempt. The Government Whips were applied, and the Government as a Government of course voted in the Lobby on behalf of their own decision. Even so, the Amendment was only defeated by a majority, I think, of some twenty or thirty. What the result would have been to the Bill if that Amendment had been carried against the Government I do not know or pretend to know, but no one would deny that if the Amendment had been carried it would have greatly endangered the fortunes of the Bill. The truth of the matter is that when you are adopting proposals with one of which every one of us quarrels, and with more of which many of us quarrel, and when it is put forward and recommended as the decision of a compromise, you are running most incalculable risks the moment you separate from the composite scheme one part in regard to which many have surrendered their objections because they want another part. I have supported this proposal for years, and I shall do so whenever I have the opportunity upon this broad ground. I do not know, nobody knows, what will be the nature of the politics which will follow the conclusion of peace. No one knows what formidable proposals will be put forward by the electors, and how wild will be the reaction of the War. We cannot to-day in any way measure or calculate it. All I know is that we shall need all the sobriety and sanity of which we are capable in the immense devastations of treasure and economic wastage which will follow this War, and in the revolutionary demands that may be made in all ranks of life. Of this I am sure, that we shall deal with the situation which will be created better, and in a way more worthy of the intelligence of the nation as a whole, if we have a House of Commons that exactly represents, not this section or that section, but the sense, numerically measured, of the nation and community as a whole.
§ Sir THOMAS WHITTAKER
I venture to say that it is too late to-day to claim in support of this Amendment the recom- 1428 mendations of the Speaker's Conference. They have been varied far too often and too much, and I would remind hon. Members that the Second Reading of this Bill was adopted on the distinct understanding that this question and one other were to be left to the House. To attempt to press the Conference in view of that arrangement of the Government is really not quite fair. In the, concluding words of his speech the Attorney-General really covered ground similar to that which was covered by the hon. and gallant Member for Hull (Colonel Sir Mark Sykes), and that is that fear is one of the reasons why whenever we have an extension of the franchise there are schemes proposed for securing the representation of minorities. It simply means that Members on various sides desire to devise schemes by which they can get stronger representation of their views and weaker representation of their opponents views by some other method than the ordinary rule of the majority. My view is that as a rule they will be disappointed in their schemes. These devices, practically gerrymandering devices, as a rule fail. The real truth is that proportional representation is a scheme for hamstringing majorities. We have been asked how we are going to embark upon an uncharted sea. I hope we shall embark on that uncharted sea with strong Governments, with substantial majorities behind them, capable of giving effect to their view, and shall not have our legislation so chopped about and so milk and watered, whichever way it goes, as to be practically of no value. We shall want stable Governments. We are told by the advocates of proportional representation that in 1895 and in 1900 if there had been proportional representation the Government majority would have been two. Fancy Governments with a majority of two talking about stability! That is not the kind of Government with which you want to embark on an uncharted sea, and it seems to me it would be most unfortunate and most dangerous if, in the times before us, we were to have weak Governments, continually liable to be displaced, and all the uncertainties that result therefrom. The fact is that proportional representation means negative results. It means second best opinions and not the best. It glorifies the wobbler, the nondescript and the flabby, and the milk-and-water politician.
1429 What about this Motion that we have before us? I notice that the Mover is not one of those who has put forward the schemes which are down as Amendments. He puts forward no scheme. He asks us to buy a pig in a poke, to give a general vote in favour of proportional representation without any idea of what it is going to be. We had a scheme in the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference and the House rejected it. Now they are trying it without a scheme, to catch all stray votes of all kinds, which they know they must lose if they put a definite scheme upon the Paper. Surely it is in vain that the net is spread in sight of the bird. But some of my hon. Friend's colleagues have been rash enough to put a scheme down. It is very possible, and I will assume that it is unintentional, but that scheme is the grossest bit of party gerrymandering that has ever been attempted in this House, and I will prove it. I will assume that it was unintentional, and I am not sure it is not, because it is one of the results of the difficulties in which the advocates of this scheme are placed when they attempt to table a scheme here. And although it may not have been intended, it is none the less unjust and intolerable that a scheme of political gerrymandering like that should be put on the Table of this House. The hon. Member (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) has pointed out that even if you got your scheme you would not get from it the results that you anticipate. No scheme of proportional representation in a constituency of three members can give you the kind of representation of minorities that you talk about. It would certainly be two members of one kind and one of the other at the very best, and in a well organised constituency with a strong vote a strong majority would secure all three, as Glasgow and Birmingham used to do in the old days; and to get two members out of three of one phase of political thought and one of. the other you need not have this complicated system. The old minority vote would give you that, but experience was against it. The same with four-member constituencies. There will be two and two. You will not get the minority represented there beyond the first minority—that is to say, as between Liberal and Conservative the Labour man will be out of it. You have to have five at least if you want to accomplish anything, and there are only two constituencies in which you are to have five members. Talk 1430 about getting in the Independent member—you would not get him in. Look at the experience in Tasmania. They got an Independent member in once, and the result was that when they elected the Speaker of the House the two parties were exactly equal, and the Independent member ruled the roost. That is a nice position to be in—for a stable Government to embark upon an uncharted sea! They turned him out the next time, and there was not an Independent member, and for three elections they only got one Independent member in. If we are to have this method we must have it everywhere.
It may not be an objection that it is partial. It would not be an objection if that partial method proposed were decently fair and just, but it is not. Look at the facts. In England alone we have twenty-nine counties and the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire, which you may for this purpose count as two more counties—thirty-one—in which there is not a single Labour Member for a single county division, and there is no proposal to apply proportional representation to a single constituency in those thirty-one county divisions. That is the place where you want some if you are to get a representation of the minority. There are twenty-six counties in which there is no Labour Member elected for either a county or a borough. You are not going to give them a chance. It is a most one-sided affair. What is the fact? This is a scheme of gerrymandering, intentional or not. In those twenty-six counties there are 126 Unionists returned, fifty-four Liberals, and no Labour men. In a House where the majority is against the Unionists they have got in twenty-six counties a majority of seventy-two, and there is not a single proposal in this Bill to give minority representation there, where surely it is wanted, if it is wanted anywhere! You are going to apply it to the great industrial districts, the great manufacturing towns; but, curiously enough, it is there where there is the fairest representation now. Take Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire. As the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) said when he last spoke, the position of Birmingham was due to a very specially powerful and able man. That position will not always endure. But take Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire, two great manufacturing and industrial counties. They return ninety-three 1431 Members—forty-five Liberals, thirty-one Unionists, sixteen Labour, and one Nationalist. There is something like a fair distribution there, and it is to those districts that you are going to apply this proportional representation, and not to those twenty-six counties, where there is not a single Labour Member, and where the Unionists are a majority of seventy-two Where it is needed you are not going to apply it, and where it is not needed you are going to apply it. If you want to get representation of the minority it is in these twenty-six counties that you need it. They have indicated that they are willing to omit London. You have a majority in London. In the scheme that they have tabled—and the excuse given for it is a very poor one—they omit Birmingham. Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, and Glasgow. Those cities return eleven Liberals, twenty-two Unionists, five Labour, and one Nationalist. It may not be intentional, but all through this scheme the cities and counties which they omit have large Unionist majorities. The cities which they include, taking them as a whole, have very considerable representation the other way. There are twice as many Unionists as Liberals returned for the cities they omit. The towns they take return twenty Liberal and Labour men against twelve Unionists. Where they stand to win they want proportional representation. Where they stand to lose they do not want it.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent us, but it has been explained again and again that we could not put down these Amendments in the case of these particular cities because questions were involved which might bring in the Boundary Commissioners. In the other cases there was no such question, and they could be put down.
§ Sir T. WHITTAKER
That is a very naïve excuse. The proper way was to move to recommit the Bill; then you could have put them down. I have been giving the figures of the old scheme, which came from the Speaker's Conference and was equally unfair from the party point of view.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
Does my right hon Friend mean that they are unfair with 1432 regard to the cities or merely because they are not extended to rural England owing to obvious practical difficulties?
§ Sir T. WHITTAKER
It means that you are to select for this experiment those particular parts of the country where the representation is least uneven now and where one particular party is in a majority. You are to select those portions and you leave out the similar counties where the other party is in the majority and you do not touch the counties where the inequality is far greater than it is here I do not say it is intentional, but the very difficulty in which the system involves you puts you into that position, and it involves an intolerable injustice and party unfairness. Then the labour and expense of these contests means that the arrangement would be again to the disadvantage of the poor candidate, and this means an increase in the power of the caucus. It means less freedom of free choice for the constituencies. You must have men with money or men who can get money from the caucus. It puts the whole power far more into the party organisation and gives the independent man less chance. Those who have lived any length of time and taken an active part in politics know that minority representation was the mother of the caucus. The caucus came into existence to grapple with the three-member constituency, and it was strengthened again to grapple with the school board difficulty—that is, to engineer the constituencies and to arrange the voting in order to overcome the difficulty of this minority representation. Any such scheme as this which is proposed here would intensify the evil, as I consider it, of the extension of plural voting. Plural voting is to the advantage of one particular party in this country. Either scheme of proportional representation—either the one which was in the original proposal or this one—will intensify that evil by giving to that party a further political advantage. It is unjust and unfair, and, being unjust and unfair, it ought not to be tolerated.
§ Mr. J. M. ROBERTSON
I think the House may now feel that it has got all the main lines of the argument before it. I do not mean to say that the Debate ought to come to an end, but we have had a comprehensive view of the nature of the arguments on both sides. I think it is a misfortune that my right hon. Friend (Sir T. Whittaker) should really ground himself on what we may call a kind of dialectic 1433 and that he should have reverted to the taunt used by the hon. Member for West Newington, which had been so fully exposed by the Attorney-General. That line of argument is that the supporters of proportional representation are not consistent or honest, seeing that they do not dare to apply their scheme to the whole country, but only to selected places. The answer to that has been given twenty times over. We are loyal to the Speaker's Conference. We never dreamed of upsetting the Conference. The hon. Member claimed that he has been a loyal supporter of the Bill. He has not. The opponents of proportional representation have not been loyal supporters of the original Bill. They decided they would accept the Bill, but they determined to upset it in this respect beccause they do not like proportional representation. If we had adopted that plan the Bill would have been wrecked. Suppose we said, "We decline to accept the plural voting arrangement, and we decline to accept the university vote. We will take what we like and we will not take what you want." What answer should we have got? That we were blackmailing. Nothing could be more disloyal to the Speaker's Conference than to say that you will not accept things you do not like and that other people should accept things they do not like.
It is perfectly certain that if the advocates of proportional representation had proposed at any stage to make the scheme consistent, from their point of view, by making it general, my right hon. Friend would have been among the most violent in denunciation of such a proposal. We accepted what we knew was an inconsistent position. It was forced upon us, but we justified it to ourselves on this view: proportional representation is a great conception, the application of which will be a great change. We can hardly hope in a practical way that the country will come to that view finally, unless it goes a few steps at a time. That is the usual mode of advance in this country with our politics; and yet when we propose to go forward in this guarded and careful way we are told we are inconsistent. I will deal with one or two of the dialectic points raised by my right hon. Friend before I come to the real ground of his opposition, which he shares with the hon. Member for Westminster. The right hon. Gentleman has suggested that this scheme is a first step in a gross measure of gerrymandering, 1434 which nevertheless he thought might not be intentional. Then if it is not intentional there is no gerrymandering.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
Gerrymandering is intentional. Any process that is not intentional cannot be gerrymandering. He might as well tell me that if I jostle against a Member in the Lobby I must have intended to insult him, though it was the purest accident in the world. I repeat, there cannot be gerrymandering if it is not intentional. He says that we are proposing to apply the system to parts of the country in which the Unionists are not in a majority. Therefore, he says, "You are applying it to the advantage of the Unionists."
§ Sir T. WHITTAKER
I said you are applying it where Liberals are in the majority and not applying it where Conservatives are in the majority.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
He pointed out that we were willing to give up London. Are the Liberals in the majority there? From the point of view of the advocates of proportional representation, you get under this scheme a more just result in any region you like to take. It does not matter who is in the majority at the time, and there can be no greater proof of our disinterestedness than our willingness to apply it in any district. If the House will only accept the principle we will agree to the selection of any districts in which as nearly as possible you get in one case a majority of one side and in the other case a majority on the other side. There can be no better test of our good faith than that. I think the argument of the hon. Member for West Newington was rather disingenuous. He knows perfectly well that the supporters of proportional representation are trying to be loyal to the lines laid down by the Speaker's Conference, and that we are only seeking to get from the House the minimum which the House ought decently to give us. Let us take another argument from the right hon. Gentleman. He says that the caucus grew out of minority representation; that it grew up in Birmingham in connection, with the system of the minority vote. The minority vote was not proportional representation. It may have 1435 been intended to go [...]in in the same direction, but it was a very bad and unscientific attempt. Will the right hon. Gentleman assert that the caucus which began there has not enormously developed since the minority vote system has been thrown aside? The caucus system has grown up all over the country in a far greater degree than it existed under the minority vote system, which in any ease has no element of proportional representation in it. What ground, then, can he have for arguing that the caucus will be made worse by proportional representation?
§ Sir T. WHITTAKER
Your side say, "It will destroy and weaken the power of the caucus." I deny that.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
Quite so. We do maintain that, and we have given a dozen reasons for thinking so. Is it not one of the best reasons that the party machine on both sides is to a large extent opposed to proportional representation? That was the real reason, as regards London, why the proportional representation advocates were willing to give up London. They were sorry to do so, but they knew that the party machines on both sides in London were against it. Surely the presumption is that if the caucus does not like proportional representation it is not good for the caucus. There may be various reasons, but I can see no ground for drawing the inference that under proportional representation you will have more caucus management when we know that the caucus has spread in a far greater degree than it ever existed when there was a majority vote to manage.
I will now deal with the right hon. Gentleman's real grounds of opposition. I am sure that the strenuous opposition which he gives is not grounded merely on dialectics about the inconsistency of the supporters of proportional representation. He has a real fear of the results of proportional representation. He thinks they will be bad, and he agrees with the hon. Member for Westminster who last night elaborated the same plea, that if you have proportional representation you will have Governments with no working majorities. Why is he so afraid of it? He told us that is an impossible monster, but his real argument is that it would work in a certain way. He says, "You will have Governments in power with majorities too small for effective legislation." Take the 1436 strongest form in which that case might be put. You might get a Parliament elected in which the Government has only a majority of five or ten, a mere handful. As a matter of fact, we have had Governments in power with very small majorities as compared with what we think necessary to-day. We would call a majority of forty-five to-day very inadequate, although a Government with that majority did very important and very valuable legislative work in this country. Let us suppose the worst case, of a Government with a majority of five or six. The right hon. Gentleman would say that that Government came without any adequate backing. If he will grant me that the proportional results would be a truer reflection of the feeling in the country at the given time—
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
If he does not grant me that, how can he arrive at the conclusion that you will only get small majorities? He got that conclusion by counting actual votes polled. Now he seems to say that he is not even sure that proportional representation will give the result of a Government with a small majority.
§ Sir T. WHITTAKER
You will get elections by the second, third, or fourth vote, which does not express the real opinion.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
That is a totally arbitrary assumption. There is no ground for saying that that would not represent the real opinion of the voters. These are devices by my right hon. Friend to get away from the fact that he is afraid of Governments being here with small majorities. He says that what is wanted is stability. I cannot imagine a greater guarantee of stability than that a Government has too small a majority to do any harm. Supposing that did happen once, and you got returned to this House a Government with a majority so small that while it might do very useful administrative work and carry on the ordinary business of the country, it could not initiate schemes of revolutionary legislation either of a destructive kind such as we get from a Conservative Government, or of a constructive kind such as we get from a Liberal Government. Surely that is not a dangerous thing. If the country is not really convinced of the need for vital change, you do not get your majority, and you have to postpone legislation. 1437 Take the case of a Liberal Government with a small majority wishing to carry Home Rule: What would happen under proportional representation would be that if the majority were not adequate you would have to let the legislation stand over. The right hon. Gentleman seems to assume that in all these cases the worst of evils will have happened. Does he believe that from the point of view of national stability it is a good thing that legislation should be carried by majorities which do not represent the real feeling of the country? He is determined to have a House of Commons where there will be swings of the pendulum; great majorities which are not represented in the country outside. But one of the incidental results of the view which he takes up is a desire for a second Chamber to prevent the first Chamber from doing the very dangerous things which he insists upon giving them the power to do. He has no real faith in the decisions of democracy. I am willing to stand by them provided only that we test the majority in the fairest and the justest way. The beginning and end of the principle of proportional representation is one of simple political justice.
I hope that one effect of this War will be to bring home to Members in regard to all questions the profound importance of having some principle of justice as their guide. We are all strong on that subject in regard to the War, Is it not possible to apply the lesson to our home affairs, as well as to our foreign affairs? Is not the nation best founded and most truly progressive that proceeds on the principle of political justice in every act? If my right hon. Friend says that proportional representation is less of a systematic attempt to secure political justice than a system which he avows gives majorities that are not truly representative, then I do not know what he means by political justice. Proportional representation means creating a representative system under which you will have majorities of a strength as nearly as you can get it corresponding with the balance of opinion outside. There could be no better demonstration of political justice under representative machinery than that. My right hon. Friend thinks that you will get political justice by first creating an unreal majority in this House and then having a second chamber to prevent that majority carrying out its wishes. Then you have other devices to guard 1438 against the second chamber, and you have many revolutionary schemes to guard against these devices. There is no end to the checks and counter-checks
Once you get proportional representation on a broad basis applied to elections to this House, this House will become a more stable political institution than it has ever been, and under such a system a great many of the difficulties that have arisen in the past could hardly have occurred. If this House does not represent the country, then it is our bounden duty to make it representative. If you say that the Amendment does not do that, and refuse to give way to that which is an experimental step—a step recommended by the Speaker's Conference, but we know very well that if you begin to work it it will make way—and if you refuse to give way to any of these straightforward, truthful arguments in justification of the Amendment, it seems to me to be resorting to what looks like political chicanery, since it amounts to saying that a system which is ideally just is never to be applied to this country because the country will not take it as a whole, and you will never allow it to be taken step by step. Such a decision would be most unfortunate for this House. After the decision taken last night, I am not very confident of seeing the House guided by the balance of argument or justice. Last night's decision was deplorable under both these heads, but we are not going to mend matters if an equally deplorable decision is taken on this matter of proportional representation.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
In reply to remarks made by the hon. Member who spoke on behalf of London, and I think also by an hon. Member opposite, I would like to explain why it is that we have not put down certain consequential Amendments. If this Amendment is carried it should apply to the great cities that have been named, but it would have been improper, even if it had been in order, for us to put down Amendments to affect them at this stage and for this reason. This House has most carefully left the question of boundaries to the Boundary Commissioners. If we had put down Amendments with reference to those great cities, we should have had to group proposed single-member constituencies. In other words, we should then have left ourselves open to the very charge which the right hon. Gentleman endeavours to bring, namely, the charge of gerrymandering. This House has expressly 1439 left this matter to the Boundary Commissioners, and even if we had been in order it would have been highly improper on our part to have attempted to get a decision on that matter by putting down a grouping, which we might agree on, of the single-member constituencies. That was the sole reason why they were not put down at this stage. We thought it more respectful to leave the matter for the House to send to the Boundaries Commissioners. I desire also to refer to what is a small matter, but it has a bearing on the larger question. This Horse likes to have practical experience to guide it, and therefore the small case of Tasmania, which has been referred to several times, does become of importance.
My hon. Friend the Member for the City of Westminster taunted the advocates of proportional representation by saying that they had made use of this case of Tasmania up to a certain point and then they were anxious to drop it. Tasmania has been mentioned several times in the speeches. It appears very frequently in literature which has been circulated to Members of the House on both sides of the question. It seemed to me, after what happened last night, that it was desirable to obtain first-hand information. Therefore I obtained from the Agent-General of Tasmania, Sir John McCall, the facts of the case. I may say that Sir John McCall gave evidence before on this question as to electoral methods, and therefore I feel that it is strictly pertinent to bring that evidence up to date, obtain his present view, and inform the House of the facts as he tells them in regard to Tasmania. In passing I may say that a certain amount of prejudice has been aimed at Sir John McCall on the ground that he was the parent of the Bill of 1907 which gave proportional representation to Tasmania. He informs me that he was not the author of the Bill and did not carry it, and therefore his evidence is not tainted in that particular matter. There have been four General Elections in Tasmania since the Bill was carried. Those four General Elections have given a Chamber representing very closely the actual proportion of votes cast by the electors.
There are two things in regard to that. First, if your aim is to obtain a Legislature which really represents the people, then on four different occasions that has been accomplished in Tasmania. The second 1440 thing is this: If you say that you would have confusion produced in the minus of your electors, then you are saying that a community similar to our own, an Anglo-Saxon community that has gone forth from our own body, is a far more intelligent body than the average of the electors in this country. I do not believe it. I believe that this country has stood most magnificently the tests of recent years, not merely because we have plenty of courage among us, but also because we have plenty of intelligence. At any rate the case of Tasmania is strictly pertinent. It is the case of a community of our own race which has on four successive occasions worked this principle and worked it successfully. On the other hand, we have the fact that on the occasion of the elections to the Federal Parliament there is a system of single-member constituencies. That system is imposed upon Tasmania for the purpose of the Federal election. At the last election, in 1913, the result of working by single-member constituencies in Tasmania, upon which the system is imposed against its will, was that there was a majority of Liberal votes and there was a minority of Labour votes, but the Labour party obtained three seats out of the five, while the Liberal party only obtained two. Forty thousand Liberal votes were cast and won two seats and 37,000 Labour votes were cast and they won three seats. If you could have a more striking object-lesson than the decision in that particular case I find it difficult to imagine it.
The other argument advanced against proportional representation is that you will obtain weak Governments. I want to bring the test of Tasmania to that argument. The test of a weak Government is that it does weak things. I know no other test of a strong Government than that it does strong things. You may have a Government consisting of very strong men, and it may be weak because it does weak things. My test of a strong Government is a Government that does strong things—accomplishes things which the community wants. What kind of things can the Tasmanian Parliament do? The population of Tasmania is a couple of hundred thousand. That is to say, it is not that of a first-class and hardly that of a second-class city in this country. Moreover, the Tasmanian Parliament is of the third rank of Parliaments in this Empire. Here is the supreme Parliament, but between this Parliament and the Tasmanian Parliament stands the Commonwealth Parliament. 1441 All questions of defence and external policy are taken away from the Tasmanian Parliament. The Tasmanian Parliament can only do very limited things. But, testing it by what it has accomplished under those limits, the Tasmanian Parliament, in which the two sides are very evenly balanced, and in which, presumably, you would have a weak Government, has permitted its Government to carry out things that would be considered evidence of very great strength in the case of a municipality of 200,000 inhabitants. For one thing, it has harnessed the water-power of the central mountains of the island with the idea of working the whole railway system, which belongs to the State, by means of water power. Within its limits I say that that was a strong thing and a great thing for the Parliament and Government of a country like that to accomplish, and if you say that it had control of the railways I have only to say this, that a city like Glasgow, which has control of its tramways, has control of a system practically the equivalent of the whole railway system of Tasmania. The facts when I heard them appeared to me to render the case of Tasmania one to which we who advocate proportional representation could point as an instance of what proportional representation has accomplished within the limits under which that country must work. Sir John McCall put this further point. He says that though a majority under proportional representation be small—
§ Mr. MACKINDER
If the hon. Member wishes, though I do not think that the House would ask it from me, I will read the statement which I hold in my hand, which is signed by Sir John McCall, and is dated to-day. That is my reference. The hon. Member has asked me for it, and I give it.
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
Is the hon. Gentleman in order in reading from something which he pulls out of his pocket, and which he tells us is a statement made by someone else, without producing and reading the document?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER(Sir Donald Maclean)
If he makes a quotation he does so on his own responsibility.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
I have made the statement, and I affirm it on my own responsibility. The hon. Member challenged me, and I told him that my responsibility was backed up by this paper in my pocket, signed by Sir John McCall himself, and dated to-day. I may say, further, that this evidence is pertinent, because again and again Tasmania has been cited in Debate, both yesterday and to-day, and again and again Sir John McCall's name has been referred to, as well as his evidence before the Royal Commission on electoral methods. He has watched what has been happening in Australia, and he holds that though you may have a smaller majority given you by proportional representation, yet it is apt to be a more stable one. He goes further, and he says that in regard to the elections which took place before proportional representation was introduced, in the year. 1903, he and his own party won, and the whole of the Ministers on the other side failed to regain their seats, with the result that the House was deprived of their valuable experience in the Opposition. One of the main arguments put forward with regard to the future is that this House will want all the wisdom, wheher in the majority or the minority, that it can possibly have to guide it through the difficulties that are coming upon us. Anyone who looks back to the election of 1906—I was not in the House at that time, but there are many here who were—and who bears in mind what was the position of the Leader of the Unionist party when he first came back into this House in 1906, will recall how he was treated in this House by some elements, at any rate, of the great majority that stood against him, and how his wisdom, experience, and statesmanship won its way in a few months, until the whole House, including those very elements to which I have referred, heard him with respect, and recognised his wisdom. I trust, therefore, that you will recognise the value of a system which would return to this House men of experience, of true wisdom, and statesmanship, but who might, under our present system, lose their seats by pure electoral accident.
One point was put very strongly by the Member for Oxford City last night, 1443 when he quoted some recent words of the late Lord Grey, to the effect that unless some system of proportional representation were adopted in Canada the country would suffer greatly from corruption. Where you have single-member constituencies in a new country, you know that you do get, before the election, promises which, in the case of men who become Ministers, amount to corruption. Let us not forget what we may be liable to in this country. This is not a new country, I recognise, but we are liable to the difficulties of old countries, and there is the difficulty in this old country that we have now a very large number of Civil servants. That number is steadily increasing; it is an appreciable portion of the electorate, and many hon. Members know by experience that they can bring very heavy pressure to bear upon candidates where you have two parties not very different in number and where a few votes will turn the election. There the temptation is great, I will not say to sell the seat, but, at any rate, to modify the education of the constituency in speeches which are given from the platform. That is a growing, and I venture to say in the future will be a great, menace to honest government in this country; and any system which will remove candidates from the necessity of buying—I use the word, I know, brutally—those odd votes that will turn the election will, in my opinion, do an immense amount for the protection of the future of this country.
We are told that this is a complex system, and the White Paper is held up as evidence. I imagine that a very large number of Members of this House have received part of their education at the hands of Euclid. There is an attempt in Euclid, in words, to deal with things which are best expressed in numbers and in figures, and the complexity of Euclid is recognised as an attempt to put into words what can be conveyed more quickly and more simply if you take a sheet of paper, a ruler, a pair of compasses, and pencil. What is true of the complexity of Euclid may be said of the complexity of the White Paper, which is due to the fact that you set lawyers, in longhand and in words, to attempt to express what could best be conveyed by simple sums—a few simple sums of rule of three. Hon. Members know that in our factories and workshops there are men who are working on piece rates, a system which inolves the doing of 1444 sums of a complexity far greater than those few simple sums which lawyers have attempted to make appear so complicated in connection with proportional representation. But there is no suspicion all through these works and factories that the sums relating to piece work are being muddled, addled, and gerrymandered. This system is being worked week by week, fortnight by fortnight in thousands of factories and workshops all over this country, and is accepted by millions of men. If that be the case, if these very people accept the result of sums which they do not work themselves, but whose general character they recognise, then I say it should be possible for them to accept this system of election. The whole argument, as the Attorney-General has said, is reminiscent of the Debates which took place in regard to the Daylight Saving Bill. That is the real difficulty, and I recognise it. Political problems are not in black and white, and we have to deal with various parties. Reference has been made to by-election difficulties and cost. All I have to say on that is that if you are standing as a single candidate, in a constituency where other members are to be elected, then the cost will be slightly more than if you stand as one of a group. But in that case an appeal could be made for funds. Hitherto money has been found for people to fight elections, often by great organisations, and is it too much to ask people, who have so much faith in their views that they want their own member to go to Parliament to represent those views, to distribute the cost among themselves? for it would not amount to very much per head. If you got a Roman Catholic Irishman or a Labour candidate to stand in a great constituency in this country, in that ease he need not incur the full expenses; he would be foolish if he did, because he has an organisation which tells him that there are people who are going to support him, and he need only trouble himself to address and work among them. I associate myself with what has been said as to the tremendous importance at the present moment of looking to and preparing for what is to come in the future. Look at Russia, and see what is the position between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Parties in this country work together simply because they are two schools of a ruling class; but if you are going to get differences between classes, as you have in some countries at the, present moment, then the danger will become very great 1445 indeed, and you might have the chance of a tyranny, on the part of a great and accidental majority, over the minority underrepresented.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I hope the House will permit me to add a few words to the discussion, because up to the present time I have voted on every occasion for proportional representation, and I have done so against my own convictions; because, being a Member of the Speaker's Conference, I felt bound to stand by that Conference and all its recommendations. But I think I am free now, as this question, in my opinion, has been already settled, to express my views upon the subject, because they are views which I pressed very strongly upon the Conference, being convinced—not by a short study, but by a study extending over several years—that the disadvantages of proportional. representation would far outweigh any possible advantage. I have listened this afternoon to three most able speeches from the Attorney-General, from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tyneside, and my hon. Friend below me who has just spoken. The hon. Member (Mr. Mackinder) began by taking exception to the objections raised by certain opponents to the procedure which has been adopted by the advocates of proportional representation in putting down Amendments which would only apply to a limited number of places. I quite agree that there is not much in that as a matter of procedure. I understand it has been done because it was impossible for the advocates of proportional representation to specify more than a limited number of places to which to have the system of proportional representation applied. If this Debate results in the acceptance of proportional representation, then they will undoubtedly add to the Schedule to bring it up to the number of places, at any rate, which were proposed by the Speaker's Conference. The Attorney-General argued very strongly in favour of it because it was, he said, an experiment and a test. I ask what will it be a test of? If you want to test the intelligence of the people as to whether they can vote equally intelligently under a system of proportional representation as they do at present, I have no doubt they can do so, and there is nothing so complicated in the method of voting as to require a test in order to prove that it can be done, and if you want the test in order to say when those votes 1446 are counted that they do represent the various sections of opinion in the places in which they have been recorded we will grant that at once. They do undoubtedly, and the system of proportional representation undoubtedly does that.
But the test that we want to apply is whether proportional representation substituted for the present existing system will bring about a better form of government all over this country. I venture to submit seriously to the House that that test can never be applied with satisfaction unless you had proportional representation all over the country. What would be the good from that point of view of a few constituencies in London, or, indeed, if all London, were represented by a few less Conservatives or a few more Liberals than otherwise might have been the case if the rest of the country is left under the old system? The fact is that you cannot apply satisfactorily a system of proportional representation to prove really effective unless you apply it all over the country, and that is really why the proposal failed at the Speaker's Conference. The further fact is this, that when you come to the question of applying it to every part of the country you find yourself faced with the practical impossibility of space and of population. For instance, to introduce proportional representation in Scotland you are faced with the fact that you have got to institute constituencies of such enormous size in order to get a proper population that you cannot venture to adopt it. I do not believe that even the strongest representatives of proportional representation would face with equanimity the idea of suddenly setting up constituencies stretching from one side of Scotland to the other and thinking that that would be a satisfactory solution of our electoral system. This point lies at the basis of the whole question. There is also this other question. Proportional representation must be some system whereby you can get small minorities represented. It is no good if you do not get that. You cannot get small minorities represented unless you have constituencies of at least five members. That stands to reason. If you have only three members you must have a very considerable minority to get representation. If you have four members a smaller group of people can get representation, but it is not until you accept proportional representation in its full bearing as put forward 1447 by the proportional representation society, namely, to have constituencies of six or seven or nine members that you will have small groups of people represented fully in this House. That is the proposition which we are up against. The present system of Government in this country may not be a perfect system at present, but I venture to think that this proposal is a dangerous experiment and an experiment which, from the point of view of those who propose it, will not succeed, and that it is one we ought to avoid at all costs.
My objections are both on detail and on principle. One objection I have on detail is the necessity of having large constituencies. I have pointed out that to properly carry the system out you would require a constituency of at least five members, but even with the constituency of three members it would still be very large. I suppose the present average of electors is about 10,000, and when this Bill goes through will probably be 18,000, so that with a three-member seat under proportional representation you would have an electorate. approaching 60,000, and in a five-member seat an electorate approaching 100,000. That is a very serious consideration, especially from the point of view of the individual. Proportional representation is put forward with the idea that it will afford opportunities for men of independent thought who are not backed up by caucus funds or anything of that kind, and that the independent man will get in, but the cost of running in those large constituencies will be almost prohibitive to the single man. It will be possible for the five party men to run together and divide the costs which on them will be comparatively small. The single independent candidate will be handicapped seriously in this respect. My hon. Friend (Mr. Mackinder) tackled that point just now and said that such a candidate would approach no other than his own supporters. The hon. Member, I am sure, has a good deal of experience of elections, and though I think not so long as mine, but is it conceivable when you are sending out your election address that you are able to pick out the men who are going to vote for you? You are bound to appeal to the whole constituency and to incur expenditure, by reason of the fact that you are dealing with sixty or seventy or possibly 100,000 electors, and it seems to me that the cost of that, on the single individual, would be almost prohibitive.
1448 There is a second objection as to detail. It has been argued during the course of the Debate that the institution of proportional representation will do away with the caucus or party system, and I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tyneside (Mr. Robertson) said that the reason why objections had been taken to it by certain party organisations, especially in London, was because those party organisations thought that proportional representation would affect their own interests. I am chairman of one of those party organisations, but I can assure the House that I have taken no step in connection with that organisation, because of the fact of my connection with the Speaker s Conference. But I know for certain that the view that that organisation took was on broad grounds of principle, and I have a sufficient belief in the existing party organisations to think that they do base their decisions on broad grounds of politics rather than on mere questions of personal politics. I think that the institution of proportional representation is more likely to bring about undue power to the party caucus than the present system, and I will give my reasons. We have had experience of how you can work elections with a minority vote. One of the most striking was that which took place in 1868, in connection with the election in the City of London, where there were four seats, and where, in order to ensure the minority being represented, no one was allowed to vote for more than three candidates. Nevertheless, for a long time those four seats were filled by Liberal or Whig candidates, and the Tory interest in London could not get in one. How was that done? I happened to know one of the individuals actually engaged in that historic election. It was done with the expenditure of about £20,000 on each side of party funds, and it was done by a most careful and elaborate calculation of all the electors. The great problem there was to get the voter not to waste his vote, and if you could get every vote carefully placed in the right box you could win, while if you left the thing alone probably one of the minority would get in. For weeks before the election there was a system of coloured cards by which each individual elector was to be told exactly how he was to vote; he was not to exercise free discretion, because if he did he would find one of the opposite party would get in. The only way by which they could 1449 succeed in getting four members was by carefully going through every individual elector, ticketing him off and ordering how he was to vote.
That was done by the party caucus. I submit to my right hon. Friend that precisely the same thing would be done in the future. What will be the problem? Let us remember we are taking part in a very important process, namely, deciding who are to be the executive Government of a great Empire, and whatever you do you are going to have your parties. The parties will exist, and whether there are two big or three big parties as hitherto I do not know, but there will be parties, and on the victory of one party over another will depend the future executive Government of this country. You cannot get over that fact. What is going to happen? You have got your constituency with five or three members. We will take it that it is an ordinary constituency with one of the candidates under proportional representation, with enough of a minority to carry him in; one seat, say, is Liberal and the other is Tory. The problem will be, Who is going to be the third member? It is on that particular seat that all the wit and money and energy of the party caucus will be set. The problem will be how to get that third man in, because upon that man, in every constituency in the country, will depend the executive Government of the day.
I submit to this House, with a pretty good knowledge of what goes on in caucus meetings and political organisations, that, leaving on one side one man or the other, we shall have to go through a process of manœuvring, of making terms with opponents, of instructing the electorate, and all that caucus business which we know pretty well, in order to win this one seat upon which the whole future of the Empire for the next five or six years will depend. I venture, with great submission to the hon. Gentleman who took up this matter from another point of view, to urge that there will be much more danger of caucus-mongering than in the ordinary system of the single-member vote. Those are two points of what I call detail on which I have always opposed the supporters of proportional representation. There are two other points, I think, of great national principle. The first is this: Proportional representation means that you do away with the single-member constituency. I believe in the single-member constituency, and for this reason, that it places a sense 1450 of responsibility on the individual man who represents the constituency. He knows that it will depend upon the attitude of his party and on his own political work as to whether or not he will be returned at the next election. If you are going to have large constituencies all thought of direct responsibility and of the time arriving at which you have to fight for your seat and make good your work in politics, and so forth, will disappear, and you have lost a very great asset in political life. My feeling has always been that with all its defects—and we grant that the party system has many defects—it is better that we Members of Parliament should have a direct responsibility in our individual positions to our constituencies than that we should be able to ride off and come back again as representing the minority.
Speaking for myself, it is quite possible I may be turned out at the next election. Honestly, I say I would rather be turned out because I have not been able to justify my position to a majority of my constituents than come in, simply because there are enough people of my colour in a large constituency to send me in as their representative. With great respect, I submit to the House that this is a very broad and far-reaching principle of political life. I do not believe, with all its faults, that our party system has been a failure. I believe that for this country the party system, with its swing of the pendulum effects, has been a great advantage. That leads me to the second great point. Is it not much better that the Government of the day shall know that it has either got to fall or live up to the result of an election? If you always know that you always may be in with a small majority your feeling of responsibility to the country is not the same. I believe it is a great safeguard to this country that we have always before our eyes the next election, and that it may be an election at which everyone of us may fall if the Government that we are supporting does wrong. I believe that is really a sound principle in our political system. I should not like to abandon it. I do not want to get into this position, of this House being merely a mirror—what you call a mirror—of the political sentiment in the country generally. It may be a great disadvantage that you have the elections all on one side, and that one side should have more power than really they are entitled to. I think sometimes it is an advantage. I am perfectly certain 1451 that if you really want progress you had better fight until you get a big majority in this House, and then you can carry it through better than upon simply a small majority in the House elected under a different system. At any rate, what we want to have is a deep sense of responsibility in this House, especially in the Government of the day, that if they do wrong the whole of their party is sent to the winds, which they ought to be! That is one of the great advantages of our present system of single-member constituencies.
Although I think I have studied proportional representation even to have the egotism which enables me to stand up in this House and say I understand—I believe I do understand it, although there is a great deal in it to understand—I still say that the disadvantages that attend it are far greater than the probable advantages that may arise if we adopt it. They certainly are greater if we adopt it merely as a partial system as proposed at the present time. Therefore, I say although I have had always to vote against my own convictions in favour of proportional representation, I shall on this occasion vote in accordance with my own opinions.
The opposition to proportional representation has emanated from the London Members. A large number of them have spoken against the principle in the three Debates which have taken place in this House. I am the first one who has had the privilege of saying something on the other side from the point of view of the London Member. I have a great horror of wasting the time of the House, and I shall not endeavour to cover a great number of the arguments used. My right hon. Friend who has just spoken, it is true, is at the head of one of the caucases in London. It is true also that both the caucases have fought bitterly and strongly and have brought every possible effort to bear to prevent even the discussion amongst their own members of this principle. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] In a former Debate the hon. Member for West Newington (Mr. Gilbert) said the Liberals were unanimous on this question. It is true that inside the London Liberal Federation the executive committee are practically unanimous against this proposal. It is quite true that the council which represents the electors have never been consulted. It is also quite true that since the speech to which I have re- 1452 ferred was made the only local association which has discussed this matter has passed a resolution in its favour. I do not want to deal with the different points brought up by my right hon. Friend opposite, but may I remind him that he himself voted for that proposal in the Home Rule Bill which constituted a whole province in Ireland a constituency?
If it were possible for him to support a proposal of that kind I do not think it would be impossible for him to bring himself to support a proposal for the creation of large constituencies in this country. After all, is a large constituency so great a disadvantage? Is it absolutely necessary that the present methods of election should be adopted for the purposes of getting into this House? The right hon. Gentleman who sits for the City of London said in a previous Debate that in order to get into this House for the constituency of Peckham he himself personally had canvassed, I think he said, 7,000 electors. The personal canvass of the electors is a degradation to the candidate and a degradation to the electors. The most corrupt of the old constituencies were little ones; they were most liable to corruption. The larger constituencies have been made, and the more numerous the electors, and the more impossible to get into personal touch with the electors individually—in other words, the weaker the personal touch, which has been spoken of with so much admiration by so many Members of this House, the better for the public life of this country. In a large constituency where a man has simply to make known his views, knowing that it is impossible to conduct a house-to-house canvass, knowing that his only chance is to make himself and his views known, and to be elected on the strength of the faith and the views he holds and expounds—that is the best way to get public policy represented in this House.
I do not want to deal with the general arguments which have been put forward. I want to speak primarily as a London Member. There can be no justification for an alternative if our existing system is a just and fair one. I want to tell the House some facts in regard to London. I want to assert that the present system of election, whether it be by the ticket system, which exists in the local bodies and in the county councils, or the single-member system, as represented in Parliament, is grossly unjust, as misrepresenting at the present time public opinion 1453 throughout London. I assert that the representation of London on scarcely any occasion has been just or fair to the different parties in this House, and that so far as the local bodies are concerned the representation is misrepresentation. I desire to put in one or two facts in regard to that statement, because I was one of those who protested rather against the exclusion of London when this matter came up before in the House. I have been living in London for a great number of years. I have taken part in practically all elections since 1886. During that period there have been, I think, eight General Elections, and only in 1910 did the representation approximate to anything like justice towards the parties in London. Look at the representation on the local bodies at present! We have a ticket system. We have elections by wards, and in those wards you vote by ticket. Each elector has one vote for every seat. The result of that has been to produce a condition of affairs which has practically killed public interest in many boroughs in London, and public interest is vital to an enlightened or just administration. Unless you have in these local bodies an effective opposition which is capable of criticising and pointing out mistakes in policy and other cognate matters, you kill public interest altogether. That is also true in regard to Parliamentary seats. Let me quote Lord Eversley—although I am afraid he has been quoted very many times—where he says that where there wag an established majority in a division, and where there was little hope of displacing the sitting member, that there public interest died out altogether. And, of course, we have numbers of instances in different parts of the country where a walk-over takes place from time to time.
Look at the position in London! We have six boroughs in London in which there is no single Progressive sitting. The Moderates sit there and administer local affairs without any criticism except from within their own ranks. They dominate the whole affair, and the domination of a party is as objectionable as the domination of an autocracy. In two of these boroughs there are only two Progressives out of sixty members. In one of them there are only five. In another there are only six, and in another only seven out of sixty members. That is to say, that in all those eleven boroughs in London at the present time one side of municipal poli- 1454 tics has practically no existence; the other party is in complete control of the affairs of these boroughs. There are three boroughs in which there has been no Progressive for eleven years, and in one of them, represented in this House by my right hon. Friend, there was no single Progressive elected on the local borough council between 1906 and 1912. What is the result? The result is, as the elections come on, an increasing number of uncontested seats. The result is that in the election in the borough which ought to create interest and discussion in order that matters might be effectively carried out, policy is not discussed; interest practically disappears, and the conclusion enters the minds of the local electors that it is no use doing anything. The system is one which perpetuates that kind of thing, and the gradual killing of the one element of value in the pubic life of London at the present time. Supposing you substitute for that a system whereby that would be impossible, a system which would ensure that considerable minorities in the country would be able to get representation on these bodies, it would mean that no election would go without a contest; it would mean that in every county, in every one of these boroughs, a certain number on both sides, or all sides, of politics would put up for election with the certainty that a proportion of them would get in, and that there would be effective opposition, effective government, and effective criticism.
No one who has watched the politics of London, as I have for the last thirty years, would contend that these local bodies do carry out the wishes of the local electors, at any rate during recent years, and the same injustice also exists in regard to the county council. In the county council we have two votes in each constituency which we give to the two members of our own party. If a majority of one on a party vote in the constituency is thrown in on behalf of two candidates, the two candidates sit for that constituency, and the other party is unrepresented, or rather misrepresented altogether. There are a number of seats which are represented in this House at the present time the members for which must realise that they sit here in spite of the mistrust and opposition of practically one-half of their constituents. The Member for West Bromwich sits here with a majority of two, the Member for Gloucester with a majority of four, the Member for Denbigh 1455 with a majority of nine, and the Member for Southwark, on the other side of politics, with a majority of eighteen. In the case of West Bromwich it means that, with the exception of two, half of the voters who polled desired that the member who now sits should not sit, and that half of the constituency therefore is not represented at all. So far as this House is concerned, London has been represented in different proportions in the different elections that have taker place. In 1895 and 1900 only eight Liberals sat for the whole of London. According to the number of votes which were actually recorded in favour of Liberals they ought to have had twenty-four members. Who can say that the representation of London on those two occasions was just to the people of London, or that the votes of the members given in connection with great national questions were just to the people, or that London itself gave its decision in favour of those votes?
Most of the discussions on this matter have centred in the convenience of candidates and members. It has been said that proportional representation is inconvenient, complicated, and expensive. A variety of criticisms have been discharged against it, but the one question that has not been faced is whether it is just or not. If the existing system is unjust, surely now, of all times, is the time to substitute for it a just system. Reference has been made to other attempts to get minorities represented in this House, for instance, the election in the City of London. That was altogether different from the system which we suggest under proportional representation. There you had three votes where there were four members. There you had gerrymandering of all kinds. You had machinery set to work in the caucus offices instructing the voters how to vote in order that the three members might be captured for the one party. That would be impossible under this system. Under this system, no man could have more than one vote, and only when the votes given for one candidate exceeded those necessary to elect him to this House would the alternative come into operation, and even then only one vote could be given to any candidate, and it would be practically impossible to carry out arrangements such as were so popular in Birmingham many years ago and the City of London. A single-member constituency means 1456 disfranchisement of half, or nearly half, of the voters in that constituency. The fact that in one part of the country an injustice is inflicted on a political opponent of mine is no gratification to me. I am not at all satisfied that, because I suffer from an injustice here, that is put right by an injustice being inflicted on someone else in another part of the country.
Our contention is that if you had large constituencies with a large number of electors you would collect opinion over a large area, you would prevent people coming here representing bodies too small, you would get in this House representation which would be something like a mirror of the public opinion of the country, and any legislation of a representative chamber built up in that way would be accepted by the country, whether passed by a large majority or a small one. There would be no temptation, or rather less temptation than in times past, for big majorities to tyrannise over small minorities. There would be less inclination on the part of one Parliament to try to upset legislation of a previous Parliament, and less of the bitterness in elections, because each elector would realise that he himself was represented in the House and that his vote had really told in the election of a member. The 1900 Parliament was elected to end the South African War. That Parliament had a big Conservative majority. It was elected on practically a pledge that domestic legislation should not be touched. It proceeded to deal with education and the liquor traffic in a way which made the 1906 election a test of opposition to that legislation. The 1906 election returned a huge majority on the other side, pledged to undo the legislation carried through by the 1900 Parliament. That kind of thing would disappear if you had a Parliament representing the country, and although there would be changes in opinion and in majorities and in Governments from time to time, I feel certain that the legislation arising from a system like that would be so devised as to meet with the general consensus of opinion throughout the country, that it would be accepted, that it would be loyally obeyed, that it would get rid of a great deal of party bitterness in our elections, that it would build up a citizenship far higher than that we now possess, and that the introduction of this principle, by making the 1457 representation just, would make legislation just, and would lead to a great improvement throughout the country.
§ The PRESIDENT of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Hayes Fisher)
This has been a Debate of a very comprehensive character, in which probably all the arguments for and against proportional representation have been stated with great lucidity, power and illustration. I have observed that of all the speakers who have advocated this partial measure of proportional representation, there is only one who sits for a city to which this analytical process will be applied, and that was my hon. and gallant Friend—always honourable and always exceedingly gallant—the Member for Central Hull (Sir M. Sykes), who made a most interesting speech. But, with that single exception, the speeches in favour of imposing this new electoral system of proportional representation upon unwilling constituencies has been made by those who are not returned by those particular constituencies, and who will not be affected by the vote to-night. I rise, not so much to put before this House my own individual opinion—because I speak to-night, not as a, member of the Government, not as one more or less in charge of this Bill, but I speak with that freedom which has been accorded to every member of the Government and of the House—but I do rise, however, to ask this House very seriously to consider the effect of the vote, which they are going to give to night, upon the fortunes of this Bill. I believe that the House generally—I know there is a small minority in this House, or I think small—but the House generally wants to see this measure pass by all the shoals and the rocks, and brought safely into pert. I believe, on the whole, they share the opinion I hold, that one of the best things this House can do during the War is to remove from the area of controversy the whole of this great question of what is, after all, machinery, so that the country may have, when this War is ended, the fullest possible opportunities, entirely free from all this machinery, of dealing with the work of reconstruction, and that the very best thing we can do is to pass this Bill and get that question out of the way.
I am going to ask hon. Members to consider the effect of the vote they give to-night on this Bill. If we do not operate at all upon the Schedule, the only effect of passing this Amendment will be to apply 1458 it to one set of constituencies only, and that is the grouped new universities. That is the only effect it will have; but I am bound to direct the attention of the Mover of this Amendment, and all those who vote for it, not merely to the words of the Amendment, but to different Amendments which they have put down to the Schedules. If I may judge the motive and intention of my hon. Friends who support proportional representation, it is that they intend to apply this Amendment, if passed, to something like twenty-two constituencies The Mover of this Amendment shakes his head.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
I have explained several times that our intention is that it should apply wherever the Speaker's Conference recommended that it should apply. We only put down Amendments to the boroughs entitled to three, four or five members, because that is all to which we could put down Amendments, as we are not Boundary Commissioners. To have put down Amendments to Glasgow, or for the linking-up of small boroughs, would have been to do the work of the Boundary Commissioners, which we could not do, and I explained that from the first.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. FISHER
That is exactly the answer. I wanted to draw from the hon. Gentleman. We have already had that from the hon. Member for the Camlachie Division of Glasgow (Mr. Mackinder), who said that, so far as he was concerned, it was his intention later on to apply this system of proportional representation to the great towns, such as Glasgow, Birmingham, and Leeds, and to all constituencies, indeed, that have more than five members That I admit, is carrying out not the principle, but the actual rule laid down by the Speaker's Conference. The Attorney-General says that he intends to concentrate on the Speaker's Conference, but the Mover of this Amendment says that when we come to the Schedule his supporters intend to apply this very harmless Amendment, which now only relates to one constituency under the Bill, to great constituencies like Liverpool with eleven members, Manchester with ten, Glasgow with fifteen, and Leeds with six. I desire to call the attention of the House to this fact. If that is so, and if in voting for this Amendment those who do so intend to apply it to all these great cities, let me tell the House that this must be result. The Boundary Commissioners have finished their task 1459 and do not exist, and we shall have to call them into being again and ask them to divide up all these great industrial areas. To divide Glasgow up into three constituencies with five members each—[An HON. MEMBER: "A very easy thing to do."] I do not think it is an easy thing to do. When we come to Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, and Birmingham, and all these great towns, and attempt to divide them into three or five constituencies with three or five members each, the task will not be an easy one.
Here we are now towards the end of November, and with real good luck and good will we may be able, if we can agree—and we have agreed so far—to send this Bill to the other House in the first week in December, and if we can do that we shall allow the House of Lords three weeks to consider this measure, and I think that is the period they ought to have. In that case we may hope to see this measure become law possibly before Christmas, but certainly before the end of the year On the other hand, if we are to resurrect the Boundary Commissioners, and if we are to go into all these great schemes for dividing up all these great cities under a system the operation of which they have never heard of, it will necessitate local inquiries and it will lead to much bitter opposition when for the first time the citizens of these great towns realise that an entirely new electoral system is to be applied to them of which they have never heard, and upon which not one of their representatives has ever addressed them. In such circumstances I say that we should be face to face with a delay with regard to this Bill not of days, but of weeks, and possibly months. If the House decides to adopt this Amendment, and later on applies it to these great constituencies, hon. Members must be prepared for the position that this Bill cannot become law before Christmas, or the end of the year, and if anything of this kind is done I think it will seriously jeopardise and imperil the passage of this measure into law.
Up to the present I have sunk all my own individual opinions when I have been in charge of this Bill, and I would prefer to continue to sink my individual views rather than run any risk of losing this Bill. I have separated from Members of my own party on some questions, and I have supported proposals which make for the fuller representation of the people. For 1460 the safety of the country I think it is best to get this Bill out of the way, and not run the risk of Government after Government having to deal with these questions when the entire energies of the country ought to be concentrated on economic and industrial reconstruction. I ask those who support proportional representation, is it really worth while to establish that principle in this Bill? Surely we ought to take a longer time to consider in what way we should apply proportional representation in this country. This new system—unless you have to avoid the dangers I have pointed out—will only, after all, be applied to a very few constituencies.
It is argued that the present system only allows the hard and fast party man to be returned, and that there is no room for the independent man. I have been in this House seven years now, and I think the, present system brings here a great variety of men. Time after time hon. Members have come to me and have said: "Look here, I am not going into that lobby; I have heard the arguments, and I am going to vote the other way." I have often been influenced by very powerful speeches, and I believe there is an independence of thought amongst hon. Members of this House which is not realised outside in the very least degree. I do not believe that men lose their independence because they take the name of Unionists, Liberals, or Labour representatives, for they are constantly asserting their individual opinions in regard to legislation in this House. If you are going to change your system, what are you going to change it for? I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Pancras (Mr. Dickinson), who said that under this new system we are going to be more caucus-driven than ever, because under it the only chance of getting elected in one of these three or five-member constituencies is to join the caucus in which case you have your election address written for you as well as your speeches.
I was not always willing to toe the party line, but I got in. Often you are able to get elected by your own individual character. Sometimes you may do a thing which is unpopular with your own party but you can preserve your seat. I do not believe that you will be allowed any independent opinion under proportional representation and under the caucus, for your addresses will be written for you. If a candidate does not elect to go in with the party and decides to stand by himself, write his own election address, and engage 1461 his own hall, look at the expense, it will be to him. Has anybody thought about the expense of an individual in such circumstances? No man will be able to contest any of these seats under £2,000 unless you alter the other Clauses in this Bill. If you pass proportional representation we shall have to look through the whole of this Bill to seee how it affects the other Clauses. Take, for example, a three-member constituency with a population of 190,250, which will be about the average of a three-seat constituency. About one-third of that total will be electors and calculated on the basis of 5d. per elector the individual candidate's personal expenses will come to about £2,000.
§ Mr. FISHER
If the hon. Member will turn to Schedule 4 of the Bill he will see that it provides that the expenses to be incurred in the case of an election for a borough is 5d. for each elector on the register.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
As the Bill was introduced there was a distinct Clause for boroughs with three, four or five members, and that was struck out because the proposal for three, four or five members was struck out. Now the hon. Member is applying that provision to something which concerns only single-member constituencies.
§ Mr. FISHER
I say that 5d. is allowed for every one of these constituencies. If we are going to reconsider these proposals you may put it at 1d., and if you pass this Amendment then we must review the whole Bill. See how far this Amendment relating to proportional representation affects the whole story. I maintain that you have so provided that not one of these individual candidates, who are to be free from all party Whips, and who are never to take instructions from anyone except themselves, can get in for any one of these seats unless he is willing to spend something like £2,000. My hon. Friend is himself conscious that he has to do something in connection with the expenses, and he and his friends have actually put down an 1462 Amendment Which says that if proportional representation is adopted all these candidates who contest any one of these three-seater constituencies may claim, not one free postage, but two free postages. What is that going to cost the State? One free postage would cost £375 each candidate, and two free postages would be £750 for each candidate. If you are going to allow each candidate £750 for free postage over all these seats, there will be a good many tradesmen who will be willing to advertise their affairs at the expense of a little trouble in contesting these seats. There will be at least twenty candidates for all these places, and that will mean something like a cost of £7,000 to the State for free postage.
This all goes to show that the House must really be prepared to review the Bill from many points of view, even at this late hour, if they put in proportional representation. There are other little matters over which the friends of this Amendment skate very lightly. If we adopt this principle there are other provisions which we ought to put in. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment would say at once that the House ought to do something to provide for by-elections. The minority member, if he is to contest the whole seat by himself, will have to face an enormous expenditure. It is not, however, only the expense. Let us say that a Government is about to be formed, and that there is a good deal of talent amongst the minority representatives. Under the law at present you have to seek re-election on taking office, but the minority member, if he got a place in the Government, unfortunately would have to say, "It is quite impossible that I should seek re-election." All minority representatives therefore would be ruled out from having any share in the emoluments of office. By-elections are not only created by Members joining the Government. There are Members in this House who sometimes receive very well-merited reward on the judicial bench. Often a Member of this House has a very good claim to be promoted—and, indeed, he ought to be promoted. Fancy any Government promoting any minority Member to the bench when that Government was unpopular in the country I Obviously, they could not do so, because they would lose the seat. Anybody who took the Chiltern Hundreds would have the Government of the day in his power. He 1463 might inflict a heavy blow upon the Government by taking the Chiltern Hundreds. The Government might be absolutely certain to lose the seat. These are little practical difficulties to which almost every advocate of proportional representation gives the go-by.
This is a great enfranchising measure as it stands, but pass proportional representation, with all its difficulties to the elector of putting his 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 against the five candidates of his choice out of a long list of fifteen or twenty candidates, and it becomes a disfranchising Bill. There must be many Members who, like myself, have visited a heavy polling station of their constituency between seven and eight o'clock at night. I have seen the rush of labour men, after their day's work, to record their vote, and even with the task of merely putting their [...]X against one or two candidates, I have seen hundreds of them left outside. But if they have to go through this process of putting their 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 against five candidates out of a long list of twenty, particularly in Wales, where they may be all David Lloyd George's, it will take a very long time and hundreds of electors will be disfranchised because they will not be able to get into the polling booth in sufficient time to make this very elaborate choice. It may, perhaps, be said these are all small matters, though I do not regard them so. They are very mundane and very practical. They are not in the clouds. They are actual objections from men who have gone through many an election and from men who earnestly desire that the best opportunity shall be given to all men who have the franchise to exercise it in the fullest possible way.
I know that up to the present it is not proposed by the advocates of proportional representation to apply it to all the London constituencies. They have picked out seven large constituencies in London to which they mean to apply it as an experiment. I hope that the House will not allow London to be experimented upon in this way. It really is not right or fair that we should have one system of election in some large groups of constituencies in London and an entirely different system in other parts of London, It is not fair that the electors should be asked to vote for a list of candidates for Parliament on the proportional representation system when they have to vote for candidates for the London County 1464 Council on an entirely different system. I have already said that it this Amendment is passed and applied to the big cities the Boundary Commissions will have to be revised, and some long time will elapse before we can hope to get their Report. If this is applied to London another Act of Parliament must follow, because, with great respect to the Attorney-General, I must convict him of amazing ignorance. This afternoon he said that London, after all, was only like any other great borough—Liverpool or Manchester. It is not. It differs entirely, because the representatives on the London County Council are elected on a system under which there are two members elected for every Member of Parliament. That is absolutely different from anything that is done in Liverpool, Manchester, or anywhere else. We have our own system. If the House accepts this Amendment, which is going to apply proportional representation to Wandsworth with five members, then Wandsworth, which is now entitled to two members on the London County Council, because at present it has only one Parliamentary representative, will be entitled to ten members. You will, therefore, have five members elected to Parliament under proportional representation, and you will have to elect ten members on the London County Council. How are they going to be elected? For what part of Wandsworth are they going to be elected? Wandsworth is not broken up into divisions. You are going to produce chaos in local government in London. The House has not adequately thought what it is really going to do. This is not the time to introduce this particular application of a new electoral system, and it is not fair to impose it on unwilling constituencies who have never heard of it. Neither Press nor platform has ever resounded with any arguments either for or against it, and those who like it ought to keep it for some future time when the House will be able to consider it freely and fully, without jeopardising a great measure which I believe the House, with almost one accord, desires to pass into law.
§ Colonel Sir HERBERT JESSEL
rose in his place, and claimed to move "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I have listened to a very remarkable line of argument from the right hon. Gentleman, who has always 1465 opposed proportional representation, has voted against it, and has used his own influence in the House to have it beaten. It was beaten on the Committee stage, and to-night he comes, and almost with tears in his eyes, says that if we do anything to push this proposal forward, we are endangering the whole structure of the Bill and all sorts of disaster may come upon us.
§ Mr. FISHER
I did not say that this particular Amendment would imperil the Bill, but the Amendment in the Schedule applying it and necessitating the revival of the Boundary Commissioners.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
The right hon. Gentleman grossly exaggerates the difficulties that there would be in bringing about the necessary changes. If it is a question of choice between the best system of representation and a system of representation that thwarts democracy at so many points, it may well be worth delaying the matter for a few weeks in order to put it on a proper basis. These are matters of very great importance indeed. Many speakers who have opposed this Amendment believe that after this War we are going back to the old parties and old political strategy, and so on. I am convinced that we are going to do nothing of the kind, and that some of those who are now opposing this Amendment, and who will vote against, may live to regret what they are doing. There is no doubt that we are going to have difficult and troublesome times after the War, and the more we deepen our political channels, and the more we try to make this House a real reflex of the people outside, the more we shall safeguard the best interests of the country. This House is wrong if it hopes to perpetuate the old party system, with the old tyrannies and inequalities of that system without modification or change. I therefore hope that the House will press forward this change, which I believe to be essential to the principle of democratic government, to the principle of representative government, and to the strength and dignity of this House itself. Unless that is done, very real difficulties will certainly arise. I do not believe that it is a wise thing to trample upon or try to steam-roller minorities. The best thing that can happen with regard to large responsible minorities is to give them representation in proportion to their numbers and their strength. Let the majority rule by all 1466 means, but bring in all the large responsible elements of the country and give them a sense of responsibility. If you are not going to do that, if you are not going to bring in many of these elements, you are going to drive them into far more insurrectionary channels than would otherwise be the case, and there will be many difficult times to overcome and difficult points to get past.
One sees on every hand the forces that are now gathering. I am convinced that if this change had been adopted by Parliament it would have gone far to bring into the reconstruction that must come after the War every considerable section of opinion. Let it be represented here, let it put forward its views here and let its opinions be heard here. That would be in the best interests of the country. This matter must, therefore, go to the vote. I do not hesitate to say that I am as certain as I am standing here that some of those who are now going to vote against this change will live to regret what they have done. One thing we may have after the War is a sort of flood or spate politics, either from the standpoint of reaction or from the standpoint of revolutionary fervour and zeal. I want to see big changes come. I want to see them come as the considered will and desire of the people of this country. I believe it is only on those lines that changes are safe. This Bill brings in an enormously large electorate, but it does not give them the safeguards that ought to be found in a measure of this kind. It does not provide the channels through which the river can flow, and because of that I fear you will have wreckage and damage upon an extensive scale. Hon. Members ought to take that point of view into account when they cast their votes. By voting for a measure of real justice and by making this House a true mirror of the life and opinion of the people of this country, you are likely to go forward in the future with less damage and hurt.
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 126; Noes, 202.1469
|Division No. 117.]||AYES.||align="right">[7.32 p.m.|
|Adamson, William||Healy, Timothy Michael (Cork, N.E.)||Pratt, J. W.|
|Adkins, Sir W. Ryland D.||Hemmerde, Edward George||Pringle, William M. R.|
|Agnew, Sir George William||Henderson, Rt. Hon. Arthur (Durham)||Pryce-Jones, Colonel Edward|
|Ainsworth, Sir John Stirling||Hodge, J. M.||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Anderson, W. C.||Holt, Richard Durning||Reddy, Michael|
|Armitage, R.||Hope, Lt.-Col J. A. (Edin., Midlothian)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. George H. (Norwich)|
|Arnold, Sydney||John, Edward Thomas||Roberts, Sir H. (Denbighs)|
|Astor, Major Hon. Waldorf||Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Notts, Rushcliffe)||Robinson, Sidney|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (City, Lond.)||Jowett, Frederick William||Russell, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W.|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Joyce, Michael||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)|
|Bathurst, Capt. C. (Wilts, Wilton)||Keating, Matthew||Scanlan, Thomas|
|Beale, Sir William Phipson||Kenyon, Barnet||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool Exchange)|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||King, Joseph||Sherwell, Arthur James|
|Billing, N. Pemberton||Lamb, Sir Ernest Henry||Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir F. E. (Liverpool)|
|Black, Sir Arthur W.||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Smith, H. B. Lees (Northampton)|
|Boland, John Pius||Lane-Fox, Major G. R.||Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Larmor, Sir J.||Snowden, Philip|
|Brady, Patrick Joseph||Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West)||Spear, Sir John Ward|
|Bryce, John Annan||Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. Herbert||Swift, Rigby|
|Buxton, Noel||London, Thomas||Sykes, Col. Sir Mark (Hull, Central)|
|Byrne, Alfred||Lynch, Arthur Alfred||Taylor, John W. (Durham)|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Oxford University)||Mackinder, Halford J.||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord R. (Harts, Hitchin)||McMicking, Major Gilbert||Tennant, Rt. Hun. Harold John|
|Chancellor, Henry George||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Thomas, Sir A. G. (Monmouth, S.)|
|Chapple, Major William Allen,||Mallalieu, Frederick William||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Coats, Sir Stuart A. (Wimbledon)||Mason, David M. (Coventry)||Thorne, William (West Ham)|
|Collins, Sir W. (Derby)||Millar, James Duncan||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Crumley, Patrick||Molloy, Michael||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Currie, George W.||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred||Wardle, George J.|
|Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas||Needham, Christopher T.||Watson, John Bertrand (Stockton)|
|Denniss, E. R. B.||Newman, Major John R. P.||Watt, Henry A.|
|Dougherty, Rt. Hon. Sir J. B.||Nolan, Joseph||White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)|
|Field, William||Nugent J. D. (College Green)||Williams, John (Glamorgan)|
|Finney, Samuel||Nugent, Sir W. R. (Westmeath, S.)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Worcs., N.)|
|Fisher, Rt. Hon. H. A. L. (Hallam)||O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)||Wing, Thomas Edward|
|Fitzpatrick, John Lalor||O'Dowd, John||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Galbraith, Samuel||O'Malley, William||Wired, Hon. E. F. L. (Yorks., Ripon)|
|Gulland, Rt. Hon. John William||O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)||Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)|
|Hackett, John||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William||Worthington Evans, Major Sir L.|
|Harmsworth, Cecil (Luton, Beds.)||Parker, James (Halifax)||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-shire)||Perkins, Walter Frank|
|Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West)||Pete, Basil Edward||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr.|
|Healy, Maurice (Cork)||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.||A. Williams and Mr. Marriott,|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Hambro, Angus Valdemar|
|Archdale, Lieut. Edward M.||Cornwall, Sir Edwin A. I||Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord C. J.|
|Ashley, Wilfred W.||Cory, James Herbert (Cardiff)||Hanson, Charles Augustin|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Craig, Col. James (Down, E.)||Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)|
|Barnett, Captain R. W.||Craig, Norman (Kent, Thanet)||Hardy, Rt. Hon. Laurence (Ashford)|
|Barran, Sir Row. Hurst (Leeds, North)||Dalziel, Davison (Brixton)||Harris, H. P. (Paddington, S.)|
|Bathurst, Col. Hon. A. B. (Glouc, E.)||Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth)||Harris, Percy A. (Leicester, S.)|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardiganshire)||Haslam, Lewis|
|Bellairs, Commander C. W.||Denison-Pender, Capt. J. C.||Henry, Sir Charles (Shropshire)|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Dickinson, Rt. Hon. Willoughby H.||Hermon-Hedge, Sir R. T.|
|Bethell, Sir John Henry||Duke, Rt. Hon. Henry Edward||Hewins, William Albert Samuel|
|Bird, Alfred||Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Higham, John Sharp|
|Blair, Reginald||Edge, Captain William||Hills, Major John Waller|
|Bliss, Joseph||Edwards, Clement (Glamorgan, E.)||Hinds, John|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur S. T. Griffith||Falconer. James||Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles E. H.|
|Bowden, Major G. R. Harland||Fell, Arthur||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Ferens, Rt. Hon. Thomas Robinson||Hohler, G. F.|
|Boyle, William (Norfolk, Mid.)||Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes (Fulham)||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)|
|Boyton, James||Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Horne, Edgar|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Fleming, Sir J. (Aberdeen, S.)||Houston, Robert Paterson|
|Brookes, Warwick||Fletcher, John Samuel||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey|
|Brunner, John F. L.||Foster. Philip Staveley||Hughes, Spencer Leigh|
|Bull, Sir William James||Ganzoni, Francis John C.||Hume-Williams, William Ellis|
|Burdett-Coutts, W.||Gardner, Ernest||Illingworth, Rt. Hon. Albert H.|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Gibbs, Col. George Abraham||Ingleby, Holcombe|
|Butcher, John George||Gilbert. J. D.||Jackson, Lt.-Col. Hon. F. S. (York)|
|Carew, C. R. S.||Glanville, H. J.||Jackson, Sir John (Devonport)|
|Carson. Rt. Hon. Sir Edward H.||Goldman, C. S.||Jessel, Colonel Sir H. M.|
|Cater John||Goldsmith, Frank||Jones, Edgar (Merthyr Tydvil)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Greene, Lieut.-Colonel Walter Raymond||Jones, W. Kennedy (Hornsey)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Greenwood, Sir G. G. (Peterborough)||Jones, W. S. Glyn- (T. H'mts, Stepney)|
|Clough, William||Gretton, Colonel John||Joynson-Hicks, William|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham||Guest, Capt. Hon. F. E. (Dorset, E.)||Kerr-Smiley, Major Peter Kerr|
|Cochrane, Cecil Algernon||Gwynne, R. S. (Sussex, Eastbourne)||Kiley, James Daniel|
|Colvin, Col. Richard Beale||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Frederick (Dulwich)||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement|
|Levy, Sir Maurice||Pennefather, De Fonblanque||Sykes, Col. Sir A..J. (Ches., Knutsford)|
|Lindsay, William Arthur||Philipps, Maj.-Gen. Sir Ivor (S'ampton)||Talbot, Lord Edmund|
|Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)||Philipps, Sir Owen (Chester)||Terrell, George (Wilts, N.W.)|
|Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)||Pollock, Ernest Murray||Terrell, Major Henry (Gloucester)|
|Long, Rt. Hon. Walter||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest George||Tillett, B.|
|Lonsdale, Sir John Brownlee||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)||Tickler, T. G.|
|McCalmont, Brig.-Gen. Robert C. A.||Priestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford, E.)||Touche, Sir George Alexander|
|MacCaw, William J. MacGeagh||Bandies, Sir John S.||Tryon, Captain George Clement|
|Macdonald, Rt. Hon. J. M. (Falk,B'ghs)||Rawson, Colonel Richard H.||Walker, Colonel William Hall|
|Macmaster, Donald||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)||Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Ince)|
|McNeill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's)||Remnant, Col. Sir James Farquharson||Walton, Sir Joseph|
|Maden, Sir John Henry||Richardson, Albion (Peckham)||Ward, A. S. (Herts, Watford)|
|Magnus, Sir Philip||Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)||Warde, Colonel C. E. (Kent, Mid.)|
|Malcolm, Ian||Rowlands, James||Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay|
|Marks, Sir George Croydon||Rutherford, Watson (L'pool, W. Derby)||Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)|
|Mason, James F. (Windsor)||Samuels, Arthur W.||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Meux, Adml. Hon. Sir Hedworth||Samuel, Samuel (Wandsworth)||Weigall, Lieut.-Col. W. E. G. A.|
|Molteno, Percy Alpert||Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)||Wheler, Major Granville C. H.|
|Morton, Alpheus Cleophas||Seely, Lt.-Col. Sir C. H. (Mansfield)||White, Col. G. D. (Lancs., Southport)|
|Neville, Reginald J. N.||Smallwood, Edward||Whiteley, Herbert James|
|Nicholson, Sir Charles N. (Doncaster)||Soames, Arthur Wellesley||Wiles, Rt. Hon. Thomas|
|Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)||Spicer, Rt. Hon. Sir Albert||Williams, Col. Sir Robert (Dorset, W.)|
|Nield, Herbert||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Sir A.H.(Asht'n-u-Lyne)||Wilson, Capt. A. Stanley (Yorks, E.R.)|
|Norman, Sir Henry||Stanley, Major Hon. G. F. (Preston)||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|O'Grady, James||Stanley, Capt. Lord (Abercromby)||Wilson-Fox, Henry|
|O'Neill, Capt. Hon. H. (Antrim, Mid.)||Starkey, Captain John R.||Winfrey, Sir Richard|
|Orde-Powlett, Hon. W. G. A.||Staveley-Hill Lieut.-Col. H.||Yate, Colonel C. E.|
|Palmer, Godfrey Mark||Stewart, Gershon||Yed, Alfred William|
|Parrott, Sir Edward||Stirling, Lieut-Col. Archibald||Young, William (Perthshire, East)|
|Partington, Hon. Oswald.||Strauss, Arthur (Paddington, North)||Younger, Sir George|
|Pearce, Sir Robert (Staffs, Leek)||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|Pearce, Sir William (Limehouse)||Sutherland, John E.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Sir|
|Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike (Darlingt'n)||Sutton, John E.||T. Whittaker and Sir F. Lowe,|
|Peel, Major Hon. G. (Spalding)|
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I beg to move to leave out Sub-section (1).
This Sub-section provides that in the case of any election at which more than two candidates stand for one seat, the voting shall be by what is called in the Bill the alternative vote. I personally think that this is the very worst Clause in the Bill. It is going to give an opportunity for logrolling of a most pernicious kind. It could be worked so that two parties who could not privately agree among themselves could combine, and by a very pernicious and unfair arrangement make certain that the third party should not be successful. In every constituency where there is anything like a narrow majority there will always be a third candidate, and I do not think that that is a situation to be desired or encouraged. If any system of voting otherwise than the ordinary system is to be adopted in this Bill it certainly ought to be the system which has just been rejected by the House, and not the system of the alternative vote. The alternative vote is designed, I think, to make sure that the majority is not represented in this House. I have some simple figures here to show how this vote may work in cases where there are three candidates standing, one a Unionist, one a Radical, and the other a Labour candidate. Assuming that 5,000 first preferences are given to the Unionist, 4,000 to the Radical, and 2,000 to the Labour. 1470 you then, according to the draft rules, eliminate the third candidate and transfer his second choices to A. and B. The result of the figures I have here—they are, f course, only token figures—would be that the man who had 5,000 first preferences would at the end find he was not elected. Assuming the C. candidate gave 100 votes to A. and 1,101 votes to B., the Radical candidate would win, although he had only received 4,000 first choices against 5,000 given to the Unionist candidate. That result would be obtained by some corrupt understanding between the Liberals and the Labour party or the Unionist and the Labour party.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I will deal with that presently. These who voted a few minutes ago for proportional representation were seeking to protect the minority. If they now vote for the alternative vote they will be destroying minorities, and their action will be most inconsistent. Curious results would arise from the figures I have in connection with this supposed contest. B., having a majority of one over A., is declared elected, notwithstanding these striking facts. First, A. has received more first votes than any other candidate. Second, B., with his own first preferences and his share of C.'s second preferences, has polled 1,899 less than A.'s and C.'s first preferences combined. Third, that had the 1471 second preference of all the voters been counted instead of only C.'s 2,000, B. would have polled 699 less than C. That is the result of the arbitrary system of voting provided in these rules. If the alternative vote is in force, every single-member seat will probably be contested by candidates representing each of the three main parties, and two of the parties may at any time combine privately in order to secure the defeat of the third party. In the ordinary way if they desired to do that they would settle their differences privately and put up only one candidate, and that would be a reasonable thing to do, but that result is not likely to be obtained if we carry this alternative vote; and having come to an agreement privately the two parties who will combine will take very good care, no matter what happens, that the third candidate is not elected. The actual result of the whole thing will be that the man who has the smallest number of first preferences at the election will actually be returned. This is perfectly absurd and unreasonable. We had a Royal Commisson on the subject, and in its Report it said:We are bound to draw attention to the fact that in Australia the opportunities for party intrigue and the gratification of personal ill-feeling which are conferred, both by the power of using and by that of withholding preferences, have been found to produce regrettable results.I said just now that it would be inconsistent for those who supported proportional representation to give their adhesion to the alternative vote. I have here some figures to show what would have been the result in the case of the three-cornered contests in England, Wales, and Scotland in January and December, 1910, excluding seats when an independent candidate of the same political faith as one of the other two candidates stood. The actual result was as follows: There were seven Unionist candidates returned, thirty-one Radical members, and no Labour candidates. If the alternative vote had been in force and there had been a compact between the Liberals and the Labour party, only one Unionist instead of seven would have been returned, thirty-six Radicals instead of thirty-one, and one Labour candidate. If the compact had been between the Unionists and the Labour party, instead of seven Unionists there would have been twenty-four; instead of thirty-one Liberals there would have been eleven; and instead of no Labour candidate being returned there would have been three. That was in the 1472 January election. In the December election the result in the same constituencies were: two Unionists, thirteen Radicals, and no Labour. Had there been a compact between the Liberals and the Labour party there would have been one Unionist instead of two, fourteen Radicals instead of thirteen, and no Labour candidate returned. Had the compact been between the Unionists and the Labour party, eleven instead of two Unionists would have been returned, three instead of thirteen Radicals, and one Labour candidate instead of none. An even greater disproportion would have been found from a study of the by-elections between the General Elections of 1910 and the outbreak of war in 1914. There were twenty-four such contests actually, resulting in the return of ten Unionists and fourteen Radicals. Had the Unionist and Labour party had a conpact the result would have been the return of twenty Unionists and four Radicals, and had the Radicals and Labour party made the arrangement the result would have been the return of two Unionists and twenty-two Radicals. I think, in view of these facts, I am entitle' to ask the House whether it can be argued with any degree of truth that the results of these elections would have afforded a fair indication of the state of parties in the country. I certainly do not think it would. Assuming there had been a Labour-Radical combination at the time, what would have been the result? At that time feeling was distinctly against the party in power. That, I think, will be admitted. They had been a long time in office and had exhausted their mandate. But by the use of the alternative vote the result of the by-elections would have shown the reverse, and it would have disclosed the somewhat extraordinary fact that whereas the Government were steadily losing support in the country it was winning by-elections and keeping its majority in the House of Commons. Such a position would have been very unreal, and it would not have shown the actual state of opinion, assuming that a bargain of this kind had been carried out.
This measure which we have been dealing with now for a considerable time is sufficiently far-reaching in its effects without introducing an element of this kind. The extension of the franchise is so great that no man can tell what the effect will be. I heard one of the hon. Members for Sheffield speaking to-night on this particular subject, and I agree with 1473 him. I do not think for a single moment there can be any return to the old Parliamentary divisions and the old party politics of the past few years. There will be a wholly new situation to be dealt with, and no one can tell how it will shape itself or what the result will be. But we ought certainly not to aggravate the situation. We ought not to increase the danger—and there are dangers—by importing into the measure a proposal of this kind which directly encourages bargains of the nature I have spoken of. We should try to keep our elections as pure as we possibly can. We should try and see that we get the right type of man returned to the House of Commons, and you will not find men so ready to stand and serve their country in the future as they have been in the past if there is any danger of their being subjected to this kind of combination which would crush out individuals who happen to belong to a party antagonistic to the combination. I hope that this House which, by a majority of one only, retained this in the Bill in the Committee stage, will now unhesitatingly knock it. out.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Captain BARNETT
In rising to second this Amendment, I wish, first of all, to emphasise the point that has been made by the hon. Baronet who represents Ayr Burghs (Sir G. Younger) that only by a majority of one was this alternative vote carried in Committee. The Division—I will not call it a snap vote—was taken, if I remember rightly, at the dinner hour, and the figures were 125 against 124. As one of the 124 I should like to refer to something that was said in the course of that Debate by my right hon. Friend the Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Dickinson). He stated that on the Conference itself they had had a very close division on this subject. A close division in the Conference itself, and the closest possible Division in Committee of this House! I desire to support this Amendment for the removal of the Subsection from the Bill on two grounds: one, that the alternative vote is as undemocratic as any method of voting can possibly be; and the other, that it introduces quite unnecessarily into our politics the higher mathematics. Since this matter was considered in Committee a copy of draft rules has been circulated as a White Paper. I do not know who is the author of them, but I should very much like to know, because I believe him to be one of the greatest humorists in England. We have 1474 not many humorists, but a careful study of this White Paper has led me to think that the gentleman who prepared these rules wished to prepare an elaborate reductio ad absurdum both of proportional representation and of the alternative vote. I personally studied this document for one whole day, and at the end of it I had a sort of hazy idea of what it all meant. I venture to think that the average elector, if you gave him that document and asked him to master it, would have very considerable difficulty in doing so. We shall be told, no doubt, in the course of the Debate, that the returning officer is the man who has to understand these elaborate rules, and that, so long as the returning officer knows about it, it does not matter about the elector. I demur to that proposition. I do not think we ought to put ourselves in the hands of returning officers. I may say that I have had the advantage, or disadvantage, of a classical education, and only a bowing acquaintance with permutations, combinations and the binomial theorem, but none of my mathematics were sufficient to enable me to master the rules set forth here.
I will give an illustration. When this matter came up in Committee, the hon. Member for Westminster made a very closely reasoned speech in favour of leaving the alternative vote out of the Bill, and one point he made was this. He said there might be a tie, and he asked: Supposing B. and C. tie with one another, with 1,300 votes each, to which of them is the second choice of the other to be transferred? He went on to say that there was nothing in the Bill about it, and that it was not explained in the least. The draft rules answer that question, and they answer it in a way which, I venture to think, will excite the amazement of this House. I would ask the House to refer to Rule 5 of the Draft Rules, Parliamentary Elections, Alternative Vote. It runs as follows:If at any time two or more candidates, one of whom ought to be excluded, have an equal number of votes, that candidate shall be excluded the greater number of whose votes are transferred votes. But if there is no difference between the candidates, or if none of the votes of either of the candidates are transferred votes, the returning officer shall determine which of the candidates is to be excluded.It is really impossible to imagine a more remarkable proposition than that. Here is a tie arrived at between two men in the course of the counting, and the way to decide it is to see which has the fewer transferred votes. The man who has more transferred votes is the man who is excluded. But, say they have the same 1475 number of transferred votes. The answer is that there is no difference in this respect—or if none of the votes of either of the candidates are transferred votes—the returning officer shall determine which of the candidates is to be excluded. I have the honour to represent a constituency which has hitherto been rather "on the knife-edge." In the last two General Elections there was a majority of ten votes one way in January, and a majority of eight votes—increased afterwards to nine—the other way in the following December, and therefore I feel, if I may say so, a personal interest in the matter. A tie is not an impossible contingency in a constituency like that.
§ Captain BARNETT
Yes, but he is given, under this beautiful system which is to give the fullest representation, the power to say who is to be excluded, who is to be cut out, and his votes transferred to others. You say you do it now, but you have a great complication to which I want the House to give its attention. When you exclude a candidate you are giving his second preferences to the other people who are in front of him. It is of vital importance to those people in front who the man is who is going to be excluded. It is not a mere question of the returning officer thinking that Jones is a better man to go to Parliament than Robinson. It is a question of the returning officer having to consider what will be the effect of giving the deciding vote to Jones rather than to Robinson, because it will mean so many votes transferred to Smith or to Fletcher. That is what I say vitiates the proposed system. I suggest that if we are going to depart from our present electoral system—which is rough and ready, if you like, but which I think has worked fairly on the whole—and if we are going to substitute something for it, let us have something that will not give anomalies like this. I have tried to make it clear that the decision that the returning officer will have to arrive at in these cases is not only one that directly affects the man excluded, but one which affects the candidates higher up whose position in the vote is to be decided by the transference of the second preferences.
There is another point with regard to the transfer of the second preferences to 1476 which I think the House ought to give serious consideration. Why should the second preferences of the man at the bottom of the poll be taken into account and not the second preferences higher up? The hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs has given us a case with some figures which I admit are imaginary but which might happen. In the case which he has imagined there are 5,000 first preference votes given to A, 4,000 to B, and 2,000 to C. Under our present system A would be very comfortably elected with a substantial majority of 1,000 votes over B, and 3,000 votes over C, and, as the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Butcher) remarked in Committee, why should he not be elected? He has a handsome majority over each of the other candidates. Very well; the answer to that question is that most of his people dislike the other two candidates so much that they have not used their second preference. There is the problem, and one quite understands that the 5,000 voters for A. might for the most part have nothing to choose between the other two candidates, and might not care to give a second preference vote at all. They have satisfied themselves by giving 200 votes to B., while 300 give a transferred vote to C., and 4,500 do not exercise the second preference at all. The House may say that that is an extreme case, but it may quite readily happen. Now you come to the second man, with 4,000 votes. One hundred go to A., 3,500 go to C., and only 400 of second preferences are wasted. You come to the third man, C., with 2,000 first preferences. He has 100 second preferences for A., 1,101 second preferences for B., and wastes 799 votes. What possible reason in equity, sense or logic can there be for taking the second preferences of C. into account when you are not taking the second preferences of B. into account. I have studied this thing with what care I can give to it, and I am utterly unable to find any fair answer to that question.
In the case stated by the hon. Baronet he rather imagines three parties, each nominating candidates. No doubt we have three parties in this country now, and perhaps, indeed, I ought to say four. As a rule, however, it will happen that there are only two party candidates, and that the third is a faddist or a crank. Let us say that he is against inoculation for typhoid, or believes the world is flat, or something of that kind. He has a certain body of out-and-out supporters in the 1477 constituency, and they vote for him, perhaps to advertise their fad. They give their second preference to one of the other people, that is to say, to A. or B. The question I ask, and which I think has never been answered in any Debate yet, is why you should take the second preferences of the votes given to the faddist or crank at the bottom of the poll and say that these second preferences of people who have voted in the first instance for a man who has no earthly chance of being elected should have more weight than the second preferences given to B., who is second on the poll. That question has not been answered because it cannot be answered, and I hope those who follow me will take up the challenge and give the answer if they see one. In the case stated by the hon. Baronet, if you had taken the second preferences given to A., B. and C. the extraordinary result would have happened that neither A. nor B. would have been elected. C., the man at the bottom of the poll, who had 2,000 direct votes and no more, would come out at the top. That is another comical result. This thing fairly bristles with comical results. If we are foolish enough to keep this Sub-section in the Bill our politics will become comic politics. You will have the most surprising results happening in every constituency. It will pass the wit of man to prophesy what will happen in any Division because it all depends upon this wonderful taking away the number you first thought of and saying someone does not exist and taking his votes and giving them to someone else. It is all wrong.
We have a perfectly plain instance here of 11,000 voters going to the poll, 5,000 of them had given their first vote to one man, 4,000 to another and 2,000 to a third, and again I ask, why should not that first man be elected? To resort to this ridiculous hocus pocus of taking some votes from this man and some from another and gradually building up a majority and in certain contingencies leaving the whole thing to the returning officer to decide whose votes shall be taken is perfectly laughable. We shall be told it is done in Tasmania or Finland or somewhere else. No doubt it is. No doubt hon. Members will be able to give us chapter and verse for Nova Zembla or Lapland or some other country where this is an unqualified success, but in this oldest of Parliaments, whose electoral system may involve some anomalies, as what electoral system does not, but which is the glory and admiration of the world, I
1478 hope the House will think twice and thrice before it introduces, without a great deal more argument than has been adduced here, this absurd scheme instead of the plain straightforward system that we have at present. This method of electing members to the Imperial Parliament is undemocratic. The real democratic thing is to elect the man who represents the greatest number of the electors. It is perfectly true it may not be a majority really, but if it represents more first votes for one candidate than any other person who has solicited the votes of that electorate he is entitled to be returned.
There is another point which was made by my hon. Friend (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) which was unanswered and, as far as know, remains unanswered to this day. He asked if the Sub-section applied to other than single-member constituencies. I have read the rules very closely, and I cannot see that that question is answered. My hon. Friend said:When I turn to the Sub-section the first question I have to ask myself, and which is unanswered, is whether the Sub-section applies only to single-member constituencies?The words of the Sub-section are:If at an election for one Member of Parliament there are more than two candidates.On the face of it that would apply to a two-member division. If there were a vacancy in the City of London, the election would be for one Member of Parliament. My hon. Friend resumed his argument:I gather that the answer is not, and that it also applies to by-elections in constituencies with more than one member—There is nothing to settle that in the Bill.If that is so we are at once face to face with this position, that a totally different process is applied to the same constituency in a by-election from what is applied in a General Election. That to my mind is one of the first and strongest objections to this Sub-section. An obvious instance which may interest the right hon. Member for the City of London is the case of the City of London itself. If there was a by-election in the City it would be held on the principle of the alternative vote. I will give an illustration which will show how even such a popular Member as the right hon. Baronet might be placed under these circumstances.There is a criticism of a vital and searching character going to the very heart of this question. You may have in a two-member constituency two totally different methods of election dependent entirely upon whether there is one vacancy or two, as you have at a General Election. The whole thing bristles with difficulties of that kind and with unanswered problems. My hon. Friend laid stress upon this point, that 1479 there was nothing to compel the voter to cover all the candidates with his preferences. The converse would obviously be absurd. To tell a man that unless he put down 1, 2, 3, or 4 against one, two, three, or four names he was going to lose his vote for 1 would be something which not even the ingenuity of the framer of these rules could conceive. Look at the other alternative, which is revealed in the fears which my hon. Friend (Sir G. Younger) has expressed. The alternative is a perfectly clear one, and it seems to me that the system of second preferences set out there —in one case 4,500 people not marking their papers at all—destroys the whole value of the thing. Surely the fact that 4,500 out of the 5,000 electors who voted for A. dislike the other two candidates so much that they would not give any choice at all between them ought not to decide the election. That appears to me to be a preposterous position, and yet it is the position as the thing stands in this Memorandum. The alternative vote is, in fact, a scheme whereby you make a series of efforts to prevent the views of the majority being registered in the election of the candidate of their choice. That is what it is if you reduce it to its lowest common denominator.
But there is one point which is very important at the present juncture. Many of our voters at present are away fighting for their country abroad. In the ordinary course, if they were at home, they might know something as to the comparative merits of the candidates. I dare say a very large proportion of the voters in this country vote on the party ticket, but personal considerations come in to a certain extent as well. The alternative vote most certainly calls for personal knowledge of the candidates. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. Hemmerde) shakes his head. I cannot conceive how a proper choice can be made unless the man does know the candidates. I suppose my hon. and learned Friend's reply would be that he would still vote for party or for the great principles represented by Brown, Jones, or Robinson. How is Private Smith, who is in Mesopotamia at the present moment, and who has got a vote, say, in North-East Hackney, and who has hitherto voted Conservative, to know anything of the comparative merits of those who are representing the Liberal party, the Labour party, the anti-Vaccinationists, or any other party? The fact of his being away 1480 from the country when the next election takes place seems to me to indicate that even if this new system was suited to the conditions of our electoral life, which I strongly deny, it would be singularly unsuited for the next election. The absence of many voters from this country when the next election takes place, will prevent those voters learning anything about the different candidates and giving a considered alternative vote. I have no doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman will disagree with me about the word " considered." If they give a vote, so long as it is marked 1, 2, or 3, he will be quite happy to play with it.
I suggest that this proposed system is vitally and radically unsound, and that it is unconstitutional and undemocratic. It does not enable you to get the real views of the electors. It does not enable you to send to Westminster the man who commands the sympathy of the majority of the voters. Under our present system a man may not represent the majority of the electors, but he represents more than would be the case under under this system. You get a straight mandate which you do not get under this wretched, complicated scheme of arbitrarily transferring votes from one man to another. Under a system like this, which depends upon complications, such as are set out in these extraordinary rules, there is no equity. I do not think it would satisfy the desire of the British people for a straight issue in politics. I think it will tend to the caucus. I think it will tend, I will not say to wilfully corrupt politics, but to more subtly corrupt politics, in which an agent might go behind the back of the candidate and say, " I will give you so-and-so if you do so-and-so for somebody else in the next division." The more difficult you make it for the ordinary man to understand the system of voting the more power you put into the hands of the caucus, and into the hands of the returning officer. I hope most strongly that the House, before it abandons a system which, with all its anomalies, has given good results, will very carefully weigh what has been put before it. I submit that the scheme which we have here put before us is crude and badly thought out, that the questions which have arisen in regard to it have not been properly answered, and that we had far better adhere to the system which we have at the present time, until we can put something better in its place.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
It appears to me to be somewhat unfortunate that the Proposer and Seconder of the Amendment, which really indicts the general principle which is embodied in this Sub-section, should have devoted in the main their discussion of that general principle to a somewhat detailed criticism of the machinery devised in the Schedule of the Bill. At this stage of the discussion we are really concerned with the general principle as to whether the alternative vote, whatever the details of its machinery, would remedy the defects in our existing arrangements which are not merely notorious but the evil results of which must be apparent to anyone who has had observation or experience of them. The general principle involved in this Sub-section, as I understand it, is that it turns upon the question whether this House ought lightly to continue the machinery or the principle which does, as a matter of experience, lead to this result, that many constituencies must of necessity be represented in this House by a representative elected on a minority vote. I happen to have sat in this House for a number of years as the representative of a constituency in connection with which no conceivable candidate could ever hope to be elected except upon a minority vote. In my Constituency there are three elaborately, carefully, and skilfully organised separate political parties, and for many years past it has been the practice of those parties to put up their own candidate at every election. So far as I can foresee that condition of things will remain to the end of the chapter, and I believe it is impossible to conceive any occasion in the future when there will not be a three-cornered fight for the election of one member to represent that particular constituency.
As far as I can gather the objection of the Mover of this Amendment, he dwelt with some emphasis upon the danger lurking in the principle of the alternative vote, and said that it would be possible by a combination on the part of two political parties to elect a man, one half of whose supporters would not really believe him to be the best representative of their own views or an accurate or true representative of their own views. No doubt this danger does lurk in the system of the alternative vote, but had my hon. Friend (Sir G Younger) been present, I would have reminded him that this possibility 1482 of collusion and combination, although theoretically possible, is in practice one of the most difficult things to engineer or bring about. I do not speak without some knowledge and experience. It so happens that in connection with one of my elections a few years ago there was a deliberately organised attempt made by two parties in that constituency, both of whom are irreconcilably opposed to me, to bring about by conference a combination of forces for that occasion only which would have had the effect of unseating me, as it was hoped, and of breaking the continuity of representation in that particular borough. It happens to be a borough which under this Bill will be one of the largest single-member constituencies in the whole of the United Kingdom. The vice-chairman of one of those parties told me quite plainly in the Town Hall, at the time of the counting of the votes, that whilst that attempt was made both parties retired from the negotiations and from the conference at a certain period for the same reason. They were both convinced in their own minds that whilst they might succeed in bringing about the desired result for that particular election, they were debarred from proceeding to the conclusion of their agreement by the fear shared by both that if they once diverted the allegiance of their supporters they might find it difficult or impossible to restore that allegiance on a subsequent occasion.
After all, the question, so far as it has any substance, is really an indictment of the motives upon which votes may be given or are given in connection with Parliamentary elections. The objection of the danger of the combination rests on the assumption of an impropriety of motive governing the electoral result in the constituency. But the moment we enter upon that consideration we are plunged into an endless sea of difficulties. Is it really to be laid down that we are to reckon not merely the electoral result as measured by the aggregate of votes, but that we are actually to carry our scrutiny underneath the votes themselves to investigate the motives governing the distribution of those votes? That would lead to a very extraordinary result, if we had to ascertain why it was that a particular group of electors voted for us individually in a particular constituency. Electoral machinery is purely a practical matter. You cannot possibly go beyond the votes themselves to the underlying motives which may have 1483 determined their distribution. So I fancy that the hon. Baronet had not quite understood the wholly new sphere of difficulty upon which he was entering when he really, as he did in his speech, doubted the motive which under an alternative vote system might govern the distribution of the vote. The only thing that counts is the vote. If I am to go as the representative of a constituency into this House as having the largest total of votes, I am not prepared to question the motive which governs the distribution of those votes. You must assume that the votes cast for a particular candidate are an expression of the desire of the electors who have passed those votes that that candidate should be elected to Parliament.
Consider the objections to the present system. Suppose the Amendment is carried, and let us assume that in the coming elections the present system is to prevail, and that we are to have this competition among the candidates of several parties. We all know that efforts are now being made by different parties, and particularly by the Labour party, to revise and to enlarge their constitution, and to try to gain such additional adherents as to enable them to contest a much larger number of constituencies than they have so far ventured to contest. I, as one who always fought straightforwardly against them, have not the smallest objection to the number of candidates. The number of candidates that may be nominated is a matter of indifference to me. I am only concerned that men should be elected who in the main result really represent a majority vote in the constituency. In the present circumstances do you get rid of these dangers and difficulties? It is a notorious fact that in recent years Labour, so called, has received in this House a representation out of all proportion to the actual electoral strength behind it. It is a notorious fact that at recent elections Liberal party organisers on the one hand and Labour party organisations on the other have entered into a mutual arrangement under which they have by anticipation allocated the representation of certain constituencies to either Liberal or Labour candidates, without any regard to the needs or desires of the electorates in those constituencies. Lord Gladstone, when he was chief Liberal Whip, I believe introduced that compact. That arrangement has been repeated on subsequent occasions, and the possibility of such an 1484 arrangement seems to me far more mischievous and far more immoral than any of the anomalies that have been pointed out in connection with the practice of the alternative vote. I am certainly an unswerving opponent of any system which would gerrymander the representation of the people in this House by any compact between chief Whips of opposite parties, without regard to the merits of the question or the principles for which each of the candidates stands. That seems to me, on all grounds, to be a vicious system. It embodies a thoroughly immoral and undemocratic principle. I most gladly welcome the proposal of the alternative vote in the hope that it will give to that vicious method its death blow.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HEMMERDE
I have never been able to understand the argument by which all attempts to make our electoral system a fair system seem to me to be opposed. I have read all the documents I think issued upon this question by the Government, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman who seconded this Amendment that our constituents will be able to understand the alternative vote perfectly easily, and the returning officers will be able to do what they have done for many years—to decide in case of a tie. It does not matter to anyone whether the tie is caused directly or indirectly. A tie is always bound to cause difficulty in elections. Whenever there has been any necessity to decide ties, they have always been decided by the returning officer in the very few cases where such things have occurred, and I do not doubt that they always will be under this Act. A point like that seems to me to be as irrelevant to the issue as is the point which I think the hon. Member for Westminster attempted to make on the last occasion, and it was repeated to-day, the point as to whether this system was going to apply to double-member constituencies. If one reads the Sub-section in question it is quite clear that it only applies to the election of one member to Parliament, and it certainly does not apply in double-member constituencies, except at by-elections when there is an election for a single member. And if the hon. Member will follow what I am going to say he will realise that there is a great distinction between a single-member and a double-member constituency, because if it is a double-member constituency it is a great deal easier for the different parties to get represented—whether by arrangement or not I do not mind, because ninny of those arrangements 1485 are entirely honourable and above board—and there is not anything like the same choice of two parties almost alike in policy quarrelling over a seat, and another party getting the advantage of their quarrel.
It is all very well for the hon. Baronet who proposed this Amendment to say that parties who are opposed to one another ought to arrange their differences, and then to talk to us about log rolling. Apparenly with him it is only a question of when the log rolling takes place. You are quite at liberty before the candidate is chosen to try to agree upon somebody by methods which are exactly the same, but it is something altogether indefensible if you do it later on in the full light of day before the electorate. To me this Clause appears almost the most important in the Bill. It is not in any way deserving the description " comic opera," because, to persons who do not understand, anything will appear comic. It is a very simple matter. I am one of the few Members of this House who have gone through an election under the second ballot. When I was first returned to this House the method by which the Liberal candidate was adopted was by polling the whole division three times to decide who it was that should be returned, and I had three separate ballots before I was elected. Still, that never struck me as unfair, though I regarded it as an annoyance. On the second ballot I polled almost as many as my second and third opponent, and I had to fight it out with the opponent next to me. This system of the alternative vote is perfectly simple as simple as the second ballot. The second ballot has been tried in some countries, but the people came to the conclusion that there were some very great objections to it—that something should be done to avoid it—and that it was not fair to hold an election again, because the tendency, after the first ballot, was that there should be a combination—not altogether a very proper combination—between the second and third parties to get rid of the man at the top of the poll.
These questions of the second ballot have been considered by a Royal Commission; it has been spoken of again and again, and, after all, it is no new question, for during the last ten years it has been constantly coming before Parliament, the whole question being, Which is the better system—the second ballot or the alternative vote? The alternative vote is not a matter which requires a nice mathematical calculation, and I look upon it is a simple 1486 method of getting the advantage of the second ballot without a second election. It is a perfectly practicable and simple measure. If there are three candidates, and if in the second ballot the one last is ruled out, and the second or third tied, then the returning officer would have to decide between them. If you start from the idea that this is merely an ingenious method of getting out of the turmoil of a second election, then I think all these difficulties vanish at once into thin air. Something was said about this question only being carried on the last occasion by a majority of one. have never been able to understand why it was never mentioned by the Prime Minister that the question was going to be left to the free vote of the House. I have never been able to understand why it was to be left to the House. A number of us imagined that this proposal would go through as a matter of course, and, frankly, I think it is the only part of the Bill I would now wish to have, all the other parts of the Bill relating to the great number who are to come on the register, to women's suffrage, anti to other matters, having been practically agreed upon and settled. But this is a question on which we ought to have had our full power brought to this House; but, as a matter of fact, many thought that it was in the hands of the Government, and therefore they have not taken the trouble to come down. We will see what happens to-night. I want to say why I think this is an absolutely vital and important part of the Bill.
In every country it has always been the same, namely, that the people who want a change have to adopt many different methods to achieve it. In single-member constituencies, without any method such as this now proposed, the tendency is to give the advantage to the people who do not want change. You have only to look at the history of the last twenty years in this country to become aware of that. I do not believe in the view of people who say that there will be no party politics after the War, and I do not believe that the people who express that view or sentiment believe in it either. I believe it is a rather unpleasant form of political cant, and that party politics after the War will be pretty much as they are now. I approach this question from the human point of view, and I think that things politically are going to be very much the same after the War, in many ways, 1487 as they were before; but we are now threatened with a state of things that might make the present system not only an intolerable injustice to certain parties in the State, but might make it a matter of absolute national danger. The righ hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, said he regarded this Bill as a great safety valve. So it is, provided nobody sits upon it; and if it is going to be used in the way supposed at the end of this War, we should be very much as we were before in our political divisions, except in this particular, that the Labour party will claim that they ought to have had years ago very much greater representation. This absence of the alternative vote has had the result of keeping the Labour men out of Parliament. Again and again, I have seen a man persuaded to stand aside on the ground that he would give the election to a representative of the party that neither Labour nor the Liberal party wanted. That has worked very much against the Labour party. The Labour party now say that after the War they intend to fight a very large number of seats. Nobody can question their right to do it, and as a matter of fact anyone who has followed the history of the last twenty years will be surprised that they have not done it before. Supposing that after the War you have 200 Labour candidates fighting, and you have Liberals and Conservatives to contest the seats. What will be the result? I submit that this is a perfectly fair instance to take, if you look down the list of all the double-member constituencies where you find Liberal and Labour candidates fighting against two Conservatives, you will find that in almost every case, whether it is Newcastle, Blackburn, or Leicester, the Liberal and Labour candidates poll almost exactly the same. It shows there is a very great similarity of views. In other words, when you have, say, 10,000 people who vote for the Liberal and Labour candidates you may be perfectly certain that there is not very great difference in the minds of the ordinary elector as compared, at any rate, with their opponents between the views of those two men. What could be more indecent than to find, say, at the next election those two, who in double-member constituencies are treated almost by the electors as members of the same party, fighting one another in constituency after constituency 1488 with the result that the opponents of those parties may win 100 minority seats? Is that a safety valve?
You might get a case where there was an overwhelming majority of the country against the Conservative party but owing to these splits between the Liberal and Labour parties the Conservatives come into power. Do you think in the present temper of the working classes that they will stand a Government like that for six months? I say that if you are going to prevent fair election after this War you will not only deserve labour trouble and perhaps worse, but in my opinion you will get it. I regard this just as important as the whole of the Bill. I regard it as absolutely vital to free institutions in this country that we shall have no large number of minority candidates returned at the next election representing one party, and that we should endeavour so far as is possible in every division to scrutinise the votes carefully and to find out who it is who really represents the opinion of the country. I believe that anything else is going to be a matter of grave national danger. I do not believe you are ever going to have anything like revolution in a country where you have the best part of adult suffrage and where you have a free system of election. But if you once get in the course of these next ten difficult years a Parliament returned which owing to faults in your system is unrepresentative, and if you are going to drive out of Parliament men who are the real choice of the constituency by keeping a system which will work, and works in every country always in favour of one party, then you are going to turn a most dangerous weapon against the institutions of this country. So much for the reasons why I regard this as being a matter of overwhelming importance to keep in this Bill. I regard it as one of the ways and the only fair way in which we can really see that our institutions go on in an orderly manner after the War.
I am not only talking about the Labour party. What about the new parties? I should like to know which way the National party are going to regard this question. How are they going to get the representation that they claim they ought to have? I suppose they do not claim that they are to get seats only by arrangement with one party or another. I should have thought no young party could support a scheme like that. It seems to me, apart from that, that every new party
1489 has got to share the fate of the Labour party in the past owing to the splitting of the votes. We are told we are going to have no party politics after the War, and that things are going to 'be different. I say that they cannot unless you give free play to the parties. I do not believe that you are going to see anything like a National party rising. I believe that the parties will go on substantially on the lines on which they go now and under the same name. I am quite confident you are going to give no chance to any young party or any party to get anything like a working majority in the House for twenty years unless you have some system like this by which the second choice can be taken into consideration. The whole weight of the party caucus will be against any such party. The whole weight of both the great party caucuses will be so. I have taken the matter at present from the point of view of what has been happening. There is an argument sometimes put forward by people who are not members of either the Liberal or Conservative parties, but by members of the Socialist party, which I shall endeavour to answer. They say if you have a system like the alternative vote we shall have a combination between the two capitalist parties against it. I think that is an argument that has to be met. Then, again, you get a Liberal saying, if you had this system, we as a party would very greatly suffer, since there would be more Labour men returned. I think that is true, and yet I support it. The two capitalist parties, if you call them so, have a perfect right to combine, and I am sure no Socialist or Labour man wants to rule or control the government of the country unless he has a majority behind him. No sort of combination can put the party in the majority in the minority. I say they are at liberty to combine.
Then there is all this talk about a corrupt bargain. What is there corrupt in the bargain? I represent an agricultural constituency composed largely of agricultural labourers. I am not an agricultural labourer myself. They may say, and I have often suggested it to them, that the time might arrive when they would prefer to go back and be represented, as in the past, by one of themselves. Supposing that they put up a man under those circumstances, I should tell everybody to give their second vote to him, and he would certainly do exactly the same for me, and we should be fight 1490 ing on the same principles. The whole question would be that the electors might like to decide for themselves whether they would have a direct Labour representative or somebody who said he was doing as good work as the Labour man. That is a perfectly simple case, and that is going to happen all over the country. What is there corrupt about it? Why should not I make that arrangement either publicly or privately? It will be done, and I do not understand. where the corruption comes in. The hon. Baronet said if we carried this system it would mean three-corner fights in every constituency or in every place where there is a small majority. I can see what may happen under the present system. Under the existing system, which some hon. Members have been lauding as though it were as perfect as it is possible to have, you get occasionally an attempt, and I have known of a case and can bring forward the evidence, to run a third candidate with a view to wrecking the possibility of a man being elected. I have known the attempt made with money not of the party which the third candidate represented, but with money from the party of one of the other candidates, but in that instance of which I am aware the man was too honest and refused. But it happened, and that may often happen now. But you would have a much less chance with that plan, when you have got that system in vogue—a far less chance. It seems to me that all your corruption is much more likely to happen under the present system of log-rolling— it only happens at a somewhat different time ! As a matter of fact, this question has been prejudiced by all sorts of remarks about the British public's desire for a straight issue, and fair play, and one thing and another. We were solemnly told on the last occasion when this was debated that there is something un-English in not letting the man who had the largest number of first preference votes be returned. They said it was even unsportsmanlike. It seems to be a most curious idea of supporting this proposal. It is the same as saying that if there were three heats to be won in a 100 yards handicap that you should give the race to the winner of the first heat. The whole thing is perfectly absurd. It is merely bringing in the name of sport and national character to support a system that cannot be supported by argument, and can only be supported by prejudice.
1491 As a matter of fact, the British public will be perfectly able to understand a thing like this. The result of the election would never, as a fact, be announced in any way till after it had been known, first of all, who the person was who had got first place. That would all be decided in the counting room, and subsequently announced to the public, and they would thus know who was the winner by a system that Parliament had devised. All this talk about the British public wanting a fair issue, and thinking it unsportsmanlike not to give us the man who had a minority of votes, really, if I may use an Americanism, leaves me quite cold. All this talk about log-rolling and corruption of parties does seem to me as solely put forth to cloak the fact that for years and years a particular system has been for the benefit of one party, and that party does not want it changed now. We know perfectly well that at the Speaker's Conference it was only carried by a bare majority. We know perfectly well that there was also a straight party vote on the last occasion. I appeal on this occasion—though there are dangers in plenty to the party—and this is not the appeal of the man who says, "This will hurt the Progressive party with whom I am identified, therefore it ought to be put right "—this is an appeal by one who sees in every country it has always been the fact that this system has always prejudiced the Progressive forces—and must do so—I appeal to those moderate Conservatives, some of whom I know will support and others whom I hope will, to say that the next election shall be based simply upon the principles of fair play. The time may come in the future when even they may be very glad indeed that they put this thing right. For the moment it helps them, or it has helped them. Some time in the future they may find it exactly contrary, and they may find themselves clamouring for this change. I am not making a party appeal at all. I believe it is an appeal for fair play. I know there are many of our opponents who hold exactly the same view. I appeal to every one of them who values fair play in electioneering and values particularly this Bill as really a safety valve for letting the feelings of the electors manifest themselves, not to vote for this, but to throw it out by an overwhelming majority.
§ Sir J. LARMOR
Since this question came up at the Speaker's Conference, I have done my best to make up my mind. I feel very strongly that this plan of the alternative vote is not a feasible plan ascertain the true sense of the electorate, and I wish to express that opinion now. The hon. and learned Gentleman for Norfolk began by complaining that the Government had not made this an ntegral part of their proposal and put on the Government Whips. The reason he gave at the end of his speech was that this is one of the most controversial matters in the whole subject of the franchise. The Speaker's Conference thought so little of the chance of coming to an agreement about it that, to my mind, the question of the alternative vote was barely considered at all. The point, has been taken by the hon. Member opposite that there has been too much of the higher mathematics in the Schedule of the Bill. I should like to take the point that mathematical and logical considerations have hitherto been entirely absent in the consideration of this matter. If I may say so, I would prefer the Amendment on the Paper by the hon. Member for Stirling, who is opposite, proposing a totally different Schedule from the one which is contained in this Bill. The example which the hon. Member gives in his Schedule to me demonstrates conclusively how absurd results might be obtained by the Schedule in this Bill, and how distinctly better and more satisfactory results can be obtained by the Schedule that he has proposed. As a matter of fact, all these problems were discussed 120 years ago at the time of the French Revolution. In the electoral systems, which were then plentiful, the abilities of the greatest mathematicians of France—and that period was amongst the greatest of all periods—were enlisted, and in the Report of the Royal Commission of 1906 on the electoral systems in other countries there is a very valuable discussion on the possible methods of alternative votes by Professor Nanson, of Melbourne, who is a mathematician of the first rank. The system which he adopted, I think, is the best, and it is the one adopted by the lion. Member for Stirling. He condemns the plan in the Schedule for the same reasons which I condemn it. If I may say so, irrespective of these technicalities, my main objection to this system is that it attempts to mix up two elections in one.
Under the present system there is a straight vote on the principles which the 1493 different candidates put forward. Under the new system the election will, in many cases, be determined by indirect considerations, by bargaining, by caucuses or other bodies over the course of second preferences. The incidental circumstances of how the second preferences are to be cast will be the controlling feature in the election, instead of the principles which are at stake in the addresses of the candidates. I think that will create an amount of confusion that would far more than countervail any possible result in the way of diminishing grievances, for I do not believe grievances would be diminished. At present there is, I admit, often a grievance, when in a three-cornered fight the candidate gets in who has distinctly fewer votes than the other two candidates combined. I think there would be a much greater grievance if, under this system of preference voting, the candidate was kept out who represented a strong and compact body of opinion, but was objected to, not on the ground of principle, but on the ground or prejudice by the two other candidates who had no agreement amongst themselves. That would be a case in which the prevailing opinion of the constituency was disjointed by two minor conflicting feelings when they might have very little in common. It is on the ground that the decision of the election would be transferred from the main issue to a matter of arrangement about the second preference, that, I think, the proposal would not improve, but would deteriorate the representation in this House.
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
I have listened with some surprise to the speech which we have just heard. My hon. Friend began with the observation that this was not a feasible system. Not only is it feasible, but it seems a system which can be very easily worked, the only requirement in fact being that the elector should be able to put a number after the name of each candidate in the order that he prefers. There is none of the complication which, in another case we have been discussing lately, might be involved in the enumerating, because there is no question of a quota. As my hon. and learned Friend said, the object and the result of this is to give us the advantages of the second ballot at one single voting, and no one who appreciates the need, or desires the application, of the principle of the second ballot can possibly disagree with this proposal. I object strongly to minority rule. 1494 We want to know what the feeling of a constituency really is. It is very important, not only from the point of view of actual returning, but from the point of view of enabling various sections in the country to try their strength without endangering certain principles which they hold in common with other sections. For instance, assume a new party or new movement is gaining ground. They naturally desire to test their position by contesting a seat. If we do not have anything of this sort, then the candidate who gets the greatest number of votes will be elected, even though some of the votes given, say, to two other candidates are considerably greater than those which he gets. Therefore, if a new party is coming into a constituency and is desiring to test their position, they may be faced with this, that by voting for their own man they may really be assisting in the return of one other of the two candidates for whom they have the least sympathy. That state of things is not a state of things that ought to be allowed to continue any longer.
What we want in every case is that, so far as possible, this House should be a true mirror of the country, and in each particular constituency the majority in that constituency returning a single member should represent the views of that constituency as far as can possibly be done. I venture to put it to the House that if that is not done you give cause not only of great discontent and disquiet, but also of political unrest, because it may be, and will be. in such cases that the majority are unrepresented and the minority carry the day. That is quite inconsistent with any idea of true representation. This scheme involves no practical difficulty either to the voters or to those who have to do with the counting of the votes. It is by no means a new scheme; it has been put forward again and again. It would, indeed, have become law some years back if it had not been for an accident.
The accident was that the Bill which proposed it did not succeed in getting to the Statute Book, owing to certain circumstances with which the right hon. Baronet is familiar. There is absolutely no difficulty about this. It is absolutely essential, and it has become more necessary than ever, seeing that the House 1495 has now decided against proportional representation. The attitude of the majority of the House was to bank—if I may use rather a slang phrase—on the single-member constituency. Now that the single-member constituency is to be the general rule, it becomes more important than ever that in a single-member constituency there should not be the risk of minority representation, but that every step should be taken to secure majority representation in every case. I do not know whether those who oppose this proposal are prepared to put forward a proposal for the second ballot. I venture to think that some of them will deal with that, but, unless they can propose a scheme for the second ballot which can work out simpler than the present scheme, then I respectfully submit to this House that support ought to be given to this scheme, which can be understood by a child, and secures all the advantages of the second ballot at a single voting.
§ Major CHAPPLE
The hon. Member who has just addressed the House asked whether anyone was prepared to put forward a scheme of second ballot. We have had sufficient experience of a second ballot in other parts of the world to lead us to the conclusion that that system is utterly and finally discredited. I think, then, we must dismiss that entirely from our minds. I agree with my hon. Friend that the alternative vote is a system by which you hold a second ballot in the returning officer's room by the returning officer, without calling the electors together again. Because it does that, it is, as he says, simple, and does away with all the expense of the second ballot, with all the log-rolling, and with all the intrigue. The hon. Member who seconded this Amendment said the alternative vote was undemocratic. I understand by democracy that all the people have the right to vote, and that the majority are represented in this House. The present system is not democratic. In many cases it gives you minority rule. Proportional representation aims at giving minority representation. I notice the hon. Member who has just addressed the House used the term "minority representation" in reference to this alternative vote. Proportional representation demands minority representation with the intention of giving the minority a voice, not of giving minority rule.
1496 We have now put that aside, and in future the minority is not to have a voice. The alternative vote ensures, if we accept it and have the scheme of counting I suggest, that minority rule will be entirely absent. We have many hon. Members here who represent a minority, and in those particular constituencies the minority rules in this House. This is undemocratic. You can ensure by the alternative vote that none but the majority sends a representative here. The hon. Baronet who moved this Amendment called it a great injustice if at an election where a candidate secured 5,000 votes, the next on the list 4,000, while the man at the bottom got 2,000, the 4,000 man should be able to add the 2,000 votes, making 6,000 and giving him the seat. The hon. Member who seconded the Amendment agreed with that proposition, but I am sorry he fails to see the essential factor in this alternative vote which is that these 2,000 electors should not be disfranchised in the election because they choose a man out of three who could not command a majority.
The hon. Baronet said there were different values in preference votes, but that is not so. The vote is of the same value. As a matter of fact it is the same voter and the same vote. The simple fact is, he says to the returning officer, " If my vote is given to a man who cannot win, I ask you to transfer it to one of the other candidates." The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir T. Whittaker) made the same mistake. He referred to the different values in the vote, and said that a man who got second preference votes had votes not as valuable as first preference. I hope that claim will not be made in the future. I think it is now recognised that the second preference votes are of the same value when transferred from one candidate to another because they were in the first instance given to a candidate who could not secure a majority of the electors. The Mover of the Amendment said that the alternative vote would open up opportunities for party intrigue, and he suggested that candidates should try and compose their differences by intrigue between one party and the other. I think a constituency should hear all candidates and decide upon them. It is an incursion upon the rights of a constituency for a few men to get together and say, " We will allow only this or that man to stand." It is a great advantage to have as many candidates as care to 1497 stand. The present system keeps eliminating men by private caucus until you reduce them to two. We ought to know what are the views of the third and the fourth and the fifth men. Why should constituents not hear their views?
Often we have a conflict between the Press and the platform. Personally I believe that the educative power of the platform is greater than the educative power of the Press. During the War the Press has been vocal and the platform silent, and you see the result. If you have the alternative vote you invite more candidates to stand, and you do not eliminate anybody. You also train young and prospective members, and that is a very great advantage. Another advantage is that men can stand as candidates without being accused of vote splitting. That keeps a great many candidates out of an election. This is a loss not only to the candidates but to the whole community. We invite a large number of men to stand on the promise that there will be no vote splitting, and we want to be able to fulfil that promise. Under the draft regulations of the Government we cannot fulfil that promise, and if these regulations are going to be part of the Bill I shall vote against the alternative vote.
The alternative vote says to all prospective candidates, " Come one, come all." Two Liberals, two Conservatives, and two Labour candidates can stand under this proposal. We shall in future have a larger number of candidates, because the expenses are going to be smaller and the returning officer's expenses will be paid by the State. For that reason alone we are going to have a multiplicity of candidates, but there will be more because of the promise the alternate vote gives to prospective candidates, that if three, four, or five men stand for one seat they will not split the vote, but the man who has the majority of the votes will be elected. That is not so under the draft regulations which will split votes in many instances. There are two Colonies where they have adopted the alternative vote. The system of voting is the same everywhere, but the method of counting may be entirely different. The draft regulations which accompany this Sub-section are copied from the West Australian alternative or contingent vote, and under these regulations the bottom candidate is cut out.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
I must point out that the hon. and gallant Member has an Amendment on the Paper 1498 dealing with the subject he is now discussing, and we cannot have the Debate twice over. I put the question to the House so as to permit the method of counting to be dealt with after the principle had been disposed of. If the hon. Member wishes to take his opportunity now instead of on his Amendment, I have nothing further to say.
§ Major CHAPPLE
I certainly shall not trench upon my own Amendment now or on the speech I hope to make upon my own Amendment. I may say that the draft regulations as printed are very defective. Under the Government system you will be inviting at the next election a multiplicity of candidates but the caucus would continue to try and eliminate independent candidates, and only have two candidates for every seat. If the alternative vote passes you will have so many standing that you will require a perfect system of counting. The system of the alternative vote is to my mind absolutely democratic. It will certainly increase the number of candidates who will stand. It will train new men and prospective candidates for subsequent elections, and on the whole will give us majority rule in every case in which a majority is not shown on the first preference. For that reason, I am quite prepared to oppose the Amendment and to support the alternative vote.
§ Colonel GRETTON
The whole of our Parliamentary institutions, so far as the representation of the people goes, are built on the attempt to arrive at the majority, and this proposal stands or falls by its success or failure in achieving that result. The smallest examination of all these proposals for the alternative vote must reveal the fact that the majority is not going to be arrived at. It is an attempt to find the majority by taking a certain number of the electors' second choice. The alternative vote is going to be a failure, because it is going to be the second best thing, and you are not going to arrive at the real majority or the real choice of the electors. The hon. and gallant Member opposite (Major Chapple) dismissed very lightly the alternative of a second ballot, and the hon. Member who addressed the House before him (Mr. D. White) challenged anyone to say he would support the principle of the second ballot. There is a good deal to be said for the second ballot, and, if a definite, working proposal for the second ballot were put forward, I, for one, would consider it very carefully, and I 1499 should be inclined to adopt it in cases where there was a multiplicity of candidates. This is really a very ingenious device for taking a second ballot on the first occasion, and it is believed by those who support it that by this device political manœuvring or bargaining may be avoided, The general complexion of a constituency is usually perfectly well known. There are occasions when there is a political landslide and when the opinion of the electors defies the prescience or the prophesy of those most experienced in elections, but those occasions are very rare, and mostly the opinion of a constituency can be gauged, within a certain margin, with very considerable accuracy. Where it is quite clear or probable that any one of the candidates standing will get an absolute majority the agent or the candidate who is working for a particular cause will, of course, in the first place, make every possible endeavour to secure an absolute majority of votes and the whole election will depend upon the second preference. Does anyone contend that there will not be log-rolling and bargaining? If you are going to have a second ballot, it is very much better to take it openly, and to let the electors come to the poll and openly vote the second time. There is no device which will get over the advantages of that method. We have had some interesting revelations in the speeches which have been addressed to the House to-night. The hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Hemmerde) and the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sherwell) declare, quite openly, what many of us have suspected, that there has been log-rolling and bargaining between two parties in this House, greatly to the disadvantage of the third party. The party system has been challenged. If the nation does not want these parties any longer, they will fall, and new parties will be formed. There must be general tendencies or movements in one direction or another, and those movements will form themselves into parties, in order to give adequate expression to the views the Members who are sent here to voice them represent. That is quite certain. You cannot get rid of parties. There must be organisation of opinion, in order that opinion may make its weight felt. I take leave to doubt whether the parties will remain in the particular form that they are now; but if we are going to raise the party issue I will hazard the opinion that this alternative vote is a 1500 device intended to save a certain number of seats. That is the real purpose behind it. I would suggest that all these devices can easily be upset, and will be upset, by electors refusing to give the alternative vote. Many electors, when they have voted for their first preference, may refuse to vote for any other candidate, on the ground that no one else represents their opinion. In that way, it may easily happen that, with all these devices, you do not get an absolute majority at all. I think the electors outside this House will resent these ingenious methods, prefering the straight issue, and voting again if there is no majority. This Bill is designed to make it easier for candidates to appear before the electors; but any tendency to the multiplicity of candidates and the confusion of issues will surely cure itself; because after one or two trials the opinions of the electors will be fairly definitely ascertained, and candidates will not come forward except from some motive of vanity, or reasons of that kind. Elections, therefore, will practically be confined to serious candidates, who represent a body of opinion in the electorate. That has been the experience in the past, and it is a good experience. We do not want frivolous candidates confusing the issues. We want a plain issue on the broad grounds of national opinion and to let the nation decide in a clear and open manner by a vote taken at the poll. It is because I believe this device is futile, and must fail, and it is because I believe it is a device which the electors will not understand and a very large number of them will not use, that I for one intend to vote against the inclusion of a Clause which was added to the Bill by a majority of one vote only.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
The hon. Member who has just spoken appears to think that the only purpose of seeking to retain in the Bill the provision now under discussion is that of saving a few seats belonging to one political party. I take leave to differ from him on that point. There is raised here an issue of much greater importance than many hon. Members have up to the present realised. What is the real object of the Bill now under discussion? I understand it is to secure the fullest and fairest measure of representation of the people in the Legislature. We have very widely extended the franchise. We are bringing in, as the House well knows, some 8,000,000 new electors. Having given the vote to some 1501 16,000,000 electors instead of 8,000,000, we desire them to exercise the vote in such a way as will make the House of Commons the truest possible mirror of the will of the people who have been enfranchised. Much of the Debate with regard to this issue and much of the Debate on the Committee stage ran on the assumption that we were going to continue in this country the old two-party system. There could not be a greater mistake. My opinion is that when this measure becomes law and becomes operative there is a much greater likelihood of our reverting in this country to the Continental system of a considerable number of groups in politics. It may be the desire of some Members of the House to avoid that as far as possible. My opinion is that it cannot be avoided.
It is quite true that we have imposed a sort of penal Clause that if a candidate does not obtain one-eighth of the votes polled he forfeits the sum of £150, which he is compelled to deposit before his nomination can be accepted. Even with the risk there imposed, I believe we are going to have a larger number of candidates than ever before, because I believe that politicians in this country are going to divide themselves up into groups more than they have ever done in the history of politics in this country. Already we see striking indications of what is going to take place. We have the announcement that there is a National party, we have the announcement that there is going to be a Woman's party, we have already intimations that one of the old political parties in this House, which has so often formed the Government of the country, is going to be divided under this leader and the other leader. All this goes to prove what I have already said, that we are going to have an increase in the number of groups. If I am correct in this assumption, and if the giving of the votes means that we ought to do everything in our power to make the House of Commons the truest possible mirror of the opinion of the electors of the country, we have only to ask ourselves this question: Whether the taking out of the Bill is a proposal which, as we were twice reminded by the last speaker, was only left in the Bill by a majority of one—I will refer to that in a moment—and leaving ourselves exposed to the old system of elections, we can possibly make the House of Commons anything like an accurate mirror of the opinion of the country? The hon. Member who has just spoken put as 1502 an argument against retaining this proposal that it was carried by only one vote. May I remind the House that many of us thought that this was a compromise which had been arranged either unanimously or by a majority vote in the Conference over which you, Sir, presided? There has not been a disposition on the part of many Members to attend when certain questions were under consideration, because they felt that in fairness to all the parties concerned the Bill should, as far as possible, pass from the House in a form consistent with the principles that had been accepted either unanimously or by a majority in the Conference that brought forward these proposals. I do not consider it an argument at all that any question was settled during the Committee stage by the small majority of one or, it may be, even a larger majority than that, and that on that ground it can still be called in question.
I want to get back to the point that we cannot get by our present system of elections, especially if the group system should obtain in this country, anything like a true mirror of the opinion of the country in this House. I have been associated for a considerable number of years with the by-elections that have taken place in this country. Fourteen years ago I came into the House as the representative of a minority. I came into the House as the result of a three-cornered contest, in which I had pitted against me the candidates of both the old political parties. I came in with a very small majority over the second candidate, who was the candidate of the Unionist party. For some two or three years I took part in the work of the House not representing the will of the constituency? How could I? I came in representing a clear minority, because the votes of the three candidates were so near to each other that if the second and third candidates had combined their votes I should have been in a hopeless minority. I ant not sure—I am making this probably as a point against myself—that if there had been an alternative vote in those days or if the electors could have been called together under the system of the second ballot, which has been described by the last speaker, I should never have been permitted to come to this House. I have a very shrewd notion, such was the temper arising out of that particular election, that there would have been a tendency, temporarily, no doubt, for a number of the voters belonging to the old political parties to have combined against me and 1503 to have secured my defeat. Whether that was the case or not, it would not alter my view that if you are going to have a true reflex of the opinion of the electorate in this House, if it is possible to devise means, whether it be by the second ballot or the alternative vote, you ought to have some means by which you will not have a number of candidates returned representing, as I did for the first two or three years I was here, a clear minority of the electors of any constituency.
What has been my experience in the number of by-elections with which I have been associated? Let me tell the House. I have been engaged in a contest in Lancashire. What did I find? I found that we could get the most enthusiastic meetings of all the three candidates. Our people cheered themselves almost hoarse, they were simply carried away with enthusiasm, but when the shouting was over and the votes came to be recorded, what did we find in these Lancashire constituencies? We heard what we used to call the Lancashire Tory working man say, "I am with you, but I am so awfully afraid that if I vote for the Labour candidate I am going to let the Liberal in." And when we got across the Border into Yorkshire, in constituencies which I could name, and went through the election there, the position was reversed to this extent, that the working-class voter said, " We are with you; we like your programme; we think what you are aiming at is correct, but if we vote for the Labour candidate we are going to let the Tory in." I hope now we have got sufficiently far, especially during the period of this War, to recognise that we are no longer in the old days, we no longer have only the two orthodox political parties, and the mere fact that we have Members sitting on these benches, the mere fact that our people have given such clear, definite, and patriotic assistance during this War, ought to lead all politicians to recognise we have got more than the two parties, that we have now got three distinct parties. Putting aside for a moment the possible increase in the number of groups, let us recognise that we have three political parties in this country. Does anyone hold for a single moment that if we retained this system of having no method, whereby we can take something like an exhaustive vote, if we have neither the second ballot nor the alternative vote, it is going to be fair to the Labour party, 1504 who, as everybody knows, intend to put candidates into the field on a scale never before contemplated in the politics of this country? There are to be 8,000,000 new electors, and we intend to give these new electors in as many constituencies as possible the choice as between the Unionist, the Liberal, and the Labour candidate. But we can only do that when we have adapted our electoral machinery to the other parts of the Bill. What is the use of conferring a vote on tnese 8,000,000 people if you are going to deny them the right of giving that vote not only for one candidate but for two, when, if there happens to be three, and out of the three two are nearer to their ideals than the third, and a second may be not so near to them as the first preference candidate would be. It seems to me that the majority at Mr. Speaker's Conference was perfectly right, as was the Royal Commission which considered this subject some years ago, and laid it down quite definitely that the alternative vote did seem to afford a very satisfactory method of ridding ourselves of what has been becoming during the last few years a very serious position so far as a number of the Members of this House are concerned. In the fourteen years I have been here I have seen quite a number of men returned who, like myself, have represented only a minority of the constituency with which their name is associated. Therefore, I hope in all fairness—I do not want to press the party issue too far—I heard the hon. Member for Ayr Burghs say yesterday that his party had got nothing out of this Bill, or practically nothing, and he was making a very strong plea for an Amendment that was carried. I am not going to press the party advantage—
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I think the right hon. Gentleman has rather misunderstood me. What I said was we had got only small concessions.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I am quite prepared to accept the hon. Baronet's words, and to say " concessions " instead of "party advantage." I do not want to press for a party concession, but I do suggest that when we are revising our machinery we should do it in such a way as to get rid of the serious disadvantage under which one party now labours as against the other two parties. We are surely entitled to claim that that party should have this concession to the same extent as all other 1505 parties, and that is all I am asking for. I want the three parties to be placed on an equality, and then in Lancashire, where, as I have tried to illustrate, there are three candidates, the Unionist candidate will be able to get the advantage in a three-cornered contest. In Yorkshire the Liberal candidate may be able to get the advantage, and we shall go along to our own constituencies, and we shall say to the Lancashire Tory working man, or to the Yorkshire Liberal working man, " You will have your choice; you can give your first preference to the candidate who comes nearest to your own political ideal, but you can also have your second choice, and it will be for you to use your own judgment." Then when the votes have been finally exhausted that candidate will come to this House, whether he be Unionist, Liberal, or Labour, who has behind him a majority of the vote in the constituency, be they first or second preference. I sincerely trust that the hon. Member for Ayr Burghs will assist us to get the concession of the establishment of a position of electoral equality between the three parties.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I rise not for the purpose of taking any part in the arguments, because I have already had an opportunity of giving this House my opinion on this question, but for the purpose of indicating what course the Government propose to take in this matter. Throughout the Committee on this Bill we went on the principle that it was our duty to press on the House with all the power we could command all the unanimous recommendations of Mr. Speaker's Conference with a single exception, which was laid down before the Bill was introduced, and as a condition of its being introduced, that exception being the question of proportional representation. That course we have taken throughout the discussions on Amendments. With regard to the majority recommendations we took the view that any compromise must be unanimous, and the Clauses which were inserted in the Report only by the vote of the majority, and against the wish of some of the members of the Conference could not be binding, but could only be treated as recommendations for favourable consideration, and as matters to be determined by the House itself. One was the case of women, another was the case of the absent voter, on which there appeared to be no difference whatever in this House 1506 The third referred to the disqualification in respect of over thirty days' Poor Law relief, upon which the House reversed the decision of the Conference, and the fourth was the one now under discussion. We took the view in Committee that we would leave this matter to the free judgment of the House. We take the same view to-day, and do not propose to put on the Government Whips.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
Before this Amendment goes to a Division I should like to make a few observations on this proposal and on the Debate which has taken place. I do not quarrel with the decision of the right hon. Gentleman to leave this matter to the free vote of the House because it was undoubtedly a point on which the members of the Speaker's Conference found themselves in great disagreement, and in Committee no protest was raised against the course suggested. I do, however, hope the House when considering this exceedingly important proposed change in our electoral system will view it not merely from the narrow point of view of party, to whatever party they may happen to belong, but will view it with the desire to achieve what is, or what should be, the object of this Bill, namely, to select the best method of enabling the people to secure a true reflection of the opinion of the nation in this Commons House of Parliament. Our whole political system proceeds on the basis of a majority rule. There is much that may be said against Government by majority. Philosophers from time immemorial have criticised, and sometimes ridiculed it, declaring that you can have no guarantee that it will ensure the predominence of wisdom; but at all events it is the best system that has yet been devised for governing a democracy. The proposal of proportional representation, which has been rejected this afternoon, has been advocated on the ground that it will enable not only majorities to rule but also that it will enable minorities to be represented in proportion to their members. For that, of course, there is very much to be said, but I do not think that anyone in any quarter would seriously urge as a sound basis of Government that minorities should rule. Yet that is now, under our existing political arrangements, precisely what does in many cases occur. We are not considering some hypothetical state of things that may exist at a future date. We all know, who are students of our political system and of our political life, that again 1507 and again at an election where three candidates stand for one seat a representative is returned to Parliament who notoriously represents on the main questions of the day the opinions of only a minority of the electorate. We see a member arrive here and walk up the Floor of the House, with only qualified satisfaction because he knows, and we all know, that when he goes to give his vote in the Division Lobby oh the main questions of the day he will represent not the majority, but the minority of the inhabitants of the place which he is supposed to represent.
That is a plain evil. It is impossible to gainsay it. It is a clear and obvious defect in our electoral system, but there is, in addition, in consequence of this, a concealed evil to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Henderson) referred just now. The elector in this case is deterred from casting his vote for the candidate whom he would desire to see elected. He may say, " Of A., B., and C., I greatly prefer C., but I detest above all things A.; and dare I vote for C., if the result is that A. will be returned? 1 think B. has a better chance of beating A. than C." The elector, therefore, has to weigh in his mind as best he can which of the two, B. or C., has the best chance of beating A. He will not vote for C., because, above all, he desires to prevent the return of A., and that is what happens again and again, indeed, one might almost say invariably, with three-cornered contests. I suggest that we ought not to put intelligent and patriotic citizens who only desire to do the best for their country, and who want to see elected the man who will best serve the interests of the nation in their opinion, in the dilemma of either voting for a man they do not like or voting for persons whom they do not wish to be elected, because it is the only means of preventing the return of those whom they do not desire to see returned. These defects in our constitutional system will increase in the future. They have been bad enough in the past. As a consequence, partly of this Bill, they are likely to increase, because the number of three-cornered contests are likely to increase. Do not let us delude ourselves with the fond idea that as a consequence of this War all party controversies are likely to end in this country. Happily, they are now, for the most part, in abeyance, but they have existed all through the centuries of our history, and are likely to return 1508 when the War is over. Possibly parties, may not exist in the same shape as they did before, and almost certainly they will not have the same programmes, but parties of some kind there will most certainly be, and after all political controversy, if it turns upon matters which are legitimate and proceeds by propaganda which are fair, is not a sign of decadence in the country, but is a sign of healthy vigorous national life.
I have suggested to the House that in all probability there will be more contests in future than in the past in which more-than two candidates will present themselves; and the reasons are pretty obvious. In the first place, we have made it our deliberate object in this Parliament to throw open access to the House to more and more persons. We have established payment of Members in order to remove the barrier which prevented men of small means obtaining membership of this House. We have in this very Bill largely restricted election expenses, which again will facilitate the multiplicity of candidatures. From time to time as democracy develops and as self-government becomes-more elaborate it becomes more complex. Certainly in political life all the work of democracy becomes as time goes on more and more complex, and we are never likely to go back to the sweet simplicity of the two-party system. The effect will be that three-cornered contests are likely, to become far more numerous than they have been in the past, and what will be the result to the moral authority of this House if after the War it is found that a considerable proportion, fifty or a hundred Members of this House were notoriously and indeed avowedly here, against the will of the majority of the constituents in the locality from which they come? The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Hemmerde), in a very much smaller House than there is now, put that point with great cogency and force. We may be living in times when it is of essential importance to maintain the authority of our constitutional system: There will probably be many subversive influences at work, and if the House of Commons on the great questions of the day notoriously does not represent the opinions of the nation, because it contains a large number of members who are minority representatives, then I would appeal to hon. Members who take the Conservative standpoint in matters of politics to consider whether that will not be the very greatest national danger. 1509 Let me deal with the objections which are raised to the proposal before the House. In the first place it is said the voters will not understand this. It is too complicated. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Barnett) said how could you expect an elector to master this complicated document, giving the methods of calculation for working the alternative vote. But as he himself proceeded to show, no elector will ever be required to do anything of the kind. All he will be asked to do is to put a 1 against the name of the candidate he likes best, and 2 against the name of the person he likes next best. There is surely no deep mathematical problem in that. If he is accustomed to vote by putting a cross against one name and still, not fully realising the new system, put a cross against one name, I hope the rules will make it quite clear that the cross will be counted as his vote.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
Secondly, it is said this system is illogical because you count a second preference as though it were of the same value as the first and members will come to the House who are elected not only by the voters who really wish them to be elected, but also by the voters who really wished some other person, if possible. to attend on their behalf in Parliament. But is there really anything illogical in saying to the voter, Tell us whom you would like to be elected and tell us also, if you cannot get him elected, whom you would prefer of the remaining candidates? It seems to me in the highest degree reasonable not to leave him simply one choice among the three. The voter states his first preference and his second, and the count is taken accordingly.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
Not at all. Under the existing system you have a person elected against whom the majority have voted. They have definitely declared that they do not want him. There is a majority of votes for B. and C. and against A., yet A. is elected. Under the new system the man who is elected must have either the first support or the second support of the majority of the electorate.
§ Mr. McNEILL
Those who put the second preference opposite that Member's name quite as clearly show that they do not want him.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
No; indeed not. If they did not want him, why did they vote for him? They do vote for him. That is the whole point. Surely if a person says, " I want A., and if I cannot get him I will have B.," you cannot say he does not want B. Failing A., he does want B., and as it is plain from the first count that A. cannot be elected, he then wants B. in preference to C., and if he did not want him he would not vote for him.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
Can the right hon. Gentleman defend the fact that the second choice of the lowest in the poll settles the election?
§ Mr. SAMUEL
It will not settle the election. They settle the election in conjunction with the first choice of the other candidates. Then hon. Members have said, " Suppose he does not really want a second man at all. Suppose he has his own choice, but hates the other two with an equal hatred—despises them with an equal contempt. What is he to do then? " That question is easy to answer. He does not give a second preference. If his own man is not elected, he leaves it to the remainder of the voters to say which of them is to be elected. The last argument is that there will be corrupt bargains. The hon. Baronet (Sir G. Younger) says there will be a corrupt bargain, and that parties will agree to co-operate, and will say, "If you vote for our candidate as a second preference, we will vote for your candidate as a second preference." What is meant by a corrupt bargain? Where is the corruption in that? Advice is given by party leaders to the electorate to take a certain course. The hon. Baronet scoffs at that. What more can be done? The voters are not automata. They have wills of their own. if the people think that their leaders have given them wrong advice or corrupt advice, they will not follow it, and I do not, for my own part, see any disadvantage at all, or anything that is in the least degree wrong in any leader of a party saying: " I advise you to support the candidate whom I am myself supporting, and if he is not elected I advise you to support the candidate whose views approximate more nearly to my own." It is perfectly free for each elector to follow that advice or not to follow it. What is the alternative to this 1511 so-called corrupt bargain? The hon. Baronet has told us himself. He says that the right remedy for the existing state of things is that the parties nearest one another should arrange their differences privately, and should arrange to run only one candidate.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
Then the hon. Baronet talks about corrupt bargains. He suggests that half-a-dozen men should get into a room together before the election and behind the backs of the electors, instead of straightforwardly running their candidates, should say to each other: " You run your candidates in so many seats and we will run our candidates in so many seats. The voters will not have the chance of declaring their preference, and we shall be able to defeat the other party." That is what he says is the right method of settling this question, and then, forsooth, he says that by going to the electors and advising them how to cast their votes we are engaging in a corrupt bargain. The other possible alternative which has been presented to the House is the system of proportional representation which has been rejected. I am not concerned now whether it has been rejected rightly or wrongly. The fact remains that it has been eliminated from the Bill, and we cannot regard it, therefore, as a possible alternative. In any case, it did not apply to single-member constituencies, and what the House has now to decide is whether it wishes a system to continue under which, in many cases, members can be returned who are simply representatives of minorities, and, if not, whether it will accept the only possible alternative. A Royal Commission went into the whole of this matter a few years ago and made its report. It was a Commission representing all parties, and its report was unanimous. That Commission consisted of Lord Richard Cavendish, chairman, Lord Lochee, for many years a prominent Member of this House, the present Secretary of State for India, Sir Francis Hopwood, now Lord Southborough, Sir Courtenay Ilbert, the respected Clerk to this House, Sir Charles Elliott, Mr. Pember Reeves, now the head of the London School of Economics, and the hon. Member for Durham representing the Unionist Party. That Commission went laboriously into all these 1512 questions and studied the various systems adopted in the different counties of the world, and presented unanimously a report which set out in full the pros and cons of the alternative vote. They end with this brief paragraph:We have entered into this question rather fully, if not at undue length. Still, it is desirable that no more should be expected from the system than it is able to give. But when all due weight has been given to it the alternative vote remains the best method of removing the most serious defect which a single-member system can possess—the return of minority candidates, and accordingly we recommend its adoption in single-member constituencies.Relying upon this Report, relying also on the recommendations of the majority of the Speaker's Conference, I urge the House to reject this Amendment and to retain in the Bill the only practicable method of removing a plain defect in the existing system.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I listened with great attention to the speeches of my right hon. Friend who has just sat down and of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Henderson). I am sorry to say that they have not converted me by their arguments. My right hon. Friend voted with me a short time ago in favour of giving to minorities representation in this House, but he now says that majorities must always rule. That does not seem to me to be quite as consistent as my right hon. Friend has always represented himself to be. One of the arguments also advanced was that when a member was returned, as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henderson) himself admitted that he was returned, by what he calls a minority vote, when he comes into this House to be introduced he does so with a qualified smile. I remember the right hon. Gentleman being introduced into this House, and I saw no qualification in his smile. I thought that he was peculiarly pleased with himself when he came to that Table to sign the Roll of Members of this House. There are some things in which I am able to agree with my right hon. Friend. He says that in the future there will be perils and strife. With that I am in absolute agreement. I am not at all sure that some of the disabilities under which we are labouring at present have not arisen because there is no political strife, and that we should not be doing better if we had the old party system prevailing at the moment. My right hon. Friend says that we put the intelligent, patriotic citizen in a difficulty. I do not see why. The intelligent patriotic citizen ought to be able to make up his mind whether he is, going to vote 1513 for me or for the right hon. Gentleman or for my right hon. Friend. Where is the difficulty? The two right hon. Gentlemen have expressed their views with a clearness which enables anyone to understand what they mean. As far as I am concerned, perhaps I am not able to express my views equally well, but at all events I stand for the old Tory principle, to which I am happy to say many people in this realm still adhere. There is no difficulty. The voters have only to make up their minds as to whom they will vote for. The right hon. Gentleman brought forward as an argument against the proposal of the hon. Baronet that this proposal had been recommended by a majority of the Speaker's Conference. I understood him to say that it was necessary that we should carry out the wishes of the Conference, even if those wishes were carried by a majority. The wishes of the Conference were not carried by a majority; they were the unanimous wishes of the Conference, but those wishes have been disregarded in three instances. As to women on the local government register, the recommendation of the Conference was that the women should not be registered with the same qualification as that of her husband. Nothing could be clearer and more distinct than that, yet it was carried against their wish and in face of the unanimous decision of the Conference. Then there was proportional representation, and, unless I am very much mistaken, that was the unanimous recommendation of the Conference.
§ Then came the question of votes for soldiers at the age of nineteen. The Conference certainly said nothing about that, and all the way through it was not mentioned. Therefore, I think, I am right in saying that the argument of the right hon. Gentleman, that we should support the wishes of the Conference carried by a majority, falls to the ground. The right1514
§ hon. Gentleman said that there are going to be very many groups in future. 1 think that is right, but that seems to me an argument against this proposal. Of course, if there are going to be a great many groups, there must be a great number of people who are not decided to accept any one candidate except the one who represents the view of their group, and who, they believe, is right. The result will be that these people will vote, for instance, for the man entirely in favour of their view in support of women's suffrage. But there are many other things on which they are not decided, but which will cause them to give a second vote to somebody, because they do not wish to lose the advantage of what they think they have a right to do. A man will put down a second vote against somebody, and that somebody may not represent him in any kind of way. If we are going to adhere to the system, of single-member constituencies, we ought to adhere to the present arrangement by which an elector has to make up his mind. Surely there can be no difficulty as to which of the numerous candidates—if there are numerous candidates, and 1 think there will be—he is going to vote for. If this proposal is carried, it opens the door to a number of people conspiring to put forward certain candidates, knowing perfectly well that they will not get in, but that they will put their second vote against the name of some other candidate, and by that means put out the third or fourth party, as the case may be, though he is the candidate who really represents the majority. For these reasons, I sincerely hope the Amendment will be rejected
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out, to the word ' by' [" by this Act "], stand part of the Bill."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 150; Noes, 121—1515
|Division No. 1 [...]8.]||AYES.||[10.34 p.m.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis Dyke||Bliss, Joseph||Crumley, Patrick|
|Adamson, William||Boland, John Pius||Currie, George W.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Brace, Rt. Hon william||Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth)|
|Agnew, Sir George William||Brunner, John F. L.||Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas|
|Ainsworth, Sir John Stirling||Bryce, J. Annan||Dickinson, Rt. Hon. Willoughby H.|
|Alden, Percy||Buxton, Noel||Dougherty, Rt. Hon. Sir J. B.|
|Anderson, W. C.||Byrce, J. Annan||Du 'can, C. (Barrow-In-Furness)|
|Armitage, Robert||Cawley, Rt. Hon. Sir Frdk. (Prestwich)||Edwards, Clement (Glamorgan, E.)|
|Arnold, Sydney||Chancellor, Henry George||Falconer, James|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. George N.||Chapple, Major William Allen||Ferens, Rt. Hon. Thomas Robinson|
|Barran, Sir R. Hurst (Leeds, North)||Clough, William||Fitzpatrick, John Lalor|
|Beale, Sir William Phipson||Collins, Sir W. (Derby)||Galbraith, Samuel|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Gilbert, J. D.|
|Bethell, Sir J. H.||Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Glanville, Harold James|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Crooks, Rt. Hon. William||Greenwood, Sir G. G. (Peterborough)|
|Greenwood, Sir Hamar (Sunderland)||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Gulland, Rt. Hon. John William||Maden, Sir John Henry||Sherwell, Arthur James|
|Hackett, John||Mellalieu, Frederick William||Smallwood, Edward|
|Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)||Mason, David (Coventry)||Smith, H. B. Lees (Northampton)|
|Harmsworth, Cecil (Luton, Beds)||Millar, James Duncan||Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)|
|Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-shire)||Molloy, Michael||Spicer, Rt. Hon. Sir Albert|
|Harris, Percy A. (Leicester. S.)||Molteno Percy Alport||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West)||Mortonm, Alpheus Cleophas||Sutherland, John E.|
|Haslam, Lewis||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Sutton, John E.|
|Healy, Maurice (Cork)||Needham, Christopher T.||Taylor, John W. (Durham)|
|Healy, Timothy Michael(Cork, N.E.)||Nolan, Joseph||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Hemmerde, Edward George||Norman, Sir Henry||Thomas, Sir A. G. (Monmouth, S.)|
|Henderson, Rt. Hon. Arthur (Durham)||O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)||Thorne. G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Henry, Sir Charles (Shropshire)||O'Dowd, John||Thorne, William (West Ham)|
|Higham, John Sharp||O'Grady, James||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Hinds, John||O'Neill, Dr. Charles(Armagh, S.)||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Hogge, James Myles||Outhwaite, R. L.||Tillett, B.|
|Holt, Richard Durning||Palmer, Godfrey Mark||Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Ince)|
|Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Parker, James(Halifax)||Wardle, George J.|
|John, Edward Thomas||Peel, Major Hon. G. (Spalding)||Watson, John B.(Stockton)|
|Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)||Philipps, Maj.-Gen. Sir Ivor (S'ampton)||Watt, Henry A.|
|Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Notts, Rushcliffe)||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.||White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Traedston)|
|Jones, W. S. Glyn- (Stepney)||Pratt, J. W.||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.|
|Jewett, F. W.||Price, C. E.(Edinburgh, Central)||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N.W.)|
|Joyce, Michael||Pringle, William M. R.||Williams, John(Glamorgan)|
|Keating, Matthew||Raffan, Peter Wilson||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Worcs.. N.)|
|Kenyon, Barnet||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Kiley, James Daniel||Reddy, Michael||Wing, Thomas Edward|
|King, J.||Richardson, Albion (Peckham)||Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)|
|Lambert, Richard(Wilts, Cricklade)||Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven)||Yeo, Alfred William|
|Levy, Sir Maurice||Roberts, Rt. Hon. George H. (Norwich)||Young, William (Perthshire, E.|
|Lewis,Rt. Hon. John Herbert||Robertson, Rt. Hon. J. M. (Tyneside)||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|Lynch, Arthur Alfred||Rowlands, James|
|M'Curdy, C. A.||Russell, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W.||TELLERS FORTHE AYES. —Sir R.|
|Macdonald. Rt. Hon. J. M. (Falk.B'ghs)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)||Adkins and Mr. Bowerman.|
|McMicking, Major Gilbert||Scanlan, Thomas|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Goldsmith, Frank||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William|
|Archdale, Lieut. E. M.||Gretton, Colonel John||Pease, Rt. Hon. H. Pike (Darlington)|
|Ashley, Wilfred W.||Gwynne, R. S. (Sussex, Eastbourne)||Pennefather, De Fonblangue|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Hambro, Angus Valdemar||Parkins, Walter Frank|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord C. J.||Pets, Basil Edward|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Hanson, Charles Augustin||Pollock, Ernest Murray|
|Barlow, Montague (Salford, South)||Hardy, Rt. Hon. Laurence||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest George|
|Bathurst Capt. Charles (Wilts, Wilton)||Harris, Henry Percy (Paddington, S.)||Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.|
|Bellairs, Commander C. W.||Hermon-Hodge, Sir R. T.||Handles, Sir John S.|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Hewins, William Albert Samuel||Rawson, Colonel Richard H.|
|Bird, Alfred||Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy||Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|Blair, Reginald||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Rutherford, Watson (L'pool, W. Derby)|
|Bowden, Major G. R. Harland||Hope, Lieut.-Col. J. A.(Midlothian)||Samuels, Arthur W.|
|Boyton, James||Horne, Edgar||Samuel, Samuel (Wandsworth)|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Hume-Williams, W. E.||Spear, Sir John Ward|
|Brookes, Warwick||irgieby, Holcombe||Stanley, Capt. Lord (Abercromby)|
|Bull, Sir William James||Jackson, Lt.-Col. Hon. F. S. (York)||Starkey, Captain John Ralph|
|Burdett-Coutts, W.||Jackson, Sir John (Devonport)||'Staveley-Hill, Lieut.-Col. Henry|
|Butcher, John George||Jessel, Colonel Sir H. M.||Stewart, Gershom|
|Carew, C. R. S.||Kerr-Smiley, Major Peter Kerr||Stirling, Lieut.-Col. Archibald|
|Cator, John||Kerry, Lieut.-Col. Earl of||Sykes, Col. Sir Alan John (Knutsford)|
|Cave, Rt. Hon. Sir George||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Talbot, Lord Edmund|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn(Aston Manor)||Lane-Fox, Major G. R.||Terrell, George(Wilts, N.W.)|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham||Larmor, Sir J.||Terrell, Major Henry (Gloucester)|
|Coats, Sir Stuart A. (Wimbledon)||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar(Bootle)||Tickler, T. G.|
|Colvin, Col. Richard Beale||Lloyd, George Butler(Shrewsbury)||Touche, Sir George Alexander|
|Cory, James Herbert (Cardiff)||Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)||Tryon, Captain George Clement|
|Craig, Norman (Kent, Thanet)||Long, Rt. Hon. Walter||Walker, Colonel William Hall|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Lowe, Sir F. W. (Birm., Edgbaston)||Ward, A. S. (Herts, Watford)|
|Dalrymple, Hon. H. H.||McCalmont, Brig.-Gen. Robert C. A.||Warde, Colonel C. E. (Kent, Mid)|
|Dalziel, Davison (Brixton)||McCaw, William J. MacGeagh||Wheler, Major Granville C. H.|
|Denison-Pender, Capt. J. C.||Mackinder, Halford .J.||White, Col. G. D. (Lancs., Southport)|
|Denniss, E. R. B.||Macmaster, Donald||Whiteley, Herbert. James|
|Duke, Rt. Hon. Henry Edward||McNeill, Ronald (Kent., St. Augustine's)||Williams, Col. Sir Robert (Dorset, W.)|
|Fell, Arthur||Malcolm, Ian||Wilson, Capt. A. Stanley (Yorks, E.R.)|
|Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes (Fulham)||Mason, James F. (Windsor)||Wood, Hon. E. F. L. (Yorks, Ripon)|
|Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Meux, Adml, Hon. Sir Hedworth||Worthington Evans, Major Sir L.|
|Fleming, Sir John||Neville, Reginald J. N.||Yate, Colonel C. E.|
|Fletcher, John Samuel||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)|
|Foster, Philip Staveley||Nield, Herbert||TELLERS FOR THE NOES. —Sir G.|
|Ganzoni, Francis John C.||O'Neill, Capt. Hon. H. (Antrim, Mid)||Younger and Captain Barnett,|
|Gibbs, Col. George Abraham|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Major CHAPPLE
I beg to move, M Sub-section (1), to leave out the word " by " ["as defined by this Act "], and to insert instead thereof the words "in the Eighth and Ninth Schedules of."
The object of this Amendment is to substitute for the draft rules issued by the 'Government—the West Australia system—another system of counting by the returning officer. The Government system has been in operation in West Australia since 1909, and many elections have been held under it. I want to appeal to the Home Secretary to substitute the system of counting set out in the two Schedules of my Amendment. My reasons for asking this are these: If the present draft rules issued by the Government are to be the Instructions given to the returning officer as to how he is to count the votes, the aim of the alternative vote will in many cases be defeated because the man at the bottom of the poll on the first count may very likely be the man who could defeat all his rivals in single combat. The Schedules I propose are based on a system set out by Professor Nanson, which has been carefully tested and found to fulfil the purpose of the alternative vote. Professor Nanson says—(Cd. 3501 of 1907, p. 130):The method which is proposed has, I think, strong claims. It is not at all difficult to carry out. The result will, as often as not, he decided on the first scrutiny. We simply require each elector to put down the names of two of the three candidates in order of preference. Then for each first name two votes are counted, and for each second name one vote is counted. The number of votes for each candidate is then found. The third part of the sum total may be called the average; then all candidates who are not above the average are at once rejected. The lowest candidates must, of course, be below the average. The second is just as likely to be below as above the average. If he is below, the election is settled: but if he is above the average, a second scrutiny is necessary to decide between him and the highest candidate.That is the method which I have set out in these Schedules. After examining various methods, this is the conclusion a number of high authorities have come to:We have examined several methods, and all but the one now proposed have been shown to lead to erroneous results in certain cases. It may fairly be urged, then, that that method which cannot be shown to be erroneous in any case has a greater claim to our consideration than any of the other methods which can be shown to be erroneous. On this ground alone I think the method proposed ought to be adopted for all ,cases.That is the method I propose, and have set out in Schedules. I myself have examined it frequently and tested it at many elections. I can find no error whatever. It does not matter how many candidates you have, or how many first, 1518 second and third preference votes there are; you can invariably pick out the man who has the absolute majority of votes in that particular counting; in other words, you fulfil what the alternative vote proposes to do, and the man is selected who has an absolute majority, no matter what candidates stand. You cannot do that under the draft rules. I have here the opinion of an author in Australia who writes upon the West Australian system, which is the system adopted by my right hon. Friend. He says:Several instances are already on record in this State (West Australia) of candidates having been elected under this system, upon a 'relative majority' only, on account of a comparatively large number of electors having recorded first preferences only. The experience of this State has proved that on an average about one third of the electors who vote refrain from exercising their privilege of marking their ballot papers beyond he numeral I. … The alternative vote does not necessarily ensure the selection of the 'most popular' (candidates), a result that may be attributed to the insincerity of many electors in the marking of their preferences, and to other causes.The other Clause to which he referred is that which deals under the system of the Government with the man at the bottom of the poll who, although he may be able to command an absolute majority; would be struck out on the first count. The Seconder of the Amendment pointed out this objection to the alternative vote, and it is a very serious objection, but it is not difficult if you adopt the method I have set out in the Schedules of counting the votes. The only difference between my system and that of the right hon. Gentleman is that he counts the preference votes of the last man on the poll and I count the preference votes of all at the first count. You have promised the candidates that the votes shall not be split, and if the preferences are really recorded you can fulfil the wishes of every elector. Mathematicians have examined the system I suggest over and over again, and have recommended it as reliable. I am aware that it is not in actual operation anywhere, but it has been tested at elections at which it was demonstrated that we can do what the alternative vote promises to do, namely, to elect the man who has an absolute majority of the votes.
Then there is the danger of plumping, cases where electors give their first preference votes and no other. If that took place I admit that we should be no further on because the second preference votes would not be recorded. The method I have adopted of defeating plumping is that an instruction should be given to the 1519 returning officer that all unrecorded preference votes should be divided equally amongst the other candidates. The unrecorded second preferences would be divided equally amongst the remaining candidates. Consequently, if there were 1,000 electors who gave first preference votes only, their second preferences would be divided equally amongst the other candidates. When an elector does not put anything opposite B. or C. he does not care whether B. or C. gets in or not, and so you divide his votes equally between these two. Mathematically, it works out exactly the same. It makes no difference to the result, but it encourages the elector to give a second and a third preference. The electors in Western Australia and electors in Queensland, where this system is in operation, sometimes think that by casting a second vote for anyone they diminish the chances of their first-vote man getting in. That is not so. It is a fallacy. They are under a complete misapprehension. But if you tell two electors casting their votes for A. that one of their preferences will be given to B. and the other to C., they know that their abstention will make no difference to the result. Then, if they have a second preference, they will record it. That, however, is not an essential part of my Amendment. It has nothing to do with the point which I have already urged, but it has a great deal to do with the danger of a very large number of electors plumping, giving their first preference and not their second preference. So great has this evil appeared in many elections in Western Australia that a Bill was introduced in that Parliament to make the recording of a second preference compulsory by invalidating a ballot paper unless it had at least one other preference. I am not sure whether it passed into law, but it was before the West Australian Parliament, and its object was to meet the evil that had arisen from this system of plumping. I would strongly urge my right hon. Friend, if he does not accept my Amendment, at least to consider a modification of the draft regulations he has issued along these lines.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
I beg to second the Amendment. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is the only one who so far has made any attempt to deal with the point I made of elections in future, where A., B. and C. are candidates, being decided by the second choice of the candidate lowest 1520 on the list. The hon. Member has at least the common sense to suggest that the second choice of B. is or ought to be of more value than that of C. I have not read the hon. Member's Schedule—I know nothing about it—and I do not suppose that I should understand it if I did read it. His first Schedule brought forward in Committee was one of great complexity and difficulty. But I can see common sense and fairness in the suggestion that he has. made, and I would recommend my right, hon. Friend, at all events, to give consideration to it. I am not in a position to say whether his suggestion of an equal division is correct or not. So far as that is concerned, my mind is left in a complete fog. But I do understand the claim that the second preference of B. ought to be considered more than the second preference of C., and under these circumstances. I desire to second the Amendment.
§ Sir J. LARMOR
I rise to support the Amendment as against the proposal in the Schedule of the Bill, but they are both bad. I have spent two or three hours reading it through with the Report presented by the Royal Commission, which contains a reasoned document by Professor Nanson, whose authority, mathematically, ought to. carry some weight—
§ It being Eleven of the clock, the Debate stood Adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.