HC Deb 06 December 1933 vol 283 cc1725-87

7.30 p.m.


I beg to move, That, in order to ensure in future Parliaments a greater correspondence between the strength of opinion in the country and representation in the House of Commons, it is desirable to reform the present system of Parliamentary elections. It has been suggested to me by some hon. Members that to-night we are discussing two kinds of herring, one the fresh herring and the other the red herring. I hope, however, that before I sit down I shall be able to convince the House that the Motion which it is my privilege to move is one to which the House should give serious attention. It is a Motion to carry a step further the enfranchisement of the people. It is 100 years since the great Reform Bill of 1832 was passed by this House. I think it can be said of that Bill that it made certain and secured the ultimate victory of popular government, but it was the first step only, paving the way for later reform. In 1832, in 1867, in 1885, in 1918 and in 1928 the electorate was extended in ever-widening circles until it now includes all men and women on terms of equal citizenship. Having said that and having acknowledged that every person over the age of 21, man and woman, is entitled to a vote, I think I can state definitely that it is equally true that electoral reform is not yet complete. Here, I would like to quote from a speech delivered by the right hon. Member who is now the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in the year 1922. It was a most lucid speech on this question. He said: Franchise reform as such requires some way of securing that the casting of a vote, whoever casts it, is going to produce its proper and adequate result in representation. Merely to provide an adult citizen with the right to vote, without arranging a system by which, when that duty is discharged, it will have its true proportionate influence upon the expression of opinion, is like imagining that you could defend a country by an army merely because you distribute rifles to every citizen. Franchise reform only becomes really valuable if you are able to combine it with some system by which you not only answer the question who may choose Members of Parliament, but how is the instrument you put in their hinds to be so used as to produce the effect aimed at, namely, to ascertain the real judgment and opinion of the country. The equal right to vote is not calculated to give by itself the effective enjoyment of equal citizenship. I think that statement of the case, reinforced by many similar utterances by the same right hon. Gentleman, is unanswerable. The first General Election held under adult suffrage was that of 1929, and it showed definitely that equal citizenship was not attained. The results of that election were extremely anomalous. The Conservative party got the greatest number of votes, but they did not secure the largest number of seats. The sense of injustice and the sense of gamble in the result found considerable expression, and in the Gracious Speech of 1929 we find a reference at the opening of Parliament to that gamble. These were the words in the Gracious Speech: At the recent General Election an extended franchise placed in the hands of the whole of My People of adult years the grave responsibility for guarding the well-being of this nation as a constitutional democracy, and My Government propose to institute an examination of the experiences of the election so that the working of the law relating to Parliamentary elections may be brought into conformity with the new conditions. Therefore, I think I may claim that the result of the first election under universal suffrage produced such results that it was deemed desirable by His Majesty's Government to institute an examination into the working of the electoral law. Then followed the appointment of what has been called the Ullswater Conference. The Government set up a conference consisting of members of the three parties, and the Prime Minister invited Lord Ullswater, a former distinguished speaker of this House, to preside over its deliberations. A long time was devoted to the consideration of this specific subject. The conference held many meetings and examined with great care many proposals for electoral reform and passed by 13 votes to eight the following Resolution: Any change in the present system of Parliamentary elections should include the adoption of Proportional Representation with the single transferable vote. That was a Resolution in the voting on which all the Members took part. The Resolution is cautiously worded. I do not want to misrepresent it in any way. It does say that in any change proportional representation should be included, though I am willing to admit that some of those who voted for that Resolution were not convinced of the necessity for the change. It is true to say that opinions were expressed that while proportional representation might be suitable in the cities it might not be suitable for other areas. I want to make it quite clear that what I am concerned with is not one system in particular but some system that will ensure some correspondence between the votes cast and the Members coming to this House. The Government, following that conference, came to the conclusion that a change was desirable and introduced the Alternative Vote Bill, ignoring the majority Resolution of the Ullswater Conference. That led Lord Ullswater to make a protest in the other House against the practice of the Government of appointing commissions and committees and absolutely ignoring their recommendations. Lord Ullswater said: The committee spent at least ten meetings over this and at last a decision was taken. That Resolution would to a considerable extent meet the grievances which the Conference had set out to try and overcome, namely, the gross under-representation of great bodies of citizens on whom the franchise had been conferred. After the introduction of the Alternative Vote Bill the financial crisis supervened and electoral reform and many other questions were submerged. I think it is true to say that the Lords Amendments to the Bill were not considered, Parliament was dissolved, and we had a second experience of a General Election held under adult suffrage. The election of 1931, I think it is correct to say, confirmed the need of complete electoral reform and of making some provision whereby large bodies of opinion in the country should be adequately represented both in respect of numbers and personnel in this House. I could produce many election figures in support of my contention, but I do not intend to inflict many figures upon the House. I should, however, like to refer to my own county. As everybody in the House knows, I am a Yorkshireman, and I am convinced that my county has not for years been truly represented in this House either in the last Parliament or in this.

Let me take the county of Yorkshire for the purpose of illustration. Yorkshire is represented in this House by 57 Members. In the last Parliament 40 of those 57 Members were members of the Labour party. Therefore, we are left to conclude that nearly three-fourths of the people of Yorkshire are adherents of the Labour cause. That is certainly not the case. Less than half of those who went to the poll in 1929 voted for the Labour candidates. Labour polled less than 1,000,000 votes out of a total of 2,200,000, and yet they secured an overwhelming majority of the seats in Yorkshire. The representation yielded by the electoral system was a gross misrepresentation of the county of Yorkshire. In 1929 Labour polled less than twice the Liberal vote. The Liberal vote was more than 500,000 and the Labour vote was less than 1,000,000, but they secured 20 times as many of the Yorkshire seats as did the Liberals.


Were there any uncontested seats?


There were no uncontested seats in 1929, but there were in 1931. In giving these figures I am not expressing or taking any partisan view. I want to impress upon the House, and particularly upon Conservative Members, that no one can foresee the course of political development in this country. The outstanding fact that I submit is that there are 500,000 citizens in my county who are denied an effective share of Parliamentary representation.

Let me come to the election of 1931. There was a combination mainly of Liberal and Conservative votes and that combination nearly wiped out the representation of Labour in Yorkshire. Compared with 1929, Labour polled 180,000 votes fewer in 1931. But this was sufficient for their representation to drop from 40 to seven. A drop in votes of 180,000 meant a loss of 33 seats. If we take the country as a whole every Labour Member, on the average, represents at this moment 144,000 citizens, while other Members in the House, including myself, represent on an average some 29,000 citizens. It may be the other way round next time. But we have sufficient experience of universal suffrage combined with our present system of election to know that the pendulum swings with destructive violence, depriving great bodies of opinion almost completely of representation.

The other point I desire to submit is a very serious one, and it is that the present electoral system excludes from this House so many of the ablest members of the defeated party. I am certain that members of the Labour party will not suggest that I am at all nasty about this, but will themselves admit that it would have been of advantage to have had some of the great leaders of the Labour party sitting alongside them now. I have not said one word against universal suffrage, I am trying to look into the future. Mr. Garvin, whom I always read with interest, made this statement a short time ago with regard to our system of election: It stakes upon a gamble at the polls the control of Imperial and foreign as well as domestic affairs. We are all conscious that under the present system a general election is a gamble, and I submit that as the trustees of the spirit of our Constitution we have no right to entrust the destinies of the nation to a gamble. The need for reform is apparent; and the nature of the reform is expressed in the terms of the Motion, a greater correspondence between the Commons and the country. One of the greatest Parliamentarians of all time—I apologise to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) for trespassing upon his particular preserve—Edmund Burke, says: The virtue, the spirit, the essence of the House of Commons, consists in its being the express image of the feelings of the nation. I suggest that this should still express our own attitude towards the House of Commons. It is interesting to go through the opinions expressed by the leaders of all parties in the House. Let me take first the Leader of the Labour party. Time after time, with the approval of the House, he has summoned us to apply Christian principles to public questions. He has endeavoured to lift public affairs, national and international, on to a high plane, and I am sure that it is his desire to be perfectly consistent in the application of these principles. In all seriousness I put to him this question: Have the citizens of Great Britain who differ in political views from the right hon. Gentleman, any right to representation in this House? Surely, the principles which he has summoned this House to follow must make him answer that question in the affirmative, and I would remind him that, whatever his answer may be, it will not only be heard in this House and in this country, but also as far away as Japan. I mention Japan for a particular purpose. The right hon. Gentleman has had a good deal to say about Japan; he has criticised many of the actions of that country. He desires Japan to act fairly and with every consideration to her neighbours, but the value of an appeal to any other nation of the world to adhere to a policy of consideration for weaker countries or for minorities within their own boundaries will be destroyed if the right hon. Gentleman and the party he leads rejects the right to representation in this House of those fellow citizens in this country who do not happen to agree with his political views.

I put to him this further question: not merely as to whether he agrees that other people shall be represented in this House, but how much representation these opponents shall have? Again, I think he will reply that the representation should bear a reasonable correspondence to the strength of its supporters in the country. I think he will also agree that it is wrong for a minority to have a majority of the seats; that it is contrary to those principles we wish to see at work in this country that small minorities shall be crushed. There is an independent group within the Labour party. I am not quite clear how far the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) believes in Parliament. There was a time when he believed in proportional representation, but I am not certain whether he still retains that faith. I am not sure also whether the official Labour party intends to do its best to exclude the hon. Member from the next House of Commons, but I am certain that there will be general agreement in the House that the hon. Member for Bridgeton is a distinguished and valuable Member and that this House would be less representative of the whole nation if he were excluded.

Let me say one word about my own political party; and here I can speak of the general unanimity on this question. Every Member of the Liberal party, whether he sits on this or the other side of the House, is certain that there is a need for giving a full representative character to the House of Commons. In the last Parliament the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was to the fore in demanding a measure of electoral reform, and nearly all my friends who remain staunch supporters of the Government, as well as their leader, have expressed at different times the necessity of making this House fully representative of the nation. I have already quoted the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, let me give one or two quotations from leaders of the Conservative party. On 2nd June, 1931, the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) made a remarkable speech in this House. The quotation is rather long, but I should like to read it: There is need for more strength and structure in our Parliamentary life. The collective personality of great cities is an important factor. Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Bristol, names which Tory democracy in the eighties used to conjure with, what effective expression have they now of their collective intellectual force? When they had, in the days before the great Reform Bill, perhaps only a couple of Members apiece, they had a greater influence upon our affairs than eight or ten Members representing carved up communities of no integral strength. They have far less weight than one or two men would have who spoke with the collective authority of these centres of British progress and culture. Under the Proportional Representation scheme these cities would regain their collective personality and their members of every hue Liberal, Conservative or Socialist, would speak for the opinions of very large numbers of people forming an integral society. The leading figures in our political life would find at the summit of these great cities far more secure and independent seats than is possible today. Our cities would become centres where keen and powerful debates would, as is almost impracticable now, proceed again before an increasingly attentive audience, and the formation of new opinions in these centres would influence thought in the surrounding districts"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd June, 1931; col. 103, Vol. 253.] Let me turn to the speeches of the Leader of the Conservative party. I find that the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council makes the nearest approach to the conception of Parliament enunciated by Edmund Burke, and I should like to pay a sincere tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for his speech some weeks ago on dictatorships. It was a remarkably fine speech and very interesting to every hon. Member to have such a declaration from the Leader of the Conservative party. Let me give one or two short quotations from the right hon. Gentleman: I believe that a democracy is incomplete and lopsided until it is representative of the whole people. You will never get that perfect democracy at which we aim until the whole people plays its part. For the perfect democracy it is essential that every man and woman in this country should realise his or her responsibility for the government of the country. Most of them can only do it by a wise choice of a Member to represent them. Let me go a little further and take the Prime Minister himself. Here may I say, not with any partisan view, that there has been a somewhat remarkable change in the beliefs of the right hon. Gentleman on this subject. In the most considerable book that he has written since the War, "Socialism, Critical and Constructive," he makes a plea for the restoration of that type of constituency which for hundreds of years was the basis of this House of Commons. He says: There is no reason now why local government units like the city and the county should not become constituencies again. The Members returned will represent the area, not bits of the area. Proportional Representation, with all its deficiencies, alone seems to form a practical working scheme. But I am more interested in the later utterances of the Prime Minister. Those who were Members of this House in 1924 and in 1929 will remember the speeches of the Prime Minister at that time. Addressing the House of Commons of 2nd July, 1929, the right hon. Gentleman said: It is not altogether because I happen to be at the head of a minority that I say this; the thought must be occurring to the mind of everyone who is aware of the very serious problems that this country has to face—problems at home and abroad. I wonder how far it is possible, without in any way abandoning any of our party positions, without in any way surrendering any item of our party principles, to consider ourselves more as a Council of State and less as arrived regiments facing each other in battle. It is perfectly true that the conditions of the House at the present moment invites us to make these reflections, and so far as we are concerned, co-operation will be welcomed—it applies, to a majority Government as much as to a majority Government—so that by putting our ideas into a common pool we can bring out from that common pool legislation and administration that will be of substantial benefit to the nation as a whole."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd July, 1929; col. 64, Vol. 229.] That particular utterance and others of the same kind go a long way to show that the Prime Minister in his conception of the future looks forward to the application within this nation of the principle which we all look forward to in the governing of international relations, namely, that there shall be representation of all nations, and then discussion, and then the maximum amount of co- operation. The point I want to make is that it is clear that great bodies of citizens in this country cannot pool their ideas unless they are permitted to be present in this House through representation. You might as well conceive of the League of Nations passing a rule that a whole block of small countries shall be denied representation in the Assembly of the League.

What is the alternative before the nation? We are being invited from different sources to adopt dictatorial methods in which the views of minorities will be ruthlessly trampled upon and minorities are no longer to count. Such dictatorial methods involve the destruction of the freedom of the Press, the complete control of broadcasting, the complete control of education, and in the end the destruction of the House of Commons. I am sorry to see that the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) has left the House, because I have one or two things to address to him personally. I had asked him to be in his place as I intended to make reference, to him.


He waited half an hour.


I do not think the House has any reason to complain of the length of my speeches. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be able to answer for him, although I am very doubtful, because there are two different opinions on the things I have to say. Very few people in this House or in the country can contemplate with equanimity the threats which have been propounded so frequently by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol. He and his colleagues of the Socialist League have very little faith in Parliament. We are told in their literature that when they get into power there is to be no time wasted in talking. There is to be no discussion. Parliament is to meet, and on the first day, I presume, it is to pass what is called an Emergency Powers Act, which will authorise the Government to take possession of and to operate any undertaking the control of which by the State seems to it desirable or necessary in the public interest. That can be found in a leaflet written by Mr. G. D. H. Cole, called "The Socialist Control of Industry". A very interesting note follows that particular statement. It says that questions of compensation will be decided later by legislation. We are told in that particular pamphlet that their object is expropriation, not a mere change in the form of claims to ownership.

It is very interesting also to read a book called "Problems of a Socialist Government." We are there told that the House of Lords is either to be abolished or Peers are to be created who will carry through this particular policy. We are further told that there is to be taken away from the courts the power which they now exercise, as to the legality of Orders made by Ministers. Nothing must stand in the way of this complete system of Socialism as adumbrated in this book. We are also told that, if necessary, civil servants who are not Socialists shall be replaced by others who are Socialists. The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol even contemplates the prolonging of the life of Parliament in certain circumstances, and in the last resort we are told that force may be used if necessary. The question I want to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman is this: Is all this to be brought about if the Labour party succeed in getting sufficient seats to form a Government, but yet, when the total of the votes they receive is calculated, it represents a minority of the electorate of the country?

It would be very interesting to the House to know definitely whether this programme is to be introduced if the Socialists represent a minority in the country. I see some hon. Gentlemen smiling on the Socialist benches. I would remind the House that they had not the courage at the Labour Party Conference to denounce this scheme in toto. I remember that at the Conference at Hastings a resolution was brought forward, I think by the Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, denouncing dictatorship. Then the representative for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) said, "Wait a moment. There are two kinds of dictatorships, one of the Left and one of the Right. You cannot say that a dictatorship of the Left is something which we object to." For my own part, I say that I object to every kind of dictatorship, from the Left or from the Right. That was my real purpose in putting down this Motion. I believe that this House ought to take all these suggestions very seriously.

There is very grave danger facing this country, and the real alternative to dictatorship is the strengthening of this House by making it more representative of the nation. That is the safeguard against dictatorship. As the Prime Minister said, it may mean a new attitude in the relations between parties, but in practice it means nothing more than this: During an election parties will and must be free to put forward their views on policy and to secure representation in this House, but after the election there rests upon all Members of the House, irrespective of party, the obligation to examine not only the differences between parties but also those things in respect of which they are largely agreed. Just as we expect the co-operation of nations in international affairs, so there lies upon everyone of us an obligation to cooperate in respect of all those questions about which we may agree. Co-operation has been forthcoming in this country in time of war, in time of financial crisis, in respect of India, and it will be forthcoming in any great danger that confronts the nation.

What then is it that I am asking the Government to do? The Motion is no more than a declaratory Motion. We are aware that not even the first effective steps towards a measure of electoral reform can be made without the co-operation of the Government of the day. I ask the Government to consider the facts that I have submitted, and to see in what way practical steps can be taken. During the last century Parliament completed the enfranchisement of citizens. But there is not yet equal citizenship. That, I think, is a real and serious grievance, and it is the privilege of this House to redress it. I earnestly ask the Government to give this matter the same meticulous attention as is being given and rightly given to the new Constitution for India. In that Constitution provision will be made for the representation of minorities as well as of majorities. I will conclude by quoting one further sentence from the Prime Minister: It is only in so far as this House really represents popular opinion that it is going to retain its authority."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 3rd February, 1931; col. 1671, Vol. 247.] That is my case to-night. This House cannot retain its authority when the public is aware, and increasingly aware, that a General Election under the present electoral system is a gamble and that it provides no assurance that representation in the House of Commons shall bear any reasonable correspondence with the strength of opinion in the country.

8.13 p.m.


I beg to second the Motion.

The Motion only asks that a General Election shall not in future be the complete gamble which it is at present, with the possibility of a minority in the country having a majority in this House, and the further possibility of large bodies of opinion in the country being absolutely or practically without representation in this House. I have been tremendously impressed by the remarks which I have seen or heard from time to time—there is no general plan about them at all—coming from extremely diverse sources, from one end of the country to the other, showing that there is great fear in the minds of many men to-day that there may be carried through this House legislation of a far-reaching character by a Government resting upon a minority of votes cast at a General Election. For instance, in the Debate on the Address there were 13 hon. Members who urged the Government to strengthen the other House because there was at the present time no assurance that this House would really be representative of the people and the country. The same sort of thing has been said almost unanimously by Conservative newspapers. They say, "Strengthen the other House; because the House of Commons is not representative, we must make the other House representative, to be a check upon it."

On more than one occasion National Conferences of the Conservative party have passed resolutions to the same effect. All these utterances and resolutions show the same fear, namely, that this House is not as it ought to be, representative of the body of opinion in the country. It is, I believe, possible for a Government resting on just a little over one-third of the votes in the country, to have a majority in this House; and that seems to me an element of extreme danger in the Constitution of this country. The most recent statement of this sort which I have come across is in a striking article by a former Member of this House in the current issue of "The Nineteenth Century." The author of that article, Sir dive Morrison-Bell, sets out a scheme for a Senate to supplant the other House, and the Senate, according to his scheme, is to be elected by a system of Proportional Representation in order, as he says, that it may be really representative. The writer records a conversation which he had with the late Lord Birkenhead on the subject and the only criticism which that acute mind had to offer upon the scheme was that it would make the proposed Senate too strong because it would be more representative of the country than the House of Commons. It was a remarkable omission from this scheme, as I thought at first, that there was to be no revision whatever of the powers at present possessed by the other House when the new scheme came into operation. The reason, of course, was that it was assumed that power would automatically gravitate to the other House, which would then be more representative of the country than this House.

This House under our present constitutional arrangements occupies the premier place. I am a devotee of this House; I believe that its position ought to be maintained, and I think most hon. Members take that view. But how can its position be maintained if, all the time, the House is becoming less and less representative of the people upon whom it must rely for support? I submit that already this House has lost something of its authority and of its grip upon rational affairs, for this very reason, that it is less representative to-day than it was previously. We have this extra-ordinary position—that Members of this House, and influential people outside, and newspapers all over the country, and Conservative Conferences are all, again and again, laying stress on the point that this House is unrepresentative. They go on to say that therefore we should strengthen the other House, as I heard an hon. Member behind me interject just now.

I am a Liberal, and many people cynically suggest, when the question of electoral reform is in the air, that there is an ulterior motive in the minds of Liberals who put forward proposals for any such reform. People say, "This is a device to perpetuate that outworn thing the Liberal party." I ask hon. Members not to allow any such easy excuse to come between them and a serious consideration of this problem. There is something far more significant than the mere prolongation of the life of the Liberal party at stake in this matter. I argue for this reform on the lines on which my party for over a century has argued for the extension of the franchise. As my hon. Friend the Mover has said, this proposal is for an extension of the franchise. Every intelligent Englishman ought to have not only the right to vote but the right to partake in the deliberations of this House. That, surely, is the full extension of the franchise towards which we should all work. My hon. Friend has referred to the treatment which it is proposed to mete out to minorities in India. I cannot help remembering the address with which the first Round Table Conference was opened. In it, this sentence occurred: I have in mind the just claims of the majorities and the minorities. Surely, if we can do this thing for India, we can do it for our own country. The present Government have declared that they will guarantee representation in the new assembly that is to be created in India, to the illiterates and the depressed classes. According to the report of the Simon Commission the depressed classes in India are but 19 per cent, of the population. In 1929 in this country 24 per cent, of the voters were Liberals, and surely the depressed classes in this country are entitled to at least as much consideration as those of India

I should like to answer a criticism of electoral reform which I have heard many times from Members of this House among others. It is said that if you reform the electoral system of this country you will, in allowing every shade of opinion to be represented here, stifle the main current of opinion and prevent it from expressing itself in such a way as to enable the King's Government to be carried on. No system of electoral reform of which I have heard tends in the slightest degree to increase the number of parties—though I know that is contrary to the general belief—but apart from that question surely it shows a complete misunderstanding of our history to suggest that in this country, even if there were more parties, that fact would necessarily lead to stagnation in government. My hon. Friend has pointed out that whenever it has been necessary in this country for parties to come together they have done so, and, in this manner, enabled the King's Government to be carried on. That is a tradition which this country has long ago taken into its very bones and it would not be forgotten if such a system as is suggested here were put into operation.

In the countries of Europe in which Parliamentary government has of late gone under, that development has not been due to the reform of a Chamber, or to the fact that a Chamber represented the country. Rather (has it been due to the fact, which I would ask hon. Members above the Gangway to note, that the Socialist parties in Italy and Germany withdrew from co-operation and ignored the principle which we have learned to follow in this country. They refused to lend support to any Government which was not Socialist; thus no stable coalition was possible. I am reminded that the same thing happened in Austria. In those countries the Socialist parties, as I say, withdrew from co-operation, not having learned that principle about carrying on the King's Government which centuries have taught us in this country to respect. That is the reason why Parliamentary government went under in Italy and Germany, in so far as the reason was of a Parliamentary nature. On the other hand, we, with our experience, could look with equanimity at any problems which might possibly arise from making this House more representative than it is. If this House can but be a true mirror of opinion in this country, we shall know with certainty that neither reaction, nor wild cat revolutionary schemes can possibly be fastened upon it. A reformed First Chamber will be a real bulwark against such movements, whether they come from East Bristol or from the bench opposite where the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) usually sits.

There are three small quotations from great statesmen, who I know are respected in every part of this House, which I feel I really ought to bring again to the notice of the House. One of them is from Mr. Asquith, in 1921, a man who was, in particularly tragic circumstances, the victim of this crude system which we have in this country to-day. He said: The more I see of our electoral arrangements, the more certain I am that they are singularly ill-adapted to make the House of Commons what every great representative assembly ought to be—not only in name, but in fact—a real reflection, an authentic mouthpiece, of the opinion of the nation. By no means are these sentiments confined to my party, for Mr. Balfour in 1918 stated, in this House, that proportional representation was a system which would give rise to a Parliament of more independence, in which capable men who have shown their value are sure to be able to find a sphere for the abilities which they intend to devote to the public service—surely when you have all these merits it is worth while on the few occasions which we have before us to adopt a system which I am convinced will more and more commend itself to all sober and wise believers in democracy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th January, 1918; cot. 1702-3, Vol. 101.] The only other quotation that I would like to put before the House is from the late Lord Birkenhead, who said that it was only by the principles of proportional representation that we could secure elections which are completely honest, only by the application of these principles can we restore that reality and that stability to our representative institutions which, and which alone, stand between this country and non-parliamentary methods.


Did either of those gentlemen advance the view that Proportional Representation coupled with compulsory voting would be the only fair reflection of the public mind?


I daresay they did, and I would be prepared to advance the same view myself, but it does not seem to me to be particularly relevant to the present discussion. I would like to bring the House back to the last quotation, that from the late Lord Birkenhead. I think it shows his astonishing foresight in this matter, for remember that that statement was made before the march on Rome and before the Brown House was a reality. If there are to be only two parties in this country, it seems to me that the following result must happen, that sooner or later the country, either for good reasons or for bad, is going to be sick of the Government party, and if then the only alternative is that of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol, surely it is good-bye to Parlia- mentary democracy as we know it. I do not believe the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol will ever have a chance to carry out his schemes, but I do not think I am any the more happy as a result of that thought. I believe that the moment the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol looks as though he were on the point of securing his majority, which at present he says he will require before he will carry out his schemes, other forces will step in to prevent his taking full advantage of the electoral victory which seems within his grasp.

I do not think that that is a particularly edifying future for any of us, for after all, the other forces which (might step in might be even less intelligent than is the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol. The result is precisely the same from the point of view of those who love liberty. That will be gone. The country must therefore be given the chance of having a decent alternative, and that cannot happen under the present system. I submit, with all the earnestness I possibly can, that there is absolutely nothing, absolutely no bulwark of any sort, save a reformed first Chamber which is capable of keeping the Government of this country upon the steady lines of Parliamentary methods. If we do not achieve that, certainly there must be a lapse away from Parliamentary methods into an uncivilised and liberty-crushing condition of autocracy, to save themselves and us from which our fathers laid the fair foundation of Parliamentary democracy.

8.30 p.m.


The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Mallalieu), who has just made such an interesting contribution to the Debate, would seem, from my point of view, to have proved a little too much. He accepts the fact that we on these benches do not believe in the continuance of the capitalist system and that we would obtain a majority to abolish it by Parliamentary means, but he now tells us that it is no use our getting a majority, because if we look at all like doing it, the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) or someone like that will step in and squash us. Therefore the only thing we can do is somehow carefully to avoid ever having a majority; we must somehow manage to keep alive the Liberal party in this House, so that no party will ever have a majority but will always have to join the Liberal party and carry out some kind of policy of which they will approve. I think that is an invitation to violent methods, but I do not believe in the hon. Member's logic. I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth), who moved this Motion, because he explained what was the real object of it. I confess that when I looked at it it seemed to me to have extraordinarily little content, and I was waiting for him to fill it in. I cannot see why, if the hon. Member really wants proportional representation, he did not put it down and get a vote on it.


I wanted to invite the Government to look into the question. I did not want to put anything down definitely of that kind. It might be that there might have to be proportional representation in the cities and something else in the country. I am not absolutely wedded to either of them, but I want to see the present system so reformed that the hon. Member cannot try out his practices.


I am much obliged; I realise the Motion had to be vague to unite the Liberal party, and I go back to the view that I formed before, that the real point of the Motion is that the Liberal party are asking the Government to devise some scheme for the revival of the Liberal party. The other interesting point of the hon. Member was that about the awful gambling that there was in voting. I think the biggest gamble of all in voting is voting for a Liberal, because when you have got him in, you have not the slightest idea what he will do. First of all, you do not know on which side of the House he will sit, though you can be tolerably well assured that if he sits on the Government side, he will attack the Government, and that as soon as he crosses over, he will support the Government. It is really a most extraordinary gamble. I was very much interested in the various authorities with which the hon. Member supported his views. I was interested to hear his views on the correspondence between opinion in the country and representation in this House, culled from Edmund Burke, that distinguished occupier of a pocket borough for so many years.


Was Bristol a pocket borough?


I have never considered that Burke, in his defence of the obsolete methods of representation in his day, was a particularly good example for Liberals, and if I were a Liberal, I should prefer Cromwell.


What is the difference between a pocket borough and a trade union borough?


A pocket borough depends on a moneyed man, but a trade union consists of a number of people with very little money but with votes. This is a matter of some importance, and I was really amazed to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Colne Valley in which he suggested that if we adopted proportional representation we could save this country from falling under the domination of Facism. It is in those countries that adopted proportional representation on the very best plan that we have seen Fascism.


The worst plan.


We cannot tell from what the Liberals want which is the best plan. Some want the alternative vote for the country and proportional representation for the towns, but all they can agree on is that there should be some reform. They cannot agree what it should be. We do not know what is, in the judgment of the Liberal party, the ideal plan, but all those countries have had very up-to-date methods in an endeavour to secure the representation of minorities, and they have been most successful. The result was a multiplicity of parties and a complete futility of government. That is the result of a multiplicity of parties. Various sections are returned on all kinds of different issues. Anyone looking at lists of Continental parties will find it very difficult to know what they are doing. In Germany, where they have a very elaborate system of proportional representation, there are even family parties.


We have one here.


But they cannot run regularly as parties in the country. There is every kind of party on the Continent, and the result is the weakening and not the strengthening of democracy. Gov- ernments have to be made by a series of bargains between contesting groups. The people who come off best in that system are those with such fluid ideas that they can join in any coalition. That is, of course, the position of the Liberal party, and it is a perfectly natural position for a party that knows it will never get a majority, and we have certainly seen them following out that principle. It is hardly a political principle, unless we call it enlightened opportunism. I do not know whether the Liberal party will attain their end by this means, because I understand that if they have proportional representation it will be possible for them to stand in complete fragments. The whole point of being a Liberal is that when he gets here nobody knows what he will do, and he can therefore join any government. I believe that any adaptation of that sort will be clean contrary to the genius of British government. The point is not an elaborate provision so that every little group will get its mathematical representation. The point is whether you will get a government which will work. There are not so many democratic governments at work satisfactorily, and among those that have worked least satisfactorily are those in which they make the most elaborate provisions for the representation of minorities. I will not take the governments that have gone under already; I will take those which still exist. Look at what the situation has been in France in the last few weeks.


They have not got proportional representation.


But it is a form of it.


It is not a form of it at all.


France went back to the second ballot some time ago.


They tried various methods of this sort, but the system always tended to produce a number of groups. France has had 15 Governments in 15 years, and perhaps more, and during the greater part of that time proportional representation was in force. There is proportional representation in most of the Continental countries, and there is also this group system. The result is that the formation of the Government is taken out of the hands of the electors and is put into the hands of bargaining groups in the House. It is said that one great argument for proportional representation is that it saves the able men of various parties from being defeated. I agree that it is a misfortune to lose able men, but there is another danger in that you get a condition in which people do not know their Member at all, and, what is far worse, it makes for the domination of the machine. It makes for the selection of the Member not by the electors but by the machine, and far from freeing this House, such a system would tend to make the House fall more and more into the hands of an outside machine.

I recognise that there are very strong points from a theoretical point of view for proportional representation. I think that for certain purposes it is a useful instrument, but I do not think it is an instrument that is at all useful when applied to a Constitution such as ours, because the essential thing to be done at a General Election is to decide what set of opinions and persons is to carry on the government of the country. It is suggested that you may get a minority dominating the majority. It has not often happened in this country, and a government in that position is generally too weak to do very much and does not last very long. I am rather surprised to hear that that is put forward so strongly by hon. Members. I can remember a sort of cry about the unrepresentative character of the Liberal party in pre-War days, because it was alleged they had not a majority of the votes in this country but depended on votes from Ireland. The enthusiasm for minority representation has only come since the chance of getting a majority has departed from the Liberal party.

In the days when my party were a very small minority compared to the Liberals, no such suggestion was ever made by the Liberals. As a matter of fact, I do not believe it is really worth while discussing electoral systems in theory. I find that all parties, possibly we ourselves, tend to adopt the electoral system which suits their political position in any country for the time being. Minority groups naturally ask for the system that suits them, and majority groups probably have a dangerous tendency to squeeze out minorities. You get a party that thinks it is going to run second on the poll out of three and find it very keen on the alternative vote. On the other hand, the party which runs third moves away from the alternative vote and decides that its only chance is in proportional representation. I believe that practice has shown that, whatever disadvantages there may be, our present system works better than any of these fancy systems.


Why did the hon. Member, when he was in the late Government, join in introducing a Bill for such a system?


I did not join in introducing it.


It was a Government Bill.


I understood that there was a special bargain with the right hon. Member's party.


There was no bargain at all. If the hon. Member says the system is bad and injurious, why did the Government of which he was a Member propose to introduce it?


At that time we were under a Prime Minister who was in the position so much liked by the Liberals; that is to say, he had constantly to think of what the Liberals would do.


What did you vote for?


I do not know whether or not I voted for it.


You know you voted for it.


I have never concealed the point that I dislike the system, although I am perfectly willing to admit that some 20 years ago, when our party were in an even worse position than the Liberal party, I though there might be something in proportional representation. I am not considering this question in a theoretical sense, but from the point of view of what is useful. What is needed at any election is a decision for a definite course of action. I do not believe it is for the good of the country that a party with a definite political or economic theory should take office and have to tone down that theory for some third group. I would much rather that the Conservatives, for instance, should have carried out their full policy than allow themselves to be hampered by Liberals. On the whole, unless there is a broad two-party system in this country the machine does not work particularly well. Among English-speaking races the two-party system works better on the whole.

I feel this Motion was more or less a pretext for making an attack on the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). I have been asked a question. He is not in favour of a dictatorship, nor am I, but we are in favour of seeing that democracy works. We believe that the majority in the country should rule, and that the country should return a majority to this House, and our immediate concern is that there is always a danger that the majority opinion will be thwarted by another unrepresentative House. We believe that is quite a serious danger. We have always been of the opinion that it was the great merit of the British Constitution that it was so flexible that you could make great changes without breaking the whole machine, and there is a danger of an endeavour to depart from the flexibility of the machine and to try to put in a special bridle directed to restraining the Labour party. Hon. Members below the Gangway will perhaps assist in setting up a strong Second Chamber to prevent the will of the elected people prevailing. We have to face that possibility, because we on these benches are out for a complete economic change, and I am not in the least surprised that hon. Members oppose it. We hope, though, that they do believe, if we are to play the democratic game in this country according to the rules, that the rules should not always be altered when it looks as if the Labour party were going to win.

I would say, in conclusion, that, while there is nothing to complain of in the words of this Motion, I think the idea that we should make this House an exact replica of opinions held in the country is, first of all, quite impossible, and, if it were possible, that it would be undesirable. I do not think that a mosaic of various opinions, with all kinds of cross-currents, combined, by some kind of cabal inside the House, to make one of those shifting Governments such as we get on the Continent, where groups are always changing, is an effective form of Government for this country, certainly not in times like this. Though I admit that the machine has many imperfections, I think it functions better with a clear majority, even when the swing of the pendulum goes over too far, so long as there is an effective Government, because the real defence of democracy is not in abstract theories, but in the practical working of government.

8.45 p.m.


I am glad the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) has framed this Motion in very broad terms, because it enables a discussion on this subject, which is to some extent academic, to be carried out on very broad lines. It is not a new subject. It has been discussed in this House, often with considerable excitement, since 1918. We have had several private Members' Bills on the subject in the last few years, although those Bills were actually confined to the alternative system of proportional representation. We had one in 1921 and another in 1924. It is, perhaps, a remarkable fact that no party which has ever been in power in this country, and no Opposition which has been in what I might describe as effective opposition, has ever, as a party, advocated proportional representation. It is true, as the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) said, that there was a time when a large body of the Labour party were in favour of proportional representation. In the discussion in 1921, when I moved the rejection of the Liberal Bill, the bulk of the Lahour party voted in favour of the Measure; but in 1924 they had begun to appreciate better their strength, and they voted against proportional representation. In 1928, when there was a discussion on a private Member's Motion on this same subject, the whole of the Labour party voted against it, including the present Prime Minister. Proportional representation is generally advocated by minorities. It is natural that that should be so, because the whole basis of proportional representation, and, for that matter, of the second ballot and the alternative vote, is that it is supposed to provide a means by which minorities can more easily, clearly, and effectively express themselves at elections. Those systems are supposed to try to get rid of that curious trouble which excites some people's minds, the so-called wasted votes.

There are three alternative systems to the present one. There is the second ballot, which nobody has advocated to any extent in this country. Most of us who have had experience of politics know how difficult it is to get people to vote even once in this country, and to persuade people to vote twice, unless you had some form of compulsory voting, which would be very unpopular, would be almost impossible. In France, since 1928, they have gone back to the system of a second ballot. The political mentality of this country cannot be compared to the political mentality of the people on the Continent. In most of those countries where they employ a second ballot they actually have compulsory voting.

On the question of the alternative vote, I was very interested to observe the slight passage of arms which took place between the hon. Member for Limehouse and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel). There seemed to be a slight difference of opinion as to who was responsible for the introduction of the Bill dealing with the alternative vote in the last Parliament. It sounded rather like a reintroduction and a rehash of the old Irish situation, with some sort of hint of a bargain in return for a hint of political support. All of us who can carry our minds back in politics know quite well what an enormous difference the question of Ireland made in the politics of this country for a period of 30 or 40 years. Irish politics loomed so large in English politics simply because the Liberal party frequently found themselves dependent upon the Irish Vote. Mr. Gladstone found himself in the position of having to make some kind of bargain with the Irish Members in order to keep himself in office. That is one of the great difficulties of any system of proportional representation, or even of the alternative vote. It does, as the hon. Member for Limehouse quite rightly said, tend to split up the big parties in this country into a number of small groups or sections.


That situation arose without proportional representation, and under the existing system.


It certainly arose when Ireland returned that particular body of Members to this House, but it has not arisen since, except in the short period when the Liberal party were in the happy position of being dictators to those in office.


That is not proportional representation.


Well, the alternative vote.


It is not the alternative vote.


It is a possibility which, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen quite rightly says, occurs, but which is much less likely to occur in this country, and, over the whole history of our politics, has occurred far less frequently than in foreign countries which have adopted a different system. The present Prime Minister has been quoted on several occasions. As far back as 1909 he published a work "Socialism and Government," and in it he dealt with the question of proportional representation and the possible advantages of it. He dealt with it only to condemn it. In that work he said: It is a method of election for securing the representation of fragments of political thought and desire, and for inviting those fragments to coalesce after, and not before, elections. That exactly expresses the danger inherent in all these systems. They have other dangers as well, because whatever machinery you devise, in order to make your voting more perfect and to get rid of those so-called wasted votes, it is bound to have anomalies of some kind.

Take the system of the alternative vote. If the candidate at the top does not succeed in getting an absolute majority, the second preferences of the candidate at the bottom are, as hon. Members know, divided up, so as to try to give the candidate at the top an absolute majority. The second preferences of the middle candidates are not divided up, and it would actually, in practice, be possible for the bottom candidate to poll more second preferences than the other candidates, although, of course, he would never get them, because the other preferences would not be counted. I saw the machinery of proportional representa- tion working in Scotland many years ago, when it was in operation for the old educational authority, which I think has been abolished. The system worked so that the value of transferable votes transferred from the top was less than the value of the transferable votes transferred from the bottom, because candidates at the top only had a certain proportion of their surplus votes transferred, while candidates at the bottom, whose candidature was eliminated, had the whole of their surplus votes transferred. The thing is very complicated, and the regulations, should any hon. Member like to amuse himself by reading them, are likewise so complicated as to be almost incomprehensible.

Whatever system you try to adopt, there is bound to be some anomaly, and some form of unfairness. You cannot produce a perfect machine, because it is always open to criticism of some kind. The hon. Member for Limehouse was quite right when he said that these alternative systems are, in themselves, no protection against revolution. I would go farther; in many cases they have almost been the cause of dictatorship. It is no use talking about wasted votes unless you realise that all votes are wasted unless they result in an effective form of government. If you produce the most marvellously mechanical system, by which every little vote has its representative in this House, it does not matter if, as a result of that, you send to this House such a collection of little parties that it is impossible to form an effective government. That has happened, of course, to a large extent in Italy. It led in Italy, and in Germany, to a form of dictatorship. It happened, and also led to a dictatorship, some years ago in Bulgaria,

Whether you take, as the hon. Member for Limehouse did, the case of France, which has a different Government about once a week, because they never can get an effective majority to pass a Budget; or whether you take Spain, which has just had an election and produced a multiplicity of parties, which may or may not be able to form an effective Government; or Belgium, whose Government a few years ago was brought to a standstill solely because no party had an effective majority; or Sweden, which had nine or 10 elections in 20 years without any party ever getting an effective majority—all these countries, where there is a form of proportional representation or a form of second ballot, are dependent for their Government from day to day on a coalition of little groups. I am perfectly convinced that if in the last few years we had had to try to carry on the government of this country and of the Empire under a system of little groups, it would have been disastrous to our welfare as a nation.

I should be more inclined to believe the statement of the hon. Member for Limehouse that he is not in favour of dictatorship if I could persuade myself that the scheme which the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) advocates meant simply a scheme which, if they got a majority at the next election, would be put into force and would be tested at a subsequent election, standing or falling by the verdict of the people. But I am rather under the impression that the hon. and learned Member foreshadows a scheme which, among other things, will take power unto itself to postpone a subsequent election, and I look, of course, with grave suspicion on any party which pleads that it is democratic and all in favour of the people's verdict, when it proposes to postpone the people's verdict on any actions that it may have carried out. But of course I may have misunderstood the hon. and learned Member's scheme, and possibly on some other occasion he may have an opportunity of expounding it to the House in greater detail.

There are people who, perhaps, are disappointed or displeased with the present situation—as many people always are, whatever it may be—and who, when they find themselves in that position, seek for some alternative. I think that, if they would realise that politics, after all, is not a question of arithmetic, but very largely and primarily a question of humanity, they would perhaps get nearer to a solution of some of their difficulties. This suggestion of an alternative system of election overlooks certain fundamental facts connected with our whole system of government in this country. It has been suggested, perhaps quite rightly, that the present system pushes well-tried men out of politics at times when they are urgently needed, and there is no doubt that from time to time—as, for instance, at the last election, and at the election of 1906— political catastrophes occur which do result in many important and valuable men losing their seats. Mr. Asquith, as we all remember, lost his seat in this House in such circumstances. Mr. Balfour did the same, and so did Mr. Bonar Law.

There is, however, another side to the question. If, instead of the direct system that we have at present, by which a man stands for his own division and wins or loses it partly on circumstances outside his control, but to some extent on his personality—if instead of that we had vast three-Member and five-Member constituencies, with electorates of anything from 200,000 to 250,000 electors, the new, untried candidate, who had never been in politics before, would stand little or no chance of being sent to this House. If a system of proportional representation had been in operation in Glasgow in 1900 and in 1906, Mr. Bonar Law would never have come to this House at all; and if you delved into political history, I have no doubt you would find other cases where men who subsequently made their mark in this House and rose to high office, perhaps to the office of Prime Minister, would never have appeared in the House of Commons at all, because they would never have been elected originally. Many men, if they are defeated once or twice in politics, do not stand again, and certainly that is what would have happened in Mr. Bonar Law's case. Therefore, as I have said, there are two sides to the question, and, while the present system may knock out valued and tried men, the other will certainly keep out men who might subsequently prove their value in this House.

But the personal element goes much farther than that. Our system as we know it to-day goes right back to the time of Simon de Montfort and Edward I. It originated, not in a political system at all, but in so many burgesses being summoned from every town, and so many knights from every shire; and they were summoned here primarily, not to form political parties—that was a much more recent event—but to look after the interests of the areas from which they came, to represent them, and to protect them to some extent from over-taxation. To some extent that principle still obtains. There is still, in the large majority of cases in this House, despite the increase in the electorate, a definite personal touch between the elector and his Member. Half the work which a Member has to do—and, immediately after the War, as any Members who, like myself, were in the 1918 Parliament will recollect, it was a great deal more than half—half the work which a Member has to do has nothing to do with party politics at all; it is purely a question of personal representation. A Member is asked to look into a pension case; he is asked to look into some claim which a man has in respect of over-taxation or over-assessment; somebody who thinks he has a dispute with a Government Department will appeal to his Member. All of us will recollect the enormous number of widows' pensions claims when the widows' pension scheme first came out in the 1924 Parliament, and the enormous number of old age pension claims at the same time, while there was a tremendous number of War pension claims immediately after the War. None of these subjects has anything to do with party politics. I have been asked, as probably many Members of the House have been asked, to settle personal family disputes, which certainly have nothing to do with party politics.

How can that personal touch possibly be maintained if constituencies of 250,000 electors are to be formed, with an enormous area, particularly in the counties, and three or five Members who are supposed to look after the constituency? You could not allocate districts arbitrarily. Members would represent the whole district and not one part of it. What would probably ordinarily result from my experience of human nature is that the youngest Members would do all the work and the oldest would take all the credit. That would not encourage the entry of young men into the House of Commons even if they were fortunate enough under the system of proportional representation, being entirely unknown in politics, to get elected to the House at all. I attach tremendous importance to the personal link. It is a historical link, whatever some may think to the contrary. It is the one great argument which greatly impressed one great advocate of proportional representation in the Debate we had in 1921, I mean the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil). If that is the case, we ought to think very closely before we make any change in this system which would destroy the real representation which the people have enjoyed in the House of Commons for some hundreds of years.

The hon. Member for Limehouse opposite said that he did not think this question was any protection against revolution and that any alternative system might actually encourage revolution, and he cited the case of some foreign countries where the electors do not even vote for a group of men but for a list, for a piece of paper, for people they have never seen and may never see. Does anyone with any experience of English, Scotch, Welsh or Irish mentality believe that the people of this country would tolerate a system of that kind for very long? [HON. MEMBERS: "Who suggested it?"] The Mover of the Motion suggested that the Government should consider all systems and that is one of them. Therefore, I am quite entitled to suggest that that one is extremely futile—even more futile than most of them. The Motion is framed in such a milk and water way that I do not think it makes any difference whether the House passes it or does not, because it merely asks the Government to consider the question and, knowing the present political complexion of the Government on this subject, I do not think the result is likely to be anything. But, although I think proportional representation may be effective in countries where you have strong racial or religious minorities, which we have not in this country apart from Ireland, with which we are not concerned at the moment, I do not believe that either proportional representation or the alternative vote or the second ballot has greater advantages than the present system has disadvantages. I agree that you cannot produce a perfect system. They all have defects, and the present system has many, but it has the great advantage of maintaining the personal touch between the Member and the people he represents. It has the great advantage of giving the country as a whole through a period of years an effective Government. It does not matter how beautiful a machine is in theory if in practice it does not result in an effective Government being formed. If you do not have that you are immediately going to have discontent and trouble and, sooner or later you are going to have the very dictatorship which hon. Members opposite so dread.

It amuses me that the Liberal party, of all parties, should now be the great advocates of proportional representation, because in the old days, when they were a great party, they were the great upholders of the freedom of the individual. The individual above all things was to them sacrosanct, but to-day the individual is no longer of any importance. It is the machine that has to be raised up into prominence. If you want to establish a system which destroys the individual in politics and increases the strength of the machine, this is the way to do it. The hon. Member who moved the Motion said the present system was a gamble. But all Life is a gamble and, when a party or a man first of all seeks security, it is in most people's eyes a sign of defeat. If you are going always to seek the safest road, you are probably going to seek the road which will end in your extermination. The best way to overcome difficulties is to face up to them and not always try to obtain security. If the people decide in a moment of madness that they are going to have a form of revolutionary Government, no form of Second Chamber, proportional representation, alternative vote or second ballot will stop them. The only way to make the country see sense is to try to din sense into them, and you will not do that by adopting any form of alternative election to the House. I hope, therefore, whatever happens to the Motion, the Government will not decide to make any change in the present system of election, to the House of Commons.

9.24 p.m.


I could not help thinking, as I listened to the last speaker's arguments, that some of them were extraordinarily double-edged. He attached very great importance to the personal touch between the representative and those whom he represents. I often wonder whether that personal touch is really an argument for the present system. What does the hon. Member's own argument amount to? Because there are a great many pension claims and claims about taxation and houses and so forth, which he has dealt with very effectively as a conscientious representative of his constituents, those constituents, from a mere sense of gratitude, vote for him at the next General Election. Constituents of other conscientious representatives do the same, and so we have returned to power a number of people who support a Government, who bring about reform of the House of Lords or an increased system of tariffs or take a certain line on great international questions, and yet we are told that it is desirable that the decision that the electorate makes at the time of a General Election shall be strongly biased by the way their representatives have acted in pressing their claims.


I never suggested that the question as to whether a Member looked after his constituency or not has anything to do with whether people voted for him. I have fought six elections and my experience is that, the more you do for people, the less they are likely to vote for you.


I am afraid I am not such an optimist as to believe that if all that work is done by Members for their constituents it is entirely disinterested, and I think it is obvious that it is intended to have that effect and it does have that effect. Another argument made by the hon. Member was that, under proportional representation, many distinguished men such as Mr. Bonar Law and others whom he named, would not have been returned. But how many distinguished men do not get returned under the present system because they belong to minorities which in the constituencies which would be their natural constituencies they have no chance of return or because they have naturally cross-bench minds and do not fall docilely into the present very rigid political divisions? May it not be argued that under the present system we lose many of the right people, because their party is in a minority or they are not good party men?

The speaker attached great importance, as did the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee), to the supposed failures of proportional representation on the Continent. I never heard a more clear example of the post hoc; ergo propter hoc kind of argument. What are the facts? The two countries where proportional representation does seem to have been accompanied by an apparent breakdown of the democratic system are Germany and Spain, both countries which have adopted peculiarly complicated forms of proportional representation such as I do not think are advocated by any of the supporters of this Motion, and both of them—and this is the really important point—countries where democracy was a plant of such recent and tender growth that it easily succumbed in the face of oppositions which saw that if democracy were allowed to grow strong it would be an obstacle to their own militaristic actions and plans. On the other hand, we see proportional representation in a number of European countries where, whatever disadvantages it may have, it has at least helped to bring about a form of democratic government and has produced contentment and stability and a relatively high standard of life among the people.

The hon. and gallant Member for Lime-house actually played the greater part of his tune upon France, a country which has not proportional representation at all, whereas you have proportional representation in the Netherlands, in Belgium, and in the three Scandinavian countries, and, if we were to pick out the countries of the world which upon the whole were less likely to be upset by revolution and where the standard of life is highest, should not we select exactly that group of European countries? I do not suggest that the result is mainly due to the proportional representation system, but it shows that proportional representation has not, in the majority of countries that have adopted it, led to instability of Government or to any breakdown in democracy. To a certain extent I suggest that some of the very disadvantages—and I do not deny that there are inconveniences in proportional representation, that it often does lead to the lack of big majorities and consequently to the necessity of bargaining and compromise between the different groups—are to a certain extent in themselves a safeguard. Proportional representation does prevent one of the great dangers of the system in this country, the danger of such a swing of the electoral pendulum as will bring about an overwhelming majority which may be used to cause changes for which the country itself is not really prepared.

A great deal has been said about that aspect, and I do not want to dwell so much on the failure of the electoral machinery in this country to give fair representation to political parties, but I would suggest that there is another aspect of the case that is less often pointed out, and that is the failure of the system to give fair representation to different classes and sectional interests. I remember that when in the last Parliament there was an attempt to do away with university representation, I startled some people by declaring that in this country we had a dictatorship of the proletariat. So we have, in the sense that in a great majority of constituencies there is a great majority of members of the wage-earning class and their dependants, so that if those classes wished they could fill this House, not only with Members of the parties they favour, but with Members of their own class. If they have not done so, it is because the democratic ballot is a comparatively new thing, and the working classes in this country are on the whole very fair-minded, very conservatively minded, and only too ready perhaps to be led and manipulated by those who have a greater command of financial resources and greater control of organisations than themselves. We can hardly expect it to be otherwise as time goes on and the working classes become more educated and experienced in political organisation than that they should naturally desire to be represented more and more by persons not only of their own political faith but belonging to the actual class of society to which they belong, and we may have a House almost entirely with a proletarian membership. Such a House will be no more representative of the whole of Great Britain than the Parliament of 50 years ago, almost entirely filled with the upper and middle classes, was truly representative of the people.

It is rather unfashionable, it is invidious, nowadays to talk in terms of class, and class phraseology does not really express what I mean. It is not so much a question of class as of function. The point I want to make is that Parliament to-day interferes so extensively and intensively with the whole life of the people, its commerce and manufacturing interests, its education, its housing and all its social activities, that it is mere cant to say that representation of sectional interests is not necessary. Representation of sectional interests is not the only need of Parliament, but it is essential, if Parliament is to do justice to all, that every large class and section of interests must be adequately represented in this House. Those Members in this House who represent constituencies where fishing, or coal, or cotton or agriculture is the principal occupation are not ashamed of openly standing for the interests of those occupations, and there are occupations and interests that are not in a majority anywhere. All the learned professions, all the supervisory and managerial posts in all occupations, are of necessity, because they are the top posts, in a small minority in every constituency, and they are not able to command a majority of votes in any constituency. Is it desirable in the long run that all these upper strata of occupations should have no adequate representation in this House? At present, I believe that the small group to which I belong—there are 11 or 12 of us representing the Universities—are the only Members of this House who can say that we were directly elected to represent, not only university graduates but the professions and groups of occupations which are mainly hold by university graduates.


Does the hon. Lady realise that the position even in her own university, when coupled with her fellow hon. Member, still shows conclusively that while they generally represent 8,700 voters, there are still left 4,968 who are not represented?


I do not quite see the bearing of the hon. Member's arithmetic. I know that in an ordinary territorial constituency of 50,000 voters there are, on an average, 200 university graduates. Can anybody say that those 200 university graduates;—and remember they stand for a great many other people who belong to the same professions as themselves—can exercise any real pull in the ordinary electoral constituency?




They are not numerous enough to do it.


What has their education done for them, then?


The hon. Member says, "What has their education done for them?" or, in other words, that it is not necessary for them to exercise a direct pull through their votes, because they have their influence. I am a woman and, therefore, I know what that argument means. In the days before women had the vote we were always told that influence was quite enough. We found out that influence is not only inadequate, but that it is, on the whole, demoralising and bad when any large class or group in the community has to depend upon indirect influence, and has no direct means of representation. I often think that those who belong to the Conservative party who, because they are strong at present, and command a large majority in the House, overlook the danger, and some day may regret that they did not, while they had yet time, try to secure a more adequate system of representation of the electorate. At present, in order to secure the permanent control of their own point of view or interest, they want a strengthened reform of the House of Lords. The Lord President of the Council, who, I think, has his hand more closely on the pulse of the people than any other Member, perhaps, of the Front Bench, very clearly warned his followers the other day that any party or any body of opinion that tried to put the other House into a position superior to this House was merely promoting conflict which would go on until the lower House had asserted its superiority.

I suggest that those who want greater security against future revolutionary changes than they feel they have at present, had better turn their attention from the House of Lords to the House of Commons, and see whether there are not ways of making this House more truly representative than it is, at present. I think that speakers on both sides under-rate the very real and undeniable danger which will arise if we have in some future House a large majority of either side—if it is a Conservative majority which tries to frustrate the will of the people when the people are anxiously demanding improvements in their economic position, or if it is a Labour majority which tries to push through great revolutionary changes before public opinion is really ready for them. What will happen if that is the case? We all know of the vague hints and threats of dictatorships coming from one side or the other. I do not think any of us can deny that if there is ever an attempt to overthrow democracy in this country, it will come from there being some large element among the people which has reason to believe that the great and grave grievances it desires cannot get remedied through the ordinary constitutional media. That danger might come from the Left or from the Right, but from whichever side it came, it would be that which would really be likely to bring about a crisis which might lead to the overthrow of democracy in this country.

It is lamentable that it should be true, as the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) almost jocularly said, that these questions are always considered in the light of the political fortunes of the party in power at the moment. When the Liberals were in power and had the chance, they did not bring about reform. Now that the Conservative party is in power, it thinks its power is going to last for ever, and therefore it does not want proportional representation. Therefore, the question of the constitution of this country and how that constitution can be adapted and moulded so as to make it even more fitted than it is at present to meet all the manifold difficulties of the time, is far too big to be considered in the light of temporary electoral conveniences on one side or the other. His Majesty's Government ought to give their support to the Motion to-night, and see whether by proportional representation, combined with some form of direct functional representation, we cannot make this House more thoroughly representative of the whole of the people than it is at present.

9.42 p.m.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir John Gilmour)

I intervene only for a few moments. I am one of those who, having been a Member of this House for some time, have a very due regard for the rights and privileges of private Members, and there is nothing which those of us who have been private Members regret more than when the Government find it necessary to take away private Members' time. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Holdsworth) had the good fortune to be in his place and to open the discussion. I am sure, without agreeing or disagreeing with anything which the hon. Gentleman said, I can congratulate him upon introducing for discussion in this House a problem of such great interest. He appealed to the Government to consider this problem. Those of us who represent the Government on this occasion can assure him that we will study with the very greatest care the points of view which he and his friends have put, and, equally, the point of view which other Members have put in this House. I am not called upon to express, nor will I express, an opinion either one way or the other, or give any undertaking on behalf of His Majesty's Government. As I realise that a speech from the Front Bench should be as short as possible, I will now sit down.

9.44 p.m.


I am sure that the House was delighted with the very clear explanation of the right hon. Gentleman defining the attitude of the Government towards the Motion. It is the most unenlightening speech we have heard from the Front Government Bench for a long time. I am sure that we are all much wiser after what the right hon. Gentleman has told us, and that we all know at last exactly where the Government stand on this very important issue. I confess at once that when I was presented many years ago with the proposal of proportional representation, I felt that it was the right method of conducting our elections, and I adhered to that point of view for many years. But then I put the problem to my own particular case, and I think it is what all hon. Members ought to put to themselves as well. I will take my own Parliamentary Division as an illustration. Under proportional representation it would be joined up with four other constituencies. Two of those constituencies are now represented by the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and the right hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hacking). I say, quite frankly, that I do not want at any time in my political career to be joined with them in representation in the House of Commons. That is the practical issue as it presents itself to me. In a large city I can see proportional representation operating without the same difficulty, but when you combine five county divisions in the great county of Lancashire, and the right hon. Member for Darwen and the hon. and gallant Member for Chorley and myself may be three Members to represent three of those five divisions which have been made into one, I think the situation is almost impossible.




In the first place, the electorate would know those two gentlemen better than they would know me. In any case, they would have more funds to make themselves known and run their election than I should have. But even if they had no more funds than I should have, they would certainly have more motor cars to cover the vast ground at election times. Those are some of the difficulties in actual practice.

How does the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Holdsworth) expect this Government to do anything in response to his request? Surely, he knows that the Ullswater Conference broke down when considering this problem. Nothing came of it. There was no agreement on any point. If there was no agreement possible then, how can the hon. Member think that we can get more agreement now on this issue? I think the Motion is based upon fear of the result of the next General Election. If the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Motion thought that the Liberal party would be the largest party in this House after the next General Election, I do not think they would have selected this subject.


Why not?


When the Liberal party were in power in this House they never bothered about proportional representation. Let me deal with some of the other points which have been raised. When the hon. Member for Bradford, South, talked about electoral reform, he said nothing about the anomaly of university representation, or that nuisance to all parties, the double-barrelled constituency. He did not say a single word either about another matter which constitutes an important problem, and that is the growth of population on new estates, which means that some constituencies have recently been doubled in size. The Government will have to consider some of these special problems if they consider the subject of the Motion at all. The hon. Member for South Bradford was a little unkind to those who sit on these benches when he said that the Parliamentary Labour party ought to have the help of some of our outside leaders in this House. He complained that under the present system of election the big men did not get a chance of coming here. So far as the Liberal party are concerned, the less their number the greater the proportion of big men remain in Parliament. Their numbers may decrease, but their leaders seem to remain. As regards the other side of the House, I am not wishing to insult them when I say that it is a Government of mediocrities.

We all believe that minority views should be represented. I have studied the problem of elections just a little in foreign countries. I was in the United States of America once when an election was taking place, and I felt that, in spite of all its deficiencies, our own electoral system is very much better than the one in operation in America. Over there nearly everybody votes for the ticket. There is one thing to be said about our electoral system, and that is that, however clumsy it may be our people vote for the man or the woman candidate as well as for the party. There is a great deal to be said for that principle when you get the right man belonging to the right party. We have a right to quarrel with members of the Liberal party when, in championing the case of proportional representation to-night, they argued that what was wanted in this House was representation of varied opinions. The Liberal party have no title to argue that way, because they were elected to support the present Government, and have since left it. If their action in this Parliament is any criterion, one can never be sure whether the opinions expressed by the electorate at elections will ever be carried out by Members of Parliament. We of the Labour party pledged ourselves then to oppose the Government and we are still in opposition to it.

I cannot understand why Liberal Members of Parliament should criticise the statements of certain members of the Labour party. Surely, a pamphlet written by one member of our party need not be the considered policy of the Labour party.


Is it?


I took pains to point out that the Labour Party Conference refused to repudiate the policy of which I spoke.


Surely, the hon. Member does not expect policies on negatives. The Trades Union Congress, which gave birth to this party, has definitely declared against dictatorship of any kind. Liberal Members are very much afraid that the Labour party would create Peers in order to carry out our policy in the House of Lords. If my memory serves me aright, the Liberal party once upon a time did that.


After two elections on that specific point.


Suppose we did it after one election, would that be wrong?


If you had a majority, quite right.


We shall get a majority. That is what hon. Members are afraid of.


Is it a party that creates Peers or is it the prerogative of His Majesty?


The hon. Member ought to know the answer to that question.


They are not created by party; do not forget that.


The hon. Member ought to know full well how Peers are created. If he does not, I will tell him privately. I wish the hon. Member for South Bradford had chosen a very much bigger subject than this, because what he has told us is utterly unconvincing as to the necessity of such a radical change. I agree that the present is a rough-and-ready way of dealing with things, but I am not satisfied that the proposals of the hon. Member will make the position any better. When he speaks of a dictatorship because of the defects of the present electoral system, surely he must be wrong in his history. I am convinced that it does not matter what system you have with regard to elections, if the people want a revolution there will be one. I am satisfied, on the other hand, and I think I can speak on behalf of the Labour party, that the working classes of this country will not stand a dictatorship either from the left or the right or the centre. The vast majority of the people of this country are wedded to parliamentary democracy. It may be a clumsy way of doing things; and in spite of the fact that hon. Gentlemen opposite hold the reins of Government at the moment I prefer the system we have now in operation to a more perfect instrument in itself which forgets one thing, and that is that the electors are human beings after all.

Proportional representation is a perfect machine, but its products are not up to human requirements. I have seen that system at work in foreign countries where there are different races and creeds. It is worth remembering that in this country the total alien population is only about 250,000. We are more or less of the same race. The Welsh came here first, then the English, and next the Scots; but in the main we are now of the same blood and that makes a vast difference in our political outlook. I have been interested in the Debate, and the hon. Member, if I may say so, put his case very well indeed. But it is indeed a poor case to ask this Government to do anything; and why on earth the Liberal party, after deserting the Government, should now turn round and ask this administration above all to alter the electoral system in order to save the Liberal party from destruction is beyond my comprehension. We are in a hopeless minority—


That is not the only thing you are hopeless in.


Although we want every point of view represented in this House we have to face the fact that what is as important as representation of opinion is to get a Government. The present system in my view, however clumsily it may operate, does give us that which is essential for the welfare of the country, and that is a government.

9.58 p.m.


The words just used by the hon. Member for West-houghton (Mr. R. Davies) mark the division between his philosophy and mine, and show the difference between the exposition given on these benches and the benches opposite, and what has been said from the Labour benches. The hon. Member says, "We want a Government." That was also said by the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Sir V. Henderson). They are not concerned as to whether fractions are represented, or whether all people get representation— they say, we must get a government. My submission is that we have first of all to secure representative government. You can get a government under Hitler, or under Mussolini. [An HON. MEMBER: "Or under Oliver Cromwell!"] Yes, or under Oliver Cromwell, who spent the greater part of his power in trying to secure civil government in this country. The cynical speech made by the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) was entirely unworthy of a subject of this kind. He said that we had to get a government which would work. That is precisely the plea that has been used by every tyrant. If you want to get a government which is to work and you make that your first consideration, you rule out representative government. That is a philosophy against which I strongly protest. The hon. Member for West-houghton suggested that we are concerned with the machine, not with humanity. We are in fact pleading for the many people, the minorities, who are denied the right of representation in this House. Are they not our own flesh and blood? Are they to be mere ciphers in a mathematical calculation? Surely they have the same right to representation as those who are fortunate enough to vote for the majority. I am going to make a plea for minorities, who under our present system are shut out from consideration.

I am rather sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford, who has made a speech on every occasion when this subject has been discussed, and has spoken to-night, on the same lines as he did in the year 1923 when a Motion of this kind was introduced has not remained to hear what is said in answer to his argument. He suggested that we should start by going back to the system of Edward I and Simon de Mont-fort. If we go back to that system surely it was representation of cities and towns and counties. Simon de Montfort was not responsible for the system which has grown up in recent years of dividing cities like Manchester into purely arbitrary divisions, where the people on one side of the street belong to one con- stituency and those on the other to another division. If we establish the system which was set up under Edward I and Simon de Montfort, and which had been carried on for generations, we shall come back to the proposals contained in the suggestion for proportional representation and the single transferable vote. Counties like Cornwall had their number of representatives in the time of the Long Parliament. If we go back to the time of the Long Parliament, or to Simon de Montfort, we find no division of our cities into purely arbitrary divisions, by which in fact we are robbing our cities and counties of effective and collective representation in this House.

The hon. Member for Westhoughton said that it was a pity Liberal Members should spend their time on so small a matter. Some of us feel intensely on this subject. He may say that it is because of our party situation. We can pass that by for the time being, and also the cynical expressions used by the hon. Member for Limehouse; but what right have hon. Members to dismiss this matter as being very small, when only two years ago the hon. Member for Limehouse and his colleagues invited the attention of this House for many weeks in trying to carry though a Bill which was intended to remedy our electoral disabilities?


The hon. Member suggests that a city like Manchester with 10 Parliamentary seats should be made into one. Is it not a fact that under proportional representation Manchester would still be divided into two Parliamentary divisions?


I have not worked out the details of proportional representation, and I am not sure what effect it would have on Manchester; I have not gone into the machinery. But the hon. Member knows that I was answering the argument that we should not interfere with a system which has been set up since the days of Edward I He must not get away from the next suggestion I was making. It is all very well for him to dismiss it, but less than two years ago the time of this House was occupied upon a Measure which was not hurriedly introduced, for a conference was called to consider it. Upon that conference many who are now in the House, and many who are no longer with us, served. They gave their time to it at the invitation of the hon. Member's Government, the Government of which the hon. Member for Limehouse was a Member. To-day he did not remember what he had done then. He did not remember whether he had voted for the Measure or not. If he had voted against his Government and taken the courageous line at that time, he would have remembered, unless it was that he was so obedient a Member of the Government that he went into the Lobby knowing not at all upon what subject he voted. But if Members of all parties were giving their attention to that Bill and in this House consideration was given to it, it is very cynical for hon. Members on the Labour benches just two years later to say that the subject to which we then gave our time on their Bill was one which really should not have occupied the attention of this House.

The case as it was put in the first instance was in my opinion overwhelming. I would like to tell Members why I feel strongly upon this subject. I ask them to give me credit for not being concerned merely with the fortunes of my own party. There are some things that it is very difficult to define. It is very difficult to define liberty or to define democracy, but whatever definition of democracy there may be two fundamental things we are entitled to look for in a democratic system. First of all under your system, if it is democratic, the will of the majority for the time being as it is expressed at the polls shall prevail. The other fundamental thing is that substantial minorities shall have a representation that corresponds approximately with their influence and their power. Judged by that test our system stands condemned, and to the extent that it falls short of that it ought to be improved if it is within our power.

I ask hon. Members to consider what has been the long struggle for representative institutions in this country. The fight for the franchise, for reform, extended over the latter part of the 18th century and went right on to the big Measure of 1832. Members opposite can take pride in the work they did for the extension of the franchise in some of the later years. Some of them perhaps repudiated it. But it ran right on to the courageous work done by the then Conservative Prime Minister, now the Lord President of the Council, in completing the work of manhood and womanhood franchise in this country only a few years ago. The franchise was the dominating issue for, I suppose, 100 years. We have got the system for maintaining our voters' list, all the work that is done by our registration officers, and the rest. Then we have set up the great machinery of law to see that the franchise can be fairly exercised. So much so that if it can be proved that a man, in order to get a seat in this House, has paid even 2s. 6d. for a vote, he can be unseated and dispossessed of political power for some years. We have elaborate election laws to see that wealth shall not have illegitimate power in an election. Yet in spite of all that effort, in spite of all the laws that we have set up during successive years to get fair representation of the people's will, when we make the supreme effort and we converge upon the elections, we have no assurance after an election that there is any approximate correspondence between the votes cast and the constitution of this House. That is the indictment.

Just now something was said about a gamble. My hon. Friend who moved this Motion said that it was a gamble, and that our Imperial concerns ought not to rest upon that. It has also been said in reply that all life is a gamble. There may be a great deal of the gamble in life, but a wise and prudent man does not rest his life on a gamble. He eliminates the gamble as far as he can. He cannot be certain how long his life will last, but for those who are dependent on him he tries by insurance to make some safeguard against the ordinary uncertainties of life. In our affairs we ought not to accept a gamble as being an essential element of our political life. We ought to eliminate it as far as we can. We remember reading in Plutarch how, when they elected senators of Sparta, they locked up two or three assessors in a room. The candidates for election had to come along one by one and pass through the assembly outside, and the assessors, who did not know who the candidates were, had to estimate the shouts of the crowd outside and so decide the issue. In that way they decided who was to be a Senator. That was a long time ago, but it was a scienti- fic system compared with the system upon which we elect our Members to-day. It was very much surer. It is now like a dip into a bran tub, as far as the constitution of this House is concerned. There is the undeniable fact, proved by the figures given by my hon. Friend, that you can have a majority in this House representing no more than one-third of the votes cast at a General Election. That is a matter which deserves much more serious attention than was given to it by the Home Secretary in his reply.

There are some things that we have to put up with, and I can quite understand that if it could be said that there is no remedy for this, we must accept the situation. But there is a remedy, and it is close to our hands. I was astonished when reference was made to the doctrinaire nature of the system and the difficulty. It was all very well for the hon. Member for Chelmsford to say that 12 years ago. He said that the system was complicated and presented too many difficulties. He could have said that years ago. No man who looks across the Irish Channel can deny that a steadying factor there has been the system of proportional representation. When we are told about the difficulties and the complications the answer is to be found in the statement of a leading Irish newspaper, after the election which took place in Ireland early this year, that the system is easy to understand and simple to work. There has been no difficulty in Ireland. Although there are between Mr. Cosgrave and Mr. De Valera very serious differences they are agreed that she system of proportional representation has been fair to majorities and minorities in Ireland. It has been a steadying factor in a country which has been torn more than most countries by disturbance and violence. We have had now 10 or 11 years experience of it in Ireland with this very remarkable result—that after each election there is in the Irish Parliament some fair representation of the different elements in Irish life.

Of course there are complications when you come to work out the system, but those complications need not be understood by the ordinary voter. They need only be understood by the trained man who does the work. Any man can cast his vote under proportional representation. The man who has a shilling to put upon a horse, decides as to the order in which he thinks three horses will come in at the end of a race. He has no difficulty in that and there is no more difficulty in making his choice of three candidates, marking the figure 1 against the name of the man who is his first preference and the figure 2 against the man he would like to see second and so on.

The hon. Member opposite who is very closely associated with his party forgets that under the present system the electorate has no free choice as to the candidates who are placed before him. An idyllic picture has been drawn of a constituency selecting the man dear to its heart, the man of its choice, but 999 people out of 1,000 in a constituency have no voice at all as to the people who submit themselves for election. Generally, as we know, the executives of associations decide who are to be candidates. Reference was made just now to the machine. This system is precisely the system that will give the individual a chance. Suppose that in a constituency where all three parties have strong party machines, they put up three subservient candidates who are ready to toe the party line. Under a system of proportional representation, a fourth man who, as a result of apprenticeship in the local service has gained the confidence of his fellows, could go forward as a candidate and stand side by side with those party nominees and beat them, even though they were smothered with party labels. The system will give the individual in this country an opportunity he has not had before. I beg of those who are looking into this matter, or who will be looking into it during the next year or two, to consider what our representations are. The hon. Member opposite quoted what the present Prime Minister said and rather contemptuously referred to the representation of fragments.


I did not use the word "fragments" contemptuously, nor did I imply that the words quoted were in any way contemptuous.


I thought the quotation suggested that the Prime Minister, referring to proportional representation, said it would secure the representation of fragments. I withdraw the epithet "contemptuous," but I would prefer to take what was said by the Lord President of the Council in 1928: We have got to make democracy safe for the world. You will never get that perfect democracy at which we aim until the whole people plays its part. Every fragment must bear its share of that burden. I want the fragment to have its chance. I want to know why minorities cannot be brought in. I want to know why the Conservatives in Durham who, up to this last election have had practically no representation in this House, should not be heard. There are Conservatives there.


Oh no there are not.


I want to know why the Conservatives in the rural parts of Wales who cast their votes at election after election should not have a representation that corresponds with their strength. Why should not Liberals in the county of Surrey or Sussex, who are never represented in this House to the extent of their numbers, have their voice? Why should not a Labour man be entitled to come and represent some part of the county of Cornwall, not a geographical part, but the Socialist vote that has been cast there at election after election? What breaks the heart of people more than being in a constituency where they never have any hope of success; and why, by mere geographical accident, are they denied the right that is given to others? The greatest influence of education is the influence of politics, the education of politics. People have a great deal more education from their life than from their schools, and one of the essential elements of education in a free democratic country is the association with political workers. The shutting out of these minorities in these places where there are big majorities against them brings about apathy and paralysis and is a great loss to our national life.

One reason why I feel very intensely upon this question is that I come from a constituency that was represented by one who was Mr. Leonard Courtney, afterwards Lord Courtney of Penwith, and if hon. Members have time to read Dr. Gooch's "Life" of that great man, who served many years in this House, they will see the intensity with which he fought upon this subject. He gave his life to it, he gave his mind to it, mainly because it was not some change in political machinery, as it has been dismissed to-night, but because he believed that it would bring to this country forces that were being repressed and denied. We need every sustaining factor that is available, and the wealth of public service is not so great in this country that we can shut out great numbers of our fellow citizens. It is upon that ground that we ask that the minorities shall be able to make this contribution.

I believe that we have got to maintain representative institutions in this country, and that the responsibility rests upon this country more than upon any other country in the world. When William Wordsworth said, over a century ago, speaking of this country, that it was a bulwark for the cause of men, it was just after the Napoleonic struggle. It is very much more true to-day. Now that we see representative institutions going down all along the line, and Kings going down, and dictators going down, locking up the doors of Parliament, and putting the keys in their pocket, there are very few countries left where representative in-institutions are maintained, and it is not going one word beyond the bare truth to say that if they went down in this country, they would go down everywhere. Therefore, there is the responsibility upon us. In my opinion, there are two things that we ought to do, and if we shirk them, it will be a very heavy responsibility.

First of all, we ought to improve the procedure of this House, to make it equal to the needs of our own generation, and, secondly, we ought so to bring about the reform of our electoral system that this institution of ours is truly representative and can rely upon the influence and the support of all our people, majorities and minorities alike. There is no one of us who can tell what may be the changes and vicissitudes of the next 15 or 20 years; nobody here can tell if in 20 years' time our representative institutions will be still standing. I pray God they still will be standing, but I believe that they will have the better chance of surviving if we make these institutions less vulnerable than they are, and if we bring to their support every section of our people, not merely those of the majority or of our own way of thinking, but take the generous line and say, "We will have the support of those who differ from us," believing that many elements must go to the making up of our English life and that there must be the contribution of every school of thought. If those institutions go down in 10 or 20 years' time, the responsibility will not only be upon those who actually make the onslaught, but perhaps upon those of this generation who, from lethargy or shameful indifference, fail to avail themselves of a remedy which is at hand. That remedy would have a great reforming quality and be fair to all our people, and do something to maintain institutions which moan a great deal not only for this country, but for all the world.

10.25 p.m.


I do not think I need detain the House on again elaborating arguments to show that the introduction of proportional representation might bring about a condition of stalemate. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) said he would rather have a condition of stalemate than have minorities not represented.


I did not use the word "stalemate." I said I would rather have an absolutely equal balance of parties if that were the result of balanced voting, than have one party with a majority over the other without any corresponding electoral support.


I do not think I am doing the hon. Member any injustice when I say that he prefers a condition of stalemate if only it fits in with his theory. If there are three parties, none of which has a majority, he would have the bargaining which we saw in a previous Parliament. That is not a prospect which the majority of this House can view with equanimity. On the other hand, can we view with any more equanimity the continuance of the present system? It is the confessed object of many hon. Members opposite to bring in a revolution of the constitution of this country, and I have never heard the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) qualify his theory by saying that they will not proceed unless they have a majority vote in the country; and still less have I ever heard him say, "Suppose we get in on a snap vote, not because the country likes us but because it is tired of the other people, I will go back to the country and consult it before I do anything irreparable." If the hon. and learned Member will say, "We will not proceed unless we have a majority of the people behind us; and if there is a doubt whether they voted for our scheme and not against the other people, then we will give them another chance by means of a referendum," then I am satisfied. I am certain that if he goes to a referendum or a second general election, he will not have a chance. Therefore, I feel safe, but so long as the constitution allows a snatch vote in cir-cumstances in which the country may vote, not for one party but against another, we must have some safeguard.

The safeguard which obviously presents itself is the reform of the House of Lords, and if the Government will adopt that policy I will vote against this Motion with pleasure, but so long as the Government refuse to contemplate the obvious method of security, namely, the reform of the House of Lords, it seems to me that the proposal in the Motion is the second best. I have great difficulty in opposing it so long as the present attitude towards reform of the House of Lords continues. I beg the Government to consider three possible courses—the status quo, reform of the House of Lords, or reform of the procedure for the election of this House. The object of any scheme is not to defeat democracy. I do not think anyone in this House is a firmer believer in democracy than I aim, but the object of democracy is to make sure that the considered will of the people should prevail, and anyone who is afraid of the veto of the House of Lords, who is afraid to go back to the country and say: "We want our policy endorsed anew either by a referendum or a general election" is afraid of democracy.

If we had a reformed House of Lords, as against the proposal in this Motion, we should achieve two things. First we should avoid stalemate in this House. We should have a House of Commons strong enough to support a Government which wants to get something done, a House of Commons in which it is not necessary for the Government to bargain as between one group and another, and therefore there would be a chance of getting a positive policy carried out. But, on the other hand, we should have a brake which would make it certain that a change of high constitutional importance could not be brought about without the country seeing that Measure face to face and saying, "Yes, we approve of it." If I have to vote on this question, so long as there is any hope of the Government reforming the House of Lords I feel bound to vote against this Motion, because it is only a second best. I am a little bit in the position of those who like the alternative vote or proportional representation, I want to mark my ballot paper "Reformed House of Lords, 1; This Motion, 2; Status Quo, 3." But at present I have to vote as between No. 2 and No. 3, because No. 1 is not here for me to vote about.

In these circumstances it is difficult to know what to do, but I shall vote against this Motion in the hope that this Government will adopt the straightforward course of reforming the House of Lords. If I find that is not going to be done, and if this Motion were to come up again in the course of a year or two, no reform of the House of Lords being proposed, I should vote for this Motion. But I do not think the time has yet come to give up hope of the House of Lords being reformed within the duration of this Parliament, and, therefore, I venture to cast my vote against this Motion

10.33 p.m.


In rising to support this Motion, I find myself in unaccustomed company, and I hasten to make it clear to hon. Members opposite that my conversion is temporary; that just for to-night I am a lodger occupying one room in their spiritual home. One of the disadvantages of being unfortunate enough to be called so late in the Debate is that nearly all the points one wishes to make have been put forward by other speakers. The last one, that referring to the reform of the other Chamber, which I thought was to be my ewe lamb, the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. J. Reid) has snatched from me; but, unlike him, I propose to support the Motion because, unfortunately, I fear there seems to be little chance of the Government taking up the question of the reform of the other House, although to my mind it is one of the most vital problems we have to face.

The position at present is that in this country we are tending more and more to return to our old system of two parties. For a short time we have bad three parties, but now the right wing Liberals, those who think deeply, are tending more or less to fusion with Conservatives. The other Liberals, who think rather more vaguely, remain an isolated and diminishing band.

As regards the others who are definitely opposed to the National Government, there is the Independent Labour party, which started with five Members and has now shrunk to three, two having joined the main party. That is not because the Members of the Independent Labour party are too modest to express their views. One of the Members of that party expressed his for about one hour last night. That is not because they lack political sagacity. As a matter of fact, everyone must be well aware that the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) have far more political ability than the whole of the Socialist Front Bench put together. From time immemorial, we have had a two-party system in this House and, unless and until Members elect to change it, that system is likely to continue.

The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Mallalieu), who very ably seconded this Motion, explained the reasons why the system of two parties obtained. If a Government became unpopular, or if possibly there were internal dissensions, the Crown would at once call upon the responsible alternative Government. That position was all very well as long as we had a responsible alternative Government, but to-day the position is changed. So far from having a responsible alternative Government, we have the pleasant position that, should a Socialist majority attain power as well as office in this country, it would not be the House of Commons or the Cabinet that would dictate, nor would the electors be the controlling body, but it would be a small gang of the Trades Union Congress, or some other political racketeers, who would dictate a policy which is repugnant to the vast majority of the electors and even of those who are misguided enough to vote Socialist. The hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) was at great pains to dissociate himself and the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), from the policy of revolution. I do not know whether the latter associates himself with that dissociation.


I associated myself with revolution, but revolution by Parliamentary methods.


I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his correction.

Those of us who have taken some pains to study the utterances of his hon. and learned Friend, have gathered an impression not precisely similar. In fact, it seems to us that, if the hon. and learned Gentleman obtained power, he would immediately proceed to put into operation methods against which he and his friends would be the very first to scream, if this Government adopted them. I am not certain whether it was the hon. Gentleman himself, or some of his spiritual advisers, who would suspend the holding of another election until such time as they saw fit. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman will say if we attempted to carry out such a proposal. He would probably become incoherent with democratic fervour. I do not know whether the ardour for Democracy of the Socialists who oppose proportional representation is as great as they say. If there were proportional representation, and they obtained a majority of the votes, nothing could stop Socialism, but, so far as we can see, and as has already been pointed out, they want to sneak in on a split vote, and then to proceed to put their policy into operation.

Everyone knows that hundreds of thousands, or probably millions, of electors do not vote for the government that is coming in, but against the government that is going out, irrespective of what the party colours may be. If the hon. Gentleman and his friends get into office, they will take very good care that the electors do not have a chance for a very long time of explaining whether they are in favour of a policy of Socialism or not. We are to have emergency legislation rushed through this House, so that thereafter this House will be reduced to a cipher, and all legislation will be carried out by Orders-in-Council. I do not think that that is an unfair statement of the position, which is going to be very dangerous if we are to have a revolutionary Socialist Government as an alternative to the present more-or-less fusion or coalition of parties, forming a moderate National Government.

Everyone is also aware that, no matter how good a Government may be, no matter what reforms it may carry out, no matter how prosperous it makes the country, sooner or later the electors get tired of it, simply because it is the Government, and in such circumstances, if we retain our two-party system, the time must come when the National Government, or whatever Government may succeed it, will fall, and there will be no alternative Government except one composed of people more or less led by the hon. and learned Gentleman. In such circumstances the future of this country will be very dark. Some people maintain that it would be a good thing for Socialism to get power as well as office, seeing that it would give the electors such a lesson that they would not trust their destinies to the Socialist party for many years to come. There is something to be said for that idea, but the time when a Socialist Government was merely in office without power, from 1929 to 1931, was quite enough to show what they could do. They reduced this country to the verge of absolute ruin by their complete incapacity, their complete lack of a constructive programme, and their complete abandonment of all sound finance and good government. Heaven help the country if ever they had office with power; they would ruin it in six weeks.

That is the position which we find before us to-day, and that is why I think there are very good reasons why proportional representation should be seriously considered by His Majesty's Government, and why electors who are "fed up" with the Government in office should be given a chance to vote for someone other than the Socialist party. I believe that the letters "P.R." do not spell "proportional representation," but "perpetual repression"—perpetual repression of the Socialist party; because I believe that the Socialist party are never likely to get a majority of all the electors in this country, though they are only too likely to creep into office by the back door on a split moderate vote.

I should like now to refer to certain disadvantages of proportional representation which are occasionally brought forward. In the first place, we are told that there will be a stalemate, but I do not think that that is necessary. Secondly, ray own party say that we shall never get any more Conservative legislation passed; but, speaking quite frankly as a Tory of the right wing, I am not quite sure that we have had any such legislation for a long time past. The only Tory thing about our policy has been the introduction of Protection, and Protection has ceased to be a party cry at all, and is now admitted by all parties, even including the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and his associates, to be necessary in greater or lesser degree. We are not likely to be any worse off, in any such conditions as might arise in the future, than we are likely to remain to-day. Then we are told that it would increase the representation of cranks and freaks in this House. I do not want to be rude to anyone in the House, but, if one looks round, one wonders whether there are not some here already whose views are exceptional, and I rather doubt whether proportional representation would increase the number to any measurable extent.

Lastly, certain Members, especially of my own party, view with horror the continued presence here of those hon. Members who follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen. Personally, however, I do not regard their presence here with the abhorrence that some of my friends do. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Do not throw them flowers."]—I thought that flowers were usually given, even by way of a wreath. To my mind they certainly serve a very useful purpose. There are times when we have dull, serious Debates here, and hon. Members opposite sometimes make very useful contributions to those Debates, while at other times their presence is very valuable by way of a little light relief. I think that the price we should have to pay in having them here would be a very light one if it meant that we should be quite certain of keeping the Socialists out. For that reason, I myself am completely prepared to go into the Division Lobby to vote for their Motion. After all, even if it means the perpetuation of that section of the Liberal party that is led by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen, as a naturalist I am bound to be in favour of the conservation of all rare species that are on the verge of extinction, and I should be very sorry to think that they will be reduced in the future to the condition of museum pieces. It is far better that, in the interests of the country and of the suppression of Socialism, we should continue to enjoy in our midst the presence of those very interesting political prehistoric survivals. To strike a more serious note, I believe it is essential, if we are to escape the very great dangers that would overtake the country in the event of a Socialist majority coming in and a Socialist Government being put in power as well as in office, that some alternative form of representation should be considered. I think proportional representation is probably the least nasty of all such forms, and I hope that the Government will give the matter their earnest consideration, because by so doing they will avoid a great danger while suffering what may be no more than a slight inconvenience.

10.46 p.m.


I feel that the Mover of the Motion will be neither surprised nor regretful to learn that it will have my unalterable opposition notwithstanding the entirely unexpected support of my Noble Friend the Member for Perth (Lord Scone). On both grounds, its preservation of democracy and its preservation of naturalist specimens, it fails to appeal to me.


I did not mention the preservation of democracy. That was merely incidental.


I would only justify my attitude by the speech of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) who said that in the House there should be people of all points of view and, as I believe that democracy is both bad and unworkable, and as I believe that neither proportional representation nor any other form of electoral reform will keep it from tottering to its inevitable grave, to my mind efforts that are addressed to the object of its preservation are neither attractive nor particularly valuable. On the other hand, from the point of view of the preservation of the rights of minorities, or of the Liberal party, I again think that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages, and, while I am bound to say that, while the hon. Member for Bodmin made a passionate appeal and twitted the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) with cynicism when he said that the object of the Motion was to increase the strength of the Liberal party, and while I in common with every Member of the House would give the hon. Member almost complete credit for all sincerity, if he asks for it, it is peculiar that proportional representation is a matter of comparatively recent adoption even by the Liberal party.

We have had quotations from various statesmen, from the Prime Minister and from the Lord President of the Council, and we have had allusions without number to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). I will go a little further back and give a quotation from Sir William Harcourt. No one would accuse him of being anything but orthodox. No one could accuse him of any leanings either towards Socialism or Toryism, and yet this is how he described proportional representation in resisting a proposal to introduce it into a Local Government Bill of which he had charge—proportional representation applied to local government which, as was pointed out by the Liberal party when they introduced a Bill on the subject last Session, had all the advantages and none of the objections that may be attributed to Parliamentary proportional representation. This is how the right hon. Gentleman described it: It is a system by which a man has to vote for the person he does not prefer in order to secure a majority for some purpose he does not understand. I suggest that for a description of the proposal of proportional representation the words of that distinguished Liberal could not be bettered. We have heard from the hon. Member for Bodmin how beautifully it has worked in Ireland. He has not said much about those countries which have undertaken it and abandoned it, and when he refers to Ireland, let him remember that in Ireland, though there may be a multiplicity of parties, there is virtually one issue on which the whole country is divided, and that is the adherence or non-adherence to the treaty. Therefore, if proportional representation has not worked too badly there, it is because it is merely adjusting the relations of two peoples of opposite views. In this country with, three, or is it four or five parties?—I never know how many Liberal parties there are—anyhow with a great many parties, in spite of what the Noble Lord the Member for Perth has said, a stalemate is inevitable.

The hon. Member for Bodmin implied that he did not very much mind. He said that he was not responsible for the results. If this House is to make a step forward, it is just the results that it has to consider. There will be very little disagreement in any quarter of the House, though the Opposition may have to pretend it, when I say that the Governments which lost confidence quickest, did most harm and got into most trouble since the War were the Socialist Governments of 1924 and 1929. To what was that due? Was it due to their policy or to the personnel of those Governments? Vicious as I believe the first to be, and inept as I know the second, I believe it was due to the fact that they could not get on with any job because there was a set of snipers. When they introduced a Measure they never knew whether it would go through or how far they would be allowed to carry out their policy. While I join with my Noble Friend in hoping that never again will a Socialist Government assume office in this country, and I agree with him that practically any method is worth adopting to prevent it, and I never make the slightest concealment of that fact, I differ from him in that I think they would do less harm if they were allowed to carry out a policy than if they were continually hampered by a minority vote. I know that that is more likely to happen to a Government of my own party. If it were dependent on the good will of the other parties it would lead to chaos. [An HON. MEMBER: "You are!"] My hon. Friend suggests that we are dependent on their good will. Well, we have not had much good will, and we are still surviving. If we were dependent for our existence on their support, the disasters would be appalling. Proportional representation is entirely unsuited to the three-party system and to a constitutional country in which a general election invariably follows the defeat of a Government on a major issue. I do not think that proportional representation is suitable for discussion. The hon. Member for Bodmin suggested that this was an opportunity to give the independent man a chance. Is it so? Is it not the fact that in all countries where proportional representation reigns they invariably vote for the ticket? He referred to the lack of choice of members of a constituency. Does he prefer all the glories and triumphs of democracies in an American election? Is that a thing he would like to see introduced into this country?

With all its faults, our electoral system has a great deal to commend it, if you are to have an electoral system on a universal franchise at all. Has Europe benefited so much during the last 15 years by the full representation of minorities? We are told a great deal about the representation of minorities. Are minorities in this country unrepresented? There is the Liberal party. Can they be really dissatisfied with their representation in this House, when one sees their old and distinguished Members, and their seried ranks over there, and over here? Is there such a terrible burden upon minorities in this country that the representation should be adjusted to an exact numerical fraction? I commend to those who support proportional representation the example of Europe during the past decade where every constructive action and every agreement and advance has been swamped by the objections of small minorities. Minorities under a democratic system should, and must, be heard, and they should have a voice and true representation, but, if the object of minority representation is to swamp action, to prevent advance and to put a spoke in the wheel of any movement, our present system with all its faults would only be worsened.

Mr. HOLDSWORTH rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

10.59 p.m.


I have sat through the whole of this Debate, and I should like an opportunity of saying a few words with regard to it. I think that the House will regret that the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) has not himself taken part in the Debate and given us a first-hand account of his views instead of his views having been given second-hand. Systems are like individuals; they are not all perfect. While there is a great deal with which we may find fault in the present system of elections, I believe that the countervailing disadvantage of the other systems which have been suggested far outweigh the disadvantages of our present system.

Mr. HOLDSWORTH rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question put, "That the Question be now put."

Original Question again proposed.

It being after Eleven o'Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.