§ The CHAIRMAN
All the Amendments on the Paper that are in order have been placed on the Paper, except one, by the Conservative Opposition. I understand the Opposition desire as quickly as possible to get to the discussion of the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." Consequently, only a few Amendments are likley to be put. I have, therefore, to inform the Committee that I purpose putting the following Amendments: the fourth Amendment on page 813, in the name of the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy)—in page 1, line 7, after the word "Parliament," to insert the words:held subsequent to the dissolution of the present Parliament;the seventh Amendment on page 815, in the name of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne)—in page 2, line 9, to leave out Sub-section (3); the fourth Amendment on page 817, in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery)—in page 2, line 16, at the end, to add the words:(5) All rules, regulations, or provisions made by Order in Council under this section shall be laid before each House of Parliament forthwith; and unless and until an Address is presented to His Majesty by either House of Parliament within the next subsequent twenty-one days on which that House has sat next after any such rule, regulation, or provision is laid before it, praying that the rule, regulation, or provision may be annulled, the rule, regulation, or provision shall have effect as enacted in this Act;and the fifth Amendment:, on page 817, in the name of the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. P. Oliver)—in page 2, line 16, at the end, to add the words:(5) This Section shall apply to Northern Ireland.
§ Lord EUSTACE PERCY
I beg to move, in page 1, line 7, after the word "Parliament," to insert the words "held subsequent to the dissolution of the present Parliament."
417 I think it will be the general feeling of the House that we should like to get on to the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," as soon as possible, in any case not later than, say, six o'clock. Therefore, we propose to move our Amendments as briefly as possible. This Amendment is designed to ensure that the Alternative Vote shall not come into force until the next General Election—that it shall not apply to any by-election. The grounds of that are obvious. One is the ground of principle, that in all changes in the franchise it is recognised that extensions or restrictions of the rights of voters are measures which should be of general application to all voters at the same time, and it is for that reason, among others, that it has been the universal practice to hold a General Election as soon as possible after the passing of a Franchise Bill. Secondly, there is the difficulty that the average voter knows at present nothing whatever about what the Alternative Vote means or how it works. The average voter, in fact, does not know whether the Alternative Vote is the name of a race horse or a disease.
§ Lord E. PERCY
It would clearly be undesirable, and would lead to the utmost confusion, that a constituency suddenly faced with an unexpected by-election should, in addition, be unexpectedly required to adapt itself to a wholly new system of voting. I am sure the Home Secretary will realise that it is desirable that this should not come into force until it comes into force simultaneously for the whole country and for every voter at the next General Election.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Clynes)
I think there is only one flaw in the Noble Lords' speech and that is that again he has, in my judgment, underrated the understanding and the intelligence of the electors. They are really not so bad and not so dull as he imagines. But I am sure they will go with him, as I 418 do, in the rest of his argument and in reaching the conclusion that it is not desirable to apply the Bill, should it become an Act, to any election, even to a by-election, until after the next Dissolution, whenever that may be. Yesterday we had, from the other side of the House, a few speeches complaining of the time-table which the House has approved. One point in the complaint was with regard to the length of the speeches from the Front Bench. May I diminish that complaint to some extent by just saying that I accept the general argument of the right hon. Gentleman, and I am prepared to accept the Amendment.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I do not want to follow the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) into any comparison between any particular constituencies, but I think tie electors of Central Hull and of Hastings understand perfectly well what is the Alternative Vote. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend has accepted the Amendment, because I believe the Alternative Vote might have got the party opposite out of a very difficult position in the by-election in St. George's Division.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I understood that the Noble Lord, in mentioning his constituency, referred to by-elections coming before the Dissolution and to the fact that electors might not have had time to understand the Alternative Vote. The question of the working of the Alternative Vote does not arise on the Amendment.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has accepted the Amendment postponing the coming into operation of this Clause until after the Dissolution, and that the object of the Noble Lord is to prevent it from being used at by-elections. I think that that is rather a pity. I regret that my right hon. Friend sees eye to eye with the Noble Lord, because I can point out that it would be advantageous to the party opposite at the by-election in St. George's. [Interruption.] The hon. and learned Member will have to listen to it. If he does not like it he can go, where he usually is, outside the Chamber. Where there is a number of candidates, as in that case—there are two or three—who claim to represent the same party or 419 different wings of it, I think that the Alternative Vote might be used as an experiment to see how it works. Its great advantages would become obvious. We might even persuade the Liberal party to run a candidate in that contest.
Sir NAIRNE STEWART SANDEMAN
Is it not evident that the hon. and gallant Member does not understand the Alternative Vote, because—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member knows that that is not the kind of point of Order which should be asked.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
It might be allowed to apply until the party opposite have managed to face their difficulties, in which they have my great sympathy. I understand that various brands of Conservatives are going to fight all the by-elections. In such cases, which do not often occur, the Alternative Vote has its one justification. It is the only kind of case in which I think it is possible and in which I should like to see it applied. I am rather sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has accepted the Amendment of the Noble Lord, and I think that the Noble Lord is making a mistake in pressing it, because the application of the Alternative Vote might relieve the Central Conservative Office of a very great difficulty.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Captain BOURNE
I beg to move, in page 2, line 9, to leave out Sub-section (3).
I am moving this Amendment solely in order to ask the Home Secretary the object of the Sub-section. I have read it several times very carefully, and I cannot quite make out what is exactly wanted. Possibly it is to deal with the case where an election had actually started, and was being carried on when the Act came into force, and to provide that nothing contained in the Act should then interfere with the arrangements of that election. Otherwise, I cannot make out for what purpose the Sub-section is required, or why it is needed.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I am advised that the Sub-section is necessary, and that it ought to be inserted in the Bill, so as to prevent any introduction of an alteration of the existing method of voting, except to the extent, and in the case, provided for in the Bill itself. Accordingly, I hope 420 that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not press his Amendment. I repeat that I am advised in the highest quarters that it is essential to incorporate the Subsection in the Bill, and I trust that the Committee will take that view.
§ Major GEORGE DAVIES
I do not think that the Committee are entirely satisfied with the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman. He certainly carried out the suggestion that he was going to be brief, but I do not think, speaking for myself, that he has explained the position in the slightest degree. Those of us who have studied carefully the various Clauses of the Bill have been puzzled as to the reason for the inclusion of those words. It is certainly a sound position for us to take up, that before passing the Sub-section we should know, not that the right hon. Gentleman has been informed on the highest authority that it is necessary, but exactly what it means, what difficulties it may create, and why it is considered essential. If we obtain an explanation which enables us to understand it—it is possible that the right hon. Gentleman's explanation may be completely satisfactory—I have not the least desire to obstruct, but, pending such an explanation, the Committee are left entirely in the dark not only on this side but upon the other side as well. I feel sure that the right hon. Gentleman, on reconsideration, will appreciate that he must take us a little more into his confidence and let us know what this Subsection means.
I wish to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman both to the Sub-section and to the Amendment which he has already accepted. He has accepted an Amendment which practically rules out the application of the Bill to any by-election which is likely to take place between now and the General Election. I may be wrong—and if so, it will be necessary, I should imagine, for those supporting the Amendment to explain their case more fully—but, as I read the Amendment, it seems to be at one with the Amendment already accepted by the right hon. Gentleman. That is why I should like a further explanation upon the matter. Seeing that one Amendment has been accepted, and that another which seems to be identical is being refused, I think the Committee are going to be in a bit of a muddle.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Sir BASIL PETO
I should like to reinforce what the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) has just said. I notice that this Sub-section deals only with Parliamentary elections. Therefore, it cannot possibly have been inserted here to avoid any confusion which may take place in the method of voting at any other election. I ask, in view of the Home Secretary's acceptance of the first Amendment that this Bill will not come into force as an Act of Parliament until after the Dissolution of Parliament, what Parliamentary election can possibly be affected? It seems to me obvious that the advice tendered to the Home Secretary to refuse the Amendment, must have been tendered to him before the Government decided to accept the first Amendment. With the words just put into the Bill, this Subsection becomes absolutely meaningless, and seems simply a mistake in drafting. In view of the fact that this is to apply only at a General Election, these words can have no application at all to the present situation. Therefore, I hope that the Home Secretary, if he persists in keeping in this Sub-section, will explain the real meaning, how it will work and why it is necessary. If he can tell us that, we can pass on to the next Amendment, but, in the absence of such explanation, the Sub-section seems not only redundant but unnecessary.
§ Lord ERSKINE
I do not often agree with the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean), but on this occasion I agree with everything he said, because it certainly seems to me that the Amendment which the Government have just accepted completely removes any necessity for this Sub-section. As far as we understand, it is put in the Bill merely in order, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) said, to clear up any trouble which might arise should there be a by-election proceeding when a Dissolution of the present Parliament took place, and I do think that the Committee is entitled to some more explanation than we have yet had from the Home Secretary as to the real meaning of this Sub-section. Several of my hon. Friends who were examining this Bill long before we thought of putting down the Amendment which has just been accepted, were thinking as to what this Clause meant. It seemed to us to 422 be very involved, and, in fact, we could not make out why the Sub-section was in the Bill at all. The Home Secretary, as he said, was certainly brief, but I do think that on some occasions, when Ministers are answering complicated questions, it might be a little better if they were not so brief in their explanations. Therefore, I do hope that, before the Committee proceed to a Division, if a Division should be necessary, the Home Secretary will explain, in the first place, why this Sub-section is in the Bill at all, and, secondly, why, as he has already accepted an Amendment, this Sub-section does not consequently come out?
Lieut.-Colonel Sir FREDERICK HALL
I cannot help thinking that the home Secretary, in taking technical advice beforehand, as no doubt, it is advisable he should do, thought that the Bill was going to read as printed, and that it was not anticipated by his advisers that the Amendment which has been accepted would be accepted by the Government. We want as much brevity as possible. At the same time, there are times, as my hon. Friend has just indicated, when, perhaps, members of the Government may be too brief, and I suggest that the Home Secretary has not satisfied any member of this Committee in any quarter as to the reasons why this Sub-section should be left in after the last Amendment has been accepted. I have tried, without success, to elucidate the reason for the Sub-section being put in. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any tangible reason? No doubt his advice is excellent, but the Committee is entitled to something more than the statement, "I have taken advice on a certain subject, and I am informed that so-and-so is necessary and so-and-so is not necessary." With all respect, I say that that is not the way to treat this Committee. We are entitled to know the reason why certain Amendments are accepted or objected to, and, therefore, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would be more explicit to the Committee in this matter.
§ The SOLICITOR - GENERAL (Sir Stafford Cripps)
The object of this Subsection is, I think, quite a simple one. It is to stop the ingenuity of lawyers hereafter trying to twist the meaning, possibly, of the other part of the 423 Clause, which leaves untouched certain methods of voting at certain Parliamentary elections, for instance, where there is a constituency with only two candidates, and, in order to save that, it is necessary to make clear that the existing law will continue to apply in such cases. Moreover, there are many other matters in the method of voting at Parliamentary elections besides those set nut in the First Schedule, and it might be said, had there been no Sub-section such as this, that the First Schedule formed a complete code and displaced all the former law. It is to make it quite clear that the First Schedule is not to displace all the other regulations with which it does not deal. They still remain.
§ Lord E. PERCY
Sub-section (2) provides that:Subject to the provisions of the said rules, His Majesty may by Order in Council…make regulations for carrying this section into effect and for adapting, to meet the alteration of law effected by this section, the provisions of the Ballot Act,Clearly, nothing contained in those regulations can be expressly provided in this Bill, but the object of those regulations must be to affect the methods of voting at Parliamentary elections. Sub-section (3), in terms, says that nothing provided for under Sub-section (2) shall in any way affect the method of voting, although the only purpose is to affect the method of voting under the Bill.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
With great respect to the Noble Lord's view, I think not, because the regulations will be contained in the Act by virtue of their being made by Order in Council under the Act, and therefore they will affect the method of voting under the Act, and will not be outside it.
May I ask the learned Solicitor-General if he does not think it would make for more clarity if he would put in words—I have not had time to draft a manuscript Amendment—to deal with the case where only two candidates are standing, because, in spite of his explanation, it is rather vague, and we know from experience that, unless a particular Sub-section, or Section of an Act itself, has been made expressly clear, all manner of difficulties arise afterwards in the interpretation. I submit, with all due 424 respect as a layman to a lawyer, in view of the explanation given that it was done for the purpose of guarding the Act against further interpretations by lawyers, that he should make it definite and clear by putting words to that effect in the Bill. It can only apply to any election where two candidates only are standing, because the rest of the Bill deals with cases where there are three or more candidates. At the same time, I think it is absolutely desirable that it should be made definite and clear that this particular Sub-section applies to those elections where only two candidates are standing.
§ Mr. ERNEST EVANS
The explanation of the learned Solicitor-General leaves me a little more confused than I was before the Debate started. This is a Sub-section to a Clause concerned with one thing only, the establishment of the Alternative Vote as a system of voting at elections. The Government have already accepted an Amendment which says that this shall not come into operation during a by-election before the end of this Parliament. Now Sub-section (3) says:Nothing contained in this Act shall, except as expressly provided herein, affect the method of voting at Parliamentary elections in force at the time of the passing of this Act.and, in justification of keeping these words in the Bill, the learned Solicitor-General said, amongst other things, that you may get an election at which there are only two candidates. But if there are only two, the difficulty does not arise at all, and it seems to me, in view of the powers taken by the Government in Sub-section (2) of making regulations for putting this Measure into effect, that really the words in Sub-section (3) are quite unnecessary. They will not apply until the Alternative Vote is put into operation, which, in view of the Amendment which has been accepted, will mean after this Parliament. Therefore, I do not see the necessity of these words.
§ Mr. HOLFORD KNIGHT
I venture to suggest that the real explanation is that these words were put in the Bill on the assumption that the Amendment which my right hon. Friend accepted would not be accepted. That having been accepted, we have saved elections under the present Statutes before the coming into operation of this Bill, and, 425 therefore, Sub-section (3) becomes unnecessary.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Might I ask the learned Solicitor-General to look at Sub-section (4)? From the wording of that Sub-section it might appear that it only applies to the City of London throughout, that iswhere before the passing of this Act a writ has been issued in respect of any election, this section shall not apply to that election.That, I thought, would have been wiped out by the Amendment of the Noble Lord. But does Sub-section (4) apply only to the City of London, because it affects Sub-section (3), and how does it affect the explanation given by the learned Solicitor-General? I would submit to my hon. and learned Friend that we must be clear in this matter, because he spoke of lawyers taking advantage of any obscurity in the wording. I am sure that he does not want to deprive his fellow trade unionists of briefs; at the same time, do not let us have electors and candidates put to the unnecessary expense of petitions or things of that kind, which are very expensive affairs.
§ Lieut.- Colonel HENEAGE
Might I have an answer to this question? Supposing this Sub-section is taken out, and there are only two candidates. Can someone come along and claim a second ballot? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will answer that question?
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
That is one of the cases which it is hoped would be avoided by this Sub-section. It is quite a common Sub-section, and was used in the Act of 1918, Section 20, almost in the same words. Dealing with the point which was raised on the benches below the Gangway, Sub-section (1) being altered does not affect the necessity of Sub-section (3) remaining in the Bill, because Sub-section (3) deals generally with voting at elections after the Act comes into force, and after the Alternative Vote has come into force. The purpose is to see that in those cases where the Alternative Vote does not apply, that is, in constituencies where there are only two candidates, the old law shall continue to apply unaltered, and so far as matters are concerned affecting the method of voting in any constituency other than the 426 precise matters dealt with in the 1st Schedule, those matters shall continue the same as they were under the old law before the passing of this Bill. It is a precautionary Sub-section which ought to remain.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Why is the City of London left out? Is the City of London supposed to be less intelligent?
§ Mr. CLYNES
In view of the Amendment which the Committee has carried, it will be necessary to delete certain words in Sub-section (4), and when that stage is reached an Amendment will be made to that effect.
§ Captain BOURNE
in view of the explanation of the Solicitor-General, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, and I am much obliged to him. I take it that this Sub-section is merely put into the Bill because it happened to be in the previous Act. It would be well if the Solicitor-General would give careful consideration to the matter between now and the Report stage, because although I know now what he wishes to do, and I agree that it should be done, yet, on the face of it no one, reading the Sub-section would come to that conclusion.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Arising from what the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has said in regard to Sub-section (4), I will call upon the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) to move an Amendment.
§ Mr. DENMAN
I beg to move, in page 2, line 14, to leave out from the word "London" to the end of the Clause.
While the discussion was going on, I handed in this consequential Amendment, which fulfils our object.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
I was promised by the Home Secretary an explanation why the last three lines of Sub-section (4) are to be deleted, and why the first line is being left in. Why is the City of London not to have the great advantage of the Alternative Vote? I am sure that they would resent any 427 suggestion that they cannot understand the Alternative Vote, or that they are too busy, or that they have only one opinion.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
Is it in order to discuss the last part of the subsection when we are only dealing with the first part relating to the City of London?
§ Mr. CLYNES
On the Second Reading Debate I gave at some length the view of the Government in regard to leaving undisturbed the City of London. Assuming that the House accepts that view, it would be impossible to apply any system of the Alternative Vote in a constituency still retaining its two Members but not divided into two Divisions, as is proposed in the case of other constituencies. I could elaborate that point and by many variants say many things. The Committee is quite free, so far as the Government are concerned, to say whether it accepts that view or not, but, on balance, we thought that that was the better solution in the case of that ancient constituency. That is the whole explanation that I think it is necessary to give to my hon. and gallant Friend.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend, but I am not sure that I can follow him when he says that it is impossible to run the Alternative Vote in a double-member constituency.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Yes, but I submit that the right hon. Gentleman gave the explanation very briefly. Is it laid down now by my right hon. Friend that you cannot have the Alternative Vote unless you have a single-member constituency? That is not the usual understanding.
§ Sir SAMUEL HOARE
I do not want to transgress the Rules of Order or to follow the hon. and gallant Member in regard to the City of London, but I take note of the fact, with great astonishment, that the right hon. Gentle- 428 man is going to allow a free vote of the Committee, and of his own side, on one of the principal Clauses of the Bill. When the time comes we will discuss that at length. Meanwhile, I protest against it.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. AMERY
I beg to move, in page 2, line 16, at the end, to add the words:(5) All rules, regulations, or provisions made by Order in Council under this section shall be laid before each House of Parliament forthwith; and unless and until an Address is presented to His Majesty by either House of Parliament within the next subsequent twenty-one days on which that House has sat next after any such rule, regulation, or provision is laid before it, praying that the rule, regulation, or provision may be annulled, the rule, regulation, or provision shall have effect as enacted in this Act.This new Sub-section is a natural consequence of the first two Sub-sections. The first Sub-section lays it down that elections must be carried out in accordance with the rules set out in the First Schedule. The second Sub-section gives the Government of the day power by Order in Council to make regulations putting that Schedule into effect, and to adapt the Ballot Act of 1872 and a number of other Acts to the position of that Schedule. It is obvious that those are very wide powers, and the extent of those powers is enhanced by the complicated nature of the Schedule itself. It is obvious to anyone who has studied the Schedule that there are possibilities of alternative ways of making rules and regulations which may materially vary from what the House had in mind when it passed the Schedule. Therefore it is desirable that the rules and regulations made under the provisions of Sub-section (2) should come before the House, in case they introduce some novel or difficult feature. The Amendment which I propose is a provision common in a great variety of Bills, and there is ample precedent for it. It may have been an oversight that such a provision was omitted by the Government. I hope the Government will find no difficulty in accepting the Amendment.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I admit that there may be some doubt whether it is necessary or not to accept the Amendment. My present view is that the object aimed at 429 by the right hon. Gentleman is really covered by the initial words of Subsection (2) at the top of page 2. There is also a further reference in the next Clause, and on the same page of the Bill, which sustains me in my opinion. However, in the event of it being necessary to accept the Amendment, after further consideration, I shall be well disposed to that end, and I undertake on the Report stage to see that that is done, if I am driven to that conclusion. For the moment, my view is that it is not essential to accept the Amendment. We are agreed in aim and object, and I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that I will give full consideration to the matter between now and the Report stage.
§ Lord E. PERCY
Will the Home Secretary explain a little further what he means? Does he mean that the words in Sub-section (2), at the top of page 2:Subject to the provisions of the said rules, His Majesty may by Order in Council under the Representation of the People Actsincline him to the view that any Order in Council made under the Representation of the People Acts must lie on the Table of the House for 21 days?
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Short)
There is provision in Section 40 of the Representation of the People Act, 1918.
Sir F. HALL
If there is a difference of opinion between the two sides of the Committee, and apparently there is, would it not be better to have the matter cleared up? We do not want to be left in any doubt. We are given to understand that this matter is covered by Section 40 of the Representation of the People Act. I am aware that the Home Secretary says that he will give consideration to the matter between now and the Report stage, but I would emphasise the fact that we want these Acts to be made as plain as possible, and if there is any ambiguity or the possibility of a misunderstanding it would be a great deal better to adopt 430 the Amendment and insert the necessary words. I would urge the Home Secretary to look favourably upon the Amendment between now and the Report stage.
§ Mr. ANNESLEY SOMERVILLE
I notice that in lines 7 and 8 of Subsection (2) reference is made to the duties of returning officers. Those duties are extremely important, and if there is any ambiguity or doubt as to the power of this House to deal with the regulations that are made, especially in regard to the duties of returning officers, which duties may very materially affect the election, I would urge upon the Home Secretary that it would be much safer to insert the Amendment.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I am not quite clear on this point. Am I to understand from the Solicitor-General that all regulations and provisions referred to in my right hon. Friend's Amendment would normally he laid on the Table of the House? He has told us that all regulations under the 1917–18 Act are laid on the Table. Are there no regulations outside that Act which do not come under the category of the regulations to which he has referred?
§ The SOLICITOR - GENERAL
An Order-in-Council under Clause 1 (2) of this Bill must be made under the Representation of the People Acts. That refers to Orders under the Representation of the People Act, 1918, and there is a provision in Section 40 of that Act that all rules, regulations or provisions made by Order-in-Council under that Act must be laid before each House of Parliament. If Orders-in-Council are made under that Act they must be laid on the Table. I do not think there is any doubt on the matter. If there should be any doubt, as my right hon. Friend has said, it will be put right.
§ Mr. AMERY
On the assumption that the point that I have raised is covered by Section 40 of the Representation of the People Act, 1918, I readily accept the position and beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment, on the understanding that if, on closer scrutiny, the point is found not to be covered the Home Secretary will bring the matter up on Report.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.431
§ Mr. PHILIP OLIVER
I beg to move, in page 2, line 16, at the end, to add the words:(5) This section shall apply to Northern Ireland.In Sub-section (2) of Clause 9 of the Bill it is laid down that unless otherwise provided the provisions of the Measure are not to apply to Northern Ireland, and the object of the Amendment is to say that the provisions with regard to the Alternative Vote shall apply to Northern Ireland whether the other provisions of the Bill do so or not. I regret that owing to the rapid progress that has been made this afternoon the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Devlin) is not here. We have been in telegraphic communication with him, but I am afraid he will not arrive in time to take part in this discussion. At the same time, he has expressed his desire that this part of the Bill should apply to Northern Ireland, and, representing as he does a considerable body of opinion in Northern Ireland and being such a conspicuous representative of a, great historical party, I am sure the Government will give careful consideration to the Amendment, if not on our account, at any rate on his account. Anyone who heard this speech of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone on the Second Reading of the Bill will realise that, like many of us, he would prefer a system of Proportional Representation rather than the Alternative Vote, but as that is impossible within the four corners of the Bill I appeal on behalf of several great political parties in Northern Ireland that they may receive the same consideration as that given to political parties here.
I agree with the Home Secretary that if you have a system of the Alternative Vote there must be alongside that system single member constituencies. At the present time the whole of Northern Ireland is represented by constituencies returning two Members, and there is a later Amendment to the Bill for the division of double member constituencies in Northern Ireland into single member constituencies, in the same way as the Government propose to divide double member constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales into single member constituencies. I cannot see why a system of election which is regarded as suitable for Great Britain should be regarded as 432 unsuitable for Northern Ireland; I cannot understand why the distinction should be made. Northern Ireland has behind it a great history of political activity, and much political thought has sprung from it. There may have been fierce and perhaps bitter controversies, political life there has been very vivid. There have been in the past great numbers of parties; the great Nationalist party, the Ulster Unionists, the Liberal party, a party known as the Liberal Unionists, and another party known as the Conservatives. I am not going to define the distinction between these various groups, and there has sprung up the beginnings of what may be a powerful and progressive Labour party. Some of these parties are no longer active.
At the last General Election in 1929 large numbers of people who are utterly unrepresented in this House voted in Ireland. There was, of course, the overwhelming majority of Ulster Unionists, 354,000 votes; but there were 100,000 Liberals who voted in Northern Ireland at the last. General Election whose voice is not heard here, they have no say in the destinies of their country so far as they are now guided from Westminster. In addition to that large minority there were 55,000 who are classified as "others," and these others include the Labour party and certain other parties which are springing up in Northern Ireland. I agree that these figures do not perhaps represent the actual proportion of political feeling in Northern Ireland for there were certain divisions in which no contest took place. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) found no one audacious enough to challenge his supremacy and in Fermanagh and Tyrone there was no one to challenge the supremacy of the Nationalist party. In two of the great divisions of Northern Ireland there was no political contest at all, and that is surely an argument for an alteration in the electoral system. There was no contest because, although there was a strong minority, they felt that the struggle was hopeless and their votes utterly wasted. You had in Northern Ireland at the last General Election, as you had in other parts of Great Britain, great tracts where no contest took place.
§ Mr. OLIVER
I understand there were two, perhaps three. There was I believe a three-cornered contest in one of the Belfast seats, and another somewhere else. I have a recollection that there was a local optionist as a candidate in one of the divisions.
§ Mr. OLIVER
If there are a sufficient number of local optionists why should not a local option candidate stand?
§ Mr. OLIVER
I have no doubt that the hon. Member would say the same of all the Liberal candidates in England, Scotland and Wales, but whether they be freak candidates in St. George's, Westminster, or in Northern Ireland, these freak candidates have an idea to put before the electors and in the end they smash the greater and more powerful political parties. You may call them "freak candidates" but they have a gospel, and their sons or grandsons may be sitting upon the Treasury Bench. Mr. Keir Hardie was a freak candidate and his successors are where they are now. But the fact that there were no three cornered contests seems to be no reason why you should refuse to Northern Ireland what you are granting to England, Scotland and Wales. There may have been a third party but that third party may have thought it was hopeless to run a representative. Why should we put any limit on a future group of political parties in Northern Ireland? To-day one party may be in a great ascendancy but it may be that in the near future the minds of the Irish people will turn to other matters and that political controversy will again foment. When that happens Northern Ireland should be in the same position as sister countries in the United Kingdom, and that is why we are moving this Amendment and making a most earnest appeal to the Government, unless there are very strong reasons to the contrary which I do not at present understand, to insert this Amendment in the Bill.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I hope that the Home Secretary will not accept this Amendment. I have said many hard things about Northern Ireland' in days gone by and have been 434 rather severe perhaps in my criticisms. They may look upon me as being somewhat unsympathetic, but I will try to defend them from this Liberal plot, for that is what this Amendment obviously is. The complaint of the hon. Member who moved the Amendment is that in Northern Ireland they have, with two exceptions, the two-party system, and he wants to bring about a multiplicity of parties; he wants to introduce a system which will stimulate the dying Liberal remnants in Northern Ireland. The Alternative Vote, he believes, will give them fresh hope and belief in their revival, but in my opinion it will introduce confusion into political affairs. Northern Ireland once had Proportional Representation, but it was wiped out, and they returned to the old muddled two-party system, which has done very well. It may produce certain anomalies, but you do not have that log-rolling and bargaining which would he the case under the Alternative Vote. They know exactly the position; they know exactly how many votes they are likely to poll by the number of people who go to church. They know exactly where they are, and the great issues of capital and labour have hardly begun to emerge. They are happy; why should we interfere?
I hope the Home Secretary will resist the seductive pleading of the Liberal party, though what arguments he is going to use I do not know. According to the Home Secretary the Alternative Vote is a very desirable thing, and like the fox who lost his tail it may be that it would be well for Northern Ireland foxes to drop their tails too. At any rate, I feel sure that he will not be at a loss for arguments to use against the proposal; being an Irishman himself and very ready in Debate. Let us look a little closer at the arguments put forward by hon. Members below the Gangway. They say that in Northern Ireland they have had Proportional Representation and have done away with it. The Nationalists tell us that it was dropped because it gave representation to minorities. If the Liberal party were actuated by principle in this matter they would not propose the system of the Alternative Vote for Northern Ireland, because it will prevent any adoption of Proportional Representation in the future. If the Liberal party were true 435 to its beliefs they would not support this Amendment, and the hon. Member would not have moved it. It may be that in a few years the people will be so sick of the Alternative Vote that they will insist on going back to the old system, and in that case the arguments for Proportional Representation, for which I agree some case can be made, will get short shrift.
I do not want to anticipate the discussion, except as regards Northern Ireland. We have there a very peculiar position. They had Proportional Representation. It was not popular, but it did give representation to the minorities. They turned it out. Now the Liberal party want to give them the Alternative Vote, which they do not want and which the Liberal party do not want for this country, though they are accepting it as the next best thing. I hope that the Home Secretary will stand firm. Do not let us extend the area beyond the major island. If there had been more time, I should have liked to have moved an Amendment to exclude Wales, and an Amendment to exclude Scotland, and a further Amendment to exclude Yorkshire, where politically we are more advanced than any other part of the country. I do not believe in these artificial devices to interest people in the electoral system. I believe that in years to come we will invent for the people of Ireland a simpler system, not a perfect system, but a system preferable to that with which we are saddled in this country. I want Northern Ireland to be a useful example to which we can point. I have a great affection in my heart for the people of Northern Ireland. For all these reasons, I hope that the Government will resist the Amendment.
§ Mr. REID
I do not often find myself in agrement with the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken, but on this occasion I do agree with him. The only comment I make on his speech is, why did he dissemble his love so long? I appeal to the Home Secretary not to accept the Amendment. Just let us consider what the position of Northern Ireland is. In any event the position is an anomalous one and is not found in any other part of the Empire. In 1920, owing to various exigencies, the British Government practically forced upon us 436 a form of Government which we did not want, but we said that we were prepared to accept it and to do our best to work it if the national emergency required. Part of that settlement was that we were to be represented in this House, although many local matters were transferred to a local. Parliament. Our representation in this House again was put on an anomalous basis. We were under-represented according to our population, but we realised that a logical basis was impossible and that the under-representation in a certain way represented the smaller number of subjects in which we were directly interested. That system has been in operation for 11 years. I do not think anyone can say that the people in Ulster have not done whatever they could loyally to carry out their obligations. When that system came into operation, it was owing to the operation of events in other parts of the country where there was a state of turmoil. The local government has done its duty faith fully, and the representatives of Northern Ireland in this House have clone their best to carry out the obligations that were laid upon them.
In these circumstances, we ask that we be allowed to go on in our own way. I do not think that many hon. Gentlemen who have come to this House in very recent years, realise the position in which Northern Ireland was put for many years before that. Northern Ireland was the pawn of Liberal politics. It was always offered as what the Liberal party were prepared to give in return for Southern Trish votes. Now here have a Government which, I admit, is not in accord with the views of most of the representatives of Northern Ireland, but it is a Government which has loyally observed what are the implied conditions in which we find ourselves. The Government brought in this Bill, intending to leave the situation, as far as Northern Ireland is concerned, undisturbed, except in one instance. Now we find the Liberal party coming along—the Liberal party which kept Ireland in turmoil for years and years, the party which drew the attention of the people of Northern Ireland away from their business until they threw themselves into political agitation—
§ Mr. REID
I was coming down to date. I say that the Liberal party are now endeavouring to upset an arrangement which solved a historical difficulty. The Liberal party are playing in troubled waters, or are trying to make troubled waters where they do not exist, and I ask the Government to stand to their guns on this occasion and to reject the Amendment.
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
The speech of the hon. Member who has just spoken was really quite beside the mark, not only that part of it in which naturally he was called to order from the Chair, when he endeavoured to go into the large question of Irish Home Rule and as to whether that policy was desirable or not, but also that part of it which was within the rules of Order and in which he entered into the question of the representation of Ulster as determined by the Act of 1920 in this Parliament, and the establishment of a local Parliament in Northern Ireland. Neither of those points is touched in any way by the Amendment. The simple effect of the Amendment is to provide that the usual methods of election which are to be applied to the elections for the imperial Parliament shall apply to all the constituencies which return Members to this Parliament. That would seem to be the natural and the logical course to pursue. Those who desire to except 13 constituencies returning Members to this House from the general electoral law, have the burden of proof laid upon them to show why this exception should be made, rather than to require us to give reasons for applying to these constituencies the same rules as apply elsewhere.
The hon. and gallant. Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) raised an extraordinary issue. He said that the ideal state of things, whether in Ireland or India or elsewhere, is that people should vote according to their religions—a plain and simple issue. If a man is a Catholic he votes for one party, and if he is a Protestant he votes for another. If he is a Mussulman he is represented by a Moslem; if he is a Hindu he is represented by a Hindu. In effect the hon. and gallant Member says: 438 "How idyllic and simple! Why interfere?"
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent me. I want the two-party system. They happen to be divided on communal lines in Northern Ireland. I do not want a multiplicity of parties. I do not mind what people vote for if they vote according to their conviction.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
The hon. and gallant Member does not seem to think that the issue matters, provided that it is simple. If the predominant issue is religious, he thinks that people should be divided according to their religious principles—an argument which would have been very suitable to the Middle Ages and from an hon. Member of this House who had the mentality of the people of that time, but coming from an hon. Member who considers himself to be a member of a highly progressive party, representing the most modern ideas and the most modern philosophy of life, this dichotomy on religious grounds in politics seems to me to be the most astounding doctrine we have ever heard.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is not intentionally misrepresenting me, though that is what he is doing in effect. I want people to vote in two parties only, for instance, Capital or Labour. Socialism is a religion to a great many people. It may be Socialism or anti-Socialism. It is only an incident that people are divided on religious grounds in Northern Ireland.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
How is any fresh party to come into existence, and how is any fresh issue to be raised unless someone somewhere at some time presents himself and appeals to the electors on a different issue? So far as Northern Ireland is concerned I am interested, because I went to Northern Ireland before the last election and got into touch with what was a very active section of the community who held views of a Liberal tendency and who thought it was a most evil thing for Ulster if she should go on for all time with her politics divided simply between Protestants and Catholics, who thought that it was far better to get away from these old historic divisions, and that a 439 fresh issue could properly be put before the electorate for their decision. In order that that should be done, it is essential that candidates should present themselves.
It is exceedingly difficult for candidates to come forward under the ordinary system of election and to be told that they are splitting a party, whether it is a Protestant party or a Catholic party, on some new issue, whether Liberal or Labour. With the Alternative Vote they may come forward and people may support them, and if they are not elected the electors may revert by their second preference to support the principles to which they have hitherto been attached and to which they still attach importance. That is the reason for the Alternative Vote. The main reason why there should be a division of these constituencies is that these vast double-Member constituencies in Northern Ireland, already twice as large as our English and Scottish and Welsh constituencies—because under the arrangement of 1920 Northern Ireland is given only half the representation, according to population, that Great Britain has—are made four times as large because they are double Member constituencies. That involves enormous expense. It is exceedingly difficult for any except the predominant party to contest the seats at all.
Those who represent the 100,000 voters in Northern Ireland who voted for Liberal candidates at the last election do appeal to this House to divide these unwieldy constituencies and to make them more practicable for the smaller parties to contest. The case for the Amendment has been most admirably stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley (Mr. P. Oliver). It would have been powerfully reinforced if from Northern Ireland there had been present my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Devlin), who has been engaged for some time past in performing his duties as a Member of the Northern Ireland Parliament, which is now sitting, and has been unable to be here in time to take part in this Debate. I know that he attaches great importance to this Amendment. For this and the other reasons I have given, I commend the Amendment to the House.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. O. STANLEY
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) made one statement which, I think, will be of considerable interest to Members from Northern Ireland. He said he would like to see the representatives from that part of the Empire on exactly the same footing as those from England, Scotland and Wales.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL indicated dissent.
§ Mr. STANLEY
But is it really logical to acquiesce in an arrangement to halve the representation of Northern Ireland in this House and at the same time to say that in the method of election Northern Ireland must stand on exactly the same footing as every other part of the United Kingdom represented in this House? I have no doubt Members from Northern Ireland would be glad to discuss with the right hon. Gentleman a system which really did place them on a basis of equality with other Members of the House of Commons but no argument can be advanced to justify the idea that where to treat them equally would be to give them an advantage, you can treat them unequally, whereas if it is to their disadvantage to do so, you should treat them on terms of perfect equality.
I was interested to note that the right hon. Gentleman never even claimed that there was in Northern Ireland any of those anomalies which he says exist in other parts of the country. We heard from him no instances in which the joint vote of two parties showed a majority in a constituency for the great cause of Free Trade, whereas a Protectionist was actually returned. In point of fact the results of the recent elections in Northern Ireland would be left unaltered by a change of this kind. The great appeal which the right hon. Gentleman has made for the Liberal minority might have had some validity, had he been supporting a proposal for Proportional Representation but he knows that the Alternative Vote system would not result in a single Liberal member being returned. This is a purely "dog in the manger" policy.
441 It is the idea that because this country is to be plunged into an absurd electoral system, everybody else should follow suit. I strongly disagree with the concluding remarks of the right hon. Gentleman. He would have us believe that the Alternative Vote is a necessity to a new young party which is rising, but I believe that view to be profoundly untrue. I believe it would be true to say so of Proportional Representation but I do not believe that the uprising of the Labour party in this country, for instance, would have been any easier or quicker under the system of the Alternative Vote than under the system which we have to-day.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Gentleman's remarks might be appropriate on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," but he must confine himself now to the Amendment before the Committee.
§ Mr. STANLEY
May I point out that I was only replying to the arguments used by the right hon. Gentleman in support of the Amendment.
§ Mr. STANLEY
Perhaps I have already dealt sufficiently with the right hon. Gentleman's argument. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy)—though I must say that he is late in the day in showing a sense of fairness towards Northern Ireland—in asking that they should be allowed to continue the system which they have at present. There is one consideration which applies to Northern Ireland and to nowhere else in connection with this matter. Northern Ireland has its own Parliament and that Parliament has decided in favour of the present system of election. Northern Ireland has, by itself, as an entity, expressed a preference for the existing system over any other and I think that in the peculiar circumstances in which they are placed, and having regard to the fact that there are no anomalies which would be redressed by this proposal, we should be doing them an injustice if we were to override their expressed wishes. I therefore hope that the Government will stand firm in resistance to the Amendment.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I hope that this Amendment will not be pressed. Certainly the Government are quite unable to say anything in its favour. It is an Amendment which, if carried, would introduce a disturbing factor into the political life of Northern Ireland, and would have far-reaching consequences upon the internal politics of Northern Ireland. There is no demand for the Alternative Vote from any considerable section of the population in Northern Ireland, and we have learned that the Government of Northern Ireland, speaking, we assume, in this instance, for the great majority of the people there, have made known their strenuous objection to the course proposed in this Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) did himself less than justice in his statement of this case. That great resource of argument and logic which we commonly expect from him has been absent on this occasion. The position in Northern Ireland is quite different from the position in this country. We have already been reminded of some interesting historical changes in our British political life. Those changes have not yet occurred in Northern Ireland, and it is because of the changes which have occurred in our modern political development in this country that the system of the Alternative Vote has been proposed.
The change suggested by this Amendment would be a far-reaching interference with the political life of Northern Ireland, and would, I am certain, create deep dissatisfaction which would have to be removed by a subsequent Act of this or some later Parliament. There has been no third party in the politics of Northern Ireland, Indeed, it can scarcely be said that the second party there is anything like a match for the first. At any rate, three-cornered contests are rare there, and it is because of the commonness of three-cornered contests in this country that this Measure is being proposed for this country. I cannot accept the view that we should apply what is meant for one situation to a wholly different situation in another country. I have looked up the records of the one instance of a three-cornered electoral contest in Northern Ireland. I think it is the one instance—it is certainly one of the very few instances—and I find that the Member returned in that case had an 443 enormous majority over the other two candidates put together. There is no instance of a minority Member in the Northern Parliament. That situation has not arisen there, and I urge upon hon. Members opposite that, in the circumstances, we should indulge only in the minimum of interference with the internal political life of Northern Ireland. That minimum interference is covered by one of the proposals in the Bill which when reached will no doubt invite a fair amount of discussion.
I am driven to the conclusion that if a change is to come about in the internal political life of Northern Ireland—and personally I hope it may come in the future—it must come by the ordinary processes of change in opinions and views. Certainly, we ought not to try to force it by any measure taken in this House. My closing words on the effect of this Amendment refer to the consequences which might result from the division of two-member constituencies in Northern Ireland into single-member constituencies. I understand that that would be very difficult, particularly in Fermanagh and Tyrone, and, at any rate, such a change could not be carried out without raising an enormous amount of controversy, and a degree of dissatisfaction which would not be discontinued when our Act had been carried out. Indeed, that might only be the beginning of real difficulties between the two Governments. The Government of Northern Ireland have expressed the opinion that it would be almost impossible to divide these constituencies into single-member Divisions with any degree of equity. They also think that any attempt to make such a Division would revive acute controversies which are, at any rate, for the moment less severe than formerly, if not entirely in abeyance. I therefore ask hon. Gentlemen opposite not to press this Amendment. Obviously they have a right to put it forward and they have not concealed the fact that it is a party claim, but I think that on balance, the pressing of this Amendment would do more harm than good, and that greater good would be done from their own point of view by its withdrawal.
§ Mr. MANDER
It seems to me that the reply of the Home Secretary is pro- 444 foundly unsatisfactory to those who sit on these benches. One of his arguments is that there is no demand for a change of this kind, but what he really means is that there is no demand for it, from his political opponents. There is a demand for it from his political friends, and the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Devlin) who invariably sits and votes with the Labour party, and who represents a very large number of Nationalists in Northern Ireland, is in favour of this change. Only physical difficulties of distance prevent him being here to speak in that sense, and I have no doubt that on the Report stage he will be here to voice his own views. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong in trying to make out that there is no demand. It is only those who sit in front of the right hon. Gentleman who do not want this change. Those who sit behind him do want it.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Is it not the fact that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Devlin) is not asking for this at all but for the restoration of Proportional Representation?
§ Mr. MANDER
The hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone will no doubt take the opportunity of stating his own views but the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) is entirely wrong—not for the first time—in his suggestion that the hon. Member does not want the Alternative Vote applied to Northern Ireland. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone is now in his place and can speak for himself on that point. Another point made by the Home Secretary is that the present Government of Northern Ireland do not want this change. Is that a convincing or overwhelming reason for not making it. The Government of Northern Ireland have not acted in this matter in a very satisfactory way. They had a system of Proportional Representation which gave a fair chance to every Interest in Northern Ireland to be properly represented, and they deliberately altered that system as soon as they were able to do so, from what, I believe, were partisan motives. As a result we do not get the same fair system—
§ The CHAIRMAN
May I point out to the hon. Member that the conditions 445 attaching to elections to the Parliament of Northern Ireland have nothing whatever to do with this Amendment.
§ Mr. MANDER
I was endeavouring to reply to the argument of the Home Secretary. I do not think that the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. O. Stanley) did justice to my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel). My right hon. Friend was referring only to the system of election. Under the present law a certain number of Members are elected for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland and all we are concerned with at the present moment is the system by which they shall be elected. We want those who do come here to be chosen by the best possible system. It may be that some think the present system is the best, and others may think Proportional Representation is the best, but at the moment the proposal is that the Alternative Vote should be applied. It seems to me that, if it is going to be applied at all, it ought to be applied logically to the whole country. I will not stand between the Committee and the bon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone any longer, because I have no doubt that they are extremely anxious to hear his views.
§ Lord ERSKINE
I thought the strongest argument that it was possible to bring against this Amendment was the remark of the Home Secretary when he said that if you applied this new system to Northern Ireland, it would mean a redistribution in that country, and that, in the opinion of the Government of Northern Ireland, the dividing up of double-Member constituencies there would once again open up that religious trouble which we all hoped had been buried and forgotten and which we should all desire never to see revived. If the Government of Northern Ireland have given the Home Office that advice, I think this Committee should follow the advice given by the Home Secretary.
I quite agree that if this Amendment were not carried, it would be illogical to have one system of voting in this country and another system in Northern Ireland, but, on the other hand, supposing the Amendment were carried, you would have an equally illogical position in Northern Ireland itself, because you would have the Northern Ireland Parliament elected on our system and the Northern Ireland 446 Imperial representatives elected on another system. Therefore, I cannot see that there is anything really in the argument about logic. The whole argument from the Liberal benches is that they want minorities represented. Most of us in this Committee agree that whatever the Alternative Vote may or may not do, about the last thing it will do is to get minorities represented, and, therefore, from that point of view, the whole argument falls to the ground.
I have no doubt the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Devlin), who has just come in, would prefer to see the system reimposed which the Government of Northern Ireland removed some years ago, and that would undoubtedly give representation to minorities, but nobody is proposing to do that. The proposal of the Liberal party is to reintroduce the Alternative Vote, which will not help minorities. Why have the Liberal party merely sought to apply this Clause of the Bill to Northern Ireland? There are a great many other Clauses in the Bill, and the only one which at present applies to Ireland is the one in regard to university representation, but there are Clauses dealing with motor cars and expenses, and surely the Liberal party would be far more logical if, instead of moving their Amendment here, they moved it in Sub-section (2) of Clause 9, and simply said: "This Act shall apply to Northern Ireland." I cannot see the object of applying one particular Clause to a particular part of the country and leaving all the other Clauses entirely unrepresented in that part. For all these reasons, I hope the Committee will not be led away by the advocates of the Liberal party who have spoken in favour of the Amendment, and that they will follow, on this occasion at any rate, the Home Secretary into the Lobby.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I should like to apologise to the Committee for not having been here at the commencement of this discussion. I was, unfortunately, engaged elsewhere, and I understood that the Amendment dealing with Northern Ireland would not come before the Committee until to-morrow. I am not responsible for this Amendment, nor have I been consulted as to the attitude which the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and his friends are taking in regard to it, but I rise to say that I 447 am in favour of the Amendment, not upon the peculiar rights or wrongs of the question of the Alternative Vote, but because I believe that a Bill of this character, which proposes to deal with the whole electoral system in these islands, should apply to every part of these islands represented in this Parliament.
I cannot understand why the Government, when they came to deal with the question of representation in the British Parliament, should have made a difference between those parts of the United Kingdom to which the Bill applies and Northern Ireland, to which the Bill also applies. I should have imagined that if there were electoral anomalies, if there were conditions which they believed legislation was required to deal with, they would have applied to every section represented in this House, whether it be England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland; and when the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Lord Erskine), who has just spoken, challenged the Liberal Members as to why they did not propose that the Bill in its entirety should apply to Northern Ireland, I can only speak for myself when I say that I am in favour of the Bill.
I spoke on the Second Reading in favour of it. I am in favour of all the provisions in the Bill, and I think that all the provisions in the Bill ought to apply to Northern Ireland. That is my position. I admit that there are other aspects of this matter that will be discussed in the Committee. I frankly say here, as I said on the Second Reading, that I am in favour of Proportional Representation. It seems to me that every party, when it is in a minority, is in favour of Proportional Representation, and when it is in a majority it is against Proportional Representation.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
Very well, Sir Robert, I do not propose to trench on that subject, which you have ruled out of order, but I want to make my position clear here and now. I have already stated what my position is to the Home Secretary. I have made representations to him, on behalf of those whom I represent, that if you in England, represent- 448 ing the popular party and progressive ideas, believe in the inefficiency of the present electoral system and its anomalies, as long as Northern Ireland is represented in this Parliament, then every provision in this Measure ought to apply to Northern Ireland. That is a very clear and unequivocal position. Hon. Members above the Gangway here are very anxious to know what our views on other aspects of this Bill are. They will get those views at the proper time, but we are only dealing now with this definite issue, and for that reason, if the right hon. Gentleman takes it to a vote, I shall vote for the Amendment.
§ Mr. A. SOMERVILLE
The Liberal party, in moving this Amendment, is true to type. It is a tradition in the Liberal party to coerce Ulster, and this Amendment is one more instance of the attitude of that party towards Ulster. The hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. P. Oliver) claimed to speak for the Liberals of Ulster. He could not have claimed to speak for the Liberals of Ulster when Ulster was fighting hard to remain part of the United Kingdom, and—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I have already called the hon. Member for Down (Mr. Reid) to order for entering upon that topic.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
I must apologise, but the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) went very widely into that point. This Parliament in its wisdom has conferred responsible government upon Ulster, and that Parliament has deliberately made choice of a method of voting, and why should we, in the endeavour to coerce that Parliament, force upon them a method of voting which, if it was left to the free vote of this Committee, would be thrown out by a very large majority? It would be impolitic and unwise to make any such attempt at coercion, and it was very satisfactory to hear from the Home Secretary that he is opposed to it. I trust that if this matter is pressed to a Division, it will be rejected by a very large majority.
§ Major HILLS
It was a great pleasure to me and, I think, to all Members of the Committee to hear the eloquent voice of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Devlin) again, especially since there must be very many Members 449 of the Committee—in fact, a majority of those sitting here now—who had not the privilege of hearing that hon. Member during the very stormy times before the Great War. He is and always will be a great and persuasive speaker, and if I disagree with him on this point, it is not that I do not do full credit to the eloquence with which he has asserted his position.
I disagree entirely with the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), who seems to have disregarded what I thought was the intrinsic Liberal principle of consulting the wishes of the people for whom you wish to legislate. He disregards and thinks nothing of the wishes of the Government of Northern Ireland, and he did not even go to the trouble of consulting the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone, so he seems to have sought to impose on Northern Ireland a system which the majority of the inhabitants dislike and for which the minority do not feel any great enthusiasm. When he said that you ought to treat Northern Ireland in the same way as the rest of the United Kingdom, I think he ignored the facts of the case. The facts of the case are that Northern Ireland stands in a different position. She has a Parliament of her own, she deals with her local affairs in that Parliament, and she only sends a small number of Members here. That Parliament was given by the Imperial Parliament the power of settling the electoral system of Northern Ireland. [Interruption.] She changed the system from Proportional Representation to the present system under the powers of the Act of 1920.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
No. The Northern Ireland Parliament has no right whatever, either constitutional or legal, to change the character of the representation of Northern Ireland in this House.
§ Major HILLS
But the electoral system was changed from Proportional Representation to the present system by the vote of the Northern Ireland Parliament.
§ Major HILLS
The fact remains that if you want to impose a new system on Northern Ireland, to which Parliament 450 has given a very large measure of local Government, I do not think you ought to do it against the wishes, as I understand them, of all parties in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. DIXON
I do not want to enter into the details of this Amendment but, if anything were necessary to show how little force there is behind it, and how little desire there is in Ulster for it, the speech of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Devlin) would have made it clear. Anyone who, like myself, has been a political opponent of the hon. Member all these years, and knows the force of his eloquence and with what power he can put a strong case, must be amazed at the weak case which he has put. The fact is that there is no desire in any part of Ulster for the Amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone said in a weak way that he would generally support it. I doubt very much whether, if he had any consultation in the city of Belfast, he would agree to it. We would not mind having Tyrone and Fermanagh divided again. We always had a Unionist Member for Fermanagh in this House, and if we had to cut up Tyrone and Fermanagh again—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The only thing that arises here is whether the system that is applied to this country shall be applied to Northern Ireland. The question of the Irish constitution does not arise.
§ Mr. DIXON
I was only mentioning the constitution as an illustration. When we accepted the 1920 Act, we agreed to a certain number of Members from Ulster in this House. We were very careful indeed to see that our rights in this House were maintained, because we were essentially Unionists. The right hon. Gentleman who now leads the Liberal party was responsible for bringing in this Act, and from the time when I was asked to go to Ulster as the head of the political office there I was in these 451 negotiations, and I want to say here and now—and I wish the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) were here—that the right hon. Gentleman assured us that, if we took this Act and worked it, the Members in this House would never be interfered with. He assured us again and again on that fact in the strife and bitterness at that time, and, unless we had had the absolute condition laid down that we would not be interfered with in this House, we would never have accepted the 1920 Act. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, in my presence, promised that he would never interfere with us, and yet this Liberal Amendment is forced in the teeth of a Labour Government. I thank the Home Secretary very much—and I know the people of Ulster will—for the honest and straightforward manner in which he has dealt with this question. I say, frankly, that I am a lifelong Conservative and Unionist, but I would rather be under a Labour Government in Ulster than under any Liberal Government. We disagree entirely with any interference with our constitution in Ulster—
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
On a point of Order. Is there any question before the Committee of interfering with the constitution of Ulster?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I do not think that there is any question of interference with the constitution of Ulster, but there is a slight misunderstanding about the application of the word.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
On a point of Order. I limited the observations I made and confined my speech to the specific purpose for which the Amendment was proposed, at your request, Sir Robert. I had tremendous things to say, and I would have loved to discuss the constitution of Ulster and all that has occurred in Ulster if I were permitted to do so, but, in view of the limits of your Ruling, I felt that it was necessary that I should confine myself entirely to the merits of the question of the Alternative Vote. The right hon. Gentleman has made a speech which I am sorry has been made after I made my speech, so that I cannot reply to it.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I do not intend that the right hon. Gentleman shall discuss the constitution of Ireland. If he thinks that this Amendment is a violation of that constitution, he may say so, but he cannot discuss it.
§ Mr. GRAY
In view of what has been said in this Debate, certain corrections should be made. The Committee have been told that there is no demand whatever in Ulster for this alteration in the method of election. According to information handed to me, both the Labour and Liberal parties have passed resolutions in favour of it. I would suggest to the Committee that there is a, wider reason even than that for applying this proposal to Northern Ireland. You are electing both in Northern Ireland and in this country representatives to this House, and the onus of proof lies on the other side to show why there should be a different method of election in one part of the Empire which is sending representatives to this country from the 453 method in the other part. I would remind the Home Secretary that, if it is a fact that there are no three-party contests in that portion of the Empire, the operation of this Clause does not arise. If only two parties are fighting each other, it does not make the slightest difference to them whether they have the Alternative Vote or not. The adoption of the Alternative Vote only arises where there are more than three parties contesting for a seat, for the object of the system is to secure that the representative who comes to this House shall represent the majority of his constituents. I can see no reason whatever, and no reason has been advanced, why the system should not apply to Northern Ireland as much as to the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. PERRY
I do not intend to enter into the merits of the Alternative Vote, but I want to submit that all the arguments in support of the Alternative Vote can be applied with equal force to Northern Ireland, and it should be laid down very definitely that this House must not surrender its rights to govern the conditions under which Members of this House are elected. I much regret that exception has been taken to the Amendment by Members opposite on the ground that it is coercion upon Northern Ireland. If their arguments are to be accepted, we shall be faced with a repetition of them when the representation of the universities Clause comes before us. Some of us on these benches feel very strongly that Members from Northern Ireland come to this House on special occasions and very rarely in the interests of those who are supporting this Bill—
§ Mr. PERRY
I beg your pardon, but I was led away. I want to make plain that this House must retain its right to lay down the conditions which govern the election of Members to this House, and, if the principle of the Alternative Vote is good for Great Britain, it may be just as good to those who come from Northern Ireland.
Sir W. ALLEN
I wish to make an appeal to the Committee to stop messing about with Northern Ireland. You gave it to us in a 454 mess, and we have cleared up that mess. We have made a success of it, and I say, "Stop messing about with us." What is behind this Amendment? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) pointed out that if the Alternative Vote were given to Northern Ireland, it is possible that more Liberal Members would be returned for Northern Ireland. That is his idea. Presumably, because we have no Alternative Vote there, we return 11 Unionist Members, and the right hon. Gentleman wants the Alternative Vote with the possibility of getting in a few Liberals—
Sir W. ALLEN
Now we have the real secret. [Interruption.] That is the compact from beginning to end. We have the secret of this Amendment in a speech which was delivered by the right hon. Member for Darwen on the 2nd of February:There are the Ulster Members, a strange anomaly. I do not suggest, in view of the circumstances in Ireland, that it is possible to reform it, but the fact remains that there are 13 Members in this House with the right to vote on all Measures, although hardly any of the legislation which we pass affects them, and although they have a Parliament of their awn. In the critical division of last week, on which the fate of the Administration probably depended, although the Trade Disputes Bill does not apply to Ulster except in so far"—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am at a. loss to understand what this has to do with the Amendment before the Committee.
Sir W. ALLEN
I wish to emphasise the fact that the right hon. Member for Darwen sustained this Amendment on the ground that the Alternative Vote would give a different colour to the Members who come from Northern Ireland. I submit that I am entitled to put that view before the Committee.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I can see nothing wrong in the argument that to apply this measure to Northern Ireland may give an opportunity for the people there to send representatives of a different complexion. That is the argument, and the hon. and gallant Member can accept it or not.
Sir W. ALLEN
We are concerned with the Alternative Vote. What is the object of the Alternative Vote?
§ The CHAIRMAN
We can discuss that on the question of the Clause standing part. All that this Amendment is concerned with is whether the Clause shall apply to Northern Ireland.
Sir. W. ALLEN
The fact of the matter is, I have read only one clause of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. The particular point which has reference to the Alternative Vote is in the latter end of his reference to Northern Ireland, where he goes on to say:except in so far as it relates to a small number of civil servants who are not employed by the Ulster Government, the Ulster Members attended in this House, and by a majority of 11 to one cast their votes against the Measure "—That is, the Trade Disputes Bill. I do not want to go any further than that, except to say that the right hon. Gentleman concluded:with all the consequences that might have ensued."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd February, 1931; col. 1504, Vol. 247.]The consequences are past, as we know. The right hon. Member for Darwen did his utmost when he was over there to get some Liberals amongst the Ulster Members, and because he did not succeed—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member must apply himself to the Amendment, and the Amendment is that the Clause shall apply to Northern Ireland. We are not discussing the value of the Clause as a whole. It is a very simple Amendment.
Sir W. ALLEN
All right. I will take another opportunity of presenting my view. Meantime, may I conclude as I started—for Heaven's sake do stop messing about with Northern Ireland, and let us get on with our affairs.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ Sir S. HOARE
I rise to ask the Committee to reject this Clause, because it contains a proposal which will only complicate our electoral law and lead to political wangling, and because there is no demand for it in the country. Even in the short time which has elapsed since the Bill was introduced, the Alternative Vote has obviously become more and more unpopular. It is nobody's friend. Only this afternoon the Home Secretary, in an interesting speech, said he would 456 not apply the Alternative Vote to Northern Ireland, because Northern Ireland did not want it, and because it would be a disturbing factor there. What he said about Northern Ireland is equally true about England, Scotland and Wales. There is no demand for it in any of the countries of the United Kingdom, and if it is introduced it will equally be a disturbing factor in all of them. During the discussions in the Ullswater Conference, the Socialist delegation were extremely half-hearted about the Alternative Vote. Some of the members of the delegation definitely declared against it; others said they might support it if it were associated with a number of other propositions, some of which are not in this Bill. There certainly was no enthusiasm for it; indeed, if we had had a free vote at the conference, I think the majority of the Socialist members would have voted against it.
As to the Conservatives, there is not a Conservative who has anything to say for it at all. As a party we are all opposed to it. We still believe that much the best way of managing elections is to see that the man who comes first on the poll is elected and that we should maintain a simple system which is easily understood by the electors and gets elections over in an expeditious manner. Even the Liberals, who, I suppose, are mainly responsible for the introduction of this proposal, are, or certainly were, almost equally halfhearted about it. In the Ullswater Conference, as I reminded the House in the Second Reading Debate, the Liberals declared categorically that any change in the electoral law ought to include Proportional Representation. This proposal is contradictory of Proportional Representation. If Parliament passes the Alternative Vote, it will set up a system destructive of any system of Proportional Representation, and the adherents of Proportional Representation, of whom there are many in the country, will not have the least chance of seeing the reform to which they attach so much importance passed during their lifetime. It cannot be said too clearly that the Alternative Vote and Proportional Representation are directly contradictory, and if we pass this Clause we sound the death-knell of Proportional Representation in the lifetime of any hon. Member of this House.
457 I suggest that is an unfortunate state of affairs. Whatever may be our individual opinions, many hon. Members believe that under Proportional Representation minority representation would be much better assured, and it is unfortunate that, owing to the way in which this Bill has been drafted, those hon. Members have no opportunity of putting their alternatives to the House. It comes to this, that none of the three parties is enthusiastic over this proposal. One of them is definitely opposed to it; the Labour party is obviously divided in its views about it; and even the Liberals, judged by recent articles in their own Press, the "News-Chronicle" and the "Manchester Guardian," seem almost as half-hearted about it as many hon. Members sitting in other parts of the House. I am not surprised that there is this singular lack of enthusiasm for the proposal we are asked to debate this afternoon. The more we look into it the worse it becomes. At first sight it may appear attractive to try to find a way to ensure an elector getting a second choice in a constituency if his first choice does not obtain an absolute majority, but when we come to turn that idea into practice we find that we are involving the country and our electoral system in far worse anomalies than any existing to-day.
I do not propose to go in any detail into all these many anomalies. I dealt with some of them during the Second Reading Debate and I will restrict myself now to one, the fact that the voters for the candidate who comes in first but does not obtain an absolute majority of the votes given are deprived of the advantage of an effective second preference, while the votes for the candidate who comes in last have a second preference so effective that it controls the result of the election altogether. Put into a single sentence, the Alternative Vote means that the man who comes in last controls the election. Let hon. Members, out of their own experience and knowledge of their constituencies, imagine what will happen. They will be constantly looking over their shoulders to see which of the three candidates is likely to come in last and how they can get the second preferences of the candidate who does come in last. Suppose, as may very well happen, that freak candidates are put up in certain constituencies. Take a concrete instance. Suppose that Communist 458 candidates are put up in a certain Labour constituency. It may well be that they will not have the least chance of being elected. It may well be that they will obtain so few votes that it will be impossible for them to be elected. In that case, 500 or 600 votes polled by a Communist might control the result of an election. I am taking the case of the candidate who obtains an insignificant number of votes, but, whose votes may well control the final result of the election. It seems to me that such a proposal is a caricature of any system of representative government. It comes to this, that in a great industrial city where the candidates poll very near to each other, it may be that a few hundred second preferences of the third candidate will decide which candidates are sent to this House to represent the constituency.
My objections do not end there. They go much further, and even deeper. I am afraid that just as there will be wangling between one candidate and another in a constituency to obtain the second preferences of the last candidate, what is much more serious is that there will be wangling between one party and another in order to secure the minority vote. The result will be that you will find one party making an alliance with another party for this purpose. On this question, I am not merely stating my own idle conjectures, but I am basing what I am saying on actual experience, and what has happened in places where the Alternative Vote has been applied. It has been applied in Australia. On the Second Reading of this Bill, I quoted an instance in Australia, to which no answer has been given, in which the two anti-Socialist parties combined against the Socialist party, and, although the votes of the Socialist party were very little less than the votes of the anti-Socialist parties, not a single Socialist Member was elected to the Australian Senate. What better example could you have of those political alliances to which I have alluded under which two parties can combine to eliminate the third party altogether? This system, so far from ensuring the representation of a minority, can be used to destroy a minority altogether. I am quite sure that, under the Alternative Vote, we 459 shall see another very unfortunate result. We shall see an attempt made to make political alliances between two parties, and, as a result, political principles will be blurred and party issues destroyed.
There are two conceptions of political life and representative institutions. There is one conception held by people who think that it is better to have Government by groups elected for a certain length of time irrespective of the defeat of the Government in office; and that it is better—to put it in a sentence—to substitute for the present party system the Continental system of Government by groups. The other conception, which I hold very strongly, is that it is much better to keep the party issues clear, and to have a strong Government in office with a majority behind it based upon clear issues easily understood by the people. It is much better that the Government should go out of office when it has been defeated, and face the electors upon clear-cut and definite principles. I would rather see an election fought upon definite principles, upon the principles of Socialism, Protection or Free Trade, than see a system under which candidates in almost every constituency would be looking round to see how they could make terms with one of their opponents, with the inevitable result that they would come back to this House, not as the representatives of one party, but as a kind of hybrid representatives of several different shades of opinion.
For these reasons, I hope that the House will refuse to adopt this Clause. I hope that the Home Secretary, when he comes to reply, will tell the House that he is prepared to treat this proposal in the same way as he said that he was going to treat the proposal in regard to the representation of the City of London, when he told the House that he intended to take off the Government Whips in the Division dealing with the continued representation of the City of London. The Alternative Vote is of much greater importance than the proposals connected with the City of London. This Clause cuts across the ordinary party issues, and for these reasons I hope that the Home Secretary will adopt the same course as that which he intends adopting with regard to the City of London. Let him 460 take off the Government Whips and treat this House as a council of State, leaving hon. Members to decide upon its merits a proposal which directly affects every constituency in the country. I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman comes to reply to the Debate, he will give the Committee an opportunity of taking a free vote, and will allow Members to vote in accordacne with their personal experience, aye or no as to whether they want this change or not.
§ Captain Sir ERNEST BENNETT
I should like to refer at the outset to the argument used by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) with regard to elections in Australia. The analogy which the right hon. Gentleman seeks to establish between the elections to the Australian Senate and the Bill before the Committee is wholly misleading. The States were large multiple-membered constituencies and the names of the representatives of the parties are printed on the ballot paper. Before the election, the parties wangle or arrange amongst themselves who shall he voted for. The result of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea speaks in connection with the Senate does not occur in the ordinary elections in Australia in single member constituencies.
May I call attention to some of the arguments which have appeared in the Press in the reports of speeches by the opponents of the Alternative Vote? One persistent argument brought against the Alternative Vote is that it is alleged to be a political move which has been described by the "Times" as an electoral dodge. The whole origin of the Measure is said to be a desire for the confirmation of some form of Liberal-Labour alliance, but I would point out that there is not an item in this Bill, including the Alternative Vote, which has not been discussed for a generation or more. I entered this House in 1906 for the first time, and on that occasion we were so much concerned about this question that the Government established a Royal Commission which reported in 1910, giving general approval and a unanimous decision in favour of the Alternative Vote.
It has been said that this is an attempt to establish a third party in British politics. There are those who seem to 461 think that the Liberal party is likely to disappear, but I do not think that a party which secured one-fourth of the votes recorded at the last Election is at all likely to disappear rapidly. My view is that, instead of going back to the old two-party system, we are more likely to have several more parties, and the events of the last few weeks have shown the ease with which new parties may be created in various sections of the House. You may destroy the Liberal party, but you will get other parties in its place. Uno avulso non deficit alter. The origin of this Measure is really a matter of sheer justice, and that is why I am in favour of it. There is not a Member of the House, of any of the three parties, who will object a priori to the justice of the principle of the Second Ballot, and this proposed method of the Alternative Vote is a reproduction of the Second Ballot in the best possible form. There are two reasons why the Second Ballot has never been wholly popular in practice. One is the difficulty of getting the electorate up to the scratch again, and the second is the unnecessary expense of two elections one after the other. The Alternative Vote gives all the advantages of the Second Ballot without its disadvantages, and it has one more good point. In the Second Ballot there is always the factor of the jumping cat. We all like to back a winner, or to be in the swim with the winning party, and in the Second Ballot there is a tendency for the apparent winner in the first election to get the biased support of other people. That is avoided in the case of the Alternative Vote.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea hinted at what he called "wangling" or corrupt bargaining. If, however, corrupt bargaining exists in politics, it will go on whether you have the Alternative Vote or not. One would think, to listen to the right hon. Gentleman, that such a thing as "wangling" or agreement—I will not say it is corrupt—between parties has been hitherto unknown, but before 1929 we had quite a group of political hybrids who owed their position to arrangements between themselves and the Conservative party. Mercifully the Augean flood of 1929 swept most of them away, but the thing goes on as a political phenomenon, and it may continue. We 462 may talk about corrupt wangling and arrangements between parties, but I have had a great deal of experience in elections, and have come to the conclusion that the electorate is not so easily marshalled and directed by its political bosses as people sometimes imagine. How many of the intelligent people who returned Members on this side of the House ever go to a political meeting, even in the streets, ever read the "Daily Herald," or ever pay the slightest attention to the party organisation? And the same story can be repeated of the less enlightened people who send hon. Gentlemen opposite to this House. People who have experience in this House know perfectly well that the ordinary elector, the person who really returns parties, is not a political person in himself, but is one who votes according to the horse sense of the British people, and is absolutely free from the trammels of political organisation. This "wangling" is largely a slogan and a fiction.
The Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) seemed to suggest that the Alternative Vote was rather a disagreeable novelty, and that people at Hastings or Hull could not or would not understand it. It seems to me, however, that the present generation has been almost brought up on the principle of the Alternative Vote. [Interruption.] The great trade unions, for instance, elect their leaders very largely on the principle of putting the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on after their names, and every day we see competitions in which people are asked to place in order their favourite Ministers, or film stars, or patent medicines. Indeed, it has become an acquired aptitude of people to pass judgments in this way.
The matter, as I have already said, is one of essential justice. How can an electoral system be justified which produces results of this type? Eleven counties South of the Thames and Severn returned, in 1924, 84 Conservatives, one Liberal, and no Labour Member. In those eleven counties, 1,500,000 votes returned 84 Conservatives, and 1,000,000 votes returned one Liberal and no Labour Member. The figures for the county of Durham in the 1929 Election are more startling still. In Durham, in 1929, Labour secured 400,000 votes, and the Conservatives and Liberals between 463 them secured 390,000 votes. There was only a difference of 10,000 between the two, and yet Labour had 17 Members, the Conservatives one, and the Liberals none.
§ Mr. BECKETT
May I ask my hon. Friend if he is aware that in most of those constituencies Labour had a very large clear majority, so that the Alternative Vote would make no difference whatever?
§ Sir E. BENNETT
That is a matter for discussion. Those are the results which were produced under the present system.
§ Captain GUNSTON
Is the hon. Member aware that the whole of hire argument is in favour of Proportional Representation?
§ Sir E. BENNETT
Many people in the House would have preferred Proportional Representation, but everyone in the House is perfectly certain that we could never get it, and that is the reason why no sensible Government would ever propose Proportional Representation. I was on the Ullswater Commission, and I know that the Conservative representatives on that Commission paid lip service to Proportional Representation, but I should like to see a Conservative Government, if they are ever returned to power again, bringing in a Bill for Proportional Representation. We know perfectly well that the English people are not ready for it and would not have it at present, but sooner or later at the next General Election they will have the Alternative Vote. I find a note or two of disapproval from other sources. One rather gathers from this discussion that the idea of some people is that the reason why we come to the House of Commons is to secure the integrity of parties. I differ entirely from that view. That is not the summum bonum of our work here. I think some Members on my side of the House have said that they are not in favour of the Alternative Vote because they will lose their seats. What an absurd thing to say! I have said to them, "What does it matter if you do lose your seat?"
§ Sir E. BENNETT
I should be the last person to wish to see my hon. Friend 464 knocked out. The essential reason for this Measure is to secure the obvious right of the ordinary elector to be represented, as far as is humanly possible, fairly and squarely in this House.
Sir F. HALL
On a point of Order. I should like to know where we are drifting to. May I ask the Government whether this Clause is going to be left to a free vote of the House, because the Home Secretary, in dealing—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Dunnico)
That is not a point of Order. A point of Order should be addressed to me.
Sir F. HALL
The Home Secretary referred this afternoon to Sub-section (4), which excepts the City of London, and he indicated that, as far as that was concerned, he was going to leave it to a free vote of the House. In the circumstances, may I ask whether that is the intention of the Government? They cannot have two Divisions on this Clause. Are they going to leave it to a free vote of the House?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I understood that the hon. and gallant Member rose to a point of Order. A point of Order must be addressed to the Chair.
Sir F. HALL
I beg pardon. With all deference, naturally I was addressing it to you, Sir, but I want to know what is the position. Are you going to allow, in the circumstances—is there going to be a free vote, after the statement of the Home Secretary this afternoon?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
In reply to that point of Order raised by the hon. and gallant Member, let me say that if Clause 1 is passed, it will leave the City of London precisely as it is. Clause 1 simply deals with the method of election; it does not deal with the basis of qualification. I hope that that explanation is satisfactory to the hon. and gallant Member.
Sir F. HALL
Then, in those circumstances, the Home Secretary, when he made that statement this afternoon, was absolutely wrong?
§ Captain BOURNE
The hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Sir E. Bennett) is, I think, one of the very few Members in the House who really believe in the Alternative Vote for its own sake, but, 465 even so, it seems to me that he can produce extremely few arguments in its favour. One of his main arguments was based on the number of Members returned for different counties at the last election, and the total numbers of votes case for the different parties. That argument started in the Ullswater Conference, and we heard it many times in the course of the Second Reading Debate, but, although it may be an argument, and a strong argument, in favour of Proportional Representation, it is no argument whatsoever for the Alternative Vote. Indeed, the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Beckett) pointed out that in the case of Durham a large number of Socialist Members were returned with absolute majorities, so that in that case the Alternative Vote would not come into play and minorities would have got no representation. As regards the representation of minorities, I submit that this scheme is useless.
The other argument put forward by the hon. Member for Central Cardiff was that the Alternative Vote is an. improved form of the Second Ballot. There I would venture to differ from him. I do not think that even he would contend that had the country, which went to the vote at the last election in what perhaps I may term somewhat of the mugwump frame of mind, been faced with the results of a first ballot in which Members were returned with absolute majorities, we should have had the present House of Commons. It would have been perfectly obvious at the end of those first elections that we were drifting towards a state in which no party would have a majority, and something in the nature of a deadlock in parliamentary life. Whatever else the country wanted at the last election, I do not believe it wanted that. It may have preferred that hon. Members opposite should be given a clear majority, or it may have preferred that we should be given a clear majority, but it would have been obvious at the end of the first ballot that hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway would not have been able to form a Government, and the choice must have been between one of the two major parties; and I believe that, as a result of a second ballot, one or other of those parties—I hesitate to say which—would have had a clear majority, and much of what has gone on during these last two years, which I believe has done 466 little to encourage or enhance the prestige of Parliament, would not have taken place.
I regret that the Government have introduced this Bill in a form which makes it absolutely impossible for the Rouse to discuss any other method of securing representation for minorities. The Alternative Vote does not do that. I fear it from the point of view that anyone who is standing as a Parliamentary candidate will in the future have to consider which of his opponents' supporters are likely to give him the most, second preferences, and he will have to give promises to the supporters of that candidate in order to make certain of their second preferences if he is not fortunate enough to secure a clear majority. No party wangle can be Successful, because the conditions in which it can operate vary, but that will not stop candidates from tying themselves up with pledges to people from whose views they entirely disagree, but whose votes they may need. One may say one has no use for these promises, but, if you once get to the state when those votes may turn an election, how many people would be able to withstand the temptation?
There seems to be a possibility of an increase in the number of parties. One Member who has lately left the Government party is threatening to run 400 candidates at, the next election. I would ask hon. Members opposite to consider their position under the Alternative Vote. Presumably, if the hon. Baronet is successful, and those 400 candidates materialise, most of them will have to face the possibility of one of his candidates running. I do not know, and I hesitate to prophesy, what success they will obtain, but generally speaking, unless they are backed by a powerful Press, in the rough-and-tumble of a. General Election candidates not belonging to one of the older parties will tend to go to the bottom of the poll. They will not have the same chances as they get in by-elections. In that case hon. Members may well wonder whether they will not have to hold out the olive branch in order to get those votes, although, at the same time, the candidates are attacking them and must, if their leader's manifesto is to be carried out, attack the present Government.
467 This proposal is the worst of all possible alternatives to the present system of electioning. Under Proportional Representation at least you can guarantee minority representation. It would achieve a definite result. The Alternative Vote does nothing. It will not achieve the representation of minorities. It will do nothing to make the Conservative party more strongly represented in Wales, or the Socialist party in Surrey and Sussex. It will leave us open to the difficulty of having to decide with which of our opponents' parties we are going to try to curry favour in case we do not get an absolute majority. You are likely to get back a Government part of whose supporters are pledged to the view of one political party and part to the view of another, and the resulting weakness will be so great that the Government will be even more incompetent than Governments are at present, and will do less, and the prestige of the House will sink lower and lower. On that ground alone, I should condemn the Alternative Vote as the worst of all possible devices. In the Second Reading Debate there was hardly a good word said for it in any quarter of the House. I hope the House will show its true feeling, and will send this preposterous proposal the way it deserves to go.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
On the Second Reading a month ago, I stated, to the best of my ability, the case for the Alternative Vote, and pointed out the very grave defects that attach to the existing system. To the latter part of our arguments hardly any reply has been vouchsafed by those who oppose the Measure. We pointed out the very grave objections and dangers that arise from the present system, but nothing has been said to meet those arguments. I asked, and I ask again, is it right, is it in accordance with the principles of democracy that, if at the next election a great majority of the electors vote for candidates who support Free Trade as a predominant issue, the House of Commons elected at that General Election should legislate in the opposite direction? That is a plain, simple question to which a definite reply could and ought to be given. I do not limit it, of course, to the next election or to that particular issue. If at some 468 subsequent election another great problem is before the electorate, for example, the adoption of definite Measures of a Socialistic character, and the majority of the electors vote for candidates who oppose them, would it be right that the Parliament which follows should carry out definitely Socialistic Measures? [Interruption.] No, there are no such Measures. [Hon. MEMBERS: "The Trade Disputes Bill!"]I am putting the general constitutional question. I say that, no matter what specific instance may be given, neither at the present time nor at any time is it right that you should have a constitution embodying an electoral system which permits the constituencies to decide in one direction and a House of Commons to be elected and to vote in the opposite direction. I challenge those who oppose this Clause to deal with that specific issue.
I do not propose to go over again the ground I attempted to cover on the Second Reading, but I shall endeavour to reply to the answers that were given to our contentions so far as the actual working of the Alternative Vote is concerned. Very able speeches were made, as one would expect, from the benches above the Gangway in criticism of the proposal. There were speeches by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), who has spoken again to-day, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spark-brook (Mr. Amery), by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir H. Young), by the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Stanley), the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan) and others. I heard all those speeches, and I have since read them and re-read them. As one would expect, I do not think anything has been left unsaid which could have been said in objecting to the Alternative Vote in principle and in practice. If I take those speeches and endeavour to reply to the specific arguments which have been addressed in them, I feel that I shall have completely covered the grounds of objection to the Alternative Vote, and that nothing will have been overlooked.
The arguments are numerous. In the first place, these Members say that the Alternative Vote is a system which does not really effect the object it has in view, 469 namely, the choice of the Member who is approved by the majority of the electors, because, if the second preference votes given to the candidate who is the second on the poll were counted, it might be found that the candidate who on the first count was at the bottom of the poll, and, therefore, ruled out, would have been the man who would really be approved by the great majority of the electors. That is to say, if a Labour man is at the top, a Conservative second and a Liberal third, and the Liberal is wiped out, his second votes are transferred and Labour is elected, but if the votes of the Conservative had been counted, they might have preferred the Liberal, and he would have been elected Member for the constituency. I take that argument first because it is the only one that has some measure of substance in it. It does not matter for the sake of the argument whether it is Liberal, Labour or Conservative. It is conceivable in particular cases that, if there were a fresh ballot, the third candidate might have secured the approval of the general opinion of the constituency more than either of the other two. My answer to that is two-fold. In the first place, the candidate who is at the bottom of the poll has received less than a third of the first preferences of the electors. I doubt very much whether by any system of elections it would really be proper to bring him to the top of the poll, and to say that he really represents the constituency as a whole. If he is to be the Member for the constituency, he ought to command the primary support of a more substantial body of the constituency than that.
§ Mr. ALBERY rose—
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
Indeed I do, but this is rather a complicated argument, and I must ask to be allowed to develop it in my own way.
The second argument is that this will be very rare case in which a man who, on the first count, is really at the bottom of the poll would, nevertheless, be swept up to the top. Cases are few in which the three candidates are close together. As a rule the third candidate is a long way down, 'and it is very unlikely that he would receive a sufficient number of 470 second preferences to bring him to the top. I do not deny that the case is a possible one, but my answer to it is that, whereas in this small number of cases you possibly commit an injustice, the present system in an enormous number of cases most certainly commits an injustice in securing the election of a Member who is undoubtedly not approved by a majority of the constituency in first and second preferences. There is a point of substance in this. It must be admitted that here the Alternative Vote system is not perfect, but no system is perfect—not even Proportional Representation. If there are to be a few exceptional cases in which this argument has substance and a vast number of cases in which the argument has substance under the present system, and if we have a choice between the two, we ought to change the present system and submit to the occasional unfairness of the Alternative Vote. That is the only point of substance, I think, that can be raised in criticism of this proposal. The other arguments I will deal with one by one.
It is repeated constantly that the effect of the Alternative Vote is that the party lowest on the poll controls the election. The right hon. Member for Chelsea has said so again this afternoon, and the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook even went so far as to say that this is a new method of plural voting. He said, to use his own words, that a plural vote is given to those who have been the least successful in a particular election. The right hon. Gentleman, surely, has been speaking with less than his usual acuteness. A plural vote means that one elector has more electoral power in a constituency than another elector. Let us see if that is so. The ordinary form of plural voting, as in the old days, is that one man may be allowed to give two votes whereas another person has only one vote. That is plural voting. Or a man might be allowed to give a vote in one constituency for one Member and a vote in another for another Member. That is plural voting. But where is the man who has had two votes for a Member who is elected to this House under a system of alternative voting? No man has more than one vote.
Suppose, for example, in a particular election, on the first count there are 12,000 votes for the Conservative candi- 471 date, 10,000 for the Labour candidate, and 6,000 for the Liberal candidate. If the Liberal vote is divided 3,000 to one and 1,000 to the other, and as a result one of the other two—I will not say which—gets 14,000 and the other gets 13,000, can you say that the Liberal electors have had plural voting if they exercise no more electoral power in the constituency than the 12,000 Conservatives or the 10,000 Labourists? Suppose you have a balance and have a pound of lumps of sugar in one scale and a pound of lumps of sugar in another scale, and you put an additional lump of sugar into one scale and it tips the balance, that one lump of sugar has no more voice, so to speak, in the decision which way the scale will tip than all the other lumps of sugar already in the same scale. The only way in which it receives importance is the fact that it is the last lump. It is not a plural lump. It is only one lump. There is no plural voting on the part of that lump of sugar, and it has no more weight in the scale than any previous lump in the same scale or any of the individual lumps in the other scale.
§ Mr. AMERY
Perhaps when the right hon. Gentleman has finished the sugary part of his discourse, he will come back to the point of plural voting. Would he be in favour of a man having a plural vote voting in one constituency unsuccessfully and then exercising the vote in another—two chances? I do not think there is a very essential difference in giving a man two chances.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
The right hon. Gentleman has just displayed very clearly to the Committee that confusion of thought of which I was complaining. There is no analogy at all. There you have an elector who votes for two Members of Parliament. He has two distinct voices in the decision of the affairs of this House—double the power of anyone else. The other case is this: Hon. Members above the Gangway have spoken of all kinds of metaphysical and mathematical abstractions, and they talk about the comparative value of first and second preferences and how you can weigh them individually. They have nothing to do with it at all. If you come to deal with individual electors, John Smith goes to the poll and says, "I would like to see 472 Brown elected." If Brown is not elected, that same John Smith says—[Interruption]—I am happy to think that that contingency does not arise in Leith, but if it should arise in some other constituency, this one individual elector, who does not have a plural vote, giving two votes to one person, says: "If there is no one left in the poll except Jones and Robinson, I prefer Robinson," or Jones, as the case may be. All these mathematical and metaphysical questions do not arise in the least degree. The notion that the voters who transfer their votes, who may belong to one party in one case and to another in another, under the system of the second ballot or of the Alternative Vote, have double the power of anyone else is a mere delusion.
The next objection raised is that the mind of the electors would be confused by a system which they might not understand. I am convinced that that greatly underrates the intelligence of the British elector. The system is perfectly plain and clear. The elector is merely asked to vote for one candidate, and if he wishes he can give a second preference to another by putting the figure 2 against his name. If he does not wish, he need not do so. In the Irish Free State they have a system of Proportional Representation which is far more complicated, and there you have an electorate in which, without disrespect to the Irish people, the standard of education is not generally quite as high as in this country. And yet over a series of years in which the system has been in operation there have been hardly any spoilt votes.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
They have very few spoilt votes. Under this far more complicated system of voting, I believe that only a little over one per cent. of the votes have been spoilt. No one would really seriously attach importance to the argument that it is too complicated a system for the average British elector to understand. These is the argument—repeated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea on more than one occasion—that the English people want a simple system in which the first man past the post is declared the winner. He has given that illustration on more than one occasion. The analogy is a 473 very false one. Whether you take a number of people competing for precedence, or a number of horses competing for victory on the strength of their individual prowess or capacity, clearly you want to select one from among several and give the prize, whatever it may be. But here you are trying to devise a system which shall, in the most effective manner possible, secure the due representation of the electorate. It is not the virtue of any individual or his capacity to win an election which is in question. The question is, as to how you are to get some thousands of electors most effectively and wisely represented in Parliament. That bears no analogy whatever to individual competition between different people.
Is this simple system of "first past the post to be declared the winner" really accepted in the ordinary affairs of life when making selections for any post? Would any town council if they were selecting a medical officer, a surveyor or a town clerk have a list of four or five candidates before them, and then say, "We will take a vote of the members of the council and whoever gets the majority shall fill the office which is in our keeping; whoever gets the largest number amongst the four or five candidates in the first vote shall be declared the holder of this office"? We have been told to-day that in the trade unions they do not adopt this system as a means of selecting their Parliamentary candidates, and even among members of the Conservative party we find that they would be far from adopting that method. I hope that I shall not be hurting the feelings of hon. Members above the Gangway if I mention the Marylebone constituency. We had the right hon. Member for Marylebone (Sir R. Rodd) declaring his intention of resigning on account of advancing years and the claims of other occupations, and the Marylebone Constitutional Association met on 9th February, when they had four candidates before them. Did they adopt this simple method of "first past the post declared the winner"? By no means. They took a poll of the four candidates, and finding that two of them had considerably fewer votes than the others, they eliminated those two and took a second ballot. They did not allow the first past the post to be the winner, 474 but allowed all the supporters of the third and fourth candidates a second choice, a plural vote, which they could transfer to one or other of the two remaining candidates.
That is exactly what happens under the Alternative Vote. All the votes given to the first two candidates in the first count are counted again, and those given to the third candidate are added to them according to the choice of the electors. In this case they did exactly the same, and instead of making it on a single ballot paper by Alternative Vote, they had two ballots. The principle is precisely the same. It is true, that at the end they were so dissatisfied with the result that they determined that they would not play, and that it would be much better not to have an election at all, and they appealed to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Marylebone to withdraw his resignation, which he did. And his sacrifice is our gain.
The next argument is, that the effect will be, if the Alternative Vote is carried into law, that candidates and Members will all be—to use a phrase which we have heard so often—angling for the bottom votes. They will be looking over their shoulders all the time to see how the supporters of the candidate who is going to be at the bottom of the poll will transfer their second preferences. They will frame their policy, if possible, to secure their support. Does that not ever happen now? In any constituency, where it is fairly clear from the beginning that one candidate is going to be at the bottom of the poll, is it not usual for both the other candidates and their supporters to say to the supporters of that candidate, "Do not waste your votes. Do not vote for your own man, as his chances are hopeless. Vote for us and the great cause of Empire unity" or, "Vote for us and the great cause"—I will not say what it is! Is it not also very frequently the case that candidates are not run? Although there may be three parties in a constituency, quite frequently one party does not find itself in a position to present its candidate. That exists under the present system. Is there no angling for votes then? Did not my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping(Mr. Churchill) make a pilgrimage to East Toxteth only 475 a few weeks ago and make a speech directed entirely and avowedly to the Liberal voters in that constituency, telling them that, as they had no candidate of their own, the best thing they could do would be to vote for the Conservative for reasons which he gave, which may have been good or may have been bad? Was that not angling for votes? Only a few days ago, at the by-election at Pontypridd quite publicly—there is no condemnation to be applied to it—the Conservatives of that constituency went to the adopted Liberal candidate and said that, on certain conditions, they would not run any candidate of their own, and would support him. Was that not a temptation to that candidate to angle for their votes? As a matter of fact, he refused those conditions with great independence and courage. The consequence is that the Conservatives have run their own candidate. That is the kind of thing that exists under the present system.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan) said that the effect of this would be that people would be looking over one shoulder and then the other to try to collect votes from quarters other than their own, that it would favour the nondescript in politics, would "aggrandise political inertia and any policy of 'Safety first,' any negative and colourless or stagnant policy." That was an unkind thing on the part of the hon. Member, remembering by whom the phrase "Safety first" was used, and in what circumstances. But, as a matter of fact, the present system does give rise to a temptation, whether candidates are run or whether they are not run, to secure accommodations between the various parties at various times. The system of the Alternative Vote will allow the candidates to run in all cases and to present themselves to the electors and will allow advice, if advice is given, to be given openly in the face of the whole country. If that advice is accepted by the electors, then they will follow it and, if they do not wish to do so, they need not. At present, arrangements are made behind closed doors. Does it never happen that Members of this House, who have been elected, not in three-cornered 476 contests, but only after two-cornered contests, are conscious of that fact in their actions here? Are they not tempted to frame their policies with that regard?
It has been said that the Alternative Vote can be used in such a way that any two parties can combine to destroy a third party. The example has been given of the Australian Senate. No example has been given, as my hon. Friend opposite pointed out this afternoon, from the Australian Lower House, where the same system exists. The system for the Australian Senate is not on the lines proposed in this Bill. Each State is regarded as a unit and elects three members, and each elector votes for three members. The working of the Alternative Vote system there does lend itself to results of the kind mentioned, but it is not the single member constituency proposed in this Bill. As for the two parties combining to destroy a third, I daresay it is possible that leaders of parties may give advice as to the use their followers should make of their second preferences, or they may not, but of this I am quite certain, that an immense number of electors, I believe a. majority, will make up their minds in their own way and according to their own judgment as to whether they will give second preferences or not, and to whom they will give them.
The notion that there exist in this country vast armies, battalions of voters who can be marched this way and that at the word of command, is a delusion, and it is a very good thing that it is a delusion. It is so, particularly in these days of a widely extended franchise and an immense mass of electors who are not definitely attached to any particular party. Those are the electors who will decide and who will use their second preferences as they now use their first preferences. If two parties or two sections of opinion hold the same view, why should they not express it openly and publicly I see there my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), who entered Parliament, if my memory serves me aright, as a Liberal Unionist. At that time a section of the Liberal party considered that the issue of Home Rule was predominant to any other. They separated themselves from the Liberal party, and at the ensuing General Election made publicly and openly an 477 alliance with the Conservative party, in what they regarded as the national interest, that they would not oppose Conservative candidates, and that Conservative candidates would not oppose them. They were returned to Parliament on that basis and in that Parliament sat as a separate and independent party, but nevertheless in close alliance with the Conservative party, believing conscientiously and, as they thought, patriotically that it was of extreme importance to keep out a Home Rule party and to maintain in power an anti-Home Rule party. It was perfectly legitimate from that point of view and on those premises. It was a proper constitutional course to adopt, and I see no reason why, if two parties hold similar views on questions of great national importance, they should not declare, in the face of the whole electorate, that they have that similarity of view and are prepared to co-operate.
The next argument is that minority Governments would still be elected, that the Conservatives would have had a majority in Parliament in 1924 although they had a minority of votes, and that this would not have been any use to the Liberals at the last General Election, and therefore would not remedy the present disproportion of strength on these benches. With regard to all those points, I would say, first, that you cannot calculate what the effect of the changed system of voting would be. All these calculations are based on the assumption that, with the Alternative Vote in existence, the first preferences would be given in all cases exactly as the single vote was given. You cannot draw any such deduction and, if you had the Alternative Vote, a great number of voters would give a different first vote from that which they give now. Apart from that, whatever the results, it is for the electors to decide. If the electors wish to crush out a third party, they should be at liberty to do so, and they will exercise their judgment. If it is not to the advantage of the Liberal party, and the Liberal party would have no closer approximation to their true electoral strength in this House, we are obliged and willing to take that risk. Derisive cries were raised on the Second Reading Debate when I said that that was not the concern we ought to have before us in deciding these 478 matters. I would repeat that, and say that our business is not to think of the existing political situation or merely of any party. We are legislating now, not for the next election, but perhaps for a long period of years, and our business is to secure that method of election which will enable the voters to do what they want to do and have returned here the people they want returned.
If hon. Members question the sincerity of my declaration, I would refer to the speech I made in 1917 when this matter was last before Parliament. I strongly advocated the Alternative Vote, and I pointed out at that time that the advantage of it was likely to accrue not to the Liberal party but to the Labour party, who were then fewer in numbers than we are to-day. I pointed out that the Labour party had contested 75 three-cornered contests in previous years and had not secured a representative in any one of them, that that was an unjust system, and that the law should be amended to prevent injustices such as that.
The last point is this: It is said that this system of the Alternative Vote will encourage the formation of groups in Parliament, that it will mean weak Governments and short Parliaments, with possibly shifting decisions in the House of Commons. Are there no groups in the House of Commons to-day? Are there not fresh groups arising almost every few weeks under the existing system? Is it not the case, as I pointed out on Second Reading, that in a majority of Parliaments of the last half century there has been no single, simple British system of a solid homogeneous Government party and a solid homogeneous Opposition? In most of the Parliaments—seven out of 12—of the last 50 years, the Government of the day have had to rely on some form of combination. These groups cannot be suppressed. New ones are being formed, and there are fissiparous tendencies in each of the three parties. What has to be done is to give the electors power to decide on each of these groups, wiping them out, if they think they are of no importance and would only confuse political issues, or, if, as in the case of the Labour party, which was originally fissiparous, they think they really represent a section of the electorate, giving them their votes 479 and ultimately giving them a large representation in Parliament.
One result must be undoubtedly that the House of Commons must accustom itself to a system in which there is not a homogeneous majority and that the methods, practices and conventions of the House may have to be modified accordingly. I am not so enamoured, and I do not think the House as a whole is so enamoured, of the system which has so long prevailed here as to say that in no circumstances can it be bettered. It does not conduce to the prestige of this House that the public should say that every Motion which is brought before this House is a foregone conclusion. In those Parliaments where there was a homogeneous majority, almost every proposal of the Government was accepted docilely by serried battalions of their followers, and opposed automatically by serried battalions of the Opposition. That does not redound to the prestige of Parliament and, if the result of a new system of election is to give to individual Members a larger measure of independence, if it is to secure that the decisions of the House shall be more free, if it is to result in the Government of the day being more willing to accept those decisions, and not to insist on resignation or Dissolution when defeated on any point, however small, that will be greatly to the advantage of the House, and will help to restore its old prestige and make its Debates more a reality than they have been hitherto.
§ Mr. BECKETT
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) always interests the House with his lucidity of statement and with the information which he has to impart. I have never known him to depart so much from his subject and to spend so much time, not in defending the subject he was supposed to be advocating but in setting up dummies which had nothing to do with the subject, and then knocking them down. In a fairly long speech, the right hon. Gentleman must have spent something like three-quarters of his time in pointing out what he considered to be the defects in the present system. It was interesting to notice that the system which is being considered by the House will hardly have the effect of removing one of those defects, but will introduce 480 a very large number of fresh ones in their place. For his peroration, that part of the speech which is intended usually for the heart and not for the head, he deserted the very unhopeful ground of the Alternative Vote and treated the Committee to a paraphrase, in his own inimitable style, of the message of Parliamentary reform which the Independent Labour party has been preaching for a very long time, namely, the absence of collective responsibility in the Cabinet, more freedom in the House of Commons, and many desirable things of that sort.
I hope that we shall have the support of the right hon. Gentleman on those lines in the future. He failed to show how any of these things would be obtained by the Alternative Vote. The one argument that he used that seemed to be a possible argument in favour of the Alternative Vote was the challenge that he threw out to anyone opposed to the Alternative Vote to say what the position would be if a minority vote in the country produced a majority of Members in this House who were opposed to some vital thing, such as Socialism, Free Trade or Protection. It is argued by very capable mathematicians that the Alternative Vote would not entirely preclude a possibility of that sort. I should have liked a definition of how it could be proved that a majority of voters in the country were against a principle of that kind when there was a majority of Members in this House in its favour.
Let us assume—I am probably with the right hon. Gentleman in hoping that it will never happen—that we had a party in this House, with 6,000,000 votes, who were in favour of full-blooded Protection, that we had another party with 4,500,000 votes who, according to the printed policy issued by their headquarters, were not in favour of Protection, and we had another party, with 2,500,000 votes who, according to their present declarations, although not according to their past record, were also opposed to Protection. How could it be possible to argue that if the larger party with the 6,000,000 votes introduced Protection that that would be going against the majority of votes in the country? That would presuppose that every voter reads carefully every printed statement from the party headquarters and ignores 481 the speeches, ignores his candidate, ignores the past records of his party and votes exclusively on that paper platform. That is not what happens.
It reminds me of the case of the very keen American political student who came here and listened to the Debates in this House for many months, and then said that the more he listened to British politics the more they puzzled him, because the Conservative party was led by a Liberal, the Liberal party was led by a Socialist, and the Socialist party was led by a Tory. The party to which the right hon. Member for Darwen belongs gives us many instances of that sort. I have heard speeches and read the election literature of many excellent candidates of his party. When they were fighting an industrial constituency it was difficult to discover that they were not Socialists, but when they were fighting a very reactionary rural constituency they became more respectable than the Conservative candidate, in order to secure votes.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I am afraid that if I allow the Debate to develop along those lines there will be replies and perhaps recriminations.
§ Mr. BECKETT
I accept your Ruling. I wanted to reply to what the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think was an unanswerable case, and the only serious argument that he put forward in favour of the Alternative Vote. Another speech in favour of the Alternative Vote was delivered by a Gentleman who was elected as a Labour candidate at the last election. He told us how since 1906, when I think he sat as a Liberal Member of Parliament, he had been listening to discussions on the Alternative Vote, and that it was, therefore, no new thing. He does not appear to have listened to the discussions that have taken place inside the Labour Party Conference, which is the governing body of our party, or the Trades Union Congress or the conference of the Independent Labour Party. At all these conferences there have been endeavours to persuade the members that the Alternative Vote or some other method was preferable to the present system, but those efforts have failed on every occasion. Every time that the Labour Party Conference or the Trades Union Congress have been asked to decide on this 482 question they have decided against It. That has been very largely due to the right hon. Gentleman who is now Prime Minister. He has made the most impassioned speeches year after year telling us of the depths of jobbery that would result and that would ruin the Labour party if the Alternative Vote was adopted.
At a conference in Glasgow, not many years ago, we heard the present Chancellor of the Exchequer saying a word in favour of a system of electoral reform, and the Prime Minister in reply made one of the most violent platform attacks that I have ever had the pleasure of hearing in any conference, telling us, as he told us at every conference when this question was discussed, that if we wanted to break the Labour party-political change then, for goodness' sake, we must have something of this sort. Having dealt with the political side in language more eloquent than I could every hope to use, the right hon. Gentleman dealt with the ethical and spiritual side and told us, as brother Socialists, what damage we should be doing if we lowered our Socialist cause by bringing in this unclean thing, which would cause us to blur the party lines of politics and knock Socialist consciousness out of politics. He said that it would be a terrible thing. It is amazing how, in the evening of a career devoted to attaching most violently and ferociously these proposals on every opportunity, the right hon. Gentleman now finds that the hopeful view that he preached to us if we retained the present system must be sacrificed in order to prolong an extraordinarily dismal present.
I have been going into the figures on which this Parliament was elected, and I find that they support the view that the Prime Minister put to us in the past. If we assume that the Labour candidates in the constituencies where there were three-cornered fights without a clear majority polled the same number of votes, and we assume that one-third of the votes of the Liberal candidates at the bottom of the poll went to the Socialist candidate, it would mean that 47 of my present colleagues would not be sitting on these benches. On going still further into the figures at the last election I find that if we take 5 per cent. off the Labour vote at the last 483 election—the by-elections have been taking from 20 to 30 per cent. off them—39 more of my unfortunate colleagues would follow the 47 who had already made way for little Liberals or good Conservatives. Although I find myself in disagreement with many of my colleagues in this House, at times, I should be very sorry to see nearly 80 of them put out in a year's time or whenever the Leader of the right hon. Member for Darwen decides to put them out in order to make way for his own followers. Perhaps it may be some comfort to the Home Secretary to know that, although we should lose 47 on the first figures and 39 on the second, we should stand to gain nine seats on an analysis of the whole position.
I do not know what is in the mind of the Government and their supporters at the moment. They may be hoping that after having successfully guillotined through the House of Commons a Bill of this nature—if they succeed in getting it through—that the hon. Members below the Gangway opposite will be so grateful that it will be possible for them to make an arrangement for the Alternative Vote to be cast. While there may be this happy and harmonious concord at the moment, events that have happened upstairs cannot yet have faded—
§ Mr. BECKETT
I am sorry to have trespassed again, but I was trying to put forward the case, as I see it, for my hon. Friends on these benches who intend to vote against this Clause, in order to save themselves from the 996 other cuts that will be coming before the Session is at an end. [Interruption.] I should be very sorry to have to leave the hon. Member anywhere.
§ Mr. BECKETT
I base my argument on that assumption because, after very considerable experience in political organisation, I have found that that is a very fair summary of how the votes would go in the ordinary way. The "Manchester Guardian" does not agree 484 with me in that summary. They seem to think that the Liberal party would suffer heavily.
§ Mr. BECKETT
I have held the view for some time in this House that British politics are tending towards a position where there will be one big reactionary party, one hybrid collection of slightly less reactionary people, diehards on one side and Socialists on the other. I am speaking for people of clear-cut principles whatever those clear-cut principles may be. I do not go so far as many of my hon. Friends and say that there is no difference between the Liberal and Conservative parties. The result of the adoption of the Alternative Vote would be to elect a second best Parliament. It represents an endeavour to get everybody's way when, in fact, it gets nobody's way. The right hon. Member for Darwen made tremendous play with what the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) said about horses passing the post, but I never heard that if the two first past the post are a dead-heat, the third should be given the prize. If we pass this Alternative Vote we shall sacrifice any clear-cut party principles and also any personality who may be attracted to the House of Commons.
Those who have taken part in politics and in the organisation of elections know that if you have a strong candidate, to whatever party he may belong, the skilled organisers of the party recognise that he is a candidate who may bring out all the sport there is but also all the opposition there is as well. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) are examples. You simply put a premium on a lack of principles by the Alternative Vote, and it is entirely erroneous to assume that you get a majority better elected. There may be a case for some change in our electoral system, but there is no case for this change. There is no urgency about it; nobody wants it. The Labour party do not want it, and it is a most astonishing thing that a Labour Government, in defiance of their own policy, on a matter of this sort, which is of no importance to the people they represent, because a Socialist has no second vote, 485 are going to put on the Whips in support of a Measure which, I say, is brought in against their own judgment, which they know is wrong and upon which no single member of the Front Bench has ever spoken in its favour.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
I gave instances of several members of the present Cabinet speaking in favour of the Alternative Vote.
§ Mr. BECKETT
I, of course, accept the right hon. Gentleman's statement. I know that several Members of the Government have spoken in favour of Proportional Representation, but I did not know that any of them had spoken in favour of the Alternative Vote. Still, I am safe in saying that a majority of Members of the Government do not want this system, and, in those circumstances, and in face of the things which they were sent here to do, it is a presumptuous waste of Parliamentary time to bring this Bill forward, knowing that it is wrong in principle and that it is sacrificing the structure upon which the Labour party is built. They have brought it in solely in order that they may entertain the nation with another six or 12 months of the degradation to which they are being treated every day and every week, and they will go down to an unhonoured and unsung defeat when they might quite easily, if they had brought in Bills which the country desires, have brought about quite a different result.
Sir HILTON YOUNG
The hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Beckett) has dealt very faithfully with the party of which he is a member and in so doing has dealt faithfully with the Bill. I will try and discharge my duty with the same fidelity. We speak on this Measure with a great sense of restraint, because as the day goes on it becomes clearer that it is impossible to do justice to the great constitutional change which is proposed in half-a-day's Debate. And how great is this constitutional change? It is nothing less than changing the motive power of the engine of democracy. At the same time there is another sense of constraint. It is felt to be against the conscience of the House of Commons that we should 486 be discussing this question at all at the present time. Let me reinforce the words of the supporter of the Government on this subject.
There is an unhappy feeling that the only purpose this discussion is serving is to draw a clothing, rather a ragged clothing, over the nakedness of the Government in the matter of good works. We ought to be discussing unemployment and the bankruptcy of the Insurance Fund; we are discussing the Alternative Vote. We ought to be discussing the accruing deficit and the dangerous state of national credit; we are discussing the Alternative Vote. We ought to be discussing dumping, which is ruining the trade of the country; instead of that we are discussing the Alternative Vote. There is an unhappy sense that in this matter the Committee is not turning its attention in the direction it should. We cannot, unfortunately, look upon this proposal as a matter of mere indifference. There are grave issues of immense importance to the nation involved. All we can attempt to do in the short time at our disposal is to make sure that the principal issues do not escape attention in the country.
The first thing that emerges from our discussion is that there are many hon. Members who are strongly in favour of a system of minority representation; and that indeed is an intelligible idea; the idea that this House should be, as it were, a reflection in miniature of the whole mind of the country. I do not think that is a good idea. The true idea of a legislature is that it should be able to legislate, and I do not think a legislature which is a reflection of every and all shades of opinion would be able to legislate. It is imaginable that Proportional Representation might secure it, but what is clear from our discussions is that it is not yet perfectly apprehended by those who concern themselves in this Debate that so far as minority representation goes the Alternative Vote will accentuate the misrepresentation of minorities. How could it be otherwise? This proposal immediately butchers the smallest party in any election. The effect of the Alternative Vote is to compel minorities to vote for somebody who they do not want, and thus you get a greater misrepresentation of minorities than before.
487 The other effect of the Alternative Vote, in accentuating the misrepresentation of minorities, is to give opportunities for agreements between parties that will actually exterminate whole substantial parties, large minorities. The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), cast some doubt upon the case from Australia quoted by the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare). May I call his attention to another case recently advertised very widely in this country, the case of an election in Canada in the Province of Alberta, where a Farmer's Party with 69,000 votes got 42 members under the Alternative Vote, the Liberal party, for whom the right hon. Member for Darwen might feel some sympathy, with 37,000 votes got only five members, and the Conservative party, for whom we feel some sympathy, with 26,000 votes got no member at all. Such is the gross misrepresentation of the true opinions of a country which results from this ridiculous system. No sir, the Alternative Vote will do nothing for the representation of minorities.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
With reference to those figures, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether they were elected by first preference votes? A large number of those voters also gave preferences to the other parties.
Sir H. YOUNG
These were first preference votes, and the representation on that balance in the Chamber was this gross misrepresentation. The second point to which we should ask the attention of the country is that for the purpose which it is proposed to serve, and that is the election of a Member for a single member constituency, the Alternative Vote is not a good way, indeed, it is one of the worst ways that could be propounded. I think something in the way of an educational effect has been gained during the course of this discussion. It is exhibited by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen. When this matter was first discussed he made a much higher claim for the Alternative Vote than he does now. On that occasion he claimed that it enables electors to do what they want to do, that is to get the best man under first and second preferences. Having put up that bluff, he succeeded in getting his friends on the Government Bench to 488 believe it. The Minister of Health goes after him in full cry and repeats with added emphasis that the Alternative Vote will insure that the person elected has the maximum support of any of the three candidates. That, of course, is precisely what the Alternative Vote does not do. The right hon. Member for Darwen now returns to the House and informs us that it is incapable of achieving that result.
We are getting on. If we have a few more Debates we may see the right hon. Member for Darwen joining with us against this proposal. How does he overcome his difficulty to-day? He does so by means of a most remarkable argument. He says that, if you have three candidates and you knock out the third, he ought to be knocked out because he cannot have secured more than one-third of the first preferences; he has such a small number of first preferences that he should be knocked out. Notice the admission contained in that argument. The admission is that there is a difference in value between first and second preferences. Because he only got such a small proportion of first preferences he must go out. Will the right hon. Gentleman continue and tell us what is the equivalent value of first and second preferences? That is what we have been trying to ascertain. Apparently, in his opinion three second preferences are about equal to a first.
The point is this: In advancing that contention the right hon. Gentleman has given away his whole case, and in fact and in logic should be supporting us. There is only one unmistakably clear and certain method by which a member can be elected to this House, and that is the opinion of the constituents that he is the best possible man for the purpose, and all other opinions, however qualified, should not be weighed at all in comparison with that. Systems have been devised and proposed—there was one proposed by an eminent Norwegian mathematician, Professor Nanson— which would get over the difficulty and result in a man who has really got the majority of first preferences and second preferences being elected, but it is so difficult to work that it has been unanimously dismissed in practice by all those acquainted with electioneering in the world of facts. It is impossible, and 489 with this impossibility goes all claim for the Alternative Vote to be looked upon as a system which can hold water in a world where fairness counts.
The second argument which, when the country fully comes to apprehend, will make them discontent with this proposed system, is the question which has come to be known as the angling for votes. One party must be at the bottom of the poll, and the other candidates must needs be considering how they can attach to themselves the voters of that party. What is the answer given to this argument? The answer of the right hon. Member for Darwen to-day, and of the Minister of Health on a previous occasion, was that after all such angling is always in progress, that there is always angling for votes at every election. Yes, there is. But notice the absolute difference between the kind of angling now and what would happen under the Alternative Vote. At the present time the angling is to get votes for your own opinions; you are trying to convert people to your opinions; you are putting forward such arguments as you can straightforwardly and are trying to attach all classes of the electorate to your own opinions. But under the Alternative Vote there would be a quite different state of affairs. Voters can vote in the first place for their own candidate, and need only vote for you in the second place. There would then be angling, not to catch the votes of people converted to your opinions, but the votes of your opponents who are opposed to your opinions. The tendency will be to weaken the opinions and principles of the candidates and to make them try to adapt those opinions to suit the greatest possible number of people who differ from them.
That is a specific dishonesty which will be bred by the Alternative Vote. In this connection the right hon. Member for Darwen said, in effect, "As regards this vote of the excluded candidate, it has no more weight in the balance than the vote of either of the other candidates. There is no plurality; he does not have a second chance." If you look at the mere number of votes passed that proposition is true; he does not have a double vote. But if you look at the influence of his vote in the election, the influence is enormously more than that of either of the other parties. Let me 490 use the right hon. Gentleman's own parallel of the lump of sugar in the scales. It is quite true that one lump weighs as much as way other lump of sugar, but suppose that when both the scales are equally full of lumps there is another lump still sitting out on the table. It is the last lump and you know that it has to go into one balance and not into the other. Is not that last lump going to exercise a special influence in the election? Of course it is. That is where dishonesty will come in.
This proposal must have the most unfortunate and unwholesome result upon our system of representation. That is a state of affairs well known in Continental legislatures which have the Alternative Vote or an equivalent system. It is a state of affairs which leads to the existence of a particularly miserable class of representatives, described to me by those who have watched the system at work. They say, "If in our legislature you see a member, possibly of great parts and ability and potential utility to the State, having from day to day a paralysed and inefficient existence, unable to make the speeches he wants to make, unable to take a straight action on any course, and unable to pull his weight in the boat, you say that he is one of the prisoners of the minority; he is one of the people returned by concessions to a minority vote." He is sterilised for all public use by the fact that he has had to make a bargain with opinions with which he does not agree. That is a state of affairs that we want to avoid. We do not want to see our politics qualified and corrupted by a class of "prisoners of the minority."
The right hon. Member for Darwen challenged us to defend the existing state of affairs. I for one do defend it without apology. In the world of to-day the majority vote is the best possible system. We are all agreed as to what we are in search of; we want the safest and soundest principle in the representation of democracy in an efficient legislature. The majority vote is the best way to get it. It is the safest, soundest, swiftest, and simplest, and the fact that it is the simplest counts for much. Consider the machinery of this Bill. It must be elaborated. The obvious injustices—which the right hon. Gentleman admits—as soon as the scheme comes into practice will so vividly strike the electorate that 491 they will at once insist upon the progressive elaboration of the scheme in order to remove the injustices, and then you will soon get to a scheme which will reduce the whole matter of an election to absolute uncertainty. It will reduce the mind of the voter about what he has to do and what result he has achieved to complete uncertainty too.
It is quite impossible that it will stop here. We shall be urged on gradually to an ever progressive advance in the elaboration of our electoral machinery. We shall go on from new complications to new complications, until in disgust and despair the electorate will insist on a return to the old safe and sound simplicity of the majority vote. That is an argument not from theory but from experience. Other countries have made that same return. This is the very last moment in which it is wise to qualify the authority of representatives of the people in Parliament. There will be great issues to be decided at the next election. I doubt whether in the memory of any of us we can think of issues so great. The country is in crisis. Immediately after the next election its decisions upon great issues—the issues of nationalisation, of further taxation for equalising incomes, of Protection, and so on—will have to be taken at a moment of crisis, with speed. It is essential that this House should command the unquestioned confidence of the people. A majority vote is the only one which gives unquestioned authority—the authority of the first choice.
At the present time it is dangerous and disadvantageous to make such a change as is proposed. But perhaps I take this Measure too seriously upon its merits. Perhaps the state of opinion is more right which looks upon it merely as a dodge. We thought originally that it was a dodge born of an agreement between the Government party and the Liberal party. We thought it was the result of that curious state of affairs which at the present time provides our country with a Government which moves in an atmosphere of intrigue more natural to the College of Cardinals at Rome than to a British Parliament. Policy is puffed about hither and thither by the fitful breezes that blow over the Welsh mountains. But apparently we were mis- 492 taken about that. This Bill was not decided upon by the Government in camera. It is impossible not to conclude that there has been a misunderstanding. We are driven to that conclusion by recent events upstairs, to which I must not refer.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the House is in Committee, and that these general observations are more appropriate on the Second or Third Reading of the Bill.
§ 8.0 p.m.
Sir H. YOUNG
I will summarise my remarks by stating that we are relieved from these unfortunate considerations by the discovery that this is not a bargain between the parties. Under these conditions, I urge the Government to view the situation and to allow a free vote of the Committee on the Bill. There are hon. Members opposite who, it is well known, do not favour the proposals of the Bill. We have that on the best authority, that of Lord Ullswater himself, who told us that at a conference on this subject the Labour party were not in favour of the Alternative Vote per se but only for the minor advantages which can be got out of they might get by attachment to the Alternative Vote. I ask hon. Members opposite candidly to consider whether the minor advantages which can be got out of this Bill are worth the price of a change in the electoral system. Surely it is not worth while to make so wide a departure from the traditions of the past. We do not thrive in this country on elaborate structures of logic and theoretical conclusions. We thrive only on practical expedients which have been tried and slowly adjusted to meet the needs of the country. The majority vote is based on practical experience of that sort. Our political methods are not like pieces of dead metal which can be hammered into any fanciful shape you please, by Measures such as this Bill. Our political methods, in such matters as the system of election, constitute a part of the living body of the State. If you try to force upon our system some form such as this which is unnatural to it, you may inflict a very deep wound on the State. The Alternative Vote is quite foreign to our living ideas in political matters. The majority in the House does not want it; the country does not want it. There will be a 493 sigh of relief if the Government give it the coup de grace which they know it will eventually get and no tear will be shed at its funeral, except by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen in the capacity of chief mute.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
There is one advantage of the present system which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) has overlooked and that is that it has not deprived this House of the presence of a number of excellent Liberal Members. The electorate for a number of years at a series of elections has decided to return to the two-party system and only the best type of Liberal candidate has passed through the sieve. The first observation I would make to the right hon. Gentleman—and I offer no excuse for this criticism—is that this proposal will perpetuate the three-party system and make the winning of a majority by the Labour party more difficult. I am looking ahead. The Home Secretary can look back to a record of very long service in the Labour movement and I hope he will yet see the fruition of the many years of skilful campaigning and sacrifice which he and others have given to our cause, but this proposal is going to put back the full realisation of the ideas and hopes of the dreamers who have gone before us.
Let me explain. Under this system it is admitted that there will be the increased possibility of alliances between parties. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen says that that happens now. It does indeed and it has happened in recent years and I would remind the Committee of what happened in the so-called coupon Election of 1918. You had there a compact or bargain between the late Mr. Bonar Law and the present Leader of the Liberal party. They issued their coupons calling upon their supporters to vote here for a candidate of a certain colour, and there for another candidate of another colour. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward) stood as a Conservative candidate against the sitting Member, a Liberal, Mr. Wilson, who got the coupon. My hon. and gallant Friend fought against the coupon as did some 60 successful Conservative candidates. Nevertheless the effect of the coupon was to nearly wipe 494 out the Liberal party, and to rob the Labour party of what was really its due, because the democratic cause had been, winning during the War. I am afraid we are now regularising the coupon system of election by encouraging bargains for exchange of second preferences.
In that particular Election there were four candidates for the constituency which I then fought and lost. Two of them quarrelled as to which had the coupon and bargaining was rife. There was a Conservative candidate who had the coupon against me and there was a National Democratic candidate who claimed to have it, and eventually the electors had to decide which of them had the greater right to the coupon. It was a sordid business and I want the hon. and gallant Member for Central Cardiff (Sir E. Bennett) and other hon. Friends of mine to realise what may happen in the future. We may find the next Election fought on the question of Free Trade versus Protection and the possibility is that there will be some sort of Free Trade coupon. Looking further ahead, we may have to fight an. Election presently on such a question as the public control and ownership of the coal mines and the minerals generally of this country, and then the Alternative Vote will be used against us by a Liberal-Conservative alliance. Such of the Liberal party as have not come over to us will desire to save the life of that dying party.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. and gallant Member's remarks are such as may provoke a reply and I would point out to him that while he is entitled to give examples in support of his argument, he is not entitled to impute improper motives. The question before the Committee is not the survival of the Liberal party or any other party, but the survival of this Clause.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
was not casting any kind of reflection on the Liberal party, but, as an illustration of the effects of such a proposal as this, I was pointing out the obvious possibility of the two capitalist parties, if I may without offence so describe them, combining against us. I do not think that my hon. Friends on this side have looked far enough ahead in this matter and I ask the Government to consider whether they are justified in pressing such a proposal as this. We are told by 495 the Prime Minister that a mandate was given for this Measure by the people, alter the Election a 1924, because of the unfair results of that election. We are told that the Alternative Vote would remove same of the worst anomalies of that sort of Election. Let us look at the facts of the 1924 or "Red Letter" Election. In that Election 413 Conservatives were returned by 7,500,000 votes out of a total of 16,000,000 votes, and as I used to point out the party which, now sits opposite was returned to power representing a minority of the electors.
What effect would the Alternative Vote have had on that Election? Of the 413 successful Conservative candidates only 82 were what we call minority candidates. Supposing the Alternative Vote had been in force, and that it had destroyed the whole 82—a result which is by no means certain because it probably would not have affected more than half of them—the Conservative party would still have had a large working majority of the House of Commons on a minority of first preferences. Yet we are told that the Alternative Vote would put these things right. It will not put these things right, and, what I fear is, that in the honest but mistaken notion that we are making some improvement in the electoral machine, we are going to create fresh evils. I am very sorry that we are not to have a free Vote on this question. This matter ought to have been left to a free Vote. This proposal was not in our electoral programme. The Prime Minister thinks that a mandate was given, but this subject did not figure in many of our Election addresses and I did not hear much about it in Election speeches.
I have no special personal interest in this subject because I have always had a clear majority whenever I have won, and at the last Election I spent most of my time in constituencies other than my own and I heard nothing of this proposal. It was not a burning question. Unemployment was our great cry and the improvement of the lot of the people. The Alternative Vote will not improve the lot of the people and it was never, as far as I am aware, part of the Labour party's policy. I am sorry to have to make this protest and to appear to speak in a critical way of my own party, but 496 we know why this proposal is being introduced. In commerce there is what is called a nuisance value. This is the price which we are paying to get rid of a nuisance, but I fear that the only result will be to saddle the nuisance more firmly on our shoulders.
§ Captain EDEN
I think that the speech which we have just heard is of some value, and I deeply regret that more Members of the Committee were not in their places to hear it. At least the Home Secretary, in asking us to approve of this Clause, can claim that he is making history. Never before has an important proposal for electoral reform been brought forward with less enthusiasm for it in any section of the community. It will be a century ago text year that the House of Commons Was discussing changes of real magnitude in the electoral system. We were then discussing something which the nation as a whole was desirous of seeing carried into effect. There was a great public demand, whether justified or unjustified, for the reforms proposed at that time, but to-day we are being asked Ito accept, without any demand whatever from the nation, a highly technical change. Nobody can fail to note the contrast between the position 100 years ago when Parliament commanded so widely the respect of the nation, and the position at the present time when we are asked to give effect to a Measure of electoral reform in which the country takes less than no interest.
The hon. and gallant Member for Cardiff (Sir E. Bennett) spoke of there being no political demand for this Measure. As he is a supporter of it, he ought to know. The opponents of it have never had any doubt on the matter. I listened carefully and with pleasure, as one always does, to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), but he failed completely to meet our case against this proposal. He quoted many figures to show that under the present system there are anomalies. Of course, there are, but it lies with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen—who appears to be really in charge of this Bill—and upon the Home Secretary, to show how this system is going to remove the anomalies from which we suffer. There are plenty of 497 examples of the working of the Alternative Vote, and I do not think that any one of them suggests the conclusion that it is going to remove our present anomalies, or at any rate do more than substitute one set of anomalies for another.
I am not going to requote the examples of the working of the Alternative Vote, but I happened to be in Australia in 1925 when, by the working of this Alternative Vote, the Labour party was absolutely extinguished in the Senate. I remember the extent of public feeling on the subject in Australia, and I remember that the remark that I made was: "How very fortunate we are that we have not got a system like that in England." That election was much further from representing the mind of the nation than we have ever been in this country. I suggest to the Home Secretary that between now and the Third Reading of this Bill he should make some inquiries from his friends in the Labour party in Australia as to their experience of the working of the Alternative Vote, and I think he will find that they have very little good to say for it.
In Belgium, where they tried the system, they have had to go to some other form of electoral reform, but the Australian experience, I am certain, is that this system allows an increased measure of political wangling. I have no doubt there is bargaining now—we see it often enough—but that is no excuse for increasing the opportunities for bargaining, or wangling, which is what this proposal will do. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Cardiff referred to the second ballot as an ideal system, but the Ullswater Committee pointed out the failings attached to that system and the danger of the opportunities for political bargaining, which are greater when your delay is longer, as in the case of the Alternative Vote, than in the case of the second ballot.
I have an objection which has not yet been raised in this Debate. I am not going to argue, though it may be true, that the electorate will find it difficult to work this system, but I am going to argue that simplicity in your electoral system is a vital asset to the smooth working of the system. The tendency everywhere nowadays is to find simpler methods of working, simpler expressions 498 in science, in art, and in every activity in which we are engaged in life to-day. Why should we depart from that general rule of experience to-day in this one particular instance and substitute for the simplicity which exists a more complex system? We have had introduced the question of the falling votes at by-elections of late. I use that as an illustration to show that anyhow the electors are not desirous of rushing into the polling booths, and if we cannot keep the system essentially simple, they will have a right to complain that the added mental effort, though it may be slight, which we are putting upon them is unjustified and that they do not propose to exercise it. It is not that I think that because of present simplicity we should remain for all time as we are, but it does lie with the Government to give very good reasons why we should depart from the simple method we now employ.
I suppose that hon. Members below the Gangway would argue that the adoption of this system would get us somewhere nearer mathematical perfection. That has yet to be proved, but even were it provable, which I doubt, I would earnestly ask the Committee not to be too earnest in their pursuit of mathematical perfection. It does not necessarily produce the results which they seek. Everyone who is aware of the present state of parties in Germany knows that they have there a mathematically perfect system. The German mind is well suited to work out a system of that kind, and they are all delighted, yet you cannot meet a German Parliamentarian to-day without being told that it is this mathematical system which has reduced their Parliamentary system to a lower level than it has known before. You may easily, with your mathematical perfection, lose the real perfection, which is a working Parliamentary system giving roughly a bare representation to the views of the country at the time.
May I say a word about the argument used by the right hon. Member for Darwen with regard to the third candidate? He told us that it was quite fair that the third candidate should be cut out, because he had not secured a sufficient proportion of the votes compared with the other two to entitle him to be considered as likely to be returned. It seems to me that that removes all argu- 499 ment of justice from the Alternative Vote. I hope the Home Secretary will be able to explain how it is that though perhaps the third candidate may be only 100 or 200 votes behind the second, he is to be cut out of the race altogether, and his second votes only are to count and not those of either of the other two candidates. I cannot see that there is, in equity, any defence for that at all. Of course, we create by this method a new class of plural voters, not in the sense in which we used to speak of plural voting, but we create a class of voters who, when their first vote has failed, are allowed to exercise a second vote. That is a new form of plural voting, which we have never had in this country before but which is none the less plural voting, and I ask the Government whether they are so convinced of the failure of our present system as to justify them in this departure. There was a quotation which I came across the other day as follows:The characteristic danger of great nations like the Romans or the English, which have a long history of continuous creation of institutions, is that they may at last fail by not comprehending the great institutions which they have created.I think there is a real danger that this House, not perhaps comprehending even the value of the anomalies which exist in our present system, may, in its newfound enthusiasm for reform, leave us a greater legacy of failure hereafter.
This Clause is only in this Bill because we have at the moment a three-party system—the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) was perfectly correct—and it is only justifiable if you are going to perpetuate a three-party system. I do not believe we are, but even if we were, it would not justify us in introducing a method of voting which will multiply the number of parties. Personally, I do not enjoy a three-party system. I think we should get back to a two-party system in the national interest as soon as possible. I am not going to he so invidious as to say which of the three should go, but whichever it be, even the existence of three parties to-day does not, I think, justify us in starting to work out a system which will tend to a further multiplication and to all the consequences which we can see on the Continent of Europe from that multiplica- 500 tion. I do not think there is any justification in the present electoral system for us monkeying with the machinery of elections in order to satisfy the position of the third party, which is only, after all, a temporary excrescence on the State.
I would like to say a word about another argument used by the right hon. Member for Darwen and other speakers. It seems to me that we often take the wrong type of example. Examples have been given where the three candidates are close together, but there is the more glaring example where the first two candidates are close together and the third candidate is a long way behind, and yet that third, who represents no significant part of the electorate has his second preferences given an enhanced value over and above the second preferences of the two candidates whom the constituency really wants. It seems to me that the attitude of hon. Members below the Gangway is due to a misjudgment of the mentality of the average English elector. I do not believe that our electors go to the poll saying, "Three cheers for A, a modified cheer for B, and down with C." Their attitude is, "Three cheers for A, and down with B and C," and the mental subtleties which are at work in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen, which are very entertaining and highly polished, are not shared by the average elector. In this country the elector's mind works far more simply; he wants his candidate and not either of the others. It is characteristic of the Liberal party's attitude that they endow the electorate with the hesitations from which they suffer. The English mind is far removed from such subtleties—and fortunately removed, because if we possessed those subtleties, we would not have worked the Parliamentary system as well as we have done.
This Clause will give plural voting to a new class of voter. I cannot deal with all the anomalies that exist; I will only say that we could deal with far greater anomalies than the one with which this Clause is dealing. A neighbouring constituency to my own together with mine has 150,000 voters, and that anomaly will continue to exist, for it will not be remedied by this Bill; because it does not affect the party below the Gangway. Why have we this Clause at all? We have not 501 heard a Government spokesman say a word in its defence. The defence has been rightly left to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen. It is not a Government Bill or a Government Clause. This Clause is in the Bill for the party below the Gangway. The Government do not want the Clause, but the Liberal party are not yet prepared that they should go like Carlyle's Merovingian Kings jolting in their wagons into the eternal silences. One of the advantages of being oxen is that you can at least regulate the pace of the wagon, and at the moment that is being done. The right hon. Gentleman below the Gangway is Iago in this piece and the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary is Roderigo. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that Roderigo suffered for his folly before Iago paid the penalty for his villainy. That will be the consequences of the Clause which we are asked to pass to-night. The judgment of the country will condemn us if we pass this Clause which, like the Bill, is ignoble in its origin. Let the Government take off their Whips, and give us occasion to-night to give it the immediate burial which it so richly deserves.
§ Mr. GRAY
All who have sat through this Debate will agree that it has had a maximum of interest. It has certainly covered a wide range, and I do not propose to follow all those who have preceded me in that wide range. It is quite true that most of us on these benches do not regard this Bill as the perfect way of dealing with the anomalous situation of our present electoral system. We should unquestionably prefer Proportional Representation to the Alternative Vote. It is another illustration of the position in which this party is continually placed in this House: we never get the opportunity of choosing the best and always have to take the second best. I would like to ask hon. Members above the Gangway why they regard themselves as the sole possessors of sincerity. I was struck by the amusing way in which the hon. and gallant Member for Warwick (Captain Eden) described this party as the villains of the piece who were trying to weight the scales in their favour in the electoral battles in the country. Hon. Gentlemen forget that the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) told us before the last election that the 502 scales were weighted so unjustly against this party that it was not worth our while playing the game.
I would like hon. Members above the Gangway to consider that there is perhaps as much sincerity on these benches as on those benches, and that possibly we are actuated by as honest and noble motives as any other party in the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir H. Young) made a delightful speech, but spoilt it when he suggested that he and his party thought that this Bill was the result of what he called a dodge. I do not know why he should consider that it was a dodge. If he realised the actual facts of the position to-day he would know that he was mistaken. It might be worth while for hon. Members above the Gangway to have a second thought when they so readily charge us. We are the party in this House which has in its whole history supported the development and enlargement of the franchise, and we are to-day merely asking that the system under which Members are returned to this House should be as fair as we can possibly make it.
A good deal has been said in the Debate about representing minorities. We are not suggesting that we should have the Alternative Vote in order to represent minorities. The present system gives representation to minorities and leaves majorities in the electorate unrepresented. We certainly do not need the Alternative Vote for the purpose of representing minorities. We are asking that we should have this system in preference to the existing system, and that the Members who come to this House should not represent minorities, but should represent the majority of the votes cast in the elections in their own Divisions. We have had a great deal of play with the question whether this will create a new class of plural voters. The hon. and gallant Member for Warwick said that it did. The right hon. Member for Sevenoaks referred to the sweet illustration of my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), and suggested that if you bad the scales absolutely balanced, and one lump of sugar left over, and if that one lump were put on the scale, it had an added value over the other lumps. It is astounding that a right hon. Gentleman of the in- 503 telligence which the average Member above the Gangway has should make such a suggestion. Does he not realise that if you take the lump that went first on the scale there would still be one lump deflecting the balance?
Do hon. Gentlemen suggest that if you have a close election which is decided by one vote, it is really the last vote that passes the returning officer that decides the election? It is true that if you have a close election the candidates watch the way the votes come in with a vast amount of interest, and they get very excited; then it is that the last vote that comes in that finally tells which of the two candidates is in. But surely nobody suggests that that last vote has any more value than the first vote that was counted. Every vote has exactly the same value. Will hon. Gentlemen realise that if you take the votes of those whose choice has been rejected, and then count them, you are not giving an added value to those votes. They have no more value than any other votes that have been cast for the candidate, but it means that those electors who have exercised their second preference are electors who have a choice between B and C. If you dislike B and C equally, and do not want either, you do not exercise your second preference, but simply say that you vote for A, and that if you do not get A, you do not want either of the others. If an elector voted for A, and gave a preference between B and C, he is entitled to exercise that preference and have his choice as between those other two candidates. Surely that vote is not a plural vote, but an alternative vote.
There is all the difference between a plural vote and an alternative vote. A plural vote means that you have one vote in addition; an alternative vote means that you have an alternative, which is what every elector has. Those whose candidates are in the running do not need to exercise their alternative, because their first preference is counted, but other electors have their alternative counted because their first preference is not counted. Whether we like the system or not, surely it is not above our mentality to be accurate in our descriptions of it, and there is not the slightest accuracy in describing an alternative vote as a plural vote.
504 We have had a vast number of prophecies, prognostications and suggestions as to how this system is going to work. I am not going to make any; but I do not think that hon. Members of the Conservative party are justified in suggesting that we are asking for the Alternative Vote to save our party. There have been various suggestions of what may happen. It may mean, shall we say, the final extinction of our party. There may be bargains between hon. Members on this side of the House and hon. Members opposite to destroy us. I have not heard any great songs of generosity about us from the other side of the House, or any great hymns of praise from this side, and I can see no reason why hon. Members sitting on these benches should suppose that we are necessarily going to gain anything from the Alternative Vote through the generosity of hon. Members above the Gangway on this side or hon. Members across the Floor. Why, then, do we ask for the Alternative Vote? Because it ought to be given as a matter of simple justice to the electorate. That is the only issue. We have been talking of three parties, but how many parties are going to the country from amongst hon. Members above the Gangway? They may live in hope of an agreement being reached between the two B.'s, but, on the other hand, it may not be—[Interruption.] I was only using the initials of two very prominent Members who seem to be having a conflict for the leadership of the party. It is quite conceivable that in the next General Election there may be two parties from the Conservative benches; and already, I understand, there are three parties on the benches opposite. [Interruption.] With all our divisions, we here appear to be the most united party.
It may not be a case of three parties, but of five or six parties going to the country in the next General Election, and in that case, under the present system, the representatives returned to this House will not be those who hold a large share of the votes in a division, but those who hold only a small minority of the votes. Our case is that the Alternative Vote is a method of securing fair representation. We admit that it would not secure as fair representation as would be assured by Proportional Representation, but that does not debar us from supporting it as an advance on the 505 present system. I ask hon. Members on both sides whether their experience in three-cornered contests has not been the same as mine. I have found that a very large number of the electors want to vote for a particular candidate, but that they have a very strong objection to one of the other candidates being returned, and in many cases they are not, strictly speaking, voting for a candidate whom they like, but are voting against a candidate whom they do not like. They are tossing up in their minds; they are betting on the results of the ballot. They say: "I would like to vote for C., but I do not intend that A. shall get in, and as I think B. has a better chance of defeating A. than C. I will vote for B. in preference to C." That is an experience with which every Member who has gone through a three-cornered contest must be familiar. I say that is not a desirable state of affairs, and it does not give this House higher respect in the eyes of the people. The House ought to reflect, as nearly as we can make it do so, the views of the people.
I do not make any plea for mathematical exactness, because we cannot get that under any system. Take the case of an election in which there are two candidates, and one candidate secures 200 or 300, or 300 or 400 votes more than the other on a poll of 20,000 or 30,000. What actually happens is this. Every party has its solid core of support, those who vote solidly for a party until there comes one of those great upheavals which shake them away. But there is also that large floating vote which is not associated with any party but which does reflect the actual movement of opinion throughout the country, which goes swaying backwards and forwards, moving to this party at one time and to that party at another time. They are people who, as a, rule, have not any very strong party political predilections. Very often they vote on personality—that is where personality counts; they sometimes vote for the man rather than for principles. Even if they do, it still means that wherever you get that movement of opinion flowing one way and you get a very large majority of one party in this House, it will always be found, whether the system in operation is Proportional Representation, the Alternative Vote or the existing system, that there is a mathematical unfairness, because obviously the party defeated has 506 a large margin of votes which have not counted. My preference for the Alternative Vote over the present system is that it does secure at least one thing, that the man or woman who represents a constituency in this House is at least representing a majority of the votes actually cast in the election. That is a particular and special advantage of this system over the existing system. There is one other argument which has been put forward already, but I will just mention it again. Big issues are arising in this country, fundamental issues concerning the fiscal system, and no change in that system should come as the result of what is in the nature of a mere electoral gamble, because it is nothing else under the existing system. With a large number of candidates going to the poll, under the existing system I defy anyone, no matter how clever he may be as a political organiser, to forecast with the slightest accuracy what the result of the election would be, even if he knew about the number of votes that were going to be cast. Under the existing system it is a perfect gamble and nobody knows.
We on these benches can very well afford to brush aside the sneers, the innuendoes and the jeers of hon. and right hon. Members on the Conservative benches. I confess they never touch me a bit; as long as I am satisfied that I am doing what is right, I am content to have those observations thrown at me and at the party I represent. On this issue we are standing for what we believe is a fair and just method of securing that the desires of the electorate are represented fairly in this House. I am a real Democrat. I believe in the people having their way, even though what they want is wrong. After all, it is better for them to have their way and to find out by experience. The only trouble that I see is that, unfortunatley, the two parties on this side of the House seem to have monopolised the experience of the last 60 years. Perhaps the country will think it may be worth while to change all that and insist that the men and women who take their place in this House, carrying the responsibility of deciding the destinies of this country and this great Empire, shall at least represent a majority of the voters in the constituencies that send them here.
§ Mr. GODFREY WILSON
In the few remarks I am about to make I will address myself to what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), because it seems to me that he, more than anyone else, has taken up the cause of the Alternative Vote. I will summarise briefly what I consider to be his arguments. He says: In the 1924 election the Conservatives, having polled a minority of the votes of the electorate, nevertheless secured a large majority of the seats. At the next election there may be a Conservative majority—pledged to introduce a protective tariff—even though a majority of the electorate may have declared against it. The Alternative Vote ensures one thing and that is that majorities shall not be flouted. I join issue with the right hon. Member in his arguments and in his conclusions, and I shall try to expose the weakness of his case. The whole of his arguments are based on an assumption which has no justification in fact, and it is this: That at an election there will be a single issue before the electorate such as that of Free Trade and Protection. If there were only one issue I should have very little objection to the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen. What happens is that each of the three great parties in the State put forward an electoral policy covering, not one, but many issues. The Socialists have their party programme, the Conservatives have their programme, and the Liberals also have a third programme. Therefore it is not a question in this or any other party, of one issue only. There might conceivably only be one issue, but then the question of the Alternative Vote would not crop up since there could only be two parties involved—one for and one against. At the next election there will not only be the issue of Protection and Free Trade, but also the issue of the Trade Disputes Bill. The Socialists are definitely pledged to amend the law in regard to trade disputes. I do not think that anyone would say that such an issue would not be an important issue.
Let me consider for simplicity a state of things in which there are only two great issues before the country, Free Trade and Protection, and the issue of the Trade Disputes Bill and the legalising of the General Strike. I take again 508 for simplicity three candidates only. A the Socialist pledged to Free Trade and in favour of legalising the General Strike; B the Conservative candidate pledged to a Protective Tariff, and against anything that would legalise the General Strike; and C a Liberal who is a Free Trader and against the General Strike. By the method of the Alternative Vote, if it is to apply, it is clear that no one of the candidates will get a complete majority of the votes of the electors, and there follows a very simple and obvious truth. The first preferences for any two of the three candidates must exceed in number the first preferences for the third. That is to say symbolically A plus B is greater than C; A plus C is greater than B, and B plus C is greater than A or, to give a simple geometrical illustration, the votes for A, B and C may be represented by the three sides of a triangle, any two of which are greater than the third.
Let us take the example of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen and assume that the case of Free Trade and Protection is the important issue. According to the right hon. Gentleman's assumption Free Traders will vote for A and C and the Tariff Reformers will vote for B. In the first instance let us suppose that C gets the least number of first preferences and is therefore rejected. We cancel C out as a candidate and distribute his second preferences between A and B. Assume with the right hon. Member that a greater number of C's second preferences are given to A then A is elected, a candidate who is opposed to Protection. On the other hand A stands not only for Free Trade but for the legalising of the General Strike. Sup- pose that we consider that the more important issue is that of the General Strike, should we not wash B out and distribute his second preferences between A and C. It may reasonably be assumed that C would then be elected, a candidate who is opposed to Free Trade and opposed to the legalising of the General Strike. My point is that the method of the Alternative Vote will introduce new anomalies which will have just as serious an effect upon the country as the system at present in operation.
But the simple case that I have given is not likely to occur very often. There will often be more than three candidates, 509 and there will be many more important issues; but the argument that I have put as applying to the simple case of two great issues and three candidates applies with equal force when there are more than three candidates or more than two important issues. To what conclusion are we forced? It is that, in order to attain the aim of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen, there is one system, and one only, that can operate. That system is the referendum. There is no other possible way. If you want to get the opinion of the country as a whole on such an issue as that of Free Trade or Protection, you must put aside all other issues, and say to the electors, "What do you want? Here is your chance. Vote for either Free Trade or Protection; do not confuse it with anything else." That is the referendum. Any other great issue, such as that of legalising the General Strike, would have to be put to the country in the same way, and the country would be given a chance to vote either for or against legislation which would change the Trade Disputes Bill. The only method of attaining the ideal of the right hon. Gentleman is the referendum. I am not going to waste the time of the House by putting forward any arguments of mine for or against the referendum. I should be against it, but it is not a matter that is before us now.
The conclusion to which I am forced is that, when there is a General Election in this country, it is a question of putting before the electorate the policy of a party, covering many great questions, and of asking the electorate to vote for or against the particular policy of a particular party; and I am convinced that no system other than that which we have now will work quite so satisfactorily. I am prepared to admit without hesitation that there will be certain inequalites, in that the number of Members elected for a particular party may be out of proportion to the actual number of votes cast throughout the country for that party; but I maintain that the anomalies which the Alternative Vote will introduce will be even greater than the anomalies the existence of which we already have to admit.
There is only one other point to which I should like to refer. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen said that he did not believe for one 510 moment that there would be much confusion of ideas in the minds of the electors as regards the use of the method of the Alternative Vote. Let me give an example, which, unfortunately, does hit against my own electorate. As the House knows, we have in operation for the universities the system of the transferable vote. It is not very different in principle from the Alternative Vote. The electorate consists of people who have taken a degree at the university—not that some of the degrees are of very high value, but at all events they have all taken a degree; yet the number of spoilt votes in connection with that very simple process, from people who are presumably people of education and able to think, is remarkable. I do not know what the explanation is, but the fact remains that there is a very considerable number of spoilt votes. I think, therefore, that when the same principle is applied to people who have not been so fortunate as to receive a university education, the proportion of spoilt papers may be very much greater. I do not say that I attach any importance to that, but it is an illustration of what in actual fact is happening under present conditions. I maintain that the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen depend upon a great fallacy, namely, that the country will have to decide on one important issue only; and that his whole theory on the Alternative Vote falls to the ground when there is more than one important issue before the country.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. VAUGHAN
If I am rightly informed that the hon. Member who has just sat down represents a university constituency, I congratulate the House upon the arguments which his speech contained in favour of the abolition of university representation, especially his closing sentence, in which he so grossly insulted the British public who have not had the advantages of a university education. I speak on this subject as one who has not been troubled with the question of minority representation, and, if I may say so, with the audacity of my race, I do not expect to be troubled with it during the time that I represent my constituency in this House. At the last election my constituents were intelligent enough to return me by a handsome majority over both the Con- 511 servative and the Liberal candidates, and, therefore, I am not so interested in this matter as other Members may be. I should very much deplore the fact that I was a minority Member representing a minority of my constituents if such were the case. I confess that I should have a certain unhappiness in every vote that I cast, feeling that I was not casting it on behalf of the majority of the people in that Division. I should say that every minority Member here, taunted as he continually is by Members from the opposite side, would even take some risk in order to ensure for himself the proud and happy position in which I happen to be.
In the very depressing and melancholy speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir H. Young), he said—I think it was a careful quotation—that every Member in this House should be the best possible man for the post, and that was the ideal that he set before all constituencies. The right hon. Gentleman forgot to mention women Members, but no doubt he would say in defence that the word "man" embraces women. Anyhow, I am sure I speak for every man and woman Member in the House when I say that they would certainly applaud that sentiment, and say that, of all people in the country, they are the best possible Members that their constituencies could have elected. The point, however, that I would put to the right hon. Gentleman, were he now in his place, would be this: Would it not be very much better that the best possible men and women elected by constituencies should be elected by a majority of the votes in each constituency, instead of, as in many cases, being elected by the minority? In fact, I should say that a large proportion of the electors in the Division represented by such a Member could very well claim that, in the opinion of the majority, he was not the best Member to represent the Division.
I turn to the question, which has been referred to over and over again this evening, of the angling for votes that might take place if the Alternative Vote became the law of the country. May 1, at the risk of repetition, remind hon. Members that angling for votes goes oh now? One would think, after listening 512 to some of the speeches here to-day, that every candidate of every party was incorruptible, and did nothing but place before the electorate the programme of his party, leaving the electorate to think over it and decide and vote. Not a word has been said about organisation, or the power of the Press, or the personality of the candidate, or, in some cases, the attractiveness of the candidate. Everyone knows that these influences are continually exercised in addition to politics, and sometimes apart from politics, and I may as well admit that I am one of the offenders, if it be an offence, because, on every occasion when I have had the opportunity—I hope my Liberal friends will excuse me for saying this—I have always said, "Do not waste your votes on the Liberal candidate; vote for me." It is perfectly true that, unfortunately, they did not always vote for me, but only took half my advice.
May I be allowed a moment in which to reply—because I shall only spend a moment on it—to an observation made by the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Beckett), when he was surrounded by his comrades, who have now all disappeared He made, as is customary from that quarter, a bitter attack upon the Front Bench, and particularly upon the Prime Minister, saying that he deplored the possibility of a second vote, because no Socialist has a second vote. Converted to Socialism as I have been, I differ profoundly from that statement and, if I was a voter, or wanted to persuade voters, I should certainly say to Labour people, or to Socialists as we ought rightly to call ourselves, "Cast your Alternative Vote against the greater danger." I would even say quite openly, if an Alternative Vote had to be cast anyway, cast it for the Liberal party in order to save this country from the devastation of Toryism. In the muddled state of political parties, which will probably grow during the next five years as far as we can see, it will be increasingly necessary to vote, first, for what a man deems to be his principles and his convictions and, second, to avoid the greater evil.
I come now to the gross accusations which have been made, particularly from the Conservative benches, upon the unintelligence and the ignorance of the British electorate. The very poor compliment has been paid them that they will not 513 understand this very simple method of the Alternative Vote. I have been ashamed to listen to much that has been said in this connection. Only the day before yesterday I was at a count and out of, I believe, 2,000 votes cast by middle-aged elderly people, who had had very few advantages, and certainly not the advantage of a university education, only two votes were spoilt where one would almost expect between 50 and 100. Surely with the education that is going on throughout the country, with the millions that we spend year by year on our vast army of teachers, from the elementary schools upwards, the electorate can understand how to vote even under a far more complex system than we are now suggesting. For several years past I have felt that the Liberal party, in advocating this Alternative Vote, were hardly playing fair. Notwithstanding what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) has said about his advocacy of this Alternative Vote in previous years, as a keen student of politics and one who has sat in those public galleries for many years before being privileged to sit on these Benches, I have felt during the last year or two that the Liberal party were well satisfied with the old system as long as they could get even their alternative advantage, every other Government, and that it was only when they begun to suffer at the polls that they sought this change. In other words, while the rules of the game suited them they accepted them but, when the rules went against them, they wanted to change them. Even so, even if I am not quite fair in making that statement, the question that every Member of the House has to put to himself is, "Is it fair, is it right, is it in the interests of the great community that we are always talking about here and in Committee?" I for one, and I feel sure the great majority of Members on this side, will put country before party, as hon. Members opposite are so often putting it to us. I do not believe the Socialist party is going to gain a single seat by this alteration but I believe it will be for the benefit of us, of the House of Commons and of the country, that this comparatively small change should be made, so that every Member sitting here in future Parliaments will be able to say, "I speak for the majority of my constituents."
§ Sir GERALD HURST
Although the Alternative Vote is not such a disastrous method as Proportional Representation, it is, nevertheless, a method that ought to be opposed at all stages on the ground that it is antagonistic to purity in politics and also to the efficiency of government. The aim of our constitution is not, and never has been, the mathematical reflection of all the phases of opinion in the country. The hon. Member who spoke last imagined that Members representing minorities feel qualms when they exercise their vote in this House. An enormous proportion of Members of this House are, in that sense, minority Members. I am one myself, but I imagine that none of us ever feel qualms when we exercise our vote, because we know that there are more of our constituents who hold our views than hold the distinctive views of any other party. So far as government is concerned, one of the great points of the British constitution is that its system is based upon long history and long experience. It is not machine made, and the question whether it is a good system of government or not is whether on broad lines it effectively reflects the view of the majority of the people. That is more the true test than whether it precisely reflects every single phase of opinion in the country, and it is because our system on the whole has worked so efficiently that I suggest that a far stronger case has to be made out before reasonable men will see their way clear to depart from what is based on long history, long practice and long experience.
The right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Liberal benches has quarrelled with Conservative speakers on the ground that they represent the Socialist view on this point as being insincere and the Liberal view as not being honest. I do not think many Conservatives take that view at all. We quite recognise the sincerity of the Government in the matter. They are most sincere in their anxiety to get the help of the Liberals. So far as the Liberals' honesty is concerned, we know that they are very honestly influenced in their desire to preserve the interests of their party. When the right hon. Gentleman said this cannot be represented in any way as being a Measure to favour plural voting I cannot follow him. If there are three 515 candidates for a seat, the man who votes for the third candidate exercises his vote in favour of that candidate. That is one vote. That is the vote that corresponds with the votes cast for the first and second candidates. So far, every voter has one vote. Then, under this proposal, every man or woman who votes for the third candidate has his or her second vote given effect to by being recorded and being lumped on to the votes given to the first and second candidates. That is a second vote. The second vote given by those constituents who vote for the first or second candidate is not counted at all.
§ Sir G. HURST
Oh, no; it is only counted for the first vote. [interruption.] That is juggling with words. It is quite clear that it is only the voter who votes for the third candidate to whose alternative vote effect is given. I should like to deal with the problem on broader lines. There is no doubt at all that if a scheme of this sort, or if, indeed, Proportional Representation were introduced, the result would be that in all human probability no Government in the future would ever have an effective and decisive majority. It may suit one party to-day and another to-morrow to paralyse the power of the Government then in being, but it is not in the interests of the country, or of any great political party which believes in its programme and principles, to have the power of effective action paralysed for all time. If, as a result of the Alternative Vote the balance of power is put into the hands of a small group or small number of groups, it will mean that no party, Conservative, Socialist or Liberal, or any other, will be able to give effect to a decisive policy as to which it does not possess a dominating majority. It cannot be to the interest of any party which believes in its principles or its programme to consent to have a permanent paralysis of Government. The effect of the Alternative Vote would be the permanent paralysis of Government except in the case of non-controversial or non-party legislation, or legislation in which the Government in being had been able to make a bargain with one of the groups in opposition.
§ Sir G. HURST
It makes it infinitely more difficult to get a really effective majority. Certainly no Conservative who wishes to see economy or the development of trade relations between Great Britain and the Empire, or wishes to see a tariff or the reform of the House of Lords, can ever view with equanimity a system which must paralyse executive Government. What the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) said with regard to hon. Members belonging to the Socialist party is true. They will never be able to see any of their projects carried into effect if they have the power of executive Government paralysed in this way by the Alternative Vote.
The second big point which is very antagonistic to the application of the Alternative Vote is that it really places the dominant political power in the country into the hands of a small group or, at any rate, a relatively small group similar to that which is in existence today. At the present time we are at the mercy of one small element of the Liberal party. The House of Commons and the country in general cannot view with satisfaction the fact that no Measure can be passed, and that the Government cannot be turned out at the present moment except at the wish of a small group of the smallest party in the House. That system is unsatisfactory to-day, but it will be perpetuated under the system of the Alternative Vote. It will saddle this country for ever with the liability to be dominated by a small group or a small party. When people say that the Alternative Vote is consistent with democracy, they are saying something which is utterly inconsistent with the true facts of the case. If the effect of the Alternative Vote is to give the control of politics to a small group or a small party, it will really mean that a fraction of the population will have the dominant choice as to which party is to govern the country, what policy is to be pursued, and whether a Parliament is to be dissolved or not. The idea that the Alternative Vote favours democracy is an absolute paradox. You must have regard to the real facts of political life.
Another point which has already been made is that the Alternative Vote, undoubtedly, will greatly facilitate compacts to destroy the interests of a third party. 517 The temptation to form compacts between two candidates, where it may be said, "If you will give our man the second vote, we will give your man the second vote," will be irresistible, and if similar compacts are pursued throughout the country, it will mean that the Alternative Vote will give a handle to persecution. I do not think that any reasonable man can say that the Alternative Vote makes for the true interest and representation of democracy. It will, in fact, tend to increase the tendency, so common in recent times, to make compacts between parties regardless of principles. When the ordinary elector votes at election time, he votes not only for the candidate he likes most, but more often for the party he supports, and certainly he votes for the distinctive principles in which he believes. If a Liberal or a Socialist believes that his party has distinctive principles which are different from those of any other party, I cannot see how he countenances with pleasure or with equanimity a system which involves voting, not for distinctive principles, but first for one man and then for another, and ultimately giving power to the second best instead of to the best. If you believe in your principles, you will certainly vote for those principles and no others. The ordinary elector in the country would certainly prefer to vote either Liberal, Conservative or Socialist, rather than to have a sort of sliding scale. The present system really represents what the ordinary man wants. He has a party, and he certainly believes in principles, and because he believes in principles he certainly will, in most cases I believe, genuinely prefer to vote for a distinctive group rather than to he given an "order of going in."
It is very important to have a simple system which anybody can understand. The hon. Member who spoke last must have been very fortunate in being enabled to participate in an election where several thousand people voted, but where only two votes were spoilt. The ordinary percentage of spoilt votes is very much higher than that. I can imagine people being very gravely troubled and confused by having to put a figure 2 against the name of the man they like second best, and the figure 1 against the name of the man they like best. An elector might very well think that he was giving two votes to one, and one vote to 518 the other. The present system is a simple one, and has a history going back many centuries behind it, and I hope that Members who do not consider themselves too bound by party links will think a. long time before they vote for this proposal.
§ Mr. MUGGERIDGE
We have heard a great deal to-night from the point of view of the candidates of the parties, but I do not think much consideration has been given to the voter. The voter is supposed to be such a simple person, that unless you give him one solitary thing to perform when he gets to the ballot box, namely to put a cross against the name of his choice, he is so simple, poor fellow, that he will make a mess of it, especially if you suggest that he should have a second or an Alternative Vote. Another view of him is that he is a very sturdy fellow who really knows his mind. He is a man who if you give him the chance will vote you out of office if you happen to be on the opposite side, and will show that he has a very firm grasp of politics and knows precisely what he wants. I do not think that either of those descriptions is true of the voter. On he whole, the voter is in as much difficulty with regard to the political situation to-day and the economic difficulties of the country as we are in this House, and although now and again you get, either from hope or from conviction, determined voters who come to the poll with a strong feeling that what they are about to do is a sacred duty, and one to which there can be no objection from anyone whatever, there is a large mass of people who are not so cocksure. I am inclined to think that the further you go with politics the larger that particular class will become.
The questions about which we have to think in politics are by no means so simple as they were half a century or a century ago, when great names were made in this House and this country. The questions to be settled require a good deal of knowledge of rather recondite matters, about one of which, called economics, no one knows anything whatever, but about which everyone is supposed to have very clear views. Your average British voter is a cautious person, especially the farther North you go. He is rather struck with admiration for 519 the long words you use, but not quite certain what they mean, and more uncertain, and almost in a trembling condition, when he goes to the box to record his vote. I am inclined to think that this second vote is going to help him to hedge and give him a chance of backing both ways, and that it will be a very useful matter in many directions.
Roughly speaking, you can divide the voters into two classes of people with drifts in certain directions. The drift of one section will be, irrespective of class, quite definitely towards more equality, and the drift of another class will be rather in the direction of preserving things as they are, because on the whole their expectations are greater while they are kept as they are. The former is the drift of a good many people who would like to link themselves to what may be called the progressive movement. Those who want to get towards equality are at present rather afraid to do it, because it is a leap in the dark and committing them to a good many things in regard to which they are not quite certain of the consequences. So you have a party in this House that is most handy for the purpose—a party reduced in numbers at present, but which is an excellent fall back for that class of person who really wants to satisfy his conscience, political or other, that he is on the side of progress. Those minds in distress find a spritual home in the particular party below the Gangway opposite. I cannot help recalling that that party, which to-day is coming along and using such powerful arguments, with all of which I agree, with that highly-flavoured well-polished eloquence which they have learned through many generations of repetition is the party which to that class of person is a refuge in distress. They naturally want to preserve that particular function which, I regret to say, is the last one left to that particular part of our political system.
The voter being of that kind, I think the mistake that has been made in this House is to assume that when he gives his first vote, that is the vote which really expresses his innermost soul. I doubt it. I am rather inclined to think if you give him a second vote, that is the vote into which he will really put hs heart and soul. I say that because very often the voter wants to give 520 himself the hope that better things will exist, and he is not always prepared to back his preference at first sight. He is rather afraid of those he likes best politically, and I think he has got reason to be so. When Shakespeare wrote "Hamlet," he knew perfectly well what would happen as we became more and more an educated democracy, and what you have got in the voter to-day is a personSicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought.When you come and ask him to give a vote to this party or that, you ask him to commit himself to a thing which. although he has been thinking about it more or less for a long time, he finds it very difficult indeed to be entirely sure about. I know that people brought up in the traditions of those that remain on the opposite side below the Gangway have not forgotten the fervour of their political past, and they are living upon it at the present time. That is easy enough. If your father voted Liberal, you vote Liberal. The Tory party has got an even stronger pull from the man who remembers that not only his father but his forefathers for many generations have voted in one direction.
That is easy enough, but people who take a serious view of the existing conditions of society, and really want to exercise the vote with a due regard for the responsibility which attaches to the act, are tremendously troubled in mind at present. They vote first of all for the man they probably think will not get in, and, secondly, for the man they would like to get in, but are rather afraid of his getting in. I really suggest that I am making a very competent analysis of the position. We have had put before us a return to realism in politics. We have no business to have voters to-day who are the counterpart in politics of the economic man who never existed in economics. I think it is a tremendous advantage, apart from anything which has been said in this Debate—and I have done my best to find something new to say—if there is anything which can be done for the perplexities of the voter to-day, and he will be interested in this Clause. It is an aspect of the matter which he finds at least will give him a chance of going to the poll and carrying with him there—for he can scarcely leave them as he enters—his 521 doubts about the man whom he thinks may get in and about the man he wants to get in.
All these things are a justification for this Bill. I believe the Bill is a contribution towards the development of the future. There are many people in this House who are cumbered by traditions, and by the frame of mind which accompanies a long presence in this House. I, coming from outside, am able, fortunately, to shake myself free from those limitations and to see things as they are. This Bill, although one did not think that an Electoral Bill was necessary at this moment—[Interruption]. When I thought that, I had not come to this House: I had not seen the Members of the party who occupy the benches opposite. Since I have seen them. I am convinced of the necessity of this Bill, because I can realise how plausible they can make their case, how well they can hide what they wish to cover up and how they can make all sorts of seductive promises and misleading statements. It is because of their long acquaintance with candidates and Members of that particular party that the bulk of the electorate to-day is in that state of doubt and difficulty which has made this particular Clause an absolute political necessity if we are to retain our sanity as a nation.
The party below the Gangway opposite support this Clause because they like it, because they appreciate it and because they think that to some extent it will help them to keep their precarious hold upon political life. That party has favoured us with many views which, in their opinion, are strong arguments for passing this Bill; a Bill which I am going to support in its entirety. I can remember the past of that party. At the time when the party to which I belong was a small but a growing party it was cutting into the party below the Gangway opposite. In those days they thought that progress was their own special preserve. Again and again as we grew and as we won seats, first at Woolwich and afterwards in other places, the leaders of that party were told—there are some survivors of the leaders of the party at that time who will remember the correctness of what I am saying—that if they did not like our dividing the vote they had better go in for the Alternative 522 Vote. In those days their eloquence was used to show that the Alternative Vote was an undemocratic thing.
§ Mr. MUGGERIDGE
Thirty or forty years ago. We asked again and again for the Alternative Vote, but it did not then suit that particular party. Now, they have adopted a different method. None of us can say what the effect of this proposal will have upon our political fortunes. Probably it will be good, but I shall not vote for it from that point of view. I shall vote for it as a means of improving a very complicated electoral situation and of giving to the different movements in human society to-day an opportunity of expressing themselves, and not only one opportunity but an alternative opportunity. There is only one thing that we can do on these benches, and that is to give our cordial support to the proposal.
§ Sir AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
This has been a singular Debate in many particulars. It has been singular in the fact that we are arriving at the conclusion of our discussion without having had any indication from the Government of their views, of what course they propose to take or whether they intend to give to the Committee the same freedom on this matter which they have already announced they will give on another part of the Bill. Singular as the Debate has been there has been nothing more singular than the speech of the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Muggeridge). He said that his speech was an effort to adduce arguments in favour of the proposals which had not been previously used in the Debate. May I offer him my most sincere congratulations on the success of his efforts. Now that the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) has heard the arguments of the hon. Member, original, suggestive and instructive, what does he think of his solitary supporter? What does the Home Secretary think of the reason which has persuaded his supporter, reluctantly, to go into the Lobby in support of the Governments proposal? The hon. Member explained, with a candour which was remarkable, that he is the muddled representative of a muddled constituency and that, accordingly, a muddled system 523 of voting will exactly suit both himself and his electorate.
§ Mr. MUGGERIDGE
I would not have intervened had it not been that I must ask the right hon. Gentleman not to misinterpret my remarks. I did not refer to my own constituency but to the electors in all constituencies and of all parties.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
On behalf of the electors of West Birmingham I hotly repudiate the unfounded aspersion upon their intelligence which the hon. Member seeks to cast upon them. In this country we have the oldest Parliamentary system in the world. We have changed our franchises and we have extended them continuously and, of late, very rapidly. We have again and again altered constituencies but, with a single exception, we have been true to the system of election which now we are asked to reverse in a single afternoon, with an east wind blowing outside and heaven knows how many eddies of conflicting opinion inside. We are asked to make a fundamental change in our electoral system. I ask the Committee to consider why we are asked to do that. No one wanted it. No one demanded it. It appeared in no electoral programme. It appeared in no election address.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
The right hon. Gentleman has distinguished himself from all his colleagues in this House, and I congratulate him. Broadly speaking, it was not in the electoral programme of any party, nor was it demanded by any party.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
It was the fleeting idea of perhaps one or two individual Members here and there. No one expected it, no one conceived that 524 this was an issue which this Parliament was to be asked to decide, and no one except the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty pretends that he really likes it or that it is what he would have if he had his choice. Under the electoral system, which this Clause proposes to set up, no one is to have what he wants but everybody is to have their second preference. Why is a proposal of this kind brought before this House? It reminds me of a saying of Oscar Wilde regarding Whistler that:Whistler had no enemies, but he was intensely disliked by his friends.It would not be quite true to say that this Clause has no enemies; I am one, but it is true to say that it is intensely disliked by its friends. We owe it to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) who is absent. He does not pretend that it is his first choice. It is only a few years ago that the right hon. Gentleman said:I am not an Alternative Voter.He made his position perfectly clear at a meeting of the candidates of his party, who showed some restlessness at suddenly finding themselves committed to this nostrum. He explained that he was in the position of a poor relation to a rich Government, that he could not afford a full meal, and was obliged to take half a loaf of rye bread. The right hon. Member for Darwen, whose adaptability to circumstances and environment resembles what in the insect world is known as protective mimicry, does not conceal the fact that this is merely his second preference. He does not pretend that it really meets the objections he raises to our present system. But he only became a convert to any system of minority representation after he had become a member of a minority. He may say that he made a speech in support of this proposal in 1917, hut at that time he was the member of a minority of a minority. He was never in favour of this proposal, any more than his late chief, Lord Asquith, as long as the Liberal party commanded a majority in this House. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about your environment?"] I was born a Liberal, a Radical, and I exaggerated the Radicalism of my father in my early days, but I know that the Liberal party resisted with all their might and power, 525 and the advanced section of it more than all, any proposal of this kind until they found themselves a dwindling minority looking out for any plank to keep themselves afloat a little longer.
So much for hon. Members below the Gangway, what about hon. Members opposite. They do not like it—yes, there is one. We always have one paragon who can lay his hand on his heart and say really this has been the desire of his lifetime. But is he representative? Did hon. Members opposite at the last election think that they were fighting this issue, that the Government would introduce a provision of this kind? Did hon. Members desire it? What do they think they are going to get? It is notorious that the party opposite, the great bulk of the party, were unprepared and hard to convince of its necessity, and it is notorious that it was only with difficulty there was wrung from them a reluctant, partial and conditional assent. Again I ask, why are we to have forced upon us a change which, whether hon. Members desire change or not, is not the change which more than a mere fraction in this House would have chosen if they had had their way. There are many people who are upholders of our present system and a considerable number who believe that Proportional Representation would be a better method, but there are not half a dozen hon. Members who believe that the Alternative Vote is in itself a good system.
Is there any wonder that the air has been full of rumours and of bargains, and that ulterior motives are attributed. The whole attitude of the Liberal party lends itself to suspicion. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has been continuously putting himself and his supporters up to auction, and, as hon. Members opposite have good reason to know, as constantly buying himself in. However reasonable, and indeed however inevitable, these suspicions are, we have been told that there has been no bargain and we are bound to accept the assurance of the Prime Minister. But that assurance is important. It is important in the first case for the results which have already accrued, since there was no bargain.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
I have not the time. You prevented that yesterday. I say we are bound to accept the assurance of the Prime Minister that there has been no bargain, and that is important for two reasons: It is important, in the first place, because it clears the Liberal party of an ugly suspicion that they had made a bargain and failed to keep it. It was indeed an invitation to them to do what I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) described as "cutting the throat of the ugly brat" after it had been removed to the Committee Room upstairs, and they took full advantage of the invitation. But it is equally important to hon. Gentlemen opposite, because if there has been no bargain they too are free, and they can vote as they would have voted on the merits of the question without regard to any supposed engagement undertaken with hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. When hon. Gentlemen opposite were induced to acquiesce in these proposals there was no bargain. Was there no understanding? Was there no expectation? Who is the dupe of all these obscure intrigues? [HON. MEMBERS: "You!"] One thing stands out clear: After all the conversations, the comings and goings, the luncheons and the visits and the confabulations, one thing stands out clearly—that someone thinks he has gained an advantage for his party, and that to please one party who do not really like this proposal another party who dislike it still more has introduced it.
I do not, however, argue the question or base my opposition to the proposal upon these lines. My objections to the proposal are fundamental. At the present time we have a system of election which secures that the candidate in a given constituency who represents the largest concerted body, or I would rather say the largest homogeneous body of political opinion, is returned as Member for the constituency. I believe that that ought to be the object of our political system.
Our present political system attains it, and I meet the right hon. Member for Darwen on the challenge which he has issued. What is his proposal? His 527 proposal is that if there are only two candidates in the field that one who polls the greatest number of votes shall be elected, whether he represents half the constituency or not. He may be a minority Member, even though there were only two candidates. But if there are three candidates, the man who represents the greatest body of homogeneous opinion is not elected, unless he has also polled a majority of all those who voted on the occasion. What happens? A is at the head of the poll; B comes second; and C comes third. Take a case which came under my own notice a little time ago. A polled 13,500 votes and a few more. B polled 13,250 votes or thereabouts. C polled 5,000. There is no majority of voters voting. What happens? C is to be eliminated. What do you secure by that? It is a system for providing that that candidate who secures the largest measure of support shall not be elected. It is a system for finding out which candidate has the least measure of support and then making him the arbiter of the result. That is bad enough when there are only three candidates.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Royal Commission of 1910 as having reported unanimously in its favour. It was a very small and unrepresentative Commission. What did they say? They observed, in the first instance, that this will not secure the election of the best candidate; at most it will secure the elimination of the worst. That is not a reflection on the individual. The best candidate means the one who gets the largest number of votes; the worst means the one who gets the least. The most that they claim for it is that it eliminates the one who gets the least, or the worst candidate. They do not claim that it will secure the election of the best, for they point out, as has been pointed out more than once to-day, that if you counted all second preferences. If by eliminating C you then put B, who had been second, above A, why do you not, then count the second preferences of A and see whether that does not produce an entirely different result? Any of us may be either A, B or C at any one time in these elections. There is no knowing, they say, that, if the second preferences of A and B had been 528 counted, it would not ave been found that C was the choice of the electors. Yes, but then they go on to say that we must be on our guard against arguing this question, as it has been argued to-day, and conspicuously by the right hon. Member for Darwen, as if we were in a static position in which the only problem was more than two and not more than three candidate. But the moment you put in these provisions, as the Commission said, the tendency will be to increase the number of candidates, and you may have not merely A, B and C, but D, E and F. You eliminate F and try his second preferences, and when they are not enough you eliminate the next letter, and the next, until you arrive at your result.
What elector can foresee when he is marking his preferences what the result of those preferences may ultimately be? What elector can tell what is the issue, placed before the electors, which a blind vote on a second, third, fourth or fifth preference may ultimately decide? It is the most ludicrous system that the mind of inconsequent and subtle man, in a difficulty, ever devised to get himself out of his immediate difficulty without regard to the future consequences either to himself or to Parliament or to the country.
I am one whoholds—and I think if I had time I could prove it—that a great part of the success of Parliamentary institutions in this country has come from the fact that we have worked on a two-party system and that, indeed, it is essential to the success of Parliamentary institutions as we have known them, that they should be worked on a party system and not upon a group system. [Interruption.] The statement that we have worked upon a two-party system is, I take it, challenged by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camborne (Mr. Leif Jones). [HON. MEMBERS: "And by Lord Beaver-brook!"] I look back to the days which are past and I say that, though there were nominally three parties, yet, except for certain intervals, which were intervals of great disturbance, of weak government, of unsuccessful government, there have, in fact, for the purposes of deciding who governed, only been two. The moment the Liberal Unionists separated from the Home Rulers, on every critical decision, it was a necessity of the position that they should act with the Con- 529 servatives. The moment the Parnellites received the surrender of the Gladstonian Liberals they were indistinguishable, for all practical purposes, from the left wing of the Liberal party.
Accordingly I say that it is true in fact, though not in name, that we have worked under a two-party system, and it is to the two-party system that we owe the success of our Parliamentary institutions. The party system has great defects. It exaggerates differences and it creates difficulties, but nothing better has been found to take its place, and, at least, it keeps in check personal ambition, individual interests, class feeling and sectional pride. It substitutes for all that something greater than the interests of any class or the pride of any small section of the community. I oppose this Bill because it strikes at the root of what has made the Parliamentary system successful here and what has kept it successful in difficult and troublous times when it has been failing elsewhere. I oppose it because it is promoted to please one party who did not ask for it, by another party who openly dislike it. I oppose it, because its purpose is to deprive the largest section of opinion in any community of the right to seat the Member whom they have elected. I oppose it because it will encourage sectional interests and minor issues, and diminish the weight of the verdict of the country on the great issues on which that verdict ought to be decisive. I oppose it because if it results, as I think it will result, in the multiplication of groups in the House of Commons it will establish here on the Floor a system that prevails too much in some other nations, and will make this House a market for votes, instead of a great deliberative assembly. Last of all, I oppose it because at this moment, when the first need of our own country, and indeed the common need of all the world, is that Governments should be strong and capable of governance, this Measure will do all that is within our power to make Government weak and the Rouse of Commons ineffective.
§ Mr. CLYNES
Up to now I had no idea that it could be said of this Clause, for which, at the moment, I am responsible, that it carried with it the guilt of every conceivable political and Parliamentary atrocity which, within the 530 time at his disposal, it was possible for the right hon. Gentleman to enumerate. An hon. Friend of mine who spoke earlier in the Debate made a speech of sustained humour and with all respect may I say to the right hon. Gentleman opposite that, to a great extent, be continued that facetiousness of expression, but he succeeded in the last few minutes of his utterance in getting somewhat near to the substance of the Clause.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was present during the discussion on the Second Reading of this Bill, but I gave on that occasion, at some length, adequate evidence to justify the introduction of this Clause. I quoted from the King's Speech when the new Parliament assembled in 1929; I quoted the continued utterances of the Prime Minister, leading up to the inquiry committee known to us as the Ullswater Conference; I quoted other declarations, and, in addition, reminded the House that the proposal which we are now making was unanimously recommended to Parliament by the Royal Commission of 1910. That recital of fact and evidence surely does not justify the charge that is made against this Clause in the speech which we have just heard.
The one thing which no hon. Member in any part of the House has attempted to do during the course of our Debates has been to justify the present system. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman did say that he preferred the present system, but I allege that there has been no attempt to defend or to justify it by wealth of argument comparable to the argument alleged against the Clause which I now support. We are not at all disturbed or upset by these fanciful illustrations of invented situations which it is said may arise from the carrying of this particular Clause; for the truth is that, as all here, with perhaps the solitary exception of the right hon. Gentleman, admit, there are imperfections and anomalies in the present system. This attempt which we now make is nothing more than an effort to remove some of those anomalies and to lessen the imperfections in our present electoral law.
The right hon. Gentleman, or others who have preceded him at any rate, have indicated their preference for Proportional Representation. Supposing we could have brought ourselves to the 531 length of turning this Clause into a Proportional Representation Clause, would there then have been a demand to know, Where is the mandate? Would there then have been the same objections to a change upon the basis of Proportional Representation as there are now against this system of the Alternative Vote? Those who have opposed this Clause may be fairly answered by the fact, that changes in conditions, in the growth of parties, in Parliamentary and political circumstances, have increased the necessity for this Bill. There are three parties, there are many sections and elements belonging to all parties. How is it wrong to give to an elector who is now limited to one choice, regardless of the number of candidates, the opportunity of saying that if there are three candidates or more, he may express a preference not merely for one, but for two? [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not three?"] I know that that can be argued and I suppose that at a later stage proposals may come before the Committee to enable us even to discuss that.
I can only say, for the moment, that it has been felt by the Government that the plan which we have proposed is the simpler and the more understandable one, and that it would enlarge the freedom of choice of the individual elector. There is no compulsion on the part of the elector to use a second vote if he does not wish to. He is in no sense obliged or compelled to employ the facilities of this proposal. Just as at present a large number of people will not trouble to vote at all, so I think it is right to say that if we leave them free to do nothing, we are entitled to enable others to do more than the present electoral system entitles them to do.
It was said by, I think, the hon. and gallant Member for Warwick and Leamington (Captain Eden) that this was really a way of justifying the position of a third party, which he described as a temporary excrescence on the State. Time was when even worse descriptions than that were applied to the Labour party, and it may well be that in the future a description of that kind can be fittingly and accurately applied to the party now represented on the benches opposite. Representation in Parliament in this country has always been chiefly the representation of constituencies, and 532 only incidentally that of parties. A party relies for its representation in Parliament on obtaining the support of the majority of voters in as many constituencies as they can. [Laughter.] I am glad that that is simple enough for hon. Gentlemen opposite to understand. At the last election, no less than half of the Members in this House were elected on a minority vote, and, in the present state of the parties, surely every Member will agree that that is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs.
Under the Alternative Vote, if no candidate receives a majority of first preferences, the candidate who receives the fewest number of first preferences is eliminated. That stage corresponds to the first election under the second ballot. The Alternative Vote has the conditions and the actualities of the second ballot without any of the cost, trouble and waste of time that that would involve. The further stage of the Alternative Vote is that the second preferences on the ballot papers of the eliminated candidate are transferred to the other candidates. This stage corresponds to the second election under any system of second ballot. Under this system, therefore, the results are precisely the same as if the eliminated candidate had withdrawn from the election, or as if his supporters had refrained from voting for him out of fear of wasting their votes.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) alleged that there was inconsistency in my position in what I said, on the Amendment dealing with Northern Ireland, that there had been do demand for it from that quarter, and that I was supporting other proposals in this Bill for which there has been no demand. He asked whether, in view of that argument, the Government would not have preferred to leave a decision on this Clause to a free vote of the Committee, as in the case of the Clause dealing with the City of London. This Clause covering the Alternative Vote may be described as the most far-reaching, certainly as the primary proposal, in the Bill, and I doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman could have been serious in asking that the Government should fail to do its duty and leave the matter to the choice of this Member or that Member or the other Member. The Government 533 will accept their responsibility, and ask the support of their following and the support of all quarters of the Committee.
I have read something of political history, and have heard Debates on these themes in this House for many years, and I recall that every change in relation to political reform and in relation to extensions of the franchise, has been met with the same forecast of gloomy and terrifying results. In no aspect of our public affairs has the forecast of the prophets been falsified more than in this matter of electoral reform. Our purpose is to enlarge the liberty of the individual elector, and in no sense to lessen the freedom or the right of any candidate or any party. It is said that this may lead to groups and pacts.
§ Mr. CLYNES
Oh, that is worse, there have been. [Interruption.] I think it is about time that hon. and right hon.
§ Members opposite dropped completely this sham of high political morality. Their past is against them, their record is not in keeping with their arguments, and their present manoeuvring is the answer to the case they have addressed to the House. [HON. MEMBERS:" The Portuguese manoeuvres."] The system of the Alternative Vote exists in the case of many organisations and societies, and has been tried and tested with considerable benefit to them. It is a system which we believe may do away with minority Members and minority Governments. It is opposed by those who fear its results, and we submit it to the approval of the House in the belief that time and experience will show its value, and that the electors will show themselves quite equal to understanding it.
§ Question put, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 277; Noes, 251.537
|Division No. 181.]||AYES.||[10.28 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn)|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Collins. Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Zetland)|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Compton, Joseph||Harbord, A.|
|Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Craigie M.||Cripps, Sir Stafford||Hardie, George D.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (Hillsbro')||Daggar, George||Harris, Percy A.|
|Alpass, J. H.||Dallas, George||Hastings, Dr. Somerville|
|Ammon, Charles George||Dalton, Hugh||Haycock, A. W.|
|Angell, Sir Norman||Davies, E. C. (Montgomery)||Hayday, Arthur|
|Arnott, John||Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Hayes, John Henry|
|Aske, Sir Robert||Day, Harry||Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)|
|Ayles, Walter||Devlin, Joseph||Herriotte, J.|
|Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bliston)||Dudgeon, Major C. R.||Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth)|
|Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley)||Dukes, C.||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)|
|Barnes, Alfred John||Duncan, Charles||Hoffman, P. C.|
|Barr, James||Ede, James Chuter||Hollins, A.|
|Batey, Joseph||Edge, Sir William||Hopkin, Daniel|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood||Edmunds, J. E.||Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield)|
|Bennett, Sir E. N. (Cardiff, Central)||Egan, W. H.||Hunter, Dr. Joseph|
|Bennett, William (Battersea, South)||Elmley, Viscount||Hutchison, Maj.-Gen. Sir R.|
|Benson, G.||England, Colonel A.||Isaacs, George|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Foot, Isaac||Jenkins, Sir William|
|Birkett, W. Norman||Freeman, Peter||Johnston, Thomas|
|Blindell, James||Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)||Jones, F. Llewellyn- (Flint)|
|Bondfield, Rt. Hon. Margaret||George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd (Car'vn)||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)|
|Bowen, J. W.||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Camborne)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesea)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)|
|Broad, Francis Alfred;||Gibbins, Joseph||Jowitt, Sir W. A. (Preston[...])|
|Bromfield, William||Gibson, H. M. (Lancs, Mossley)||Kedward, R. M. (Kent, Ashford)|
|Brooke, W.||Gill, T. H.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. Thomas|
|Brothers, M.||Glassey, A. E.||Knight, Holford|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Gossling, A. G.||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George (S. Molton)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (South Ayrshire),||Gould, F.||Lang, Gordon|
|Burgess, F. G.||Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George|
|Burgin, Dr. E. L.||Granville, E.||Lathan, G.|
|Buxton, C. R. (Yorks, W. R. Elland)||Gray, Milner||Law, Albert (Bolton)|
|Caine, Derwent Hall||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Colne).||Law, A. (Rossendale)|
|Cameron, A. G.||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Lawrence, Susan|
|Cape, Thomas||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro' W.)||Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybridge)|
|Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S.W.)||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Lawson, John James|
|Charleton, H. C.||Groves, Thomas E.||Lawther W. (Barnard Castle)|
|Chater, Daniel||Grundy, Thomas W.||Leach, W.|
|Church, Major A. G.||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Lee, Frank (Derby, N.E.)|
|Clarke, J. S.||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Less, J.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Lewis, T. (Southampton)|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Hall, Capt. W. G. (Portsmouth, C.)||Lloyd, C. Ellis|
|Logan, David Gilbert||Owen, H. F. (Hereford)||smith, Tom (Pontefract)|
|Longbottom, A. W.||Palin, John Henry.||Smith, W.R. (Norwich)|
|Longden, F.||Paling, Wilfrid||Snell, Harry|
|Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Palmer, E. T.||Snowden, Thomas (Accrington)|
|Lunn, William||Perry, S. F.||Sorensen, R.|
|Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Peters, Dr. Sidney John||Stamford, Thomas W.|
|MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Phillips, Dr. Marion||Strauss, G. R.|
|McElwee, A.||Picton-Turbervill, Edith||Sullivan, J.|
|McEntee, V. L.||Pole, Major D. G.||Sutton, J. E.|
|McKinlay, A.||Potts, John S.||Taylor, R. A. (Lincoin)|
|MacLaren, Andrew||Price, M. P.||Thomas. Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)|
|Maclean, Sir Donald (Cornwall, N.)||Pybus, Percy John||Thorn, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Ramsay, T. B. Wilson||Thurtle, Ernest|
|MacNeill-Weir, L.||Rathbone, Eleanor||Tillett, Ben|
|Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||Raynes, W. R.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Malone, C. L' Estrange (N'thampton)||Richards, R.||Toole, Joseph|
|Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Tout, W. J.|
|Manning, E. L.||Riley, Ben (Dewsbury)||Townend, A. E.|
|Mansfield, W.||Ritson, J.||Vaughan, David|
|March, S.||Romeril, H. G.||Viant, S. P.|
|Marcus, M.||Rosbotham, D. S. T.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Marley, J.||Rothschild, J. de||Walker, J.|
|Marshall, Fred||Rowson, Guy||Wallace, H. W.|
|Mathers, George||Salter, Dr. Alfred||Watkins, F. C.|
|Melville, Sir James||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Messer, Fred||Samuel, H. Walter (Swansea, West)||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Middleton, G.||Sanders, W. S.||Welsh, James (Paisley)|
|Millar, J. D.||Sawyer, G. F||Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)|
|Mills, J. E.||Scrymgeour, E.||West, F. R.|
|Milner, Major J.||Scurr, John||Westwood, Joseph|
|Montague, Frederick||Sexton, Sir James||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)|
|Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.||Whiteley, William (Blaydon)|
|Morley, Ralph,||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Sherwood, G. H.||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.)||Shield, George William||Williams, T. (York. Don Valley)|
|Mort, D. L.||Shiels, Dr. Drummond||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Muff, G.||Shillaker, J. F.||Wilson, J. (Oldham)|
|Muggeridge, H. T.||Shinwell, E.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Murnin, Hugh||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)||Winterton, G. E.(Leicester, Loughb'gh)|
|Nathan, Major H. L.||Simmons, C. J.||Wood, Major McKenzie (Banff)|
|Naylor, T. E.||Simon, E. D. (Manch'ter, Withington)||Young, R. S. (Islington, North)|
|Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Sinclair, Sir A. (Caithness)|
|Noel-Buxton, Baroness (Norfolk, N.)||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Oldfield, J. R.||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)||Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr. Charles Edwards.|
|Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)||Smith, H. B. Lees- (Keighley)|
|Owen, Major G. (Carnarvon)||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Briscoe, Richard George||Courtauld, Major J. S.|
|Ainsworth, Lieut.-Col. Charles||Brockway, A. Fenner||Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.|
|Albery, Irving James||Bromley, J.||Cowan, D. M.|
|Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l)||Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l., W.)||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H.C.(Berks, Newb'y)||Crichton-Stuart, Lord C.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir William (Armaqh)||Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.|
|Allen, W. E. D. (Belfast, W.)||Buchan, John||Crookshank, Capt. H. C.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Buchanan, G.||Croom-Johnson, R. P.|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Bullock, Captain Malcolm||Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West)|
|Astor, Viscountess||Burton, Colonel H. W.||Dalkeith, Earl of|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Butler, R. A.||Dairymple-White, Lt.-Col. Sir Godfrey|
|Atkinson, C.||Butt, Sir Alfred||Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford)|
|Baillie-Hamilton, Hon. Charles W.||Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Davies, Dr. Vernon|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley (Bewdley)||Campbell, E. T.||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Carver, Major W. H.||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)|
|Balfour, Captain H. H. (I. of Thanet)||Castle Stewart, Earl of||Dawson, Sir Philip|
|Balni[...]el, Lord||Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Dixey, A. C.|
|Beaumont, M. W.||Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Dixon, Captain Rt. Hon. Herbert|
|Beckett, John (Camberwell, Peckham)||Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth, S.)||Duckworth. G. A. V.|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon||Cazalet, Captain victor A.||Dugdale, Capt. T. L.|
|Berry, Sir George||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Eden, Captain Anthony|
|Betterton, Sir Henry B.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir J.A.(Birm., W.J||Edmondson, Major A. J.|
|Bevan, S. J. (Holborn)||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Elliot, Major Walter E.|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Chapman, Sir S.||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s-M.)|
|Bird, Ernest Roy||Christie, J. A.||Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Churchill. Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer||Everard, W. Lindsay|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Clydesdale, Marquess of||Falle, Sir Bertram G.|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Ferguson, Sir John|
|Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W.||Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George||Fielden, E. B.|
|Boyce, Leslie||Cohen, Major J. Brunei||Fison, F. G. Clavering|
|Bracken, B.||Colfox, Major William Philip||Ford, Sir P. J.|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Colman, N. C. D.||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.|
|Brass, Captain Sir William||Colville, Major D. J.||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.|
|Galbraith, J. F. W.||Long, Major Hon. Eric||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||Lymington, Viscount||Savery, S. S.|
|Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton||McConnell. Sir Joseph||Shepperson, Sir Ernest Whittome|
|Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Simms, Major-General J.|
|Gower, Sir Robert||McGovern, J. (Glasgow, Shettleston)||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U., Belfst)|
|Grace, John||Macquisten, F. A.||Skelton, A. N.|
|Graham. Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)|
|Graves-Lord, Sir Walter||Margesson, Captain H. D.||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Greene, W. P. Crawford||Marjoribanks, Edward||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Mason, Colonel Glyn K.||Smithers, Waldron|
|Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Maxton, James||Somerset, Thomas|
|Gritten, W. G. Howard||Meller, R. J.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Mitchell. Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Southby, Commander A. R. J.|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Mitchell-Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W.||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Moore, Sir Newton J. (Richmond)||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)||Stanley, Hon. O. (Westmorland)|
|Hammersley, S. S.||Morrison, W. S. (Glos., Cirencester)||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur C[...]lve||Stephen, Campbell|
|Hartington, Marquess of||Muirhead, A. J.||Stewart. W. J. (Belfast, South)|
|Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Nelson, Sir Frank||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Haslam, Henry C.||Newton, sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral M. F.|
|Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxl'd, Henley)||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)||Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W.G.(Ptrsf'ld)||Thomson, Sir F.|
|Herbert, Sir Dennis (Hertford)||Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert||Tinne, J. A.|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||O'Connor, T. J.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Oman, Sir Charles William C.||Todd, Capt. A. J.|
|Hope, Sir Harry (Forlar)||O'Neill, Sir H.||Train, J.|
|Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Peake, Capt. Osbert||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Penny, Sir George||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|Hurd, Percy A.||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)||Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Hurst, Sir Gerald B.||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert|
|Inskip, Sir Thomas||Pilditch, Sir Philip||Wardlaw-Milne, J. S.|
|Iveagh, Countess of||Power, Sir John Cecil||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Pownall, Sir Assheton||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Purbrick, R.||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Kindersley, Major G. M.||Rawson, Sir Cooper||Wells, Sydney R.|
|Kinley, J.||Reid, David D. (County Down)||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Kirkwood, D.||Remer, John R.||Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)|
|Knox, Sir Alfred||Rentoul, Sir Gervals S.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Reynolds, Col. Sir James||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch't'sy)||Withers, Sir John James|
|Law, Sir Alfred (Derby, High Peak)||Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Lee, Jennie (Lanark, Northern)||Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell||Womersley, W. J.|
|Leigh, Sir John (Clapham)||Ross, Ronald D.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.||Wright, Brig.-Gen. W. D. (Tavlst'k)|
|Lewis, Oswald (Colchester)||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton|
|Little, Sir Ernest Graham||Salmon, Major I.|
|Llewellin, Major J. J.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hon. Godfrey||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Commander Sir B. Eyres Monsell|
|Lockwood, Captain J. H.||Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart||and Major Sir George Hennessy.|
§ Resolved, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—[Mr. Clynes.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.