§ The PRESIDENT Of the BOARD Of EDUCATION (Mr. Herbert Fisher)
I beg to move,That the scheme for the election to the House of Commons of Members for certain constituencies on the principle of proportional representation, prepared by the Commissioners appointed for that purpose under the Representation of the People, Act, 1918, and laid before Parliament, be and the same is hereby adopted by the House.In introducing this Resolution to the House, perhaps I may be permitted to say a few words with reference to the grand, simple, and fearless character who stood out before the world as the great protagonist of proportional representation in this country. Of the cause which I propose, very briefly, to recommend to the House, Lord Courtney was a lifelong and passionate exponent. It appealed to every part of his nature— to his strong, mathematical intellect, to his unswerving enthusiasm for individual liberty, to his concern for the rights of minorities, which formed part of his general passion for justice. Whatever may be the fate of this Resolution, the cause which it embodies has gained a dignity, from which time can never detract, by its association with this sincere and courageous figure.
I pass to this Resolution. Although it is a matter of very recent history, perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I briefly recall the circumstances that led up to the present occasion. Last Session a measure was placed on the Statute Book for the reform and extension of the Parliamentary franchise. It was a large and complex measure, full of matter which, in any ordinary times, would have given rise to the keenest controversy. It was debated with skill and 64 energy, and, if I may say so, with a rare spirit of accommodation in both Houses of Parliament. Its passage into law was rendered possible by three circumstances— in the first place, by a general sense of the overmastering necessity for a new register framed on a liberal plan; secondly, by the foundation of agreement which was laid in your Conference, Mr. Speaker; and, lastly, by the conspicuous skill with which the Bill was piloted through all its stages by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Just as it seemed the ship was reaching the harbour a storm sprang up that nearly threatened destruction. Hon. Members present have a vivid recollection of the anxious moments which were caused by the discovery of the acute differences of opinion between the two Houses upon the subject of proportional representation. Those differences were eventually composed by the acceptance on the. part of the Government of an Amendment, originally suggested by Lord Curzon, but proposed by Lord Lansdowne, for the appointment of a Commission to prepare a scheme under which, as nearly as possible, a hundred members should be elected to the House of Commons on the principle of proportional representation.
The scheme so prepared was to be laid before both Houses of Parliament, and, if adopted by a Resolution of both Houses, was to take effect as if enacted in the Franchise Act itself— with any Amendments which might be, agreed to. That suggestion was, as I have said, accepted by the Government, which agreed to appoint a Commission. The Government also agreed to consider the Report of that Commission whenever it should be presented, and to submit it to the consideration of both Houses. It was made clear by the spokesman of the Government that the two Houses were to be perfectly free to come to a conclusion upon the Report as a whole, and that, if the Report were adopted, the Government would undertake to put a Minister in charge of the measure, and he would use his best efforts to secure the passage of a good and reasonable measure into law. This is what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said on the point when submitting the Amendment to this House:The proposal is that if this House agrees to the Clause the Commission shall be appointed! and shall report; that then the Government will give this House an opportunity of expressing its free opinion upon the general question of the adoption of the Report; if the opinion of the House so freely ascertained should be generally 65 in favour of its adoption, then the Government will put the Resolution for adoption in the hands of a Minister of the Crown, who will deal with it upon the same lines as we have dealt with the Report of the Speaker's Conference. That is to say, the Minister, whoever he is, will not he bound to insist on the use of the powers of the Government in the passage of every detail of the Report, but he will have the discretion which has been so freely exercised on this Bill, and in that sense the question will be left to the free decision of the House."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February, 1918, cols. 2227–8, Vol. 101.]In accordance with this undertaking Commissioners were appointed to prepare a scheme. They were instructed to have regard to the advisability of applying the principle of proportional representation to town and country, and they were empowered to ascertain local opinion. The Commissioners set to work. They dealt very wisely with the matter, and confined their inquiries to those areas in which it seems the principle of proportional representation might be most easily and effectively applied. Having selected provisionally twenty-eight areas— thirteen boroughs and thirteen counties, and parts of two other counties, they held local inquiries in each of these areas to ascertain the local feeling as to the desirability of introducing this change. The scheme so prepared and framed is now before the House.
It is proposed that proportional representation shall be applied in eleven Parliamentary boroughs and six Parliamentary counties, and that ninety-nine members in all shall be returned under this system to Parliament. In other words, we are invited to approve of a modest and limited experiment in proportional representation. Your Conference, Mr. Speaker, had proposed that something like 190 seats should be distributed upon this system. The present proposal extends to only about half that number. For some Members this scheme may be too small. For other Members this scheme may be too large. This scheme is exactly the right size for me. I have always cherished an academic belief— doubtless due to my unfortunate antecedents— in the virtue of a system of proportional representation, not as a method of bringing into Parliamentary prominence angularities and singularities of character and conduct— for I think our present system satisfies all reasonable requirements— but as a more exact method of ascertaining the true feeling and judgment of the country. Everyone's view of 66 this question is necessarily, to some extent, coloured by personal experience. I see before me and around me prosperous and popular heroes of many a stricken electoral field, members who have entered into every home, subscribed to every fund, and by a thousand and one meritorious processes have acquired what is known as the "intimate touch" with their constituencies. It is very natural that such hon. Members who have laboriously perfected themselves in the polite art of electoral intimacy should be unwilling to see any relaxation or change of system.
I approach this question from a different angle, not as one of the few who receive votes, but as one of the many who record them. The House sees in me the afflicting spectacle of the lifelong minority voter. I have never had the joy or felicity of casting a Parliamentary vote for a winning candidate, and I am naturally inclined to sympathise with disfranchised minorities for whom proportional representation is designed to afford some slight measure of relief. At the same time, I have always felt the force of the contention that under a system of proportional representation majorities may be reduced to a dangerous degree. The Noble Lord the Member for the University of Oxford (Lord Hugh Cecil) has given it as his opinion that there would be no particular harm in this. For him large majorities mean large measures, and large measures mean bad measures. But I do not take this view, and I have always been impressed by the considered opinion of a distinguished statesman, who was Prime Minister in a Government with a small majority, that Governments resting upon the support of small majorities are at a disadvantage in the conduct of foreign affairs.
We cannot, of course, predict what may be in store for us in the ensuing decade, and it may well be that one party in the State may acquire an overwhelming preponderance by reason of its numbers and its skill in organisation, and this preponderance may be so great that the fears I have outlined may not be realised. But, notwithstanding this, I do feel that there is a distinct advantage in beginning with a strictly limited and partial experiment. I have never felt any difficulty in meeting the argument that you must either have all or none. I think that is a very foolish argument, for there are many principles, the application of which, in a 67 limited degree, is wholesome, but which cannot be widely adopted upon a universal scale. If the principle of proportional representation is to be accepted upon a limited scale by this House, then I do not see how the proposals of the Commission could be easily improved upon. The scheme is rigidly impartial as between different groups, parties and interests in the State. It is not calculated to disturb, so far as I can see, the party balance, and it enables the experiment to be tried in constituencies of varying sizes situated in different parts of the country. It extends to the counties as well as to the towns, to the north and to the south as well as to the east and to the west. It is framed upon a scale sufficiently large to enable the effects of the experiment to be discerned and measured, and yet so limited as to preclude the possibility of serious evils should the system in reality realise the best hopes of its worst opponents.
The scheme, it is true, contains some omissions. I searched in vain for the illustrious name of Birmingham; that great city, the nursing mother of democratic Imperialism, designed by the whole colour and texture of its political antecedents, to read severe lessons in electoral perfection to Ireland, South Africa and Quebec, fails to be included in the recommendations of the Commission. Birmingham recedes into the shadow, and the rich mantle of political opportunity falls upon the stalwart shoulders of Sheffield. I do not propose to rehearse either the particular proposals of the Commission or the general arguments in favour of proportional representation. The matter has been so fully debated here, the subject has been so thoroughly and scrupulously explored that were we now discussing high electoral philosophy, even the most honeyed tongue would be unavailing to alter an opinion or change a vote. I am not out upon a desperate crusade against the settled convictions of the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Burdett-Coutts). My object is not to change the convictions of the hon. Member for Westminster but to get him to vote for this Resolution. The hon. Member for Westminster, and those who act with him, hold the opinion that the introduction of proportional representation will be followed by certain inconvenient consequences.
§ Mr. FISHER
Yes, to the State. My hon. Friend honestly prophesies certain consequences, but I offer him in return a gift which no really confident prophet ever refuses, and that is the exquisite pleasure of verification. My suggestion to the hon. Member is that without withdrawing one jot or title of his fixed mind and high disdain upon this question, he should, so far, concede to his opponents as to permit of a modest and harmless experiment being tried in this country. If the experiment fails, if the worst forebodings of the hon. Member are realised, still the situation may be remedied, for the resources of civilisation are not exhausted, but if, as I believe, these disastrous consequences do not ensue, if the members hereafter returned to these constituencies are not monsters but men of like passions to ourselves, honourable, sane, and balanced, even if some of them may represent hitherto suppressed minorities, then I would invite the hon. Member and those who act with him to believe that it is possible that they may be mistaken. The truth is, that there is a very considerable body of opinion, both in Parliament and outside, in favour of some application of this principle. It is not without significance that since important bodies recently summoned to report upon the machinery of proportional representation in the United Kingdom, Mr. Speaker's Conference, the Irish Convention, and Lord Bryce's Committee have reported upon the adoption of some form or other of proportional representation. Nor is it without interest to observe that the Commissioners, when they were holding local inquiries in the constituencies, found that opinion in favour of this change confined to any one class or party in the State. Liberals and Unionists, farmers and miners, Labour representatives, co-operators, women's organisations — all these various bodies were found amongst those who approved this principle.
In Bristol the support appears to have been nearly unanimous, while in Leeds, Hull, and Sheffield there appears to have been a considerable preponderance of opinion in favour of a change; and though in other constituencies opinion was divided and support varied in strength, in every case there was a demand for some change. I think there is some difficulty in assessing the precise value to be attached to these expressions of local opinion. There is a natural 69 tendency on the par
t of the bodies and parties already entrenched in a position of political advantage to look with distrust upon any change in the system, but taking the whole area selected for the experiment there appears to have been an amount of support for the principle quite in excess of what might have been expected, and I think this is sufficient to justify the House of Commons in adopting the recommendations of the Commissioners.
I believe there are certain Members in this House who would be quite prepared to acquiesce in this Resolution if they could receive an assurance on two points — expenses and by-elections. Hon. Members here feel a very natural and honourable reluctance to impose upon constituencies other than their own expenses which they will not themselves be called upon to bear, and they are at a loss to understand how, under the system of proportional representation, by-elections can be inexpensively and conveniently fought. My own opinion is that if this Resolution is accepted by this House the Government will be compelled by the logic of events to bring forward a measure dealing with these two points, limiting the expenditure to be incurred in the selected constituencies and framing a scheme to meet difficulties which have arisen in connection with by-elections. During the Debates upon the Franchise Bill the advocates of proportional representation experienced a succession of defeats in the Lobby, and it may be asked in what respects the situation has changed, and by what means a measure which seemed to the majority of hon. Members so bad in February may be made acceptable to them in May? My answer is that we are discussing a new proposal and that we are dealing with a new situation. We are discussing for the first time a scheme of proportional representation strictly limited in scope to areas which permit of the experiment being tried with the minimum of disturbance and dislocation. That is a new proposal; and, when we reflect that the Franchise Bill would have been lost, that the cares and labours of a most arduous Session would have been thrown to the winds unless the Government and this House had been willing to enter into the plan of the Commission, then I submit we are confronted by a new situation demanding a fresh application of that accommodating spirit which so often in 70 the course of our Debates on the Franchise Bill proved to be the true path of wisdom.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I am not quite clear whether my right hon. Friend, in the remarks which he has just addressed to us, has spoken in the character of a Minister or of a private member, or of a compound of both, but whatever may be the truth, I am sure that the whole House will agree with me in saying that he has presented his case with a singular felicity, with cogency, and with what I regard as not less important, admirable conciseness and terseness. Let me, before I say two or three words about the proposals which my right hon. Friend has brought forward, associate myself with what he has said about the late Lord Courtney. Proportional representation was one of a number of causes to which he devoted a large part of his public life— causes unpopular when he took them up, but many of which, at any rate, have won their way, and some of which have reached their goal. In many ways he was a unique figure among his contemporaries. He belonged to no party, and, though the least of self-seeking of men, he always thought for himself and acted for himself He brought to our public life the resources of a very strong personality, a masculine mind, in which, with many-sided culture, he showed supreme indifference to the fashionable cries and watchwords of the hour, imperturbable confidence, and unwearied tenacity. It will be very long before we see his like.
My right hon. Friend has pointed out that the scheme which he has asked the House to adopt is a compromise, or, if the word be more appropriate, an instalment. I rather prefer to describe it neither as a compromise nor as an instalment, but as an experiment. I do not profess, and I never have professed in the course of these discussions, anything in the nature of an abstract enthusiasm, or enthusiasm either abstract or concrete, as to the principle of proportional representation. As I have more than once reminded the House, I have been a member of Governments which have had the smallest, and which have had the largest majorities, on record. I think in both cases that they operated under very unfavourable conditions, and neither the small majority in the one case nor the large majority in the other was a real reflection of the general mind of the 71 country. It was a more or less accidental result of the particular circumstances of the hour. In view of the enormous expansion of the suffrage to which I am glad to say Parliament has agreed, and the necessity for a consequent redistribution, I think, as I have said before, that the time has come when the House might, at any rate, permit the experiment— an experiment which is not irrevocable. Should it fail, you can go back to the old system, and if it succeed you can develop and extend it— in constituencies in which, after local inquiry, it is found, as I understand as it has been found in these cases, that there is a predominant local feeling in favour of it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Do not suppose that I am presuming to speak for the constituencies. At any rate, there has been a local inquiry, and I understand that the Commissioners in all cases believed— I do not say whether they were right or wrong; it may be that they were quite wrong— that there was a local feeling in favour of it.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
Oh, six to one! I do not want to go into that. Of course, each case ought to be determined on its own merits, and the House will not prejudge the determining of those cases by the conclusions at which the Commissioners have arrived. It is true, as stated by the right hon. Gentleman in a phrase which, if he will permit me to say so, I listened to with some regret as coming from the Minister of Education, that "the scheme contains some omissions." That perhaps was a momentary lapse. It omits, as he pointed out, the great constituency of Birmingham It also omits, as I am glad and grateful to acknowledge, the County of Fife, which, however, could not have been made, as Birmingham could, the subject of the experiment. It also omits, I understand, the City of Westminster, represented by my hon. Friend below the Gangway.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN (War Cabinet)
Why is not Fife as worthy, or as fitting a subject for the experiment as Birmingham?
§ Mr. ASQUITH
It is not a question of fitness or of worthiness. It is a question of the number of Members given.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I do not know what the House of Lords in their wisdom, may have done, but I can vouch for the common sense of the House of Commons. I admit that the subject lends itself to humorous treatment if we regard it from the angle of our various constituencies, and still more if from that of our neighbours; but I hope I may venture to submit to the House— reserving as it were for due consideration specific and particular cases, which can be done, I suppose, by way of Amendment— in view of the widely prevailing feeling, which, I think, is shared by people without distinction of party in almost all quarters of the House, that there should be, at any rate, an experimental provision for the more adequate representation of minorities. The moderate proposal which my right hon. Friend has now made is one which is at least entitled to respectful and sympathetic consideration, and, from that point of view, I venture to ask the House, subject to Amendment, to agree to his Motion.
§ Mr. BURDETT-COUTTS
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to insert instead thereof the words:in the opinion of this House, the change In the method of Parliamentary representation and elections involved in the adoption of the Report is inadvisable that the scheme is not justified by the nature and extent or the results of the local inquiries held; and that the House declines to proceed further in the matter.I find it difficult to resist the temptation set before me by the right hon. Gentleman who moved this Motion of following him into a general discussion on the merits or demerits of proportional representation which has been often and amply debated in this House, but I think I ought to confine myself to the concrete matter of the Report. Within those limits, I shall still be able to come to grips, I think, with 73 some of the things that were said by the right hon. Gentleman. It is very difficult for me to resist the other temptation. In the first instance, I approached the theory without prejudice on either side, in fact, I may say with rather a partiality for it; but, after what I may claim to be a long and close examination of the subject, I am one of those who hold strongly that the representation of minorities, which, of course, is the gist of proportional representation, is contrary to the interests of Parliamentary self-government. It threatens the fundamental law that the majority must govern, and any artificial arrangement that prevents the full and free operation of that law is, in my opinion, against the interests of the State.
I should like to go at once to one or two of the outstanding features of the present position and of the Report. Our contention is that the result of the local inquiries held, taken all over, constitute an overwhelming condemnation of this scheme. The weight of opinion against it is all the more significant because it must be remembered that proportional representation is no new thing. It has been going in this country for fifty years, as, indeed, we are reminded by the pathetic incident to which both the right hon. Gentlemen have alluded— the death of Lord Courtney— to whose unswerving loyalty and perseverance in the views he held with regard to this matter I beg to pay my tribute of admiration and respect. Not only has it had this long life, but it has had behind it a great society— the Proportional Representation Society— which has been in existence since before 1885, a society with a very good organisation, with funds, with branches, and with representatives in different parts of the country, some of whom, I believe, have attended the local inquiries, whether in the capacity of representing the locality I do not know. Against this we have had nothing of the sort. The Committee over which I have the honour to preside is only a Parliamentary Committee, formed for purposes to be achieved within the walls of this House. It is very remarkable that, with that great advantage, with the advantage of its long life and the advantage of this old Proportional Representation Society spread all over the country, we should have had nothing more in favour of proportional representation, when now for the first time it has come really before the country, than is shown in the reports of the local inquiries. The 74 promoters of proportional representation say, and the right hon. Gentleman who moved this Motion has urged, "Only let us try an experiment and you will see how popular it will become." I may remark that proportional representation has a remarkably good Press, so i am not surprised to see in the "Times" this morning a leader in favour of this schema In that leader, urging the experiment, it saysIf it succeeds, it can be extended, and if it fails it can do no harm.I am afraid that there has been a remarkable lapse of memory on the part of the two right hon. Gentlemen who have urged this matter as an experiment. I am also afraid that the "Times" has replaced Lord Courtney by a younger writer with a shorter memory, because we hold that, apart from the results of the local inquiries, there are very strong grounds against making such an experiment. It is not the first experiment of the kind in proportional representation in this country. Another one, similar in its object, was tried under the Act of 1807. It was not exactly the same as this in form, but it has this very close connection with the present proposal, that an examination of the working of the single transferable vote in three-member constituencies will disclose all the difficulties and all the dangers which were found to exist in the Minority Vote of 1867. That experiment was introduced with high hopes. What really happened with regard to it? It very shortly became hateful to the electors, and yet it was hung round the necks of the constituencies to which it was applied for eighteen years. They could not get rid of it until the Reform Act of 1885 was passed. Eighteen years of this intolerable burden, of the birth and growth of the caucus, and of political stagnation in those important constituencies— for what purpose? All to suit the promoters of a proposition which, as far as I have been able to ascertain, is based upon theory, postulates, expectation, and nothing else.
Our contention is that if we are induced to load this experiment on to certain constituencies the result will be more or less the same to them. It seems hardly conceivable, after the attitude taken at the local inquiries by the great majority of these constituencies which are now chosen for proportional representation, that such an experiment should be forced upon them. I noticed a very curious 75 omission from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. He did not say anything about the assent of the constituencies. That is a somewhat important thing when we are dealing with a matter which has been five times rejected in this House of Commons, and which was only forced into the Act by another place under a threat of the loss of a Reform Bill. Yet the right hon. Gentleman comes here and tells us that the assent of constituencies in changing the electoral process, in changing the use and form of the most priceless privilege of a citizen, is of no account, that we should have no regard to it, and that we have a moral right to follow the ex cathedra opinion of the Commission, which had to do a certain duty. Among the questions which I and others put to the Home Secretary before the Commission went about its work, there was one on this very subject of the assent of constituencies before proportional representation was imposed upon them, and how far he had given an undertaking that it should not be so imposed without the assent of the constituency. I think the right hon. Gentleman and I were at variance as to whether or not ho, had given an undertaking. He denied that he had given any undertaking. He said:I was explaining to the House the Clause I was then asking the House to pass— and I think I correctly described it.The case is all the stronger if it was the Clause. How did he describe it: —An experiment mi fair lines—I did not hear the right hon. Gentleman read these words when he was making a somewhat elaborate quotation from that speech—with due regard to the opinions of the constituencies affected.Those were the words in which the Home Secretary, the responsible Minister of the Crown in charge of the Reform Bill, embodied the condition which he attached to the acceptance of the Lords Amendment. Those words are all the more important because the right hon. Gentleman was a party to the arrangement with the House of Lords, about which this House knew nothing, and the terms of which he was explaining for the first time in asking this House to accept the Lords Amendment. How has that condition—with due regard to the opinions of the constituencies affected"—been fulfilled in the Report? I will take the two instances of Glasgow and Liver 76 pool. I am not going into those eases in detail, because I do not want to encroach upon ground that belongs to hon. Members who represent those two cities. I will briefly state that in Glasgow both political parties unanimously, and the City Corporation by a majority of forty-eight to eighteen, combined to strongly and irreconcilably oppose this proposition at the local inquiry. In Liverpool the opposition was not so strong, because it did not include one of the great political parties. But in addition to many great bodies of opinion opposing, I may point out that in Liverpool there was a petition— which was got up, I believe, in three or four days— signed by 3,000 or 4,000 persons, including people of great importance in the community and at the same time ordinary voters, against the scheme. To my mind it is nothing short— I do not want to elaborate the case— of a perfect outrage to attempt to impose upon two great communities, two of the most important communities in this country or in the Empire, a change against which there is almost unanimity in the communities themselves and which has never been submitted in any form to the electors of those two great cities.
In this connection, I want for a moment to deal with a question which has already been raised— the capacity in which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Education has moved this Motion today. The right hon. Gentleman the ex-Prime Minister himself was in doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman spoke as a Minister or not. I understand that he was not speaking as a Minister. The answer of the Leader of the House just before this Debate began was to that effect. I must say that the contrast which was set up by the Home Secretary in the Debate on the Lords Amendments between the perfect freedom that this House would have in the first instance— that is the stage we have now reached— and what would happen afterwards if the report was adopted when the scheme would be put in charge of a Minister of the Crown: I must say that that contrast does throw a little doubt on the strict propriety of this Motion having been moved at all by a Minister of the Crown. But I make no complaint on that score, and so long as the position is clearly understood by the House, I would be the last to raise any technical objection to the right hon. Gentleman expressing the views he holds so forcibly, and which he 77 is able to express in such fine form and language. But we cannot ignore the fact that membership of this House is still based upon the representation of the constituencies that return Members of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman does not speak in a Ministerial capacity. Does he speak in a representative capacity?
I confess until quite recently I did not know what constituency the right hon. Gentleman sat for. He is one of those happy individuals who have jumped through the door of the House straight on to the Treasury Bench. It is an admirable practice, and one which we owe to the present Prime Minister, of calling men deeply versed and practically experienced in matters which constitute the business of Departments of the State, direct to the highest office in those Departments. But it is a little confusing in the technique of Debate in this House. I have often thought, in view of the frequent resignations and new appointments in the present Ministry, of which I do not. question the wisdom or expediency, it would be for the convenience of the House if the Government were to issue a daily bulletin giving the names of the new appointees, the offices to which they are appointed, and now I find I should like to add the constituencies which they represent. It is because I find that the right hon. Gentleman is Member for the Hallam Division of Sheffield that I ask to-day if he is speaking in a representative capacity in a Parliamentary sense. I should like to say a word or two about the constituency which the right hon. Gentleman represents. In Sheffield the whole of one political party, and, according to reliable information which I have received, a vast number of people outside of that party, are against the scheme, and in the right hon. Gentleman's own Division not only is the whole of that party opposed, but, what is worthy of note, because there have been very few meetings of electors with reference to the local inquiries— there has been such a meeting in the Hallam Division of Sheffield, and this is the resolution which was passed:That this meeting of Conservatives and Unionists"—That, of course, is one party. I have not raised this question up till now as a party question, but from the point of view of the strong numerical opposition involved— 78of the Hallam Division, in General Meeting assembled, hereby signified its approval of the action taken by the Committee of Representatives in regard to proportional representation and affirms its emphatic objection to the application of the method to Sheffield. The meeting is strongly of opinion that the general desire is to retain the single member constituencies.That represents a large number— I should rather imagine the majority— of the constituents of the right hon. Gentleman. Apart from that, there is ground for advancing this other proposition. The Hallam Division had been represented for thirty-two years by a distinguished member of the Conservative party, and whatever Lord Stuart of Wortley's opinions may be about proportional representation, there is no evidence to show that he ever submitted them to the judgment of the electors. Now we have the judgment of the electors upon them. Certainly the constituency was a Conservative one when the right hon. Gentleman, by general assent and without a contest, was invited to accept the seat, which he certainly does with great benefit and ornament to this House. Yet it is under these circumstances that the Minister for Education urges the forcible imposition of the scheme upon Sheffield against the will and repugnant to the sense of the whole Conservative party. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can maintain that he is speaking in a representative capacity. What capacity, then, does he speak in?
§ Mr. BURDETT-COUTTS
I have received a great deal of information on the subject, and the great burden of it has gone to show that the opinions of the majority of the electors of both political parties are not in the least represented by this resolution of the city council. If, then, the right hon. Gentleman does not speak in a Ministerial or a representative capacity, in what capacity does he speak? He gave the answer himself to that question when he used the word "academic." This is exactly the point of view from which people urge this theory of proportional representation. The right hon. Gentleman speaks as a theorist, as an idealist, and, at any rate, from a pinnacle far above us common mortals, who regard as a first necessity of the country that Governments, to whatever party they belong, 79 shall be strong and efficient, and supported by a majority which will enable them to carry out a definite policy consistently and continuously both at home and abroad as long as they hold office. I do not think it will be denied that if proportional representation is pushed to its logical conclusion, and is generally applied over the. country— and, of course, in the minds of the promoters this experiment is only a stepping-stone to its general application all over the country— in such a case proportional representation would reduce the majorities behind Governments down to a point where they could not pursue any definite policy and where their executives would be enfeebled and timorous.
I pass now to the nature and extent of the inquiries that have been held, and it is very important. Prior to the Commissioners getting to work I and many other Members put a good many questions to the Home Secretary in order to ascertain what the procedure was to be. I will not attempt to go into them. But there was one particular question, and that was whether the general body of electors in the country were to be consulted and, if so, what machinery would be set up for the purpose? We could get no answer at all to that from the Home Secretary. He was not able to give it. In an unfortunate moment the House of Commons had parted with its powers to a Commission in a grave and fundamental matter over which it ought to have kept constant and close control— that of consulting the general body of electors before attempting a change which concerned them first and foremost, and next to them concerned the Members of this House. I submit that this House ought to have seen that these inquiries really got to the bottom of the opinion of the electors of the country. Nothing of that sort was done. The House of Commons was not "on the job" to do it. But at least I do think that the proposal might have been explained to the electors by the Commission itself. There was one very easy and authoritative means of doing that. There was one official paper— the White Paper, giving the rules for voting and counting the votes. Why was not that distributed? It was an official document with the Royal Arms on it. Why was it not distributed amongst the electors in the various localities? I can only say that I gather, from a great mass of correspondence 80 which I have had with the localities, that if that White Paper had been distributed among them such a cry of indignation and derision would have gone up all over the country as would have settled the matter there and then for all time. The House of Commons had parted with its powers and was not able to take any precautions of that kind. Nor were they able to get any information on the subject. The only information the House has had before it consisted of two documents which were issued from ex-parte sources, one from those in favour of this change and one from my committee against it. I venture to think that the one we issued was the more valuable. [Laughter.] I will tell you why; because the promoters of this scheme do look upon it as a preliminary to the general application of the principle all over the country. It is, therefore, to my mind of the greatest importance that in examining the trend of public opinion with regard to the matter we should draw our information from the widest area made available by the local inquiries held. Therefore, while the document on the other side only contained the report of the local inquiries held in the constituencies referred to in the Report, the document we issued covered the whole ground, gave accurate Reports of the whole of the local inquiries held, and from it, and it alone, can you gather the overwhelming opposition to this scheme in the country.
The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the questions of cost and by-elections. We know that these difficulties cannot be remedied without a new Act of Parliament. I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman was present during the former Debates, but we have seen the question of by-elections raised again and again in this House, and no one, not even the most ardent and passionate supporter of proportional representation, has ever been able to suggest a solution. I remember a case when an hon. and learned Member who moved one of the Motions upon which we had a Division was challenged on this point. We had a very remarkable spectacle afforded, because the hon. and learned Gentleman was a distinguished King's Counsel and when faced with that proposition he floundered about for ten minutes on the bench opposite without ever arriving at anything approaching a solution. With regard to the cost, I do not believe it can be reduced, because you may 81 depend upon it that the utmost limit of cost will be reached, and the normal cost of an organisation in non-election times will be so great that I think it is absurd to go about claiming that this is a democratic proposal. I apologise to the House for having occupied its time for so long, and I should like to say only one thing in conclusion. I believe myself that the genesis of this scheme and the methods by which it found its way into the Act at the last moment have already doomed it to an early death and a long sleep. I hope it will be so. But I desire to say that in my voluminous communications with the localities concerned I have never endeavoured to raise prejudice of any kind with regard to the part played in this matter by the House of Lords. At the same time I desire to point out here in the House of Commons that unless we reject this scheme here and now and take it out of the Act altogether this House, which it most concerns, can never alter it, can never amend it, can never recall it, without the permission of the non-elected and non-representative branch of the Legislature.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
I rise to second the Amendment which has been so ably proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Mr. Burdett-Coutts). He has covered so much of the ground that I do not propose to follow him into those general questions with which he has dealt so ably, but as a Member for one of the seats which would be profoundly affected by the Commissioners' proposals if they were passed by this House I have naturally devoted a good deal of study to what I may term the details of the question, and among those details I would like to deal first with that question of cost which has just been referred to hon. Friend. I entirely agree with him that those costs probably cannot be reduced. In any case, I think I am justified in taking my stand now upon the Act as it exists and not being influenced— and I hope no Member of this House will be influenced— by the mere suggestion that at some future date some arrangement, of which we have.now no knowledge, may be made whereby the costs of elections as proposed by the Commissioners may be reduced. I believe it quite possible— in fact, I think it is certain — that even if those reductions were suggested in this House they would be refused for the simple reason that if reductions were made in the scale allowed in the Act a double injustice would be per- 82 petrated— an injustice to the candidate, who would be unable at the reduced sum to put his views fairly before all the electors in these vast areas, and an injustice to the electors, who would have to vote for candidates without knowing what their views were and without having sufficient means of becoming acquainted with their personalities. I believe that few Members of this House who support the Commissioners' proposals can have taken the trouble to look into the figures. I have made a careful analysis of a four-member area with which I am well acquainted, and I have assumed, for the purpose of calculation, that there would be eight candidates for the four seats. I find that on the scheme of the Commissioners, with the scale allowed in the Act, the total expenses under proportional representation of fighting these four seats would be £ 13,936, and that the total expenses of fighting them under the scale laid down in the Act by what I might call the ordinary method of election— the straight-fight method to which we are now accustomed — would be only £ 5,200. In other words, for one area of four seats the additional expense placed upon the candidates by these gentlemen who have advocated cheapening elections, due to the system of proportional representation as proposed by the Commissioners, would be £8,736.
H: The hon. Gentleman has not told us how many candidates he assumes in the single-member area.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
I have stated a four-member area with eight candidates. If there is any hon. Member who wants the exact figures I have them here, and can give them in detail. I am putting forward the calculations, that I have prepared with great care and thought, and perhaps the hon. Member (Mr. Booth) will make his own speech when I have finished. I have just made out that the extra cost to the eight candidates in this four-seat area would be £ 8,735. Let me in round figures call that £ 8,000. I want the House for one moment to follow this calculation a little further. If the extra cost for a four-seat area under the proposals which we are now considering is £8,000, the extra cost of 100 seats— which is practically the number dealt with in the proposals— will be twenty-five times £8,000, or £200,000— £200,000 extra expense put on these 100 seats by the present proposal. It is rather interesting to note, when you follow these figures out, that it would cost no more to contest 253 seats under our present system 83 and the scale laid down by the Act than to contest these 100 seats under the proposals which I hope we are going to reject to-day. What is the view of the minorities? Take one of the principal minorities in the city of which I have the honour to be one of the representatives— the Irish party. The representative of the Irish party stated before the Commissioners, speaking as the leader of a minority, thatThe cost of an election is a much more serious one to the party I represent than to any other party. The other parties have their big funds, but we never have had big funds associated with our organisation. If we had to put up one candidate, it would cost £ 3,000.If the Gentleman who made that remark were speaking to-day, in view of the alterations that have been made, he would certainly have to reduce that figure of £3,000 to £2,127. The point, however, is the same, that the minorities would suffer under this largely increased expense. There is another detail, an important detail, to which I would like to refer, and that is that I wonder whether the advocates of these proposals have ever considered the effect they would have upon the Post Office! Under the Act every candidate is entitled to one free postage, and that would mean that the post office in an ordinary constituency would carry, say, on an average, 28,000 packets for each candidate in a single-seat area. We may assume that there would be two candidates on the average in each single-seat area, so that the Post Office would have to carry 56,000 such postal packets. What would the Post Office have to do under the scheme before us to-day? They would have to carry four times that number. In a four-member area 896,000 packets would have to be carried by the Post Office, or an excess of 672,000 packets over what they would have to carry in single-member areas. In these times that is a serious matter. It may be a detail, but I quote it as a detail, showing how imperfectly realised are all the difficulties and the expenses and the extra trouble which are involved in this scheme. May I point out the penalty which it imposes upon independent candidates. Every man who was not able to work with a team and to be one of two, three, or possibly four joint candidates would have to start as an independent." That would mean £ 2,173 for that one independent candidate in a three-seat area. It is quite obvious that these proposals, if carried into effect, 84 could only result in every man who was disposed to be independent, unless he were a very rich man, having to consider whether he could afford to pay this penalty for his independence or whether he had not better join one of the teams and save his money and get the benefit of the caucus machinery. What does that mean, except that this scheme, which is suggested would encourage and help minorities and crush the party system and all that kind of thing, would penalise and crush the independent man and rivet the party caucus more firmly round our necks than ever before? Now there comes the question of by-elections. This is the fifth or sixth Debate at which I have been present. The question has been touched upon repeatedly from our side, but never have we had anything worthy the name of an answer. I want to ask the House to consider what would be the result of the present proposals in the event of by-elections. At a by-election where there is only one seat each man would stand as a single candidate. There can be no reduction of expenses through joining a team, and therefore every candidate is by force of circumstances practically compelled to spend the maximum amount allowable under the Act, and that may vary, according to circumstances, from a little 'over £ 2,000 to nearly £ 4,000, the variation depending, of course, on the number of electors and whether the area is a county or a borough area.
Let me pass from that and ask hon. Members who support the scheme whether they have realised that if we carry it out, and create these 100 seats which are to be allocated under these very expensive conditions, we are in effect preparing a black list of 100 members who would find it very much more difficult than any other members to receive Ministerial appointments.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
If the hon. Member, as no doubt he will in due course, receives a call to that bench and has to go for re-election, he will find himself standing as an independent candidate, obliged to pay the full price of an independent candidate for his seat, and therefore he and the Government of the day, before they can offer or he can accept the post, will have to get together and consider whether he or his party can afford to pay £ 3,000 or so.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
I do not know what the point of that interruption is. The hon. Member perhaps has a sense of humour which I do not possess, but it appears to me entirely irrelevant. I am endeavouring not to make wild remarks but to stick to the point, which is that any hon. Member elected under this system of proportional representation will be unable to accept promotion to Ministerial office unless he or his party is rich enough to find the extra money. Then the Government dare not offer promotion to a member elected under this system, unless he has been returned practically at the top of the poll with the first preferences, because it is as certain as such things can be that any man returned in a four or five-member area by second or third preferences will be unable to get re-elected when he comes to stand by himself. Anyone who will go into it carefully will find that is so, and these 100 members elected under this scheme will be in a disadvantageous position in regard to promotion into the Ministry, or into higher places of the Ministry, compared with other members.
In Liverpool the weight of evidence against this proposal was overwhelming. I should like to read a few words which were said by the representative of the Irish party there, at whose suggestion the alternative scheme which is now embodied in the Commissioners' suggestion was adopted. He said:We feel very seriously that this is not the time to apply such an experiment to the second city of the Empire. It is not a war measure. Liverpool is one of the last cities in the whole of Great Britain in which such a policy should be applied. The Representation of the People Act is a new Act, bringing in for the first time a great section who never had a vote before. Is it fair immediately to introduce this intricate system— a most complicated system such as this suggested here.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
I was really quoting what was said by the Nationalist member. I think when the hon. Member (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) returns, the hon. Member (Mr. Watt) will have to settle that point with him. This representative of the Nationalists went on to say—What we (that is the minority) say, is this. Give the Representation of the People Act a chance and when the electorate gets used to it and accustomed to the method of voting, then some scheme of proportional representation might be applied.86 I should like to mention one other very, very important point from the Liverpool point of view, that is the sectarian question. I do not know whether hon. Members who support these suggestions realise that in many of the great towns, and in Liverpool in particular, there has been, and is to-day, unfortunately, very bitter sectarian feeling. There are parts of Liverpool into which, as one of the Nationalist leaders said before the Commissioners, he would be sorry for any Unionist who went to preach the propaganda of Unionism, and there are other parts of Liverpool where, as this Irish speaker again said, supported by the leaders and representatives of the Unionist party, in which anyone would be very sorry for any member of the Nationalist party who endeavoured to preach his propaganda. After years of patient effort, we have at last succeeded, under the presidency of Lord Derby and with his assistance, for which we are deeply grateful, in damping down that spirit. But these proposals if accepted would mean that some parts of Liverpool which are the most violently Protestant and anti-Irish would be coupled up with other parts of Liverpool which are most violently Catholic, anti-Protestant, and anti-Unionist. Sorry though I am to have to touch upon this, it is a question which must be faced, and if we pass this we shall be reintroducing into that great city, one of the greatest in the Empire, all the elements of the most serious sectarian strife, which in that city means riot and bloodshed, and this is to be done against the wishes of the Unionist party and of the Irish party, and against the whole weight of evidence. Not only that, but under these proposals the business men of Liverpool will never have a chance again of returning a member to this House. The members of the principal exchanges and those who have their offices round them will be utterly swamped. What about representation for that minority? Why should not that important minority of the business men of one of the greatest ports of the country have a chance of being represented? Under the proposals of my friends, who are so anxious for the rights of minorities, they will smother the rights of one of the most important minorities in the country. I only hope and believe that this House, having calmly and carefully considered the general application of this question and its details, will come to the conclusion that the proposals are full of injustices, 87 that they will create more evils than they cure, that they are fantastic and impracticable, and that the House will refuse to agree to them.
§ Colonel SANDERS
Before entering upon the controversial part of this topic, I think I shall obtain the universal consent of the House in saying that if it is agreed that some scheme of this sort ought to be drawn up, we have reason to congratulate the Commissioners on drawing up such a fair scheme as that which they have presented to us. From the party point of view, I believe it could not be more evenly balanced. I have had it examined by experts, and while one thought it would bring a little gain to a particular party, the other thought it would bring a little loss. I think the conclusion that one may arrive at is that this scheme is drawn, from the party political point of view, as fairly as it is possible to deal with such a difficult matter. I do not want to go into all the blood-curdling statements of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. I listened open-mouthed to some of his statements about sectarian strife in Liverpool—
§ Colonel SANDERS
I do not deny them for a moment, but I do not see what on earth they have to do with proportional representation. I do not see why, because you have proportional representation, there should be any more Nationalist throats cut by Orangemen or more Orange throats cut by Nationalists. It seems to me to be an absolutely irrelevant matter. The same with regard to the representation of the business population of Liverpool. The business population of Liverpool are not going to have their votes taken away from them under proportional representation. They will be able to deliver their votes just the same, and if they are in a minority— I have not the local knowledge to say whether they are in a minority or not— they will have a better chance of getting representation under this system than they would under the old system. Personally, I am in rather an embarrassing position over this matter. My own county is included in the Schedule, and at a meeting of the Unionist Association of that county, at which I was the impartial chairman, an unanimous resolution was passed 88 against applying proportional representation to the county. On the whole, so far as I can judge, the balance of opinion in the county is against proportional representation. I think you will find a very considerable majority in Somerset are in favour of proportional representation for Derby. That, of course, is a very old quip on this subject. As applied to myself, my personal predelications are against it. I feel as strongly as anyone the ties which bind one to a particular constituency. Undoubtedly under proportional representation there will be a certain diminution in the strength of those ties, and in putting proportional representation into effect at first there will undoubtedly be considerable inconvenience in the upsetting of political arrangements and in the institution of fresh ones. All that prejudices me to a certain extent against these proposals, so that if I have any bias or prejudice on the subject, my prejudice is against the Resolution that was submitted by the right hon. Member (Mr. Fisher).
In spite of these circumstances, however, I am going to vote for the proposal. I am going to do so on practical business lines, because I believe that before very many years this House will be forced to adopt this scheme or some scheme on more or less similar lines. I believe it for this reason: Up to now the rule has been that you had two candidates standing for each division. So long as that is the rule our present system works very well. Up to now it has been the rule, and the exception has been when you have had more than two candidates standing for the same seat. I am afraid that that happy state of things is very nearly over, and through various causes. Payment of Members has to some people made seats in the House of Commons a prize instead of an expense. The Representation of the People Bill lowers the expense of getting into the House of Commons. Besides that, without wishing to rub in a sore place, I must say that there are signs in every party in the State that there are divergencies of opinion which may lead to more than one candidate from each of the existing parties contesting seats. We have to reckon with that in future. Evidence is coming to me every day that in a great many constituencies you will have sometimes three, sometimes four, candidates. Take the constituencies mentioned in this Schedule. Take places, for instance, like Newcastle, Glasgow, West 89 Ham, and the various divisions of Durham. You will find that in a great many of those divisions you will have three or four candidates belonging to different groups all standing for a single seat under the present system. The hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) stated, in a manner that I hope he will forgive me for describing as baronial, the fundamental law that the majority must govern. What becomes of that fundamental law if you have something like two-thirds or three-fourths contested by three or four candidates, and some half of the Members of this House represent not majorities, but minorities? The hon. Member for Westminster himself maintained that if that was the case the fundamental law was carried out and the majority was governed.
I am afraid that before many years are past, if all the signs that one sees are not entirely false, on account of the multiplicity of candidates, we shall be driven to adopting some new system, and we shall either have to adopt proportional representation, which I believe is the right system, or go back to the alternative vote, which was rejected by the House of Commons not long ago. I am not going to argue the system of the alternative vote. If anyone remains unconvinced as to its demerits he ought to read the speech made in its favour by the right hon. Member for Derby the last time it was discussed. If that speech does not convince anyone against the alternative vote, I know of nothing that will. I look upon proportional representation as an alternative to the alternative vote. I think it is a good way for dealing with the subject, and that the alternative vote is a bad way and the wrong way. Therefore I believe hat we shall be simply forced by stress of circumstances to adopt such a system as this before many years are out. That being so, we ought to have in our own country, and under our own eyes, a working Example of the system, so that we can see whether we like it or not. If it is such a failure as its opponents say, and if it is such a bad thing, and the question comes up, they will be able to say, "You see what a shocking system it is. Whatever else we do, this is not the system we must adopt." You cannot leave the question alone altogether. I am convinced as anybody as can be of anything that before many years are past the 90 multiplicity of candidates for certain seats will drive us to adopt some new system.
If this system is adopted, I wish to appeal to the Government that it should be given fair play. I quite realise what the last speaker said as to the difficulty about expense and the difficulty about by-elections. These matters can be dealt with. There is no inherent difficulty. It is essential that if the House adopts this scheme, the Government should assist us by bringing in a Bill to settle these two questions. This scheme has come up to get the Government out of a difficulty. The Clause was only put into the Franchise Act on account of the difficulty that was raised by the Amendments introduced in the House of Lords. It was to get the Government out of a difficulty that Clause was introduced, and I think the Government is under a moral obligation to bring in a Bill to deal with these two subjects.
§ Mr. BURDETT-COUTTS
I must question the statement of the hon. Member (Mr. Watt). I do not think the Home Secretary promised it absolutely.
§ Colonel SANDERS
That is a matter that can be verified. I regard these two matters as essential quite as much as the hon. Member who spoke last. Subject to these two matters being dealt with, I shall certainly vote for this Motion, not because I think it is going to create a new heaven and a new earth, not because I look upon it as the last effort in the ingenuity of man, but because I think, as a practical proposition, we shall be forced to do something of this sort before long, and that of the various schemes that have been brought before us this is the most practicable and the best.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The question has been raised, which I should have thought unnecessary, as to the capacity in which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Education has spoken on this matter. Perhaps I should begin my observations by saying that I speak in the capacity in which he spoke. That may be, perhaps, a sufficient answer to the anxieties of my hon. Friends below the Gangway as to the absence of any desire on 91 the part of the Government, as a Government, to put any pressure on the House, or even to give any advice to the House, at this stage of the proceedings. That was, as far as there was any compromise between the Houses, an essential part of the compromise stated at the time by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. For the purpose of the Second Reading of this Motion the Government are standing neutral. Individual members of the Government will express their own opinions, but they do not speak for the Government, and the Government do not desire as a Government to influence the decision of the House. Of course, my right hon. Friend at that time— I myself protested from a more exalted position, on the benches behind— said, and that also was a part of the compromise, that if this Resolution were affirmed by the House the Government would then act towards it in the later stages that would be necessary, as they had acted in piloting the Franchise Bill through the House of Commons. That has a very material bearing on the amount of liberty which Members would reserve to themselves to deal, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, on the merits with individual cases.
We must remember how much liberty the House has to deal on the merits with individual cases in the Schedules to a Bill. It is impossible to leave that liberty to the House. You cannot have one constituency, because the member is popular with the House, or has taken great trouble to canvass the House, having its burden made light, and then a case somewhat weaker, and then another case which is weaker still. Any Minister who is responsible knows that the only thing which he can do is to stand firmly on the recommendations and do, as my right hon. Friend did on the Schedule of the Bill, resist every case, because otherwise you have no sure footing for any resistance at all. It is, therefore, on this occasion, and on this occasion only, that the House will have absolutely free and unfettered control over this matter. There is no use in endeavouring to induce the House to believe that it is pledged by the so-called compromise. We are not pledged in the least. The compromise was that competent people should frame the best scheme for experiment that they could devise, that then the two Houses should freely judge of the merits of their production and decide whether they would have it or not, 92 and if the Houses decided against it there would be an end of the matter, while if both Houses decided in favour of it would become the law of the land. But both face to face with the other House and face to face with the Government we are absolutely free for the first vote which we shall give on the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend
My hon. and gallant Friend who spoke just now made an interesting and eminently characteristic— I do not mean characteristic of him— Heaven forbid!— but characteristic of this subject— and illuminating contribution to this Debate. He himself has, I think, voted on this subject on different Schedules, and he is not perhaps very strong one way or another on its merits on the particular question of proportional representation. As a representative he is going to give a vote which is opposed to the opinion of the great majority of those whom he represents, for he has told us that the county which he represents, which is one of those scheduled, has a considerable majority against the proposal. My hon. and gallant Friend's reason is that in the near future our present system is going to become intolerable, that another plan has been proposed for dealing with the kind of difficulty which he foresees, that he dislikes that other plan so much that sooner than face this possibility he will vote for something that he does not like. My hon. and gallant Friend was slightly inaccurate in speaking of that alternative, the alternative vote, as having been rejected by this House. Proportional representation has been rejected by this House on every occasion on which the House had an opportunity of expressing an opinion on it, but the alternative vote was carried in this House, though by a very small majority. Therefore the method of remedying this difficulty which was approved by this House is rejected decisively in another place, and the method which has been rejected five times by this House is sought to be forced on this House by another place. I am not enamoured by either of these proposals, but, unlike my hon. and gallant Friend. I am with the majority of the House of Commons on both— that is to say, if you are to have either, I prefer the alternative vote to proportional representation. I think that its evils are infinitely less for the working of our constitutional system. I do not want to go into all the old objections which we have argued many 93 times, but look at one of many of the practical difficulties which will confront us if we reject the Amendment of my hon. Friend and pass the Motion moved by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education. In the first place, we shall not have done with this matter. We have then got to go through the Schedules, and although for all chance of altering them we might as well swallow them whole without discussion, the constituencies concerned will insist on being heard and we shall spend a great deal of time going through the Schedules. But we shall not have done with the matter then. To make a practical scheme we have got then to have two Bills, or a Bill dealing with two subjects. One is the hitherto undiscussed and altogether undecided question of making provision for expenditure. The other is a subject which I cannot say has been wholly undiscussed, but which is certainly no less difficult, and that is how to deal with by-elections under the scheme. My hon. and gallant Friend said that somebody sitting near him had got a scheme in his pocket. Popkins always has a plan for dealing with these matters. The trouble is that when these plans are produced it is found that they will not work. We have had schemes drawn out, but as fast as they have been put up they have been knocked down or abandoned by their sponsors. Then the defenders of this system have never been able to defend a Schedule on its merits. But if we overcome all those things, then we come to this question of the elections. Let any Member consider what the last hour or two hours are going to be like in our polling booths. They are always crwded out and there is often considerable confusion, and unless very good arrangements are made you are always liable to have the scandal of a number voters failing to record their votes. There have been bitter complaints of that from time to time
What are you going to have in the case of a constituency like Sheffield, a seven-member constituency, with two or three parties sending forward twenty-one candidates and one or two independent or fractional candidates thrown in, and the polling booth crowded during the last hour or quarter of an hour, or even during the last five minutes, with voters trying to mark the order of their approval of some twenty-one or thirty names? You would have a preposterous and scandalous block which would result in the disfranchisement of a great number of men, and those men who have been working all day and 94 therefore could not easily get there earlier, and difficulties would reappear in an aggravated form in the constituencies, because when you declared the results not one man in ten or not one man in a hundred would be able to give an intelligible account of them. The Schedule actually proposed by the Commission is rather a remarkable Schedule, and teaches a remarkable lesson. It is claimed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education and by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, and it is common ground to us all that the Commission, quite rightly under the instructions which they received, selected a list of those constituencies where they thought the change might be introduced with the least friction, where it was open to the least objection, and would work most smoothly and with the smallest possible break in old traditions and old connections. They selected the constituencies, therefore, after inquiry, not as being those which would test both the facilities for a general system and the difficulties of a general system, but they selected only such constituencies as they thought were specially favourably circumstanced for a trial of the experiment, or constituencies so selected because they afford peculiar facilities. They have selected even a smaller number for the actual experiment; some they cut out because the opposition was absolutely overwhelming, or because nobody was in favour of it. The result is that you have got a residuum left which is in no sense a guide to the country as a whole, because the experiment is conducted under conditions which are far from that which it is intended to prove.
But if the experiment worked in the constituencies so selected it would not prove what the advocates of proportional representation are anxious to prove, that the system could be extended to the country, because the places selected are not typical of the country as a whole, but only of those constituencies in the country which afforded the greatest facilities for trying the change. Look at what has not been represented at all in the Schedule. My hon. Friend did not refer to that feature, but my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Somerset, on the last occasion on which he spoke, spoke as an agricultural Member, and advocated this in justice to agriculture. The agriculturists were not altogether of that opinion. When the Commission got down to Warwickshire, for instance they dropped this 95 scheme like a hot potato as soon as it was understood what it meant. You will find, generally speaking, that public support of proportional representation is in the inverse ratio to the knowledge of what it involves and what it is. But what I was going to say was this: You have not got a single Scottish county in the whole of the Schedule, not even the county of Fife; you have not got a single Welsh county in the whole of the Schedule; you have not got a single London borough in the whole of the Schedule. How can any Schedule be complete which has no Scottish county, no Welsh county, and no London borough? We are told by others than my hon. and gallant Friend that our present system is unfair to the minority, and that the majority is over-represented, while the minority, especially where the minority is permanent in character, is absolutely unrepresented. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education (Mr. Herbert Fisher) drew a pathetic picture of himself exercising the franchise for I know not how many years, yet have never voted for the successful candidate. I have been more fortunate than the right hon. Gentleman, because I have consistently voted for myself. But my right hon. Friends' sympathy should extend a little further. In regard to permanent minorities that are unrepresented, where do you find a larger one than among the Unionists of Scotland or of Wales? In one Scottish constituency sometimes the whole of the seats are held by the Unionists, and if you select a Welsh constituency they hold the whole of the seats at the present time; but, whether they do or not, if you wish to redress the balance of representation in Wales or Scotland, then the subjects of this proposed experiment are not happily chosen.
Go a little further: In the case of the City and Corporation of Liverpool, they opposed proportional representation strongly; the City and Corporation of Glasgow opposed it, and the constituency of Portsmouth also opposed its application. Are you really going to force upon these great cities a system of experimental proportional representation which is not a part of the general law of the land, in face of the protests of great municipal institutions which are in the closest touch with their local life and people. [An HON. MEMBER: "Sheffield!"] My hon Friend refers to Sheffield. The fact that the Corpora- 96 tion of Sheffield was favourable is really no good reason why you should override the Corporations of Glasgow, Liverpool, or Portsmouth. My point is that while you occasionally do something that somebody wants, you habitually do something which the people concerned do not want. I think it is monstrous to force on great cities like those what is not part of the general law of the land, and is not applicable to the whole country, and to make those cities the subject of an experiment against which their corporations have protested. I do not know what we have come to in these days. I have been brought up in traditions of respect for municipal life and great municipal institutions, and I hope the House will have some regard to the wishes of those great bodies in respect to their local representation.
Does the right hon. Gentleman disregard all other evidence except that of local corporations?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
No, Sir, but I attach a weight to the evidence of local corporations that I do not attach to any other bodies as regards the local feeling of our towns and cities; least of all do I attach weight to the evidence of the peripatetic visitor who appears before the Commissioner in a matter with which he appears to have had the smallest possible connection. The result of an examination of this Schedule, I think, makes an over whelming case against its adoption at all. I do not believe that the experiment will work, and the Schedule shows that if an experiment, made under these conditions, is forced upon these places, it will sometimes be clearly against their will, and sometimes with doubtful support on one side or the other. The Schedule shows that the experiment is to be worked in constituencies which are not sufficiently typical of the country as a whole, and it affords no guidance as to its feasibility. I think that even in the constituencies which were taken, the Commissioners hardly did all that was really required to make their inquiries effective. The Commissioner, in the case of one great city, concluded his inquiry without hearing objections, in less time than is required to sit and hear objections to an unopposed return. We want something more than that. We want it made clear, in the first place, that, before holding the inquiry, that the persons concerned had explained to them what the inquiry was about, how 97 the experiment was going to work, what it involved, so that the witnesses might know what they were talking about. What is the value of an inquiry conducted under those circumstances? How many on the one side or the other really understood the thing discussed? You only ask them whether they are for or against proportional representation.
At some of the inquiries I doubt whether the Commissioners themselves at all realised what was involved in proportional representation. When objections were raised as to difficulty of indicating preference among all the candidates, the objection was answered by the Commissioner, saying that it was only necessary to mark one or two of the names. That will not do. They have got to mark every name. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] They have got to mark the order of their preference with an "X." I think if there is one objection to this experiment it is taking the four-member constituencies. It is obvious that the four-member constituency is a most unfortunate one for the trial of an experiment of this kind. Unless the balance of parties is overwhelmingly on one side, the result is a foregone conclusion. [An HON. MEMBER: "There are three parties!"] It would be the same among three parties as among two. Unless there was an overwhelming balance on one side, as between two parties it would be two and two, and amongst three parties it would be two and two, and one for each of the others. That would occur in the bulk of the four-member constituencies, and, in a very short time, if the experiment is carried out, the people would find out that unless there was an overwhelming weight of popular opinion in one direction or another, it would not be worth while fighting, and they might as well divide up the representation according to their own support, without consulting the electors. I am not sorry that this inquiry has been held, except that I am sorry that we have once again to discuss it in the midst of such grave circumstances. In my opinion, the result has been exactly what might have been foreseen. You have selected the most favourable conditions in which you can hope to have proportional representation, rejecting those places which are difficult — the majority of the constituencies throughout the country, where the local opposition for one reason or another, would be much greater, where interference with boundaries would be much greater, and where the conditions of population 98 and space would render the execution of your plan infinitely more difficult. You have selected only those constituencies which are the most favourable to take for your experiment, and you cannot get any scheme which is not open to objections infinitely greater than is the scheme under which this House is elected, and under which I hope our successors will be elected.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Education, calling in aid in support of an experiment which he did not seek for a minute to show was a fair or typical experiment— he passed that point altogether by— calling in aid everybody's favour he could cite, appealed to the work of the Irish Convention. In attempting to frame a Constitution for their land it is quite true they adopted proportional representation as one of several securities required or suited to the peculiar and unhappy conditions of their country. Is my right hon. Friend going to ask us to adopt the rest of their provisions for safeguarding the rights of minorities and securing full expression of their opinions in Parliament? If any Conservative friends of my own, for example, believed democracy is going too fast and asked to have particular constituencies loaded or selected representation given, I really do not think the example of the Irish Convention helps us in the least. They were dealing with a problem of singular difficulty, not working on a clean slate, and not devising the best of all possible schemes in the best of all possible worlds, but trying to find something to meet some of the difficulties with which the path of Irish reform is beset. My right hon. Friend cited Lord Bryce's Conference. I happen to be a member of that Conference, and my right hon. Friend opposite, the Member for Spen Valley (Sir Thomas Whittaker) was also a member of it. We should both be very much surprised at being told that in being signatories to the Report we were giving support to the idea of electing the House of Commons by proportional representation.
The two Houses have different functions to fulfil. I wish it had always been recognised, and we should not be here discussing proportional representation. They are of equal importance, but they are different. The House of Commons has to provide the energy which directs and controls government, which starts legislation, which carries a nation forward on the path of reform. The functions of a Second 99 Chamber are of a wholly different character. They are to exercise restraint, when we seem to move too fast or go in advance of, or opposition to, public opinion. If you once realise how different their functions are you will see that to assent to or to oppose a particular scheme for the Second Chamber is not to support or dissent from a scheme for the election of this House. No, Sir, I supported that proposal in Lord Bryce's Conference, not a little for the sake of harmony, to try to secure a scheme in which a very large majority could co-operate, and because I recognised that the objections to which proportional representation was open as applied to the election of this House do not apply with anything like the same force to proportional representation applied to the Second Chamber, and it really is too much to have Lord Bryce's Report brought forward as if all the members of that conference would be followers of my right hon. Friend. I will not go again, as I have said, into the broad objections which I have to proportional representation. They are objections of principle, they are objections which spring from my conception of the constitutional functions and duties of this Assembly, and the effect proportional representation will have upon them. There have been people always who have sought in one shape or another to introduce some form of minority representation into this House. They have met with no support from any of the great leaders of this House on one side or the other. Bright, Gladstone, and Disraeli all opposed the earlier methods, and opposed them by arguments and on lines which are equally applicable to the present case. I have shown that this scheme is not typical of the country; I have shown that if your object be to give minorities representation, you have left out the two numerically most important minorities in the country. If the object be as my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. J. R. Marriott) said on an earlier occasion to stem the course of revolution, I do not think this schema would get so much support from some of the quarters in which it is supported, nor does any reasonable man think that a gimcrack structure of this kind will be a buttress against revolution.
Colonel Sir MARK SYKES
I hardly hope that I shall persuade my right hon. Friend to believe in proportional representation, but before going any further I 100 would say that there is one point on which I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. I am sure everybody regrets that when such important matters are in hand as this House has in hand it should be diverted into discussing such matters as this. I will say that the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has set our minds at rest on one point. He has made it quite clear where the Government is. The Government sits on the fence, and he and his right hon. Friend stand on each side with pitchforks, waiting to see which way this House is going to vote. I think from the last things the last speaker said that the action of the House of Lords still rankles in his mind. I think his natural dislike to proportional representation has been increased by the action taken in another place. It seems to me, too, he laid almost unnecessary stress on the dreadful picture he drew of the crowds which would assemble at polling booths and polling stations as one of the reasons for not putting this into execution. It seems to me that a few more polling booths and a few more officers would at least meet that. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman is not going to give proportional representation a ghost of a chance. If it were tried where people did not want it, it would be unjust; and if it were tried where people did want it, it would be no proof. So we cannot know by any experiment whether it is to be a success. He complains if it is tried everywhere, because that commits the country to a wide scheme; he complains if it is tried anywhere, because there is no case that is really suitable. It is an example of his methods that when the municipal authorities of Glasgow turn the thing down they become a great municipal body, one of the institutions of the country upon which we must look with reverence, while Sheffield is only used to answer a question, and he would not have raised Sheffield at all if he had not been interrupted.
There are the two practical difficulties of by-elections and expenses. I do not think it is beyond the power of draftsmanship to meet those difficulties. I cannot help thinking there is something behind this violent opposition to proportional representation. One argument is that it is complex. That, I think, is the agents' argument. Of course, election agents take a different view of mankind from anybody else. Just as the Prussian regards mankind as cannon-fodder, so the election agent regards mankind as ballot- 101 fodder. Man is born to vote, and to vote as he is told. Suppose— to raise no invidious distinctions— the colour of an imaginary party is purple. Well, the election agent's argument is this: "Your father voted purple, you have yourself voted purple. Mr. Blank is the candidate. Be has kissed your baby, shaken your hand subscribed to your place of worship, or subscribed to your place of refreshment. You will get into this car, go to the polling booth, put your cross opposite his name read nothing, think of nothing, do as I tell you." And just as the Prussian tells us that when he has made his calculations, a discount of, say, 20 per cent. must be made, so the election agent tell us that when the best action is taken there will be a certain proportion of people who will spoil their papers, or lose their way to the poll at the last moment. The man who takes that view abhors proportional representation, because it involves people thinking and acting on their own account instead of his programme. There is another objection, and it is a higher objection. It has never been stated in this House, but I am sure the House will admit there is something in it. That is the Whips' view. I am sure the Whips do not like proportional representation. I am sure they are responsible for the subtle propaganda which says proportional representation will fill this House with cranks.
Sir M. SYKES
Disraeli and Bright were both very good party men. Well now, a Whip's definition of a crank is "a wealthy man who does not want a knighthood, or an able man who does not want to be an Under-Secretary." These things were in evidence even in the great days of the great giants of Parliament, and no doubt in those days as now the basis of government from the Whips' room point of view was office for the great, titles for the good, and jobs for the really deserving, and unless people want those things government is impossible. The House, indeed, might be filled with pestilential people like Wilber-force, Cobden, or Plimsoll, who wanted to get something done and not to do somebody else, and if that were so, from that point of view, the thing would be most unsatisfactory. But I do not know that the nation would lose so much by the presence of people of that kind. There is another form of objection: that is, the objection, 102 not on the part of the political machine within this House, but the political machine without this House. We have a striking example in a three-line Whip from one of these political machines— these universal providers of candidates, statistical cooks, pamphlets, posters, and all those things which are necessary to force undesirable legislation upon the minds of an unwilling people before it is brought forward. Of course, these machines object to proportional representation, because it diminishes their power, which rests on one or two things. One is their power of sending the wealthy stranger with the well-filled purse into a constituency; the other is their power of backing a local and popular nonentity. Under proportional representation, those two stand-byes cannot be relied on any more. There is nobody rich enough to stand for a whole city— that is, to do the proper subscriptions for an enormous area— and if a man were popular in a very wide area he would not be a nonentity; therefore, he might be able, and would not be docile, and, therefore, would be objectionable.
Then there is another power of the outside machine, which is struck at heavily by proportional representation and which is very objectionable to proportional representation. The outside machine always has the power, if there is an unorthodox member of the party who is holding a seat, of sending out a second candidate, who will split the vote and put the other side in. That is the power of queering the pitch, but the objection to proportional representation is that if you queer the pitch of one candidate you are queering the pitch of the whole party. That will not do, and, therefore, naturally the outside machine will resist proportional representation to the end. Then there is another kind of objection not stated by my right hon. Friend who has just sat down, and that is the objection of the great and all powerful caucus. In the right hon. Gentleman's case we have seen an immensely powerful political machine which has returned to this House a unanimous voice, I think, for nearly twenty-five years. It cannot mean that everybody in that particular area is of one way of thinking, but, of course, I understand that anybody connected with that has a greater respect for this particular machine than those outside who, like myself, wish we could have such advantages. It has something of the 103 charm of the Stuarts, something of the picturesqueness of the great Venetian oligarchy, but, perhaps, at the same time, like those two, it had better never have been. I believe that the pure gold of the right hon. Gentleman's opinions would have been more useful and stronger even if they had had a little alloy. There is another argument which has been raised to-day, and that is the "strong Government" argument, the argument that we must have strong Governments and decisive majorities in this House, that is to say, that the single-member system does not represent the real views of the people at all, but puts in a majority which can force anything through this House whether the people like it or not, and, therefore, after a General Election, no matter how obscure the issue has been, the result is always final and decisive. I think that is rather a Liberal than a Conservative view, but it is not democratic. It is only as democratic as those Roman senators who allowed their slaves to pull their noses once a year— Saturnalia— on condition that they could thump them for the rest of the year.
I would never advance any new proposal unless there were some good reason for it, but I submit we must have a new method to fit a new situation. I believe the era of the whip, the caucus, the association, and all that sort of thing, is gone, and that post-war England is not going to be like pre-war England. The War has burnt out the vitals of our old political machine. When all the political chickens that we have been hatching in this War come home to roost I believe there will be a strange fluttering in the dove-cot The hon. Baronet signed a three-lined Whip from an association begging us to turn down this measure. I believe it is only proportional representation that will save him or his association. Does he imagine that six years after this War a bourgeois institution like either of the political associations is going to cut much ice in this House? Does he think that the democracy that was only six years old when we were raving here about the Licensing Bill is going to talk the sort of stuff the Whig and Tory machines have been putting out during the nineteenth century? I do not think it is very likely. I ask hon. Members to consider the case of France. If there had been proportional representation in France, there would have been a 104 strong Conservative minority in the Chamber of Deputies, representative of the very large and important fraction of French opinion which has been voiceless, I think, for now thirty years or more. It is because I do not want to see the Carlton Club a refuge for aged cavaliers and despairing non-jurors, both of them voiceless, scratching epitaphs on the window-pane, taking part in the politics of this world, that I entreat Conservatives to support proportional representation. I do not believe— and I think the same applies to the other great historic parties— that property or commerce, or what is now-called Bourgeoisie, is going to make much impression on this thing much longer. But I do believe that with proportional representation it will have a guarantee of a permanent voice in legislation, and I think that this, perhaps, may be a last opportunity. I do hope that the opportunity will not be thrown away in order to gain some imaginary advantage in a world that is dead— and I am not sorry that it is dead.
§ The PAYMASTER-GENERAL (Sir J. Compton-Rickett)
The arguments to which we have listened have very largely been based upon the desirability of making an experiment, because argument has failed to convince the opponents of the proportional system of the strength and value of that system. We are therefore now asked to make an experiment in order to convince others by the working of this system that it is a desirable part of our constitutional methods. But do those who suggest that remember that we have a number of novelties to undertake at the next election— a very great extension of the electorate, the two sexes coming, for the first time, to the poll, a variety of detail that we have already passed in the Representation of the People Bill— and is it desirable to add a complicated and disputed system to so much upon which we have so far agreed? The only reason for pressing this Resolution on the House to-day is the fact that there was a difficulty— if you like, a crisis— in the Representation of the People Bill, and in order to save the face of another House it was agreed to reduce the proposal to something of a definite character, and to make a list of constituencies where it could be applied, and submit it to the free will, the unfettered decision, of this House and of the other House. Why this great anxiety on the part of another House— an anxiety not 105 shared by this? The only reason hinted at by the last speaker, and which has appeared from time to time in this controversy, is the fact that it is thought the country is going to be swept by a democratic wave, and that one party in the State, and one party alone, will hold the Government of this country for a succession of years. I very much doubt if the method now suggested is going to arrest that, much less to arrest the progress of revolution Revolutions are not made at the polling booth; they are made in the streets, and they are made from circumstances and movements quite different from any that we are debating to-day. But, looking at the British character, looking at the opportunities that democracies have had in a great number of constituencies all over the country of obtaining if they pleased the control of government, I personally am struck by my own experience with the fact that, apart from purely trade matters, the great organisations of Labour are as divided in opinion almost as much as the classes above, if I may use the expression, and we shall find that they will fall into the different constituents of which this House more or less has been constituted in the past.
I want to say a word about the desire of minority opinion to have a voice in this House, and the argument that minority opinion should be formulated in legislation more than at present. That under this proportional system it will have a chance there is no doubt, but is that desirable? The public opinion of this country ought to be in advance of legislation, and there is no better way of recording that public opinion than on the platform and in the Press. Before the new idea takes shape, and particularly before it takes legislative shape, surely it should be argued in this House. It ought to have its "ups and downs," and be thoroughly explained; the country itself should be possessed of the idea before there is any attempt to put it into force, it may be to rush it through into law by this House. We have groups of opinion here. There will, in the future, apparently be those who will support a measure, not because they approve of it, but because they are getting something in return for that approval. That is not favourable to the establishment of sound and safe legislation. Then, with smaller minorities in the House of Commons, we shall have a position which I do not think is quite realised. We shall send up our decisions 106 to another place by much smaller minorities, and the moral effect of those decisions must be weakened. It will not require the same amount of courage on the part of the Upper Chamber to use its veto when the majority is smaller to that required with a majority under our present system.
We have been already told that the party caucus will have free play under the new system, or, rather, that the new system is going to give, if anything, more extended powers. I do not think it will. I think the individual Member will be far more in the hands of his party and of the local party than he is at the present time. The vermilion party, and the vermilion agents— my hon. Friend behind me— will be more in request, because the poor, confused elector will not be wanting to know whether he has to vote for one or two: he will be anxiously desirous in respect of the six or seven members who have been selected for him. He will go into the polling booth with the caucus card to do his duty, not according to his conscience, but according to the wish and will of the party which is introducing him into politics. I venture to add one word also about the loss of personal contact. Every one of us knows how, for instance, that he has to a certain extent to educate his constituency in the politics of the day, and they have to influence him, too, and the personal contact is certainly an element in the good relationship between Member and Constituency, and for the purpose of any representation becoming effective. In conclusion, I would put forward one reason which I think has been overlooked. We are asked now, at this moment, in view of all sorts of changes with which we are threatened, to make yet another change. We are not to wait until we see what the complexion of the new House of Commons is, but to adopt our remedies and new rules as suggested by the new advocates— to anticipate, to assume, to make provision against the eccentricities or foibles of the electors. Has it ever entered into our minds that there are more things unlikely than that we shall have a Federal system? We may be hurrying now too much. Is it suggested that we should apply proportional representation to a Federal Imperial House?
§ Sir J. COMPTON-RICKETT
Such a Parliament will probably delegate a great deal of its powers to subordinate Parlia- 107 ments, and it will not concern itself in little matters. It will deal with great subjects of State, and leave alone minority opinions and all sorts of little things. These smaller opinions and measures will find their appropriate place in the subordinate Parliaments. I suggest that at this crisis in our history, that at this time of complexity and of difficulty as to the future, we should not proceed to this new scheme. If we introduce a Federal system it will be hardly consistent with the importance of the powers retained by the Imperial Parliament to break up the House into small parties and coteries, whose interests must be parochial rather than Imperial.
§ Colonel Sir H. VERNEY
A most excellent precedent has been set by those in favour of this scheme in practising great conciseness in what they have had to say. In view of the fact that hon. Members hope to get the Division on this subject before dinner, I shall endeavour to follow that example. I speak neither as the Whip of a party nor, I hope, a crank, as described by one hon. Member. I speak as one of those on whom it is proposed to try this experiment. I, as well as the hon. Member for South Bucks, and the hon. Member for Mid-Bucks, will welcome this experiment. I suppose it is the only subject on which we ever have, or ever shall, agree. An inquiry has been held in Buckinghamshire. We had the unanimous opinion of the three Members asking that this experiment should be tried upon us. The hon. Gentleman who represents the constituency in which you, Mr. Speaker, live, is anxious that we shall not be allowed to try the experiment. Nobody wants to compel him to do it. Nobody suggests that should you, Mr. Speaker, wish, when the time comes, to vote for the man who in this respect is such a reactionary advocate, that you should have to do it in any other way than you have been accustomed to. I think, however, it should be quite clear to those who have attended many of the Debates here that proportional representation is bound to come, just as bound to come as was woman's suffrage, but with this differences. Whereas in the case of woman's suffrage the House is committed to it for better or worse, with proportional representation we now have the great advantage of being able to test whether the scheme is or is not a success. The right, hon. Gentleman the Member for West 108 Birmingham deprecated the fact that we should be dealing with this matter at this time. There is only one way in which we can dispose of this matter, and that is by passing this Resolution. Those who suggest that we should do it once and for all apparently labour under an entire mistake. The advocates of proportional representation will go on raising this until, as it is bound to do, the House of Commons carries it. If for no other reason than for the purpose of saving time, and of allowing those who wish to have this experiment tried, to have it tried at once, I hope the House, without delay, will agree to pass this Resolution, and let us get on with other and even more pressing business.
§ Sir G. GREENWOOD
I am opposed to the Resolution put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education, and for a good many reasons. I do not, however, wish to go into the general question, because I do not want to take up the time of the House. I wish to call the attention of the House to one of the constituencies which is included in the Schedule. We have been told— as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife said— that each case must be decided on its own merits. The Act under which the Commissioners reported expressly laid down also that the scheme was to become law with such modifications and additions as might be tarried in the House. I want to speak of one constituency, the constituency of Northamptonshire. I think it is my duty to do so, because I have been officially requested by the Corporation of the City of Peterborough, who oppose this Resolution, and I am myself quite in agreement with that opposition. I am also speaking because the county council of the Soke of Peterborough has unanimously come to a resolution in opposition to this proposal. It is proposed to make this county of Northamptonshire, including the Soke of Peterborough, which is included in the Schedule of the Report of the Commissioners— it is proposed that it shall become a four-member constituency. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham has put before the House the objections to four-member constituencies. When I turn to the Report of the Speaker's Conference I find that originally it was proposed that "a Parliamentary borough, which would be entitled on a basis of population to 109 return three or more members, shall be a single constituency, provided that a constituency entitled to return more than five members shall be divided into two or more constituencies each returning not less than three nor more than five members; and the election in any such constituency shall be held on the principle of proportional representation, and each elector shall have one transferable vote."
Therefore, it is clear that the original proposition was that this experiment of proportional representation should be applied in boroughs, that it should be applied to densely populated areas with common interests and continuous boroughs. An entire change has been made. County constituencies have also been included, and they have now fastened upon this county of Northamptonshire. What I want to put before the House is that there could not be a worse county, or a worse area, for the application of proportional representation than this county of Northamptonshire— at any rate, if it is to include the new Peterborough Division. If you take the map and look at Northamptonshire you will see it is a long, straggling county lying diagonally across the map of England. It extends for seventy miles, running north-east and south-west, and runs right away from the Holland Division of Lincolnshire, not far from Crow land in the north-east, right to Oxfordshire, near to Banbury and Deddington in the south-west. It is only thirty miles broad even at the widest part. It is bounded by five counties on the west — Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, and Lincolnshire, and by, four counties on the east— Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire, and Cambridgeshire. If you look at that on the map you will see right away in the north-east corner is what is called the Soke of Peterborough. It is a very old county administrative area, and, as its name implies, it dates from Saxon times. Its jurisdiction is as old as the Abbey, which dates from about the seventh century. When the County Councils Act was brought in and the county councils were established it was felt that the Soke of Peterborough ought to retain its own county council administration. It has its own Quarter Sessions. It is isolated from the rest of Northamptonshire and it does not look to Northampton in any way. It includes the ancient borough of Peterborough as well. This area has always 110 been kept independent of the rest of the county, and in the petition to the Assistant Commissioner who held the local inquiry the corporation of the city of Peter borough pointed out that the Soke of Peterborough had been administered for a great many years separately from the county of Northampton, and the people living in the Soke view with great apprehension a proposal which deprives them of their ancient privileges. The railway facilities are very bad. It takes two hours to get from Peterborough to Northampton— in fact, it is easier to get to London. The new Peterborough Division includes the county of the Soke in which more than half the electors live, and also the old borough of Peterborough, and part of that borough is in the county of Huntingdon, and that is going to be left there. Peterborough is one of the most ancient boroughs in the country, and has returned Members to Parliament for a great number of years. It returned two Members as early as the time of Edward IV. Under the Representation of the People Act the borough of Peterborough is to lose its identity, and not only this, but the new Peterborough Division will lose its identity if it is to be included in this scheme, and it will be merged in this long, straggling county with which it has no common interests.
It is not proposed to include the borough of Northampton. What we say is that if the three essentially Northamptonshire Divisions of Wellingborough, Kettering, and Daventry want to be combined in a scheme of proportional representation, let them have it, but do not include the new Peterborough Division. The Northants County Council discussed this question of proportional representation without consulting the Council of the Soke, and, although they passed a resolution in favour— largely, no doubt, owing to the eloquence of my hon. Friend below me— it was only passed by 26 votes to 23, and the chairman was entirely opposed to it. The County Council of the Soke of Peterborough were unanimously against the proposal, and so was the corporation of the city of Peterborough and the Liberal Association, while the Unionist Association have not taken any action at all. Here you have a constituency which was never contemplated by the Speaker's Conference, and parts of which are situated a long distance from each other. One part is interested in agriculture, while the other has a large shoemaking industry, and there are no satisfactory 111 railway or travelling facilities between the various parts. I am putting these views before the House now because I know if this Resolution be carried there will be very little chance of getting the Schedule altered, and I put it to the House as a reason for accepting the Amendment of the hon. Member for Westminster that here is a county which should not have been included, or, if it is included, it should include only the three essentially Northamptonshire divisions. For these reasons I considered it was my duty to bring this matter before the House.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I will not follow my hon. Friend who has just spoken into the details of the corner of the constituency which he represents here, but I will merely say that at the local inquiry there was undoubtedly objection from Peterborough, but there was on the whole a most distinct and marked majority of all shades of political opinion in favour of the experiment being applied to Northamptonshire I hope the House, before deciding upon this matter, will consider whether important points which have been put to-day by the opponents of this principle are accurate or not. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) said that the constituencies have not been consulted fairly or in a representative way by the Commissioners. I think it is most important that the House should realise that that is not the case. The Commissioners by their very instructions had to deal with those counties and towns which had more than three members, and by being limited to them they could not apply it to parts of Scotland or Wales where on the grounds of a minority there might have been good ground for doing so.
Taking the limited number of constituencies to which the instructions of the Commissioners applied, I think any hon. Member of this House who looks at those divisions will agree that they are of a very varied character. They include purely agricultural counties, and a very large variety of other interests in different geographical positions, and the political traditions are different in the various towns and cities selected. I respectfully submit to the House that this is an experiment which is fair in its incidence and it is one which will inform this House and the country in a way which will finally guide and dominate public opinion as to 112 the value of proportional representation if this House allows it to be tried in the way suggested. I approached this subject is the first instance with very little interest. When I first had the honour of sitting as a member of the Speaker's Conference I knew very little about proportional representation and I cared less, but after we had gone into the problems of representation I became convinced that apart from the alternative vote this was the only method by which you could secure important minorities their fair chance and it was the only way in which this House could actually reflect the considered opinion of the country whose servant this House is proud to be.
The Paymaster-General told us that we ought not to try this experiment now lest we should have a federal constitution, and we ought to leave it to subordinate legislation, and he also said that as we have other novelties in the Act of Parliament we ought at least to leave this one out. How can the country be better informed upon this system than by trying a reasonable and limited experiment, so that the action of this House in the future may be based not on arguments or prophesies, but upon the actual knowledge of how it works in a number of constituencies. Could there be any better time to try it than when owing to a great war there is, in fact, a party truce? At the present time there is a damping down of all partisan feeling, and in the case of the Representation of the People Act, the people have shown that they have been willing to bring about the most important reform Act the country has ever seen. That Bill could not have passed in this House or in another place had it not been for the spirit of conciliation which now exists, and the desire to try as many experiments and new methods as possible in a way which would give rise to the least opposition.
As against the argument of applying the principle to all boroughs and constituencies, and refusing to apply it at all, there is now before the House a proposal stamped with the imprimatur of a Commission which has inquired into it, and it is a proposal which will promote harmony amongst the persons who differ on many other matters. I earnestly ask the House to support the findings of the Commission, to allow this experiment to be tried, and the question will be solved for a generation, whereas if you leave it unsettled and open there must be an ever- 113 growing volume of opinion anxious to disturb the representative system. Are we not all agreed that it would be in the true interests of the country that our representative system should be on its main lines left as it is with this experiment added, so that the time of Parliament in the future can be given to more important matters.
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
I desire to protest against the sort of argument which has been presented to the House by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire. Those who have looked carefully into this matter and considered the places where it has been given a real trial found that it had to be dropped by the unanimous consent of all parties in the instance which has been alluded to. Those who are opposed to proportional representation would be glad, perhaps, if the trial of it were made, because they are quite certain that it would be found wanting. It is no justification for voting for something which one believes to be bad so that hereafter it may be put right. May I remind the House what is the actual position under the Statute? At the present time you are to have proportional representation for a certain number of counties and boroughs, and in the Act of Parliament you have expressly provided, if there is a by-election that it shall be conducted under the present system. That means that in these hundred seats you are going to have two different systems of election. An hon. Member who comes into the House like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Hallam Division of Sheffield (Mr. H. Fisher) will be elected by the present system— he would never have got here under proportional representation. In Sheffield, Buckingham, and so on you will have to maintain the expedients and the registers necessary for both systems, because if it is a General Election it will have to be by proportional representation, and if it is a by-election it will have to be by the system at present in force.
I stand here as one of the happy persons who was scheduled and fortunately escaped, although, like Ulysses, I am glad to have escaped death. I grieve for my dear companions who are still in the unhappy position of the 100 seats. The hon. Member for North-West Durham (Mr. A. Williams) says that it is quite unnecessary, for the purposes of proportional representation, that you should have many choices. You can put down your 1, 2, or 3, and that is 114 enough. I learned that the large body of railwaymen, so far from going on any distance or marking their preferences beyond 2 or 3, are content with giving a choice of 1, 2, or 3, and there stopping. That means that proportional representation is not in use and to answer the argument put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) that you will have a. large number of candidates, 15, 16, 17, or 20, and that you will put a very heavy burden upon the elector who have to make his choice among so many by saying that he need only vote one, two, or three is to say that you are not going to put forward a scheme which you hope will be carried in the sense of proportional representation, but that you are asking for some system of minority voting. I find that a certain number of Noble Lords and Members of this House voted for proportional representation upon its face value as communicated to them by its promoters. I have asked them to give me their reasons, and to sit down with me and explain tome the able memorandum put forward by the Home Secretary as to the way in which an election would take place. I found hardly any of them familiar with the details, or with patience enough to go through the memorandum. Speaking generally, I found that they had given the matter no real attention, but had been guided by the argument which had been addressed to them that proportional representation would somehow procure the representation of minorities. The hundred seats which have been selected will really offer no guide. They will not relieve the House in any sense from the difficulties that occur in Wales and Scotland and elsewhere. If this system is once put into force, there will be no opportunity until a new Act is passed of going back upon it. I therefore trust that the House will deliberate long before imposing a dual system of election upon these constituencies which have been selected, and that it will turn down proportional representation as not adequate to give the results which its champions claim for it.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
rose in his place, and claimed to move "That the Question be now put."
Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
Question put accordingly, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 110; Noes, 166.117
|Division No. 41.]||AYES.||[7.21 p.m.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis Dyke||Gulland, Rt. Hon. John William||Robinson, Sidney|
|Addison, Rt. Hon Dr. Christopher||Harmsworth, Cecil (Luton, Beds)||Rothschild, Major Lionel de|
|Adkins, Sir W. Ryland D.||Harris, Percy A. (Leicester, S.)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West)||Sanders, Col. Robert Arthur|
|Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbartonshire)||Herbert, Hon. A. (Somerset, S.)||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)|
|Anderson, William C.||Hobhcuse, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles E. H.||Seely, Lt.-Col. Sir C. H. Mansfield)|
|Armitage, Robert||Hunt, Major Rowland||Shaw, Hon. A.|
|Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E,)||Jardine, Ernest (Somerset, E.)||Smith, Albert (Lancs. Clitheroe)|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G||John, Edward Thomas||Smith, Harold (Warrington)|
|Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)||Jones, William S. Glyn (Stepney)||Snowden, Philip|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Jowett, Frederick William||Somervell, William Henry|
|Barran, Sir John N. (Hawick Burghs)||Kellaway, Frederick George||Spear, Sir John Ward|
|Beach, William F. H.||King, Joseph||Sykes, Col. Sir Mark (Hull, Central)|
|Beale, Sir William Phipson||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Thomas, Sir A. G. (Monmouth, S.)|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Lane-Fox, Major G. R.||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Larmor, Sir J.||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Bentinck, Lord H. Cavendish.||Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert||Verney, Sir Harry|
|Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine||Loyd, Archie Kirkman||Walters, Sir John Tudor|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Mackinder, Halford J.||Ward, A. S. (Hurts, Watford)|
|Boles, Lieut.-Colonel Dennis Fortescue||Marriott, J. A R.||Watson, John B. (Stockton)|
|Booth, Frederick Handel||Marshall, Arthur Harold||Watt, Henry A.|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Mason, David M. (Coventry)||Wedgwood, Lt.-Commander Josiah|
|Bryce, John Annan||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred||Weston, J. W.|
|Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, North)||Mount, William Arthur||White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord Hugh (Oxford U.)||Newman, Major J. R. p. (Enfield)||Wiles, Rt. Hon. Thomas|
|Chancellor, Henry George||Outhwaite. R. L.||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N.W.)|
|Clynes, John R.||Parker, James (Halifax)||Willoughby, Lt.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|Collins, Sir W. (Derby)||Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbt. Pike (Darl'gton)||Wilson, Col. Leslie C. (Reading)|
|Colvin, Col. Richard Beale||Perkins, Walter Frank||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Currie, George W.||Peto, Basil Edward||Wood, Sir John (Stalybridge)|
|Dalrymple, Hon. H. H.||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.||Wood, Hon. E. F. L. (Yorks, Ripon)|
|Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Pratt, J. W||Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)|
|Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas||Pringle, William M. R.||Worthington Evans, Major Sir L.|
|Dougherty, Rt. Hon. Sir J. B.||Prothero, Rt. Hon. Rowland Edmund||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|Du Pre, Major W. Baring||Pulley, C. T.|
|Essex. Sir Richard Walter||Raffan, Peter Wilson||TELLERS FOR THE AYES. — Colonel|
|Fell, Sir Arthur||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)||Amery and Mr. Holt,|
|Fisher, Rt. Hon. H. A. L. (Hallam)||Robertson, Rt. Hon. John M.|
|Archdale, Lieut.- E. M.||Fisher, Rt. Hon. W Hayes (Fulham)||Jones, W. Kennedy (Holsey)|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Col. M.||Fitzroy, Hon. Edward A.||Joynson-Hicks, William|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Fletcher, John Samuel||Keswick. Henry|
|Balfour, Sir Robert (Lanark)||Foster, Philip Staveley||Kiley, James Daniel|
|Barnett, Captain R. W.||Galbraith, Samuel||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement|
|Bathurst, Col. Hon. A. B. (Glouc, E.)||Gastrell, Lieut.-Col. Sir W. Houghton||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle)|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Levy, Sir Maurice|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Gilbert, J. D.||Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)|
|Bentham, George Jackson||Gilmour, Lieut.-Col. John||Long, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Bigland, Alfred||Glanville, Harold James||Lonsdale, James R.|
|Bird, Alfred||Greenwood, Sir G. G. (Peterborough)||Lowe, Sir F. W. (Birm., Edgbaston)|
|Black, Sir Arthur W.||Greenwood, Sir Hamar (Sunderland)||MacCaw, Wm. J. Macreage|
|Blair, Reginald||Gretton, John||Macmaster, Donald|
|Boyton, Sir James||Hall, D. B. (Isle of Wight)||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's)|
|Brassey, H. L. C.||Hall, Lt.-Col. Sir Fred (Dulwich)||Macpherson, James Ian|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Hambro, Angus Valdemar||Maden, Sir John Henry|
|Brookes, Warwick||Hamilton, C. G. C. (Ches., Altrincham)||Magnus, Sir Philip|
|Brunner, John F. L.||Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord C. J. (K'ton)||Maitland, Sir A. D. Steel|
|Bull, Sir William James||Hanson, Charles Augustin||Malcolm, Ian|
|Burdett-Coutts, William||Hardy, Rt. Hon. Laurence||Mason, James F. (Windsor)|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Harris, Sir Henry P. (Paddington, S.)||Morgan, George Hay|
|Butcher, John George||Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry||Morton, Sir Alpheus Cleophas|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Hayward, Evan||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward H.||Hermon-Hodge, Sir R. T.||Neville, Reginald J. N.|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Hewins, William Albert Samuel||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Higham, John Sharp||Nield, Sir Herbert|
|Clough, William||Hinds, John||O'Grady, James|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Palmer, Godfrey Mark|
|Coats, Sir Stuart A. (Wimbledon)||Hogge, James Myles||Parkes, Sir Edward E.|
|Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy||Pearce, Sir Robert (Staffs, Leek)|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Pearson, Hon. Weetman H. M.|
|Cory, James H. (Cardiff)||Houston, Robert Paterson||Peel, Lieut.-Col. R. F. (Suffolk, S.E.)|
|Craig, Colonel Sir J. (Down, E.)||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Pennefather. De Fonblanque|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Hudson, Walter||Philipps, Maj.-Gen. Sir Ivor (S'hampton)|
|Dalziel, Davison (Brixton)||Hunter, Major Sir Charles Rodk.||Philipps, Captain Sir Owen (Chester)|
|Davies, Ells William (Eifion)||Illingworth, Rt. Hon. Albert H.||Pollard, Sir George H.|
|Dixon, Charles Harvey||Ingleby, Holcombe||Pollock, Sir Ernest Murray|
|Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Jackson, Lieut.-Col. Hon. F. S. (York)||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh. Central)|
|Faber, George Denison (Clapham)||Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)|
|Faber, Col. W. V. (Hants, W.)||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.|
|Falle, Sir Bertram Godfray||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)|
|Rees, G. C. (Carnarvonshire, Arton)||Soames, Arthur Wellesley||Walton, Sir Joseph|
|Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, E.)||Starkey, John Ralph||Warde, Colonel C. E. (Kent, Mid)|
|Reid, Rt. Hon. Sir George H.||Staveley-Hill, Lieut.-Col. Henry||Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)|
|Remnant, Col. Sir James Farquharson||Stewart, Gershom||Whiteley, Sir H. J.|
|Rendall, Athelstan||Stirling, Lieut.-Col. Archibald||Wilson, Capt. A. Stanley (Yorks, E.R.)|
|Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)||Strauss, Arthur (Paddington, North)||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Roch, Walter F.||Swift, Rigby||Wilson-Fox, Henry|
|Rowlands, James||Sykes, Col. Sir A. J. (Ches., Knutsfd.)||Winfrey, Sir Richard|
|Royds, Major Edmund||Talbot, Rt. Hon. Lord Edmund||Wing, Thomas Edward|
|Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter (Dewsbury)||Taylor, John W. (Durham)||Yeo, Sir Alfred William|
|Runciman, Sir Walter (Hartlepool)||Terrell, George Wilts, N.W.)||Young, William Perth, East)|
|Rutherford, Sir W. (L'pool, W. Derby)||Terrell, Henry (Gloucester)||Younger, Sir George|
|Samuel, Samuel (Wandsworth)||Tickler, T. G.|
|Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)||Tootill, Robert||TELLERS FOR THE NOES. —Sir|
|Sharman-Crawford, Colonel R. G.||Walker, Colonel William Hail||T. P. Whittaker and Sir J. Harmood- Banner,|
|Smallwood, Edward||Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Ince)|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Proposed words added.
That, in the opinion of this House, the change in the method of Parliamentary representation and elections involved in the adoption of the Report is inadvisable, that the scheme is not justified by the nature and extent or the results of the local inquiries held; and that the House declines to proceed further in the matter.