§ Sir ARTHUR STEEL-MAITLAND
I beg to move, in page 2, line 17, after the word "may," to insert the words "upon the advice of the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Chief Justice, and the Lord President of the Court of Session."
This Amendment refers to double-member constituencies, and, as the time allowed for the discussion of these important Clauses is somewhat short, I propose to be as brief as possible. The course proposed by the Amendment is unusual. If accepted, it would prescribe the way in which the discretion of the Crown would be used in appointing a Commission to decide upon the boundaries of the new constituencies which are to be created in all these double-member seats. The reason why we have proposed an unusual Amendment is that the position is unusual too. It is unusual because of the nature of the seats that are affected as well as because of the nature of the Bill in which this Clause finds a place.
Let me very briefly develop both those points. In the first place the division and the delimitation of the new constituencies in the case of two-member seats is in many ways more difficult than in any other case. In many cases it is harder to carry out with fairness and with due appreciation of all the interests, and the conditions and the circumstances involved, than in the case of other constituencies to be found in the Ninth Schedule of the original Act. The reason for that is apparent to anyone who is at all intimately acquainted with any of the towns which constitute the two-member constituencies mentioned in the Schedule. If they are acquainted with any of these towns and look upon them on a municipal map, with the wards indicated, they will find that to bisect the towns con- 624 sisting of two seats is one of the most difficult jobs that any commission can have. A town of that size, as distinct from one of the larger metropolitan towns, is a more closely knit unit, and therefore more difficult to divide fairly. That is one thing which makes the capacity as well as the impartiality of the commission very important.
The next is, of course, the nature of the Bill. Whether hon. Members are supporting or opposing the Bill, everyone realises that one of the inevitable consequences of it, if not the reason why it has been introduced, is that it affords opportunities for bargaining between different political interests to a greater extent than any other possible method of representation. If that is the case generally, of course in constituencies of this kind the opportunities for bargaining are at a maximum, and for that reason again it is urgently necessary that those who live in these towns, as well as the public generally, should be convinced of the competence and the impartiality of the tribunal that is to delimit the electorates. That is why we have proposed the Amendment. The tribunal must be above all suspicion. We hope to elicit from the Home Secretary the nature of the trbiunal that he has in mind and how he proposes that it shall be set up, in order that we may be reassured as to the way in which these remaining 11 two-member boroughs will be sub-divided into 22 new seats.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Clynes)
On one of the minor points in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman—that is the point relating to the division of wards and the action which the commissioners will have to take with regard to them—I may say that it is my intention at a later stage to accept the necessary part of one of the Amendments on the Paper; but with regard to the remaining part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech and the purpose of the Amendment, I cannot indicate any agreement whatever with the object in view. In effect the Amendment would substitute for Ministers a body of out-side persons to advise His Majesty on the subject of this Clause. That would be so contrary to constitutional practice that one may well be surprised at the action of any right hon. Gentleman opposite in proposing such a 625 course. The least one can say is that it is highly improper to suggest that any outside body should be brought in for that purpose. It is a Minister of the Crown who must be responsible to this House for what might be done by the Commissioners. To say in a Clause that it must not be a Minister, but some outside persons who are to advise His Majesty upon the appointment of Commissioners, is to suggest the taking of a most unusual course and a departure from the constitutional practice.
The terms of the Clause are the customary terms set before the House whenever the question of re-distribution or rearrangement of constituencies has been dealt with in previous Acts of Parliament. I look with a good deal of apprehension on the temerity of the right hon. Gentleman in suggesting this departure from the regular course. Therefore I cannot for a moment think of accepting any part of this Amendment. We repel the suggestion that it is less likely that a Labour Minister would act impartially than any other Minister of the Crown, to whatever party he might belong.
§ Sir SAMUEL HOARE
It is very interesting to hear the Home Secretary speak as the champion of constitutional practice. [HON. MEMBERS "He always has been."] It is very interesting to hear him time after time in these Debates standing there as a champion of the good old Conservative practice, but in the present case I think he has introduced an unnecessary element of controversy into this harmless Amendment. The Amendment is intended to imply no want of confidence in a Labour Minister more than in any other Minister.
§ Mr. CLYNES
The main argument in support of the Amendment was that we must have a guarantee of impartiality.
§ Sir S. HOARE
Yes, but impartiality, whatever Minister may be in office at the time. The Amendment is not particularly aimed at the present Home Secretary. It is moved to ensure what I should have thought the whole Committee would have desired, namely, an impartial inquiry into the boundaries of double-Member constituencies. Before we proceed further, we would like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman, true to the good old Conservative and constitutional practice, if he still remains Home Secretary when the Bill comes into operation, 626 is going to act as his predecessors acted and appoint Commissioners who are admittedly impartial in the opinion of Members of all parties. If the right hon. Gentleman tells us that he is going to act as former Home Secretaries have done in these cases, my right hon. Friend would not press his Amendment to a Division.
§ Lord ERSKINE
I am sorry that the Home Secretary has regarded the Amendment as an attack upon himself or his impartiality. We who put the Amendment on the Paper had not that in mind at all, and, as my right hon. Friend has just said, no one knows what Home Secretary will have to administer the Bill if it passes into law. We are not asking in the Amendment that the Commissioners who are appointed by these three gentlemen shall not be responsible to His Majesty's Government. All we are asking is that there shall be no doubt whatever in the mind of any party, whether it be Labour or Liberal or Conservative, as to the complete fairness of the method by which these double-member constituencies are divided. When the Home Secretary comes to think of the matter, I do not think he will continue in his contention that for once in our lives we of the Conservative party are trying to do something which is highly unconstitutional. We are not. We know perfectly well that the Commissioners will divide these boroughs and will be responsible to the Government, and we know that, should there be any trouble afterwards, the person who will have to answer will be the Home Secretary for the time being.
All that we are asking is that there shall be no doubt whatever in anyone's mind that the people who appoint the Commissioners to divide the areas shall be people who have no special political predilections whatever. In the past, rightly or wrongly—I am not saying which—there have been, during the periods of other Governments, all sorts of accusations thrown across the Floor from one side to the other, that double-member constituencies have been divided up, that some person has wangled certain constituencies, and that in a given case a better showing has been given to the Liberal party or the Conservative party or the Socialist party. None of us wants that. If we want these double- 627 member constituencies to be divided up, they should be divided up in a perfectly fair way. Our Amendment is not unconstitutional, and I hope that on second thoughts the Home Secretary will accept it.
§ Major GEORGE DAVIES
As my name is attached to this Amendment, I would like to say a few words in its support. I am surprised and disappointed at what the Home Secretary has apparently read into it. I assure him that he has read into it something that none of us can see for a moment. My Noble Friend who has just spoken has really touched the point at issue. In a previous Clause we have decided to change the system of election. That must affect the double-member constituencies. It brings up also a form of redistribution. It is most important that when that is done, there should be no shade or shadow of suspicion that anyone has tried, no matter to what party he belongs, to work the change to his advantage. Everyone knows that in redistribution or the dividing of wards or parts of constituencies, it is possible to incline one way or the other. We thought that our suggestion would find an echo in the mind of the Home Secretary, and that is that any such suspicion should be completely forestalled.
While admittedly this proposal may in some respects be an unusual one, I think the Home Secretary tried to frighten us by stressing his repudiation of any proposal to interfere with the Constitution. After all, our Constitution is an elastic one and the point is to make it work in the best interests of all concerned. I do not think that the constitutional argument is a very strong one in this case. I think we are all agreed that it would be undesirable to do anything which would give any shadow of a foundation for the suggestion that any political party would be favoured by this division to the disadvantage of some other party. I hope that, even if the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to accept our Amendment, he will accept the assurance that no innuendo is intended against his bona fides or those of any successor to his office from his own party.
§ Mr. BARR
I wish to call the attention of the Committee to the nature of 628 this Amendment. Its object is stated to be that of securing the strictest impartiality. Yet the proposal is not that those persons who are here named should act, as Commissioners. It is not proposed that the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Chief Justice, and the Lord President of the Court of Session should act as Commissioners in working out these delicate negotiations and allocations so as to secure proper lines of demarcation in those boroughs which are now known as two-Member constituencies. They are only to come in to give advice to His Majesty as to the appointment of the Commissioners. His Majesty may, on the advice of those here named, appoint the Commission. That proposal may mean that these persons are to give advice on the question of a Commission being set up at all, in which case they are definitely brushing aside His Majesty's Ministers, or it may mean that these persons can nominate the members of the Commission, in which case also they are definitely brushing aside His Majesty's Ministers. I hold, therefore, that the Home Secretary is well justified in marking—I might almost say in branding—this proposal as an interference with the constitutional right of the Government to be advisers to His Majesty and to appoint Commissions and to nominate Commissioners. Every day questions are addressed to the Government as to the names of Commissioners appointed to carry out various kinds of work. I hold that the main point in getting an impartial decision is in the Commissioners themselves, and that that matter should be subject to the advice of His Majesty's Ministers and the decision of the House of Commons. The nomination of the Commissioners ought not to be placed in the hands of any outside body. This House and the Ministers of the Crown should be the judges on the question of who are to be nominated for this purpose. I see no reason why, in this instance, as in the past we should not have a body of Commissioners who will give full satisfaction to the House of Commons and carry out this work in an unbiased, non-political and impartial fashion.
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
As one who suffers under the two-member constituency regime, I should like to say 629 that I think there is a point of substance in the principle underlying this Amendment. It is a very delicate and ticklish matter to decide exactly how these constituencies are to be divided. I could divide my own constituency in such a way that any Liberal must win. On the other hand, I could divide it in such a way that any Conservative or any Socialist must win. But I am not sure that I am satisfied with the people who are going to advise the Home Secretary. If I am going to be separated from my better half, I would rather see the President of the Divorce Court named. I do not see that the Lord Chief Justice or the Lord President of the Court of Session are specially qualified on the subject, even to give advice. If you are going to introduce any outside element I should certainly want an appeal against their advice to the Court of Appeal and to the House of Lords. Although I think this is going to be a very difficult business, I am prepared to leave if to the good sense of the gentleman who happens to be Home Secretary for the time being. The right hon. Gentleman who now occupies that office has never struck me as being very cunning—though perhaps I do not know him well enough—but I am prepared to leave him to carry out the usual procedure, and what usually happens in these cases is that a very experienced civil servant, who is an expert at this sort of work, advises the Home Secretary and the Home Secretary, not knowing much about it, accepts the advice. There is no reason for suggesting that that particular civil servant has any political bias, and, as far as knowledge is concerned, I am prepared to leave the matter to the Home Office.
§ Major COLFOX
The speech of the Home Secretary in refusing to accept the Amendment would have carried more weight had he told us how he proposes to arrange this matter. He told us that the proposal in the Amendment was unconstitutional and unprecedented. But is it? The last occasion on which anything of this nature was done was in 1918, and one of the Commissioners on that occasion was the then Speaker of the House of Commons, Mr. Speaker Lowther. Therefore it seems to me that it is nonsense to talk of this proposal as unprecedented or unconstitutional. 630 Obviously, for a task of this sort you want people who are above suspicion. Various distinguished men all through the ages have held office as Speakers of the House of Commons, and I think we may say that they have always been above suspicion. The same can be said of the two distinguished legal officers mentioned in the Amendment. A body composed of those three people would, obviously, command the confidence of all concerned. It is rather amusing to observe how the Home Secretary jumps to the conclusion that he and his friends are being attacked in this Amendment. There was no suggestion to that effect, either in the Amendment itself, or in the speech of the Mover. Yet the right hon. Gentleman immediately jumped to the conclusion that the bona fides of members of his party were being impugned. There never was a more ridiculous suggestion, but it is a rather interesting psychological study how hon. Members opposite, when they do not understand anything of the subject in hand, always come to the conclusion that people are trying to attack them.
§ Captain CAZALET
I cannot imagine how anyone can think that we desire to impugn the motives or the impartiality of the Home Secretary or any other Minister, and I think it was quite unnecessary for the right hon. Gentleman to register such indignation and surprise at the reasonable speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland). But I should like to put this question to the right hon. Gentleman. What kind of people does he contemplate as Commissioners in this case? That is a reasonable question. Precedents have already been quoted. We have been told that on a previous occasion Mr. Speaker Lowther and certain civil servants acted in this capacity. Does the Home Secretary contemplate appointing the same kind of people. Naturally, we cannot ask him to nominate the Commissioners to-day, but if he gives us the assurance that they are going to be the same type of outstanding and impartial people as have been appointed in recent years for similar purposes, we shall be satisfied.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Short)
It appears to me that the one question at issue here is: On whose 631 advice is His Majesty to act in this matter? I think we are all agreed that it is in accordance with Constitutional form and practice, that His Majesty should act upon the advice of his Ministers. In this case I assume that would mean on the advice of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. It appears that we have some experience as to the course to be pursued in connection with this matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) and the hon. and gallant Member who spoke last asked for further information as to the intention of my right hon. Friend in this matter and in reply to that question I may recall to the Committee that certain Commissioners were appointed for England and Wales in connection with the redistribution of seats in 1918. The then Home Secretary appointed a commission consisting of Mr. Speaker Lowther, now Lord Ullswater, two retired civil servants, Sir S. B. Provis, K.C.B., and Sir T. H. Elliot, K.C.B., Colonel C. F. Close, C.B., of the Ordnance Survey, and Sir W. T. Jerred, C.B., who was secretary of the Speaker's Conference in 1917. The same Commissioners, with the exception of Colonel Close, also acted in connection with the scheme made in pursuance of Section 20 of the Representation of the People Act of 1918 which had relation to elections on the basis of Proportional Representation. I can assure the Committee that my right hon. Friend—and I assume that this applies to anyone occupying his position—will pursue a similar course in so far as the appointments to this Commission are concerned. While my right hon. Friend very properly took up the challenge of the right hon. Gentleman opposite on the constitutional issue, there can be no difference of opinion as to the desirability of securing strict impartiality in this matter, and my right hon. Friend will do his best to see that it is attained.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
We have now received an assurance from the Under-Secretary of State which we are delighted to have. We are glad to have had this Debate, because we have elicited from the Home Secretary an affection for strict constitutional procedure, as representing the settled convictions of the 632 party opposite, which will form a very valuable precedent for the future, and as such it was well worth just a few minutes' expenditure of our Parliamentary time. That is of great value, and I only trust that it will be a precedent which both his party and those who sit on the benches behind him will faithfully follow in the months to come. The Home Secretary spoke, as has been said, a little umbrageously after I moved this Amendment, but let me make this point; of course, it is not unconstitutional; it is only unconventional. There is no question of objection to the Amendment from the point of view of real constitutional practice.
If the Home Secretary will reflect, he will see that the proposal, unusual as it was in a Bill of this character, was simply along the line of a great deal of modern development, in which the tendency has been that in matters where, I will not say the Minister of the Crown is likely not to be impartial, but where he wants to put it out of the possibility of his being partial, to set up bodies which should in their action be as far as possible outside party influence. I have a number of instances in my mind, and those bodies are analogous to the three names suggested in the Amendment as the appointers of this Commission.
There is, however, in fact, one serious objection to the Amendment, which made me for a moment hesitate before I moved it. The Speaker of this House has himself been a member of previous Commissions. The last thing that I would wish would be, by reason of making him one of the three appointers, to make it unlikely that he should be a member of the Commission for the future. That is in itself an objection to the Amendment, which made me hesitate with regard to it, although I think, on all other constitutional grounds, it was, though unusual, quite proper.
However, what we principally wanted was an assurance from the Home Secretary that he would be strict in following precedent in the nature of the Commission that he wanted to set up. That was our purpose. We have now had that assurance from the Under-Secretary of State, coupled with, as I say, a splendid declaration of faithfulness to the Constitution on the part of the Home Secre- 633 tary. As a result of that happy combination which we have had, I am wiling that the Amendment should be withdrawn.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The next Amendment that I propose to call is that in the name of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. O. Baldwin) and other hon. Members—in Clause 2, page 2, line 20, to leave out the words "the City of London and." I want to point out that this discussion must be restricted exclusively to its application to Clause 2. I cannot allow a general discussion on this Amendment in relation to matters beyond the scope of Clause 2.
§ Mr. OLIVER BALDWIN
As I imagine there will be a chance of discussing the question at a later stage, I will not move my Amendment now.
§ Captain BOURNE
I beg to move, in page 2, line 25, at the end, to insert the words:Provided that in preparing any such scheme the Commissioners shall have regard to the existing boundaries of the municipal wards and shall take care that such wards be not divided.I move this Amendment in the regrettable absence, owing to illness, of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton (Major Tryon). We who have experience of this matter realise that very much in the political life of a municipality centres round its wards. People who inhabit the same ward get accustomed to going to vote in certain localities, both for Imperial and local elections. They work together as ward associations for the purposes of both their municipal and national politics, and I feel that an additional ward in these two-Member constituencies will bring very great inconvenience to such electors as might happen to be in a ward that is compulsorily divided. The ward system is one which is completely understood by the electors, and that advantage, I feel certain, should be preserved in dividing these boroughs. It may be true that it will result in one division being slightly larger than the other, but, speaking for my own constituency, I know that the people who live in a particular ward have a very strong local ward feeling and that they dislike it intensely, if anything 634 happens that necessitates the severance of one part of the ward, and they would greatly dislike being taken out of their accustomed political associations and compulsorily put into a new constituency, with which they had had but little connection.
§ Sir COOPER RAWSON
I support the Amendment. I should like to ask the Home Secretary if he will give me some indication of the way in which he proposes to perform this operation. I speak as an interested party, because I am one of those who are going to be cut up, and when one is going to cut up, one is entitled to ask the surgeon what parts of one he is going to remove. The position of my constituency is quite different from that of any other double-member constituency. I believe it is the only constituency in the county that contains two distinct boroughs. The Parliamentary division of Brighton contains the borough of Brighton and the municipal borough of Hove, as the Home Secretary knows, because he very often visits us for the purpose of recuperation. The total number of Parliamentary electors in the Parliamentary borough of Brighton, which includes Hove, amounts to 126,000, and two-thirds of them reside in the municipal borough of Brighton, so that if the Home Secretary is going to put a dividing line between the two, he is going to tack part of the municipal borough of Brighton on to the municipal borough of Hove; and, therefore, the people who pay their rates in Brighton will have a Parliamentary vote in Hove, and the position will be much more confused than it is at the present time.
The boroughs of both Brighton and Hove have been extended quite recently, and of a total area of approximately 16,000 acres, 14,000 acres are in the Parliamentary Division of Lewes, so that again will complicate matters. A lot of the people who live in Patcham, Rottingdean, Ovingdean, and other places pay their rates to Brighton and vote in the Parliamentary Division of Lewes, and if, in addition to the present complications, the Home Secretary makes matters more complicated, I think the intelligence of the voters will have to be very much increased, in view of the other complications contained in this Bill.
635 It is impossible under this Bill and under the constitution of the municipal boroughs of Brighton and Hove to make the municipal and Parliamentary areas coterminus, because, as I said before, a great deal of the borough of Brighton goes out into the Division of Lewes. Therefore, the only thing which will satisfy this matter of the question of the Parliamentary Division of Brighton is to go into the question of the redistribution of the East Sussex seats. That can be done, I think, without any very great increase in the number of Members. For these reasons, I support the Amendment.
§ Mr. HAMMERSLEY
I also should like to support the Amendment. I think the Home Secretary, on reflection, will agree that it is essentially practical. We have to divide the constituencies, and if they have to be divided, it should be done in such a way as will cause the least inconvenience. The municipal workers are in the habit of polling in particular wards and stations, and it would be very unfortunate if an arbitrary line were drawn through a constituency in this necessary division, in some way which would interfere with the polling station with which the electors were familiar and would cause confusion. The Home Secretary has indicated that he has some sympathy with the Amendment, and I sincerely trust, in view of the fact that it is essentially practical and desirable from every point of view, and is a convenient and necessary modification of the Clause, that he will accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I think more has been understood in the two speeches that we have just heard than is actually covered in the Amendment before the Committee. I have, even as Home Secretary, no particular surgical functions in connection with the work which the Commissioners have to perform. It would be for the Commissioners to prepare schemes, and no doubt the two hon. Members who have just spoken would have some opportunity later on of expressing their views with regard to those schemes, and probably of being able to put their views before the Commissioners, either directly or through agents who would be, no doubt, as interested as they are.
636 I accept generally the purpose of this Amendment, though it would, I think, give rise to some inconvenience if the whole of the words as they are on the Paper were inserted. I am certain that the Commissioners under the Bill, so far as practicable, would include the whole of a ward in a particular constituency, but there will in all probability be some instances where, through certain geographical or perhaps river or other conditions, it would be difficult to do it, and I suggest that the Amendment should stop at the word "ward," and not continue to require, indeed to compel, the Commissioners to do what, under certain very exceptional circumstances, they might think it extremely unwise to do. I would therefore be prepared to accept the Amendment in this form:Provided that in preparing any such scheme the Commissioners shall have regard to the existing boundaries of the municipal wards.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I wish to express my appreciation of the statement of the Home Secretary, who has, I think, taken a wise course. If these Commissioners are to be relied upon at all, surely they would give very earnest consideration to the boundaries of the wards, but to tie the Commissioners down, as in the Amendment as it stands, would perhaps provide a disadvantageous position for the wards. It is advisable that in the division of such a constituency as my own, there should be a fair apportionment of the electorate to the separate divisions. If we are to make two constituencies instead of one, it is only right that he Commissioners should be left to divide the division according to the electorate in each.
§ Captain BOURNE
I am grateful to the Home Secretary. As a matter of order, it would be easiest if he would move to leave out the last words of the Amendment after the second word "wards." That would be the simplest way of dealing with it.
Amendment to proposed Amendment made: Leave out the words
and shall take care that such wards be not divided.
§ Proposed words, as amended, there inserted.
§ Captain BOURNE
I beg to move, in page 2, line 25, at the end, to insert the words: 637(2) Before preparing any such scheme as aforesaid the said Commissioners shall, in every constituency in respect of which a scheme is to be prepared under this section, bold a local public inquiry at which the Commissioners shall ascertain the views and opinions of the electors as to the method of division to be adopted in respect of such constituency.Nothing in this Clause would compel the Commissioners to hold an inquiry before deciding upon a scheme. If the records of what happened under the Act of 1918 are studied, it will be found that the Commisisoners who were appointed to consider whether or not a number of constituencies should be put under Proportional Representation, in every single case arranged a local inquiry. They did it also in respect of a good many alterations of boundaries and redistribution of seats, and I feel that it is a matter of some importance that in a double-member constituency the opinions and wishes of the local people should be expressed. If they hold the local inquiry which I am seeking to provide, they will not be compelled to follow the opinions of local people, but they will be compelled to listen to them and to give due weight to them in making up their minds as to the fairest way of dividing up the constituency. What may look upon the map to be the easiest method of redistribution is not always the most suitable from the point of view of the locality. Very often parts of a district, for geographical, industrial and other reasons, can be worked together, and other parts can be kept separate, and it will make for smooth working if these factors are taken into consideration.
On the question where the line should be drawn and what should be put in one constituency and what in another, it is important that the views of those who will form the new constituencies should be consulted. As the right hon. Gentleman said on my last Amendment, probably my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Sir C. Rawson) would have the opportunity, either by himself or through his agent or through his friends, to express his views as to how his constituency should be divided, but I do not see, as the Clause is drafted, anything to make certain that the Commissioners will take a course to allow that to be done. I feel certain that they would, but it should be laid down as an expression of the views of Parliament that 638 they ought to take that course before coming to a final decision.
§ Mr. SHORT
I may bring this discussion to an early close by admitting the principle underlying this Amendment and accepting its spirit. In connection with the redistribution of seats under the 1918 Act, the Commissioners caused advertisements to be put in the local Press, and local inquiries were held. I think that it is generally admitted that those inquiries—
§ Mr. SHORT
Yes, they were, I propose to accept the purpose and the spirit of this Amendment, but, as at present advised, I am not satisfied that these are the best words to carry out the purpose of the hon. and gallant Member. In these circumstances, I am prepared to ensure that on the Report stage suitable words are found to give effect to the Amendment.
§ Major HILLS
Will the hon. Gentleman also promise to make it a public Inquiry? I took part in one of the inquiries under the Act of 1918. The question was whether the county of Durham should be given Proportional Representation. It was a very valuable inquiry; it was largely attended and excited great local interest. Though a contrary decision would have given me a seat for life, I thought that the decision of the inquiry was a wise and just one. So I hope that the inquiry will follow in the main the lines laid down by the Act of 1918.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I am not at all as sanguine as the Under-Secretary of State that, in accepting this Amendment in the spirit, it will materialise in the form in which he thinks that it will. I have a right to speak with some authority on this question of Commissioners and the question of redistribution. There was a Commission set up after the Irish Treaty to determine what portions of Northern Ireland were prepared by their own will to transfer themselves into the Free State and to determine that in a spirit of justice. Perhaps there is no episode in the history of the relationship of this country to Ireland more disgraceful than the conduct, the methods, and the policies which were carried out in relation 639 to that matter. Three Commissioners were appointed by the British Government, as part of the arrangement made in the establishment of the Treaty, to hold an inquiry in Northern Ireland in order to determine the will of the people—that was the declaration in the Treaty—in relation to the Government under which they were prepared to serve. The Commission held inquiries, and I take it that the purpose of those inquiries was to have an impartial adjustment of the questions about which there was controversy. What happened? The county of Tyrone had repeated elections with overwhelming majorities, and the county of Fermanagh had elections and overwhelming evidence was given by local bodies and responsible public men, but, notwithstanding the declared will of the people at the poll, and the reasoned views put forward to the Commissioners, and notwithstanding the general consensus of opinion, the Commissioners transferred these large communities from Southern Ireland, under whose control they desired to be, to Northern Ireland. That was contrary to the whole evidence that was submitted to the Commissioners, and contrary to he whole spirit of the people whose liberties were involved.
I am prepared to allow the hon. Member to give an illustration, but I would remind him that this Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland and we must not use this occasion to ventilate Irish grievances.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I want to save this country from the dangers from which we have suffered. The Under-Secretary of State agrees with the spirit of the Amendment, and is prepared to put the spirit into language which will materialise the spirit in Parliamentary form, but there must, first of all, be a Commission above suspicion. We must have a guarantee that the Commission will act upon the evidence which they seek and secure, which was not done in the case to which I have referred. I am not at all sure that this Amendment is not mere make-belief. It would be better to leave the matter as it stands. What is the good of going into a constituency and inviting people to give evidence, if, when the people come forward in a bona fide spirit to give their evidence, and their 640 evidence is overwhelming, as in the case to which I have referred, the Commissioners give a very apposite decision to all the evidence and the opinions expressed by those who gave the evidence. That is a warning to posterity, but, of course, posterity never takes warnings. Someone has written that we should not bother with that aspect of the question, because what has posterity ever done for us?
I intervened to call attention, as far as I could with your eye upon me, Mr. Dunnico, to the grave electoral scandal and maladministration by Commissioners of their functions, because I take it that Commissioners ought to be like Judges; they ought to be divorced from prejudice and act in a reasonable and impartial spirit. But if Commissioners, like the Feetham Commissioners, do not carry out the will of the people who come before them to give evidence, but act according to the secret instructions given to them by political partisans before they hold these inquiries, this Amendment cannot possibly be of any use.
§ Major DAVIES
One is surprised that, in spite of the fact that Northern Ireland has been excluded from this Bill, it has given the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Devlin) an opportunity to air another grievance. The hon. Member was prevented from developing his theme, but I am sure that the speech can be repeated on another occasion when it will be in order. His warning with regard to possible maladministration of the Commissioners would have come better under a previous Amendment dealing with the procedure in connection with double-member constituencies, where the Commissioners' decisions would be of such importance. I am glad that the Under-Secretary has agreed to accept this Amendment in principle, though I am not quite clear why its rather plain wording has to be reconsidered. I hope the words to be substituted will cover our intentions, because when it is a question of redistributing constituencies mere geographical and administrative conveniences—
I think the hon. and gallant Member is going outside the terms of the Amendment.
§ Major DAVIES
I was referring to the fact that those who will come to such an 641 inquiry are actuated, sometimes, by different motives from those considerations which are in the minds of the Commissioners. A change in a constituency touches very closely the sentimental feelings of the people, and it is important that that point of view should be put before the Commissioners right on the spot. I can give an instance from my own experience. Certain parts of my own constituency in Somerset belonged, before the late redistribution, to another constituency, and the people in that corner always regard themselves somewhat as foreigners in my constituency, and go back, sentimentally, to the old organisation and to the old name. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) will bear me out. I instance that to show that voters in a constituency may have a point of view apart from the question of geography or the division of wards. Therefore, I am glad to think it is the intention of the Government to provide for such a point of view to be put forward and to be considered by the Commissioners—perhaps more properly considered than the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone, from his bitter experience, would agree will be the case.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I am glad that the Under-Secretary has accepted the spirit of the Amendment, and I hope that the real substance of it will be kept carefully in view in the readjustment of the wording. Unless the Commissioners give a fair opportunity for local opinions from every quarter to be expressed, there will be dissatisfaction and disappointment, and we shall cause trouble, and we desire that these changes shall be made as smoothly as possible.
§ Sir C. RAWSON
I feel that this Amendment might go a little further, and in the alteration which is to be brought up on the Report stage perhaps the hon. Gentleman will see that an opportunity is given to those who reside in contiguous constituencies to attend the inquiry. I have instanced cases where municipal and Parliamentary divisions overlap and you may find a church which is in one municipal division is in another Parliamentary division, and in such cases when they are very hard up for funds people write to the wrong Member of Parliament. That actually happens at the present time.
I am rather pleased that the Home Secretary is not accepting the actual wording of this Amendment. Surely the Commissioners will not go to the inquiry without some scheme in their minds; but I take it that under this Amendment they may not have any scheme to submit to the inquiry; and will have to draw it up afterwards, though not being required to take it back to the inquiry later. Surely people ought to have some idea of what the Commissioners are going to do, so that they can express their opinions upon it at the inquiry.
§ Captain BOURNE
The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Lee), I think, has overlooked the fact that any scheme so prepared is to be laid before Parliament. It is obvious that the Commissioners will have a plan in their heads when they go to the inquiry, but I think the moment of "preparation" comes when the scheme is concluded and laid on the Table of the House. I am very much obliged to the Under-Secretary and to the Home Secretary for their promise to put into the Bill on the Report stage some words which will make it clear that it is the intention that the Commissioners shall hold a local inquiry before they settle the scheme. I think that is the general wish of all hon. Members, except, perhaps, the hon, Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Devlin) who has so ingeniously found an opportunity to relieve his feelings regarding the Feetham Commission on an Amendment which has nothing to do with Northern Ireland. In view of the undertaking given by the Home Office, I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. BUTLER
I rise to say emphatically that I should like to see this Clause deleted and double-member constituencies retained as part of our constitutional system. I take this line quite definitely, and I am sure it will he followed by many of those who have a regard for our constitutional past and for the methods on which our Constitution has been built up. The hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Devlin) alluded to posterity, but with 643 this Bill mopping up all those great attributes which have brought our Constitution to its present position, I feel that we shall appear before posterity as mere scavengers who have created nothing in the place of all that we have taken away. There is nothing constructive in the Bill, only a sapping and mining of the old features of the Constitution. It may be said that the abolition of double-member constituencies was recommended by the Royal Commission of 1910. The report of that Commission has already been criticised in this House, and the fact that we are basing the contents of this Measure upon the recommendations of that Commission can be no inducement to the Committee to accept it. That Commission sat 21 years ago; this Government is so little up to date that, in 1931, it must go back to proposals made in the year 1910 as the foundation for a Bill. If that is typical of the legislation of the present Government, it is not surprising that they, like the institutions which they are attacking, are tottering to their fall.
I defend double-member constituencies on the ground that, for the sake of posterity, we should do something to retain one of the most noble and dignified elements in our Constitution. More than that, if we regarded our electoral system in a reforming and a progressive spirit we should retain double-member constituencies as a basis upon which to bring our electoral system much more up to date. The Alternative Vote has been criticised as not being practicable, and because it is second best, and I maintain that if we retained the double-member constituencies they could be made the basis for a more scientific and more mathematical reform than is provided by the AlternativeVote. Let me remind the Committee of the past history of double-member constituencies. They were retained by Mr. Gladstone in his Bill in 1885. He said:In many towns there is undoubtedly a unity of municipal life which, except for some great object, it is not desirable to violate or to impair by severance.They were retained by that great statesman on the ground that there was something in their constitution which was practical. They were retained on an even greater ground, according to the evidence 644 given before this Royal Commission, the ground of their historical value. That was the main ground upon which Mr. Gladstone retained the remaining double-member constituencies in 1885, and that is the ground on which we ought to consider their retention to-day if we have a regard for building upon the past when creating the future. Double-member constituencies have been the basis of our electoral system in the past, and have only been gradually eaten away by the substitution of single-member constituencies. They were actually introduced by Simon de Montfort in 1265 at a period in our history when our institutions were taking shape. [Laughter.] I often find that references to the past of this country were received by smiles and jeers on the face of the tiger opposite, but I would remind hon. Members that just as Simon de Montfort lived in a great age of reconstruction we also are on the verge of a great era of reconstruction, and that we can well look to the architects of the past for designs for the architecture of the future. Double-member constituencies preserve one of the most historic features of our British electoral system.
I will take some of the objections raised by the Royal Commission in 1910—which is about the date of the Government's awakening—and deal with them one by one. It was said that double-member constituencies would be an anomaly in our system, that one majority would elect two members, that they would be troublesome to party organisers, and so forth. Not only will they not be an anomaly, but if we retain them we may be able to introduce some of the most up-to-date methods of election. It is wrong to say that we cannot use the Alternative Vote in a double-member constituency; by using it, it could be proved that it develops, by a process of growth, into the single transferable vote, and in fact you would then have a group constituency and a method of election which, I believe, would be the most practicable in a large city.
I dare say the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone will consider that I am approaching the precincts of Proportional Representation, and I dare say that you, Mr. Dunnico, will consider that I am rapidly' becoming out of order, but I submit that the argument that because 645 we could not use the Alternative Vote in double-member constituencies the balance of the Bill would be spoiled does not hold good. There would be a loophole by which Proportional Representation could creep into the Bill without attracting even the rigorous attention of the Chair. If we had these group constituencies and had the system of the Alternative Vote in them we should be approaching something very similar to the system on which university members are elected, which, from my experience, has always seemed the most practical form of election in the country.
There exists very often in a city or town a civic spirit which cannot be broken up. If you represent a south or a west part of a city, you may find that in your representation you are leaving out some great industry, although you may represent many of the workers engaged in that industry because they happen to be voters in your constituency. There are other features of municipal life in a city which go to show that it possesses an entity of its own. We maintain that however satisfactory the Amendment moved from this side of the Committee may have made the proposal in regard to double-member constituencies, those Amendments which have been accepted show that the wisdom of Simon de Montfort is greater than the wisdom of the Home Secretary.
I would like to deal with one or two other objections. It is said that double-member constituencies are troublesome to the party organisers. In considering which is the best electoral system, are we right in perpetually paying so much attention to politicians and party organisations? I have had the privilege of sitting through every Debate on this Bill, and I find that although the continual rising and sitting may be beneficial to one's constitution, this Measure has not the same effect on the constitution of the country. During the whole of that time I have heard no allusion to anything but the politician and the effect the change in our electoral system would have upon the parties. I think we ought to consider what effect it will have upon industry and the general characteristics of the country and its development. Although we find that the abolition of double-member constituencies may distress one or two Mem- 646 bers, and cause them some inconvenience, although we may find that party chiefs are distressed by their expenses, we should regard these changes more from the point of view of the future setting up of efficient electoral machiney. Other countries have experimented upon these questions with great success, and we are really behind in these matters. In introducing these electoral reforms we are actually going backwards, and, instead of basing our experiments upon the experience of history, we are creating something which will not be a pattern to the world. This House is merely adopting expedients which have been acknowledged to be only the second best. Some of our greatest statemen have defended double-member constituencies and have declared themselves in favour of a system whereby the whole entity of a city is represented rather than that the city should be carved up and parts of it represented in some other constituency. One of the greatest architects of electoral reform was Gambetta, who in France devised the scrutin de liste and the scrutin d'arrondissement. He realised the difference between the countryside and the town in political representation. In the countryside one has need for personal contact with the locality. In a constituency in the countryside there are often great distances to be traversed, and the Divisions are on the whole single entities and call for a single Member. If a city be divided into a double-member constituency; you do not find the same geographical entity in the Division as you do in the countryside. City constituencies with large numbers of voters automatically find very much more satisfactory representation on the principle of Gambetta, the scrutin de liste, because thereby you do not split the civic entity of the district, which is better represented by two Members. For these reasons, I ask the Committee to reject this Clause.
§ Mr. LANG
The constituency of which I have the honour to be one of the representatives is a double-Member constituency, and is affected by this Clause. I have taken a great deal of care to ascertain the views on this question of members of the political parties in my constituency, and I was rather surprised at the unanimity expressed by the repre- 647 sentatives of the people in the town in favour of this Clause which would split the constituency into two parts. I am amazed at the suggestion that if my colleague and myself happen to represent two separate parts of the same town, that would really be a great blow to constitutional history, or produce a serious disturbance in our electoral system. The arguments for this Clause are overwhelming. The difficulties of politicians and party organisers are surely entitled to some consideration. If the members of the party opposite are anxious that the electors should know what is their policy, and should have a real opportunity of supporting that policy, then it is perfectly right and proper that their organisers should be given the fullest facilities for seeing that the election is conducted as fairly as possible. It is easier to accomplish that with a central organisation with one Member than it is with two Members for the same constituency.
We have heard a great deal about unholy relations, confusion and misunderstandings at election time, but that, at any rate, would be avoided by the change which is now proposed. There is nothing to prevent a Member saying that he is the Member for North Oldham instead of the whole of the constituency. That would not prevent him from paying attention to representation's from the chamber of commerce or the county council, although he represented only part of the county. Hon. Members opposite who represent county constituencies often represent three or four separate towns with different interests, and totally distinct in culture and views and industry, but, according to the views which have been expressed by hon. Members opposite, those representatives will be placed in a very serious position by this Bill. I gather from what has been said by hon. Members opposite that in the case of double-Member constituencies it will be impossible for them to be properly represented under the system which is now proposed. If that be the ease, I do not know how hon. Members who represent three or four townships are going to do it properly. As most of those constituencies are in the hands of hon. Members opposite, that may be the reason why the representation is so inadequate. I support this Clause as the representative of a double-barrelled constituency.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I wish, at the outset, to thank the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) for the very delightful speech which he has just delivered. One of the reasons for introducing this change was that it would make it easier for the minority party to obtain representation. Another reason was the grievance felt by the Liberal majority in not having in the House the representation to which they thought their numbers would entitle them. I would call the attention of the Committee to the fact that by the policy of dividing double-Member constituencies, you will be debarred from remedying the one grievance which seems to me to be a remote justification for an Electoral Reform Bill. We discussed the question of double-Member constituencies to some extent during the sittings of the Ullswater Conference, and, in spite of the fact that double-Member constituencies would make it easier for minorities to obtain representation, the three-party caucuses were all agreed that on the whole they preferred to have double-Member constituencies. I sit for a single-Member constituency, and I think I prefer that system. On that account, although I appreciate the weight of the arguments urged by my hon. Friend, I would advise him not to press his opposition to the Clause to an actual Division. There is one point to which I should like to draw the attention of the Committee, and that is the fact that the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Lang), who has just made a very interesting speech, declared his horror of anything in the nature of what I think he called an unholy relation. By that I understood him to mean a bargain between two separate parties. I was surprised to hear an hon. Member from those benches making a statement of that kind. Here is a Bill the chief object of which is, by means of the Alternative Vote, to make these bargains quite inevitable in the future, and yet the hon. Member comes here and says that he disapproves of double-Member constituencies, as double-Member constituencies make bargains possible. What better illustration could we have of the complete muddle-headedness that is behind the proposals in this Measure? What better illustration could we have of the completely illogical results that will come about from the Clauses which we are discussing, 649 and those which we shall be discussing when the Bill is again in Committee? What better reason could we have for saying that a muddle-headed Bill of this kind should certainly not pass this House?
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
I should like to join issue with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare). His contention was that two-member constituencies lead to bargains, and that bargains will continue when we have the Alternative Vote. I cannot speak for others, but only for myself, and, as far as I am concerned, in my two-member constituency we had no bargain, and I see no reason why it should lead to a bargain, although, of course, there are people who will smell a bargain even when none is there. I think that the case for the abolition of two-member constituencies is overwhelming. In the first place, on the ground of numbers alone, it is really impossible to expect a Member, however conscientious he is, to cater for 80,000 electors, as I do, or 126,000, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton does. It does not merely mean that all the people of his own political persuasion come to him, but it means that everyone has two shots. In my constituency, be comes first of all to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, and, when my hon. Friend cannot do anything for him, he comes to me; or it may be the other way about. Therefore, we are perpetually harassed and worried, and, as everybody knows, the 12 Members or so who represent these double-barrelled constituencies are the most hard-working Members in the House.
There is another reason, and that is that the election tends to be fought in a very frivolous manner. I suppose I had at least 5,000 questions as to what a particular voter ought to do with his second vote. I always replied that he should use his common sense. If I had said to them, "Vote Conservative," every Liberal Member in the county would have sent up a howl, because every Conservative opponent of a Liberal candidate would have said to the Liberal voters, "Don't worry; vote for me; don't vote for the Member for East Norfolk." On the other hand, if one gave one's advice the other way, one would be equally "in the cart." Therefore, to the 5,000 questions or so that I had, the only satisfactory answer 650 that I could find to give them was, "If I were you I would give it a rest over Whitsun." The result of that kind of thing is that one gets a more or less frivolous election, and does not discuss some of the big points. On the grounds of numbers and of convenience, and on the general ground that all political parties in these constituencies are in favour of this change, I am very glad that the Government have put this Clause in the Bill.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Stafford Cripps)
I do not think it is necessary for me to say much with regard to this Clause, but I should like very much to say to the hon. Member for' Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) that I greatly enjoyed his speech, and I envy his historical knowledge and delightful flow of language. The object of this Clause is to carry out the intention of, Clause 1 of the Bill. The Alternative Vote cannot be applied successfully in two-member constituencies, and, therefore, apart from all the other disadvantages which two-member constituencies may have, for the purpose of this Bill it is necessary to have this Clause in order to provide machinery for dividing up the, two-member constituencies, so that the Alternative Vote may operate properly in those areas. The other arguments which have been brought forward, particularly by those who sit for two-member constituencies, would all be very cogent if the matter were being discussed apart altogether from the Alternative Vote, but, in view of the fact that it is a necessary part of the machinery, and in view of the indications which have been given by various hon. Members, I think it is unnecessary for me to detain the Committee further.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I agree with this Clause, and, as representing what I prefer to term a double-member constituency rather than a double-barrelled constituency, I think we are only doing justice by removing this out-of-date system from the several constituencies in this country where it is now in operation. The fact that we are agreed as to the Alternative Vote leaves an opportunity for the electors, should they so choose, to show a preference for one candidate as against another. There is no doubt that there are difficulties in connection with double-member con- 651 stituencies as they stand now. The matter depends, of course, to some extent upon whether their representation is exactly on the same lines or along the same party proclivities, but, in the case of a single-member constituency, the gentleman or lady who happens to represent it is clearly and distinctly a representative of a given position and a given party, so that those who may approach him or her are able to do so without any complications arising. On the whole, although I think that the Government have taken this step in circumstances of a peculiar nature, to which we have referred on a former occasion, we have to judge the matter on its merits, and I think that in this respect we are doing the right thing.
§ Captain BOURNE
In spite of the fact that various Members of the House who sit for two-member or double-barrelled constituencies seem to be unanimous in desiring to shed their colleagues with the utmost possible speed, I cannot help agreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) in regretting the passing away of the last vestige of the old system of election in this country. As my hon. Friend said, when Parliament originally started, not only the boroughs, but also the counties, were each represented by two Members, and I, for one, regret that the passing of this Bill will bring to an end that very old historic situation. I regret it the more in the case of the boroughs, because I feel that there is a very strong civic conscience in most of our boroughs in England, and I think that that is not anything like so strong when a borough is divided artificially, largely from geographical and numerical considerations, and that it makes a real cleavage which it will be very hard to repair. I do not think that in such a case the two Members sitting for different parts of the borough will have quite the same historical sense which they at present enjoy as the representatives of an undivided community.
There are one or two other questions which arise out of this Clause, and on which the Solicitor-General did not touch. The first point on which I should like to ask him a question is with regard to Sub-section (3). As far as I can understand Sub-section (3), it will mean 652 this: Supposing that this Measure receives the Royal Assent and goes on to the Statute Book, the Commissioners will be set up; but supposing also that a General Election takes place before the Commissioners have completed their work, then, as I read Sub-section (3), you might have one or two boroughs divided, and thus having two Members elected under the Alternative Vote, while the remaining boroughs might remain two-member constituencies not having the Alternative Vote. It may be that this Clause is put in in order to enable a Dissolution to be taken immediately or very soon after the passing of the Act. I also conclude, for other reasons, that the Government intend to carry out the regular constitutional practice, which is that, if the basis of the system of election is altered, or if there is a redistribution of seats, there is an immediate appeal to the country; because, as far as I can see, there is no machinery whatever under this Clause to deal with one of these two-member constituencies should a by-election arise.
I want also to put this point to the Solicitor-General. Unless there is to be a Dissolution, it will be quite easy for the Commissioners to divide up the boroughs into two parts, but the existing Members have been elected for the entire constituency, and, in the event of one of them either dying or resigning, on what principle would the half constituency be allotted? No provision for that has been made, and I can only conclude that it has been deliberately left out because the Government intend to follow the old constitutional practice, and, if this Bill becomes an Act, to go to the country with all the speed possible.
§ Sir C. RAWSON
I should like to emphasise one point that was put by the Solicitor-General. I was surprised that he did not make more of it. I dislike this Bill—I had nearly said "this rotten Bill"—but, if we have to have it at all we must have Clause 2, because of the difficulties in double-member constituencies. In my constituency at the last election we had six candidates. There were 126,000 electors, and there was cross-voting of about 20 different kinds. It is true that at the last election two Liberal candidates forfeited their deposits, and may not fight again, but, if you have six candi- 653 dates under the Alternative Vote, there will be endless confusion, and cross-voting in 40 or 50 ways, which will make the position even less understandable than it is at the present time. Therefore, if we are bound to have the Bill—I hope we shall not—we are bound to have Clause 2.
§ Mr. RAYNES
One point that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler), and also by the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford City (Captain Bourne), was with regard to the destruction of civic spirit if the double-member constituencies are taken away and single divisons are created in their place. From the arguments used by both hon. Members it would appear as though we are about to take away the last remains of civic spirit in this country. Surely, there is civic spirit existing in other boroughs than those which have double-member constituencies, but the arguments of the hon. Members seemed to imply that that is not the case, and that it is only in double-member constituencies that any civic spirit really exists.
Gladstone has been quoted as speaking in 1885 in favour of the retention of double-member constituencies because of the necessity for retaining civic spirit. I would ask the two hon. Members whether they really believe there is less civic spirit in Sheffield, Leeds or Bradford than there is in Preston, Bolton, Oldham or Derby? Does the question whether a borough has single-member constituencies or a double-member constituency have any effect at all in regard to the retention of civic spirit? I speak from 20 years' experience as a member of a civic authority, and as one who is anxious to retain civic spirit, and, if I felt that the division of these boroughs into single-member constituencies would rob them of civic spirit, I should be inclined to range myself on the side of hon. Members opposite and oppose this Clause. But I do not and cannot believe for one moment that that is the case. Civic spirit does exist, and we are glad to recognise it, in all our great towns and cities in this country, and the division of these double-member constituencies into single divisions is not going to rob them of civic spirit in the slightest degree.
The hon. Member for Brighton (Sir C. Rawson) spoke of the great difficulty, 654 and, indeed, the practical impossibility, of retaining the double-member constituency with the Alternative Vote, and I quite agree with him. It has been my experience in the borough of Derby on more than one occasion to fight elections where we have had five candidates for two seats, and 15 different ways of voting. The difficulty is certainly great enough in a contest of that kind, but what would it be with the double-member constituencies retained and the Alternative Vote adopted? The thing would become practically impossible or, at all events, extremely difficult. I feel that, in doing away with the last remaining double-member constituencies—I wish we were taking the City of London as well—we are putting the business of electing Members to this House on an equal footing in every constituency, we are coming to an equal and fair basis, and as for the destruction of the civic spirit, or the creating of any kind of faction or division inside these double-member constituencies, we shall be doing nothing of the kind. Members have need to fear nothing whatever with regard to the destruction of any municipal understanding. It is true that I was hoping to see the scope of the Bill enlarged so that divisions outside the double-member constituencies should be so far entrenched upon as to make the present double-member divisions take in the whole of the municipal area. That intention of mine was put forward in order to maintain the civic spirit, but the division of the borough inside itself will not, in my opinion, interfere with civic spirit in the slightest degree.
§ Lord ERSKINE
I hope that before we leave the consideration of the Clause we shall have an answer to the very important question that has been put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne), namely, in the double-member constituencies, if there is no immediate dissolution after the passing of the Act, what is to happen in case one Member dies, or applies for the Chiltern Hundreds, or is no longer able to continue functioning as a Member of the House? It seems to be a point which has been rather left out, and something may have to be put in on Report to guard against an eventuality of that kind.
§ Lord ERSKINE
Sub-section (3), in my view, does not cover a case of that sort, and I think the Government are aware of that fact.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
It is really covered by Sub-section (2). Although, of course, there will be ample time for this Commission to sit before the dissolution of this Parliament and give full consideration to the scheme, provision is made in Sub-section (2). The Houses of Parliament have to adopt the scheme, and then it shall take effect as from the dissolution of the Parliament next following its adoption. So that it cannot come into force until a dissolution.
§ Lord ERSKINE
thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his explanation, which I am sure will be entirely satisfactory to the Committee. On the general question, it seems to have been assumed by the last speaker that we are opposed to the Clause passing into law. It is true that some of us are, but a great many of us regard it as one of the few good Clauses in what we otherwise believe to be a singularly bad Bill. I was interested in listening to the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler), who made such an excellent speech. If I followed his argument correctly, he desired to see the double-Member constituencies remain because of their historical past, because he was afraid the civic sense would be lost if they were divided up, but lastly and, perhaps, from my own point of view most unfortunately, because it would be far easier, if we retained them, to found thereon a system of Proportional Representation. I object strongly to Proportional Representation and, for that reason alone, I should perhaps be more inclined, after hearing the hon. Member's speech, to support this Clause than to vote in favour of the retention of double-Member constituencies.
The hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Lang) talked about bargaining, and my right hon. Friend below me rather pulled him up for that. The hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Shakespeare) seemed to go a great deal further. He said that during his election he had no fewer than 5,000 questions from various people asking how they should give their second vote. We were arguing yesterday that the adoption of the Alternative 656 Vote would lead to bargaining, and we were informed by Members who are in favour of it that no such intention was in their mind. I think the remarks of the hon. Members for Oldham and Norwich have shown that in future we are going to get rather more bargaining under the system that it is proposed to insert than we have had in the past. I do not propose to oppose the Clause. I think, on the whole, it is one of the best Clauses in the Bill, and I believe the vast majority of Members desire to do away with double-Member constituencies, although there are very strong historical and sentimental arguments in favour of their being retained. Nevertheless, I think the arguments against their retention are stronger. They are huge, unwieldy and extremely expensive, and for those reasons I believe this Clause should be passed into law.
§ Sir JOSEPH McCONNELL
In 1920 I was a member of the committee that came to this House to consult with the Ulster Members. We met a great many Ministers and, after a great deal of pressure, we got their assurance that, if we would agree to the settlement that was made at that time, the Ulster question would never arise again. It has been raised this week in this House. We have present this evening perhaps the greatest campaigner we have ever had in Ireland. When he started his campaign in Ireland he made the welkin ring, and we almost heard the vibrations in this House. Above all, in his own constituency there has been more activity shown in the matter than in any other constituency in Ulster. I do not wish to take up more of the time of the Committee, as I know that I am indulging on its patience and am entirely out of order.
Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.