HC Deb 01 February 1944 vol 396 cc1193-237

Question again proposed, That this House welcomes the proposal of His Majesty's Government to set up a Conference on Electoral Reform and Redistribution of Seats and to invite Mr. Speaker to preside.

Mr. Woodburn

Mr. Speaker, just before the interruption I commenced to discuss the point that there were three systems proposed to us by which we might improve our electoral system. Our own system is based on the division of the country into geographical areas with approximately equal electoral districts, and with, in the main, single-Member constituencies. Criticisms are made of this system, the first of which deals with the question of registration. It has been our experience for many years now that, when elections take place, the registers are always out of date. Modern industry requires a considerable amount of mobility on the part of the population, and in the period of six to nine months, and perhaps more, that may elapse between the making of a register and the election itself, there may be very considerable changes of population. The Minister has indicated that the Government are rather favourable to the question of continuous registration, and my hon. Friends feel themselves bound in that direction as well, and they hope that it may be possible to continue the system proposed under the Emergency Act into the peace-time period.

The second criticism is in regard to plural voting, and here there is considerable criticism in regard to the possibility of one individual being able to influence elections in six, seven or eight different constituencies. It is true he cannot do that at the time of a General Election, but, as the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) pointed out, in the case of by-elections he can actually influence the return of Members for as many constituencies as he may qualify for on the registration principle. That is rather a serious criticism of our present electoral system. When he came to the question of plural voting at a General Election, he took the instance of the City of London. I think we can all agree that the City of London has a rather unique position, since it consists entirely of offices, but in these other central districts, where there are not only offices, but residences, what happens in effect is that the business vote, which he defended, practically disfranchises the residents there because it is simply overwhelming. It is quite wrong, in the case of central districts in towns where there are residential qualifications, that a business vote which is outside a district altogether and controlled by people who already have ample voting opportunities, should actually be able to decide the Member for the people who live there. I think that, generally speaking, the Labour Party would be against the perpetuation of this business vote save in the exceptional circumstances of the City of London. A good deal has been said about the university elections and the excellence of the people who are returned here as their Members. I am not prepared to dispute the personal excellence of the people who come to represent the universities. That is hardly the point; I am quite sure the same people would be able to return for normal constituencies. The only question is, Should there be an additional vote and an additional representation for people who graduate at universities? Personally, I doubt that. Up till now the very fact that they have not shown enough intelligence to return one Labour Member disqualifies them, in my mind, from being sufficiently educated politically to exercise the franchise at all.

Captain Cobb (Preston)

There might be two views about that.

Mr. Woodburn

I quite agree, but the very fact that the one is a modern view and the other is ancient suggests that the prejudice in that argument is in my favour. I have seen on the University registration a doctor who qualified as far back as the latter part of the last century. He himself must be very old, and he lives in Africa. His ideas can have nothing to do with this country, and why he should exercise a vote in this country now I cannot understand. Moreover, we were told that the Universities have special qualifications for voting. Like the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), I have had an opportunity of seeing the voting at a University, and I recall that a distinguished lawyer had signed his paper, had it duly witnessed as having been signed by him, and returned it to the Registrar, and yet he had not even put his cross on the paper. There are more spoilt papers in a University election than there are in any normal election. I think, therefore, that the argument about the exceptional ability of people who qualify for the vote at University elections is rather exaggerated. A man may be a very good doctor and a very bad politician; he may be a very good mathematician and a bad politician; he may be led away by calculations about numerical voting and things of that kind that have nothing to do with our normal system of electioneering.

The third criticism is that our present system gives great advantages to wealth, and the costs of elections would be a very important thing to be considered by the Electoral Commission. Even the Conservative Party itself complains about the penalising candidates by the imposition of money qualifications before they can stand. The buying of seats is a very bad type of representation and the sooner this is dismissed from all parties the better.

My own party took steps many years ago to prevent selection being made on these grounds, and I would commend that to the advantage of the country as a whole. Then there is the question of redistribution and the effect of that in time on electoral areas, if allowed to get out of proportion. Sometimes there is an assumption that if you alter a system everything becomes perfect. That does not follow at all. You may have anomalies now, but no matter what you do with the system I suggest that anomalies will remain. One of the arguments in favour of Proportional Representation is that it ought to be connected with groups. Our system does its best to try to give Proportional Representation in the House of Commons. I have noticed constituencies divided into rural and urban, and, therefore, you have a degree of Proportional Representation of rural constituencies and a proportion of urban constituencies. Then there is the geographical consideration. I look with horror on the prospect of everybody being reduced to dull uniformity. I think it would be a tragedy if the contribution to culture, education and different trends of thought that can be made by different nationalities were to be wiped out merely on the mathematical formula of numbers. Scotland, Ireland and Wales can make a contribution to this House apart from their numbers, and it would be a tragedy if, owing to economic circumstances, population developed all around the London area so that the voice of the country was reduced in this House. I would advocate that geographical areas ought to be taken into account in allocating the number of seats for these particular countries.

The question of redistribution must be viewed with a little more gravity than the counting of heads. I would suggest that until the population knows where it is likely to go it would be much better to postpone any great redistribution. The Orkneys and Shetlands have been instanced. There is a large number of men from industrial areas working now in the Orkneys and Shetland. They reside there. Can anybody say that the man from Glasgow, Bradford or London who is at present working there is the proper person to say who shall represent the Orkneys and Shetlands in the House of Commons? As has been said, the Orkneys and Shetlands have the tradition and spirit of people who belong to the countryside. It is for them to return their Member and not for foreigners who have come in from outside. We can reproduce that argument all over the country. You have a few people left in the East End of London. Are they to decide who shall represent the East End of London? Are industrial people, who have been moved into country areas, to decide who shall represent the countryside? I think it will give a false representation in this House and be extremely undesirable if we at this time plunge into a redistribution of constituencies which would dislocate the normal life of our people. We want people in this House who are really representative of the people who elect them and not merely passengers for a short space of time.

It may seem that if partial redistribution takes place it would be likely to discourage the proper tackling of the job of full distribution. While the anomalies of Romford, East Renfrew and Hendon are with us they may not wholly disappear by partial redistribution. I think it would be better to suffer slight anomalies and wait until it is possible to make the job complete. The Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland are both engaged on a project to build about 5,000,000 houses. What is the point of starting redistribution until you know where the houses are to be built and where the people are to live? Romford has become a problem for a second time, and may well become a problem for the third time, unless we wait until the population is settled and is redistributed in the proper way. I hope the Home Secretary will take account of another criticism of our present system and that is the confusion that exists between local government electoral law and national Government electoral law. The Corrupt Practices Act and other anomalies about costs have led to a great deal of confusion and I think it would be an advantage if these things could be assimilated when the changes take place.

The main argument put forward to-day by my hon. Friend the Member for South Bradford (Sir H. Holdsworth) was on behalf of Proportional Representation and we must admit that there are certain plausible arguments in favour of this system. It is said that it would give expression in this House to minorities. I am satisfied that there is no minority in this country that cannot find expression in this House. It is also said that it would reduce the swing of the pendulum. There may be an argument in that but that, again, may create the very situation that nobody wants, namely, the Government of the day being in such a position that they cannot make a decision. A further argument, which is a powerful one, and must be taken into consideration, is that this system has worked. It works in Belgium, Holland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland and Ireland, and therefore, without condemning it out of hand, consideration must be given as to how it has worked in those countries. I have studied the views for and against and I must say that they are confusing. You have people denouncing it on the ground that it would bring into existence many more parties but my criticism is that the purport of elections is not to give representation to minority opinions but to carry on the Government of the country. Government must be carried on by a Government which is able to make decisions and that Government, so far as possible, ought to be a homogenous Government. It is true that in Coalitions during a war you can get a Government that comes to internal agreement, but in peace-time that is much more difficult and there is much more likelihood of internal disagreement because of the pressure on the Government and on parties from outside. This would tend to make a stalemate and put up resistance to proposals rather than agreement to get proposals carried. There is no doubt that Proportional Representation does tend to stimulate the coming into being of a large number of groups of people. I listed some of the people who might conceivably form groups in this country. We might have the prohibition group.

Mr. Maxton

We had.

Mr. Woodburn

Yes, there was one prohibition Member for Dundee. I think it is quite likely that we should get a very large minority view with regard to prohibition. Then the Home Secretary might find himself faced with a group in favour of Sunday entertainment—already here in nucleus—and in contrast to that with a group of Sabbatarians. I could guarantee quite a few from Scotland and I am sure that Wales would provide a number. Then we might have a peace group, a Navy group, a capital punishment abolition group, religious groups of great variety and even a farmers' group which thought they could accomplish things better than working through the recognised parties. If it was a question of having a debating society then there might be an argument for it but if it is the purpose of the Government to get on with the business of government these groups would cause delaying and frustrating actions. I have not mentioned other groups which are already represented in the various parties which sit below the Gangway. It is difficult to know exactly what political principles to which many of them who have been returned as Independents give allegiance but they could easily swell into groups and parties which could add to the confused political situation. The main criticism that must be answered by the advocates of Proportional Representation is the fact that in the main it will destroy the single Member constituencies. It will increase the size of these enormously. During an election in my constituency it is a tour de force to be able to visit every place that ought to be visited. Electors think they are entitled to see their Member of Parliament and their candidate. If you multiply the constituencies a great deal you will deprive these constituents of their connection with their Member of Parliament. There is something to be said for our constitutional system as it is at present in that while a candidate may represent a party he also becomes the Member for the constituency when he is elected. Apart altogether from his party allegiance he has a loyalty to his constituency and the constituency knows who represents them.

If you take a composite constituency returning one Conservative, one Socialist, one Liberal, one I.L.P. and one Common Wealth, what does the constituency stand for in the House of Commons? Can anybody tell me? It increases the costs of running an election and, therefore, enhances the purpose of wealth in fighting seats. I think the Senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn), who broadcast last night, stated a very good point—that the great publicity organs of this country would very largely determine who were to be Members of Parliament and that the Members themselves would have less and less influence on their constituencies and the electorate. The other system proposed is the alternative vote, which we must consider for a moment. This is considered by some of its advocates to keep the single constituency and get over the difficulty of the so-called minority representation. If we take Carnarvonshire, where the hon. Member was returned on a minority vote, we see that the Liberal vote was about 18,000, the Labour vote about 17,000 and the Independent vote about 3,000. In this case the Independent would decide whether it was to be the Liberal or Conservative Member, but it does not follow that these independent voters would vote for the person they wanted to be the Member. They may vote against a person they want in order to keep out. In other words, they are not voting for a Government but to prevent a Government. That is a thing that must be deprecated if democracy is to work. If you are to have politics of frustration and obstruction democracy will come to an end, as it came to an end in Germany, France and many other countries. A great deal of this argument for minority representation is that it is in order to get groups into the House of Commons, but that will cause confusion, with the result that no Government will be able to make decisions that can be effective.

If we take the three party systems, supposing you had equal numbers returned. If the Conservatives became a Government, the Labour and Liberal Parties will always obstruct what they propose. If the Labour Party becomes a Government, the Liberals and Conservatives will obstruct what they propose, and if the Liberals become a Government Conservatives and Labour will obstruct what they propose, and you would get a complete stalemate, such as occurred in Germany, and if the House of Commons ceased to work progress would sweep it aside. Democracy depends on having a majority vote. The hon. Member who advocated Proportional Representation argued that people were entitled to send as many parties to the House of Commons as they liked. I agree with that but I do not agree that the people should be deprived of the right of saying which party is to govern the country. If the Liberal Party stands as the third party and is perpetuated in future history, people will have to vote for the Liberal Party without knowing which Government it is going to stand for. That is depriving the electors of saying which Government is to govern the country. It may be true that it is a disadvantage to have three parties, but no one has been able to show how you can have more than two Lobbies when it comes to a vote, and the electors are entitled to know before the election whether the vote of their constituencies is to be cast for or against the Government. Therefore, I think the present system, which tends towards the two party system, is a logical one which forces people to settle their differences outside the House and settle their groups before they go forward to the electors so that the issue will be clear that so and so stands for the proposed Government or some other Government.

I think it is worth while recalling some of the advantages that we get from the party system. A great many people talk about getting the best representatives of all parties, and there is a certain attractiveness about that, but you would have a House of Commons of super-intellec- tuals who have no political adherences or political principles who just vote on the issues when they arise. If the electors are faced with 615 one man parties, that deprives them of the purpose of elections, which is to select, the Government that is to govern the country. At present the Conservative Party go to the electors and say, "If you vote for this candidate, who has been approved by us, we will guarantee that he will, as far as we can manage it, support a Conservative Government and carry out the policy that we have put before the electors. If he does not we will repudiate him, as the Conservative Party has done in some cases, and it will be for the electors at the next election to see that he ceases to be the Member."

Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)

If the hon. Member's doctrine had been carried out would it not have been unfortunate in the case of the present Prime Minister?

Mr. Woodburn

We are not discussing personalities. The Labour Party gives a guarantee that if a person accepts Labour representation he will, as far as possible, support Labour policy. He is not asked to vote against his conscience but we lay it down that at no time is a Member of Parliament elected on a general electoral policy entitled to use his position for his own personal kinks or advantages. He is abusing the electoral policy of the country and the party if he uses it for his personal idiosyncracies. But all parties allow a considerable latitude, and there has never been the slightest difficulty about Members putting forward extremely minority points of view. It gives the further advantage to the electors that, when the next election comes, a party which has given its pledges through these candidates cannot avoid its responsibility to the electors for its actions or inactions. If one Member can say that the other 614 prevented him from doing it there is no reply to that, but when you have the responsibility of the party the electors can say, "Your party is responsible and you will be held responsible and, if we do not agree with you, we can put you out."

Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)

When did this country ever accept the system of tariffs?

Mr. Woodburn

Elections do not decide points of detailed policy. They elect the Government that is going to carry on the country and, when they select a Government, they must accept the decisions of that Government for the time being and, if they do not like them, they have to turn them out. [Interruption.] This Government was selected by the fact that the people returned Members who decided that the time had come when a Coalition Government? had to be formed. This is a House of representatives and not of delegates. The point is quite a false one and does not interfere with the argument at all.

Mr. Maxton

I thought it was the point that you were making, which you now say is a false one.

Mr. Woodburn

It is the same as the point about tariffs. When the party goes back to the country, if the country disapproves, they can turn out everyone who agrees with that policy.

Mr. Maxton rose——

Mr. Speaker

I think it would be better to have not so many interruptions. Time is getting on and it is hard to get in all who want to speak.

Mr. Woodburn

The point that has been raised is an important one but it forgets this part of our Constitution, that the House of Commons does not proceed according to the views of the electorate as expressed at the last general election. I know of no institution so sensitive to public opinion as the House of Commons, and the House of Commons does not rely on the public opinion expressed at the last election. Public opinion has its influence on the House of Commons, and we have all seen its decisions altered by public opinion.

The electorate has a further great advantage in the two-party system that it has a possible alternative Government. In other words, if you have a great majority of Conservatives, and the country does not like the Conservative Government, they can turn it out and put the second party in but if you have a multitude of small groups there is no possibility of an alternative government. A multitude of groups leads to immoral bargaining and corruption. Our Parliamentary system provides an opportunity for a peaceful revolution at least every five years. The Government can be overturned without violence and a new one put in its place, and it is because that system has worked that we have been able to avoid the catastrophes that have occurred on the Continent. Therefore three or more parties become a danger to the proper working of the House. They may give a majority decision against action and obstruct positive policy and, the more parties there are, the more danger there is of stalemate. At present the Government places its policy in a Bill before the House of Commons, and anyone who wants can buy a copy of the Bill and study it, and in two days Members can be apprised of the views of the population. When the Second Reading takes place it is not only the views of Members of Parliament that are expressed. Members are able to express to the Government the views of the country through their constituents. You have all the advantages of a court of law. The Government is cross-examined by the Opposition, the policy is open to criticism and any weaknesses are disclosed and, when the Bill finally leaves the House of Commons it is as perfect as by our democratic procedure it can be made. From the point of view of the public that has an attractiveness which no other form of publicity can achieve and the study of the reports of the Debates is a great education in civics. The system has stood the test of time. Very powerful arguments will have to be brought forward before we give up the existing system in favour of something which would have less satisfactory results. We welcome the Committee that is to be set up under the Speaker's chairmanship and we wish it every success.

Sir Douglas Hacking (Chorley)

We have listened to a very interesting and instructive speech, full of sound commonsense. I liked very much the hon. Member's defence of the Parliamentary institutions of the country and especially his defence of the present electoral system. He said that we had had no experience of a minority failing in its desire to give expression to its opinion in the House. I think he is right. Minorities always have a very fair chance here, but that is a testimonial to yourself, Sir, and it is probably the best of all reasons why you should have been selected, and I am told unofficially have accepted the position of chairman of this Conference. We are all delighted that you have agreed and we are satisfied that under your authority the Conference will work well. Whatever may be said either for or against any fundamental change in our electoral system, I am going to assume for the purposes of my speech that there is in fact going to be no great change brought about as the result of the Conference, and anything that I have to say will be based on that assumption. But even if we discard any basic alterations in our existing system there are, nevertheless, many smaller matters, each important in itself, which call for early attention. But before I come to these changes, I would like to mention this question of the redistribution of seats. It was dealt with very fully by my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) and other Members have also dwelt largely upon it. I submit that no one can defend the position of one constituency having over 200,000 electors and another constituency having, approximately, 20,000 electors. Nobody can defend a position such as that. I notice that the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) does not go so far as desiring partial redistribution. He wants to put off redistribution until we get a complete resettlement of the population. I am afraid I do not agree with that view. It will, I think, be necessary to have two bites at this particular cherry. At an early date I think there must obviously be partial redistribution, but until the population really settles down after the war redistribution should not be made permanent.

The more glaring anomalies should be put right without delay, but the more permanent redistribution should be dealt with at a later stage, possibly, as was suggested by the Home Secretary, by setting up a permanent boundary commission. Personally, I like the idea of a permanent boundary commission, because they can exercise a check on the growth of certain constituencies before the position gets so hopeless, as it is to-day. I agree with the Home Secretary that the House ought not to be asked to effect frequent changes, such as every six months, but there ought to be some body in existence which can at suitable intervals examine this problem of the size of constituencies and report to this House whenever they think it is desirable to do so. I am frankly impressed with that idea, and I think that the setting up of some such permanent boundary commission would prevent things getting as bad as they are now, because then they would obviously be much easier to deal with. I hold views about the matters which the Conference will have to debate, but I do not want to discuss a whole host of questions now. Rather, I desire to concentrate on one important feature of elections, namely that of election expenses.

I notice that this question of election expenses will be covered by the draft agenda which was mentioned by the Home Secretary. I think it would probably come under the heading of "Conduct and Costs of Elections." Many of my hon. Friends on this side of the House hold strong views on this important matter. First and foremost, I believe we must encourage ability when we consider representation in this House. The hon. Member for East Stirling put the case crudely but, I think, very forcibly when he said the buying of seats must be abolished. I think most of us, if not all of us, deprecate wealth having a greater influence than ability. That, if I may say so, applies to all parties, and we must make that perfectly clear. I have often said that if wealth or influence is the main factor in the returning of hon. Members to this House, then God help the future government of the country. There is a happy combination of these two, wealth and ability, and I would say, with the author of the Beggars' Opera, "How happy would some of us be with either." Therefore, I make no apology for dealing solely with the question of expenses which candidates, Members or some organisation on behalf of Members have to bear.

I believe that the general expenses should be made very much lower than they are at present. It should be made much easier for Members of Parliament who are less wealthy than others to have the opportunity of representing constituents in this House. Candidly, I would like candidates to be more independent of outside influences, in order that they may be chosen for their character and ability alone. How best can we effect these reductions? I venture to submit that the Conference should first consider the reduction of the legal maximum expendi- ture per elector. At present the limit is 5d. per head in boroughs and 6d. in county constituencies. I would like to see both sums reduced by at least 1d., to see the future limit in boroughs 4d. at the most and in county constituencies, 4½d. at the most. But that these reductions in themselves are really insufficient. They should be conditional upon other economies.

Among these additional economies, I would suggest for consideration that all schools in receipt of financial assistance from public funds should be at the disposal of candidates for their public meetings, free of charge. The law, I believe, lays it down that only public elementary schools should be available for this purpose. I would like to see all schools in receipt of public funds compelled to allow candidates to use their schoolrooms for public meetings free of charge altogether. Secondly, as hon Members know, certain expenditure by outside organisations is at present illegal unless the consent of the election agent is obtained. This illegal expenditure by outside organisations includes the printing and publishing of circulars, the cost of meetings, and many other activities, but when a law was passed prohibiting the interference of outside organisations in a constituency without the election agent's consent such abominations as loudspeakers had not been invented. At present, apparently, they are legal and can be used by outside organisations. If that is so, I certainly think they should be included among the illegalities, again, of course, except with the consent of the election agent, and even then they should be included in the election expenses.

A great economy could be effected if the State would assume the obligation, through the returning officer, of sending the elector his poll card. At the present time an elector may receive a number of poll cards corresponding to the number of candidates in any one election. It is probably annoying for the elector to receive so many poll cards, and it is expensive for the individuals who send them out. If you substituted one poll card, sent out under public funds, you would obviously create a great general saving, and you would also make things much easier and lessen the cost for the individual candidate. If that suggestion is adopted, it should be made illegal for any candidate to issue a poll card himself. Another slight economy could be effected by limiting the polling hours. I am informed that very few electors go to the polling booths before 8 o'clock in the morning. I hope, therefore, that the Conference will consider the stabilisation of polling hours for all constituencies from 8 o'clock in the morning to 9 o'clock at night. I think that would be a practical compromise.

Mr. R.C. Morrison (Tottenham, North)

Would the right hon. Gentleman qualify that statement by exempting places like London where, in the outer parts, a multitude of people must leave home long before 8 o'clock in the morning and do not get back until later than 9 o'clock?

Sir D. Hacking

The Speaker's Conference, of course, would have to consider all these points, but I am suggesting it Would be a desirable thing, if possible, to stabilise the opening hours. There are exceptions to be made, such as that suggested by the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R.C. Morrison), and I am sure that the Speaker's Conference will give them consideration. One final matter to which the Conference should give consideration, in order to encourage the Less wealthy claimant, is subscriptions, charitable and otherwise. I have never yet been able to get a proper definition of "charitable," so I would like to add to it the word "otherwise." It may sound revolutionary, but I believe that serious consideration might well be given to the suggestion that subscriptions by Members of Parliament to charities and other institutions in a constituency should be made illegal. Very often it tends towards a system of bribery, although I believe nobody loses very much by not subscribing liberally to the various organisations in a constituency. Personally, I have never done so, and I have been lucky in being here for a very long time. It seems to me wrong that there should be this possibility of bribery, and if we were all prevented from contributing to the various cricket clubs, football clubs and other institutions in our own constituencies, it might be a very good thing, and would certainly effect a very great economy for the limited purses of prospective candidates.

Major Sir George Davies (Yeovil)

I hope the right hon. Gentleman has not lost sight of the fact that some Members live, in their constituencies and they, whether they are Members of Parliament or not, would subscribe to some of the things mentioned.

Mr. Speaker

Both hon. Members will remember that we are dealing with electoral reform and the redistribution of seats. I am not certain that subscriptions by a private individual would be in Order.

Sir D. Hacking

I do not want to say anything which would not be in Order, but I understand that one of the points on the agenda, as suggested by the Home Secretary, was the conduct and cost of elections.

Mr. Speaker

Exactly so; the cost of elections is in Order, but what the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting does not affect the cost of elections; he is dealing with expenditure at a time when no election is in progress or possibly even imminent.

Sir D. Hacking

It does not refer to the cost of running elections, I admit, and will not press the matter further. Hon. Members may say that each one of the economies I have mentioned is a small matter, but I assure them that the cumulative effect of these small economies will be very great. They would be much appreciated by most of the candidates, especially those who do not happen to be wealthy. It would help the poorer man possessing ability to enter the portals of this House, and, what is very important, would give a much wider choice to constituency associations when they are considering the adoption of a candidate. The result would be a better House of Commons and a stronger Government. It is high time that we had a consolidation of election law, and especially a review of the Corrupt Practices Acts. The latter, as the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) said, are completely out of date and I fear are frequently ignored in the interests of commonsense. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that when your Conference assembles you will bring to its notice all those matters which were in Order which I have touched upon. I do not envy you your position, but I am confident—and I am sure my views are shared by every Member on every side of the House—that if anybody can create order out of this existing degree of chaos, you are the individual. I wish you the best of good fortune in your trials.

Mr. Pritt (Hammersmith, North)

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chorley (Sir D. Hacking) will not expect me to follow him, because I want to deal with rather different subjects, but I would agree with him that the cumulative effect of the various economies which he suggests may be very considerable. I join with other Members in welcoming the procedure in the setting up of the Conference under you, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that it is the only practical machinery for something which is of extreme importance to the next Parliament, which will be the most important in our history. I want to add to the advocacy of Proportional Representation that has come from one or two Members and I want to put it on a wider basis. I will begin by examining the defects of the present single-Member constituency system. As it stands at present, a single-Member constituency, especially in the absence of any alternative vote, in a country that has never had many splinters or groups of parties, but has sometimes had two main parties and very often three, really means that the ordinary voter is confronted by a choice of two or occasionally three, and very rarely more, serious candidates, all of them pre-selected by party machines, those party machines being in some cases fairly democratic and in some cases highly oligarchic.

The actual result to the ordinary elector is that he really has no choice but to decide between two general policies or two big leaders. That is a great deal better than nothing, but it is a very long way from any real share in the government of the country. We must remember, too, that in 1935, for example, with regard to two-thirds of the seats in the House you could prophesy pretty well which party would win. That meant that two-thirds of the House was appointed and not elected at all. Once you got the general trend of view in the country, the individual who was to come here was appointed either by a party machine or by a selection conference which, to some extent, was a reflection of a party machine, or by a combination of or negotiations between the two. That is not a satisfactory way of selecting Members of Parliament.

Mr. Bartle Bull (Enfield)

Would not that balance itself out? Would it not work one way in one division and another way in another division?

Mr. Pritt

I am not suggesting that it affects one party more than another; I am only suggesting that it is not a way in which the people select their representatives, but that it is a way in which the party machine selects the representatives of the people. I am not content with a bad House of Commons which fairly represents the actual trend in the country. I want a good House of Commons that fairly represents the actual trend. I do not in this mean to condemn the party system as a whole. The party system is a very good thing if worked properly. I do not see any danger of Proportional Representation leading to the 615 parties that worried the hon. Member for Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern (Mr. Woodburn) so much, although his praise of the Tory Party was so whole-hearted that I cannot see that it matters to him very much what party is in power.

The trouble goes a little further than that. If you have single-Member constituencies divided geographically, and most of them containing the ordinary general classifications of people in the country, some rich, some poor, some even taking an interest in politics but the great majority of them not doing so, it does on the whole tend to make perhaps half, or more than half, or the constituencies rather like one another, each likely to have very much the same results as the other, so that while you get strong Labour representation in really industrial areas, there is a long string of seats in which the Tory Party will have a majority representing something like 55 to 45. If you repeat that over a large part of the country you have an enormous Tory majority. It might work the other way, but it has more often worked the Tory way. You then have a very large Tory majority with grotesque results when you compare it with the actual voting in the country.

There is one further bad element in that. If you have a lot of constituencies like that, where the actual results will be swayed by something like 15 to 20 per cent. of the electors, in a country that is not yet very politically thoughtful, then those electors can be more easily swayed by a stunt or a swindle than the rest. It does put a tremendous premium, a tremendous temptation, in the way of the party machine to trot out some bogy like the Savings Bank story, or the Zinoviev letter, or something of that sort. The only provocative thing I am going to say—and I am sure hon. Members would be disappointed if I did not say one provocative thing—is this. If the Tories would just charge their memories, can they recall in their lifetime an election in which the Tory Party did not try to put over a dirty trick at the last moment? The temptation is very great and I have not seen them resist it yet. [An HON. MEMBER: "Chinese crackers."] Certainly, if you go back as far as 1906 you will find the Liberals doing the same thing, which was unnecessary because the Tories were dead then anyhow. Actually the Labour Party, if I am permitted to lecture that body which turned me out for saying that we ought not to go to war with the U.S.S.R., is unwise to stand by the existing system of single-Member constituencies—apparently from the speech of its statesman a few minutes ago even without the alternative vote—because if they will look back they will see that every time this artificial exaggeration of the majorities has worked against them, except in 1929. The lesson for the capitalist parties in 1929 was sufficiently strong to make them take precautions against, it ever happening again.

Let me turn to discuss various remedies. The alternative vote in single-Member constituencies goes a little way. I cannot conceive that it would do any harm. I can conceive that it would often do good. I cannot see any valid argument against it, except, of course, the argument that it does not go nearly far enough. I do not think that anybody thinks that the second ballot, which we have seen work in France, is a good thing. There is altogether too much wangling about it and it does not cure most of the evils. A form of Proportional Representation, which has been operated in various countries on the Continent, of voting for lists, seems to have a good many defects. The odd thing about it is that it has worked very well in one or two countries, but I do not defend it. I suggest that what is known as Proportional Representation with the single transferable vote, in constituencies of three, four, five or six Members, is much the best system. The speech of the Home Secretary giving us the narrative was a little false on this point. He told us a good deal about the 1916–17 Speaker's Conference, and said that, in the main, its proposals had been carried into law in the Representation of the People Act. What he did not tell us—and I am sure it was not deliberate—was that that Conference recommended unreservedly the adoption in a large number of constituencies of Proportional Representation with the single transferable vote, and that it went so far as to have scheduled to its report full draft rules for such elections and an elaborate explanation of the actual working out of one, which even Mr. Gladstone himself could have understood without the least difficulty.

Mr. Quentin Hogg (Oxford)

Has the hon. and learned Gentleman consulted with hon. Members in this House who represent double-Member constituencies as to the disadvantages of being a Member in harness with somebody else, because, as I understand it, he is recommending that the ordinary constituency should be a treble-Member constituency and not a double-Member constituency?

Mr. Pritt

I shall reach that point, but I can answer without consulting hon. Gentlemen on the other side, because I was for the best part of five years a candidate for a double-Member constituency, and I did a large part of the agonising work of looking after the grievances of people in the constituency. The hon. Gentleman and I must share the distinction of being the most quarrelsome Members in the House, but I never quarrelled with the people with whom I was working in double harness. One of them was Marion Phillips, who was a grand woman but one of the most quarrelsome Members of the House. This suggestion of the Speaker's Conference in 1917 was only rejected in another place——

Hon. Members


Mr. Pickthorn

I think that what happened was that the Speaker was asked to suggest 100 constituencies for the experiment and the experiment was to be agreed to by Resolution of both Houses. Every constituency which the Speaker suggested said, "No, it is a grand idea but not for this constituency."

Mr. Pritt

I am told that the hon. Member is not correct. I suggest that when he wants to correct people he should not start off by saying that he thinks he is right and that he should correct them only if he knows he is rights. There is not one word about that in the whole report of the Speaker's Conference. Proportional Representation is in no sense new or novel or mysterious, and that I think is all I need say about the history of it.

No one denies for a moment that it is a system that produces a more accurate representation of opinion in the country. The objections that are raised to it are not objections of substance, but of detail. One of the very common objections is that it produces groups and splinters of parties all over the place. There is no doubt that it does tend to perpetuate groups in countries where there are groups already, as was seen in Germany, but there is not the least ground for believing that in this country it would produce more groups or parties than we now have—Labour, Liberal, Conservative, perhaps for a time Common Wealth, and Communist. The hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) was very anxious to show that it would produce groups and splinters. He suggested that it would produce a prohibition party, but we have already had a prohibition party which turned the present Prime Minister out of the House of Commons once, without the assistance of Proportional Representation. It consisted of only one man, who did not do any harm. If that is the kind of problem that is going to result from Proportional Representation, we need not worry about it.

Mr. Hogg

Has the hon. and learned Member considered the possibility of a farmers' party, a miners' party or a Roman Catholic party?

Mr. Pritt

If the hon. Member were not so impatient he might find out that the very next word on my notes is "farmer." He is not content that the hon. Member for East Stirling should use that argument; he wants to repeat it to me before I can answer it. A farmers' party? Have we not got one already—although the only difference is that it calls itself Tory? There is the suggestion of a capital punishment party. The hon. Member mentioned a Roman Catholic party. I know that is one of the things he detests.

Mr. Hogg

I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. and learned Member, but it really is not fair to suggest that I detest a great branch of the Christian religion like that. It is quite untrue and unfair. My feelings towards it are most friendly.

Mr. Pritt

I withdraw, unhesitatingly, the suggestion, but I derived it entirely from hearing the hon. Member say many things in the past. It only proves that I did not understand him in the least. I think it is conclusively shown that it is not likely that we should have groups in this country who would lead to stalemate in politics. The hon. Member for East Stirling said that the primary function of a General Election was to decide who was to govern the country. That is one very important function, but you do not need, in order to perform it, to perpetuate a system which gives in this House a very wrong misrepresentation of the general opinion in the country. You can decide who is to govern the country equally well by choosing people who do, almost exactly, represent the real feeling in the country.

Then, it is said that there would be a tendency towards making things too impersonal, and constituencies too large. The hon. Member said that people had a right to see the candidate. I think most supporters of Proportional Representation would say that it not only gives people the right to see the candidate but some chance of seeing a candidate they might really like. The argument that it will be impossible to go round the constituency was always advanced when constituencies began to grow in the number of the electorate. I was once prospective Liberal candidate for a constituency with an electorate of 3,000. I was told that it was a nice, handy constituency and much better than one with a 10,000 electorate, which, they said, was quite impossible to work. We shall find the same thing said when constituencies have four or five times as many Members to look after them. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) said how much he liked to get letters beginning with such words as "As a member of your constituency, I write to you." I quite agree. I get a hundred letters like that a day. Having regard to the large number of people who write to me like that, and who live in places about 10 miles off, I might say that I have, in fact, got Proportional Representation at work. I do not see how it can be any more difficult to look after the electorate when there are four or five Members to 400,000 electors instead of only one looking after 80,000.

Captain Strickland (Coventry)

May I suggest to the hon. and learned Member that each of those Members has to look after the whole number?

Mr. Pritt

Then the hon. and gallant Member is not very good at the division of labour and I recommend him not to become a director of any company, if he thinks that five people cannot do at least five times as much work as one. The odd thing about this scheme is that neither of the two main party machines, Labour and Conservative, up to now seems to like Proportional Representation. While not uniformly disapproving of the party machine, I suggest that the fact that neither of them really likes it is something in its favour. Party machines are very useful, and nobody can get on without them, but when they grow too strong and dictatorial they are not so good. Under the present system, it is very easy for the party machine to say, for instance, to a Conservative who showed opposition to Mr. Chamberlain: "We shall put somebody up against you at the next Election, if you do not toe the line." That was a very formidable threat indeed, but if a man had a considerable popularity and was a good M.P., he could say: "Put somebody up against me next time," and under Proportional Representation there would be enough people in the five-Member constituency to return him. It is certainly necessary to have a reasonable measure of discipline, but not too much, and Proportional Representation will just make the difference and give the electors a better chance to pick people who more accurately represent their views.

The hon. Member for East Stirling had some extraordinary idea that Proportional Representation would destroy the representation of the Scottish people. It will not even destroy the representation of English constituencies by Scottish people. There is no reason why it should destroy the representation of Scotland. I believe he thought Scotland was going to be so depopulated that it would not need so many Members. That is a different matter. Proportional Representation has nothing whatever to do with that point.

There is another point which is incidentally in favour of Proportional Representation, namely, that of redistribution. We may be worrying about the probability whether certain areas are to be permanently swollen or drained, because we can never tell whether certain big factories are going to be kept on or to be laid waste; it will depend, indeed, on which party controls industrial policy after the war. The difficulties are so great that the hon. Member for East Stirling suggested that we should actually postpone redistribution for a time in certain areas; but if in a borough or group of county areas with four Members, it was discovered that their population had gone up, it would be almost a routine matter to say that, the electorate of the place having gone up by so much, it was to have one more Member. That is the only difference it would make. Only in extreme cases would it be necessary to alter the boundary. That is one more reason, although an incidental one, in favour of Proportional Representation.

It is astonishing that Parliament works as well as it does, having regard to the extreme misrepresentation of the opinion of the country, not merely six months afterwards but at the very moment of an election. This misrepresentation results from the present system. I will not take up any more time by giving quotations. Every Member knows the sort of thing that has happened. All I can say is that if the Labour Party are desirous of having another election as unbalanced as that of 1931, I hope that they will think again.

Sir Reginald Blair (Hendon)

I hope that the hon. and learned Member will pardon me if I do not follow him in the interesting speech which he made. He spoke strongly in favour of Proportional Representation, but I must say that I am very much opposed to it and I sincerely hope that it will never be tried further while I am alive. I should like to congratulate the present Home Secretary upon the speed which has been shown in having a Debate on this subject, different from his predecessors. As long as eight years ago, the late hon. Member for Cathcart, Sir John Train, got a resolution passed unanimously in this House asking the Government to give immediate consideration to this question of redistribution. Since then, I am afraid I hive been rather insistent in asking Questions to point out the great anomalies that exist. It was not that I wanted any part of the constituency which I represent to be taken away, but that I wanted the House and the country to see the terrible anomalies.

I will give one illustration. I am a Middlesex Member. There are to county Members for Middlesex and seven borough Members. It is very difficult to get the figures from books, but if you take the Register as it was before the war broke out you see that the 10 county seats in Middlesex had an electorate of well over 1,000,000 or an average of 100,000. There are five boroughs, represented by seven Members of Parliament. I could never understand why an important place like Tottenham should have two Members of Parliament with an electorate of 98,000 while county divisions had 200,000. I am very glad that the Speaker's Conference is to be set up and I wish it well.

It would be too personal to speak of my experiences with a large electorate, but I think it is a mistaken idea that a big electorate naturally means a great deal of expense. It means nothing of the kind, with only one exception, the exception of General Election expenses. It seems to me to be very bad to allow some candidates to spend between£5,000 and£6,000, for the simple reason that it must narrow the selection of candidates, and I sincerely hope that the suggestion made to-day by my right hon. Friend the Member for Charley (Sir D. Hacking) will be adopted. I hope that the Conference will be set up, will report without undue delay and will bring about, at least, a partial scheme of redistribution at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

There is I think general agreement in the House on at least one thing, that we all wish this Conference well, and that we all feel confident, Mr. Speaker, in your guidance as Chairman. Perhaps we may say too that there is agreement that the obstacles standing in the way of any candidate who is at present hindered by lack of means from serving in this House, should no longer be there, and that we should have a more equal division between constituencies. All these things, good as they are, and I welcome the suggestions that have been made from the other side of the House on these points, do not touch the root of the difficulty which has been spoken of so well already by my hon. Friend the Member for South Bradford (Sir H. Holdsworth) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Hammer-smith (Mr. Pritt). We want Parliament to be, in the fullest sense of the word, representative of the nation, and that not only from the point of view of Parliament itself, but also from the point of view of the citizen.

There is something wrong to-day in a position which leaves large, very large, numbers of citizens in different parts of the country with a feeling that they can never give an effective vote, that they have no effective part as citizens. Any one who has had long experience will have met persons of different points of view in different parts of the country who have said, "I have never yet given a vote for a successful candidate." That would be true of Conservatives in South Wales. It would be true of Labour men along almost the whole of the coast of Southern England. It would be true of Liberals in many other parts of the country. It is not good for the country that people should feel that their citizenship is ineffective, and if we can have a rearrangement of the present system, to make citizenship more real for all our citizens, it will be a great thing for Parliament itself and for the country as a whole. We shall be promoting the national unity, itself so important at this time, because, if large sections of the community feel that they are in no way represented in Parliament, it will strike at the basis of national unity.

The hon. Member for South Bradford has already quoted some memorable words of the Prime Minister on this matter, and I do not think it is wrong that we should recall one of the sentences in that speech of his in the Debate of 2nd June, 1931. He said then, and I believe he would stand by these word to-day: Having to choose, as we shall have to choose if we are to redress the constitutional injustice, between the Alternative Vote, the Second Ballot and Proportional Representation in the cities, I have no doubt whatever that the last is incomparably the fairest, the most scientific and, on the whole, the best in the public interest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd June, 931; col. 102, Vol. 253.] That was the statement of the Prime Minister in this House. I would appeal to my fellow Members to consider these wise words of his to-day, when the need is so much greater than it was then for national unity and for an effective citizenship throughout the whole country. We have had brought before us in the Debate to-day various reasons why Proportional Representations would not work satisfactorily. A fantastic picture was conjured up by my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon {Sir H. Williams) about the way in which Proportional Representation could lend itself to bribery and corruption. I wonder whether he has looked at the way in which the system of the single transferable vote has actually worked in our own experience. It has been working for 35 years in Tasmania. You have none of these things there. On the contrary, I was informed by a friend some little time ago that the late Mr. Lyons, a previous Premier of Australia, who was a Tasmanian, had said that from his own experience he had seen how the working of the single transferable vote in Tasmania promoted honest politics. Whereas, under the previous system, Members would bribe their voters by offers that they would not have made if they had not been dependent on a small majority in a single Member constituency, he said he had found that it was not in any way necessary to do this and so purchase the votes of certain groups in order to keep his seat, because he could rely on the larger number of supporters in the larger seat he represented.

That is one experience of the practical working of Proportional Representation. It has been working for over 20 years in Eire, and, whatever objections any one has raised against its working there, I have never heard it suggested that it lent itself to bribery and corruption. It has been said that it would lead to a multiplicity of parties. In Tasmania, there are only two parties although they have been working under Proportional Representation for 35 years. For a long time there have only been two parties. In Eire Parliament there are fewer parties than there are in this Parliament under the single-Member system, and they divide up easily in the actual working of Parliament, voting regularly in two lobbies though there are actually more than two parties. There are no difficulties in practice. There has been stable Government during that period. There have been only two Governments in Eire for 20 years. We have had here under the single-Member constituency system during the last 25 years a constant succession of changes and the exaggeration of majorities in every Parliament.

As has been pointed out already so effectively by my hon. Friend, the present system has not promoted Parliamentary stability as well as having been dishonest as a representation of the opinion of the electors. We need to have a system surely which is just, and it is not sufficient in answer to say that the Conservative in one part of the country who can never get any one of his party elected, is compensated by the fact that there are Labour electors in another part of the country who can never get any one of their party elected. Some one on the other side spoke a little while ago, I think, about rough justice but surely, that is not justice at all. It reminds me of the position of the South American judge of a generation ago who on his death-bed said, "I know I have hanged a great many innocent men but then I have let off a good many guilty ones, so. I think, on the whole, rough justice has been done." Injustice in one constituency does not compensate for injustice in another. It is no compensation to a Conservative in Durham that the Labour man in Sussex has no chance of getting a Member of Parliament. He needs to have the opportunity of feeling that he can have a share in the election of a Member in the district where he resides and works.

If we can get this reform carried through, we shall be able to look forward to differing without bitterness and to co-operating without any false compromise or insincerity in a critical time like that through which Europe is going to pass in the next few years. On that ground also, I believe it is of immense importance that we should take this step forward now. Some Members are not prepared to see any great change of system, but I would plead with them that they should be willing to see an experiment in this most important method of representation, at least, in the large urban districts and the great cities. That was what especially appealed to the Prime Minister years ago, when he advocated this Measure. He pointed out that it would mean the restoration of the personalities of the great cities—a very important thing. If we can get this brought into being, we shall give new hope and new interest in politics to vast numbers who to-day are in danger of falling into indifference or of becoming the tools of a Fascist or a revolutionary movement which is anti-Parliamentary in character. Parliament has been the in- strument by which in past years we have been able to get what political reforms we required, but it is an instrument which has to be improved from generation to generation. Now is the time to go forward together to a further measure of improvement which will make citizenship a reality to a large number who are denied it to-day.

Sir Hugh O'Neill (Antrim)

I should like to say a few words, first on the question of redistribution and then about Proportional Representation. I was a member of the Departmental Committee which spent practically the whole of 1942 going into the question of redistribution and registration. The Home Secretary told us, in so many words, that the Government had come to the conclusion that redistribution must be carried through, but it seems to me that the procedure has been very much more dilatory than it was on the last occasion. Also, there seems to have been a certain amount of duplication. I would like to remind the House what steps were taken before 1918, and to compare them with those taken now. On the last occasion a Speaker's Conference met in October, 1916; it reported in January, 1917; the Boundary Commission was appointed in May, 1917; and it reported in September, 1917. Finally, the Representation of the People Act was passed in the Session of 1918. It took two years from the time when the first steps were taken until the whole matter was completed. On this occasion, the preliminary steps taken so far have been as follow: The Departmental Committee was appointed in January, 1942; it reported in November, 1942; this Debate is taking place in February, 1944, over a year after the Committee charged to consider redistribution reported. So more time has elapsed on this occasion since the initial steps were taken than it took on the last occasion to bring the whole scheme of redistribution into fruition, from first to last.

There has been also a certain amount of duplication. The Departmental Committee which sat during the whole of 1942 considered this question in very great detail. Was that really necessary as regards redistribution, if the whole matter is now to be examined again by Mr. Speaker's Conference? The subjects to be referred to the Speaker's Conference, as mentioned by the Home Secretary, are very voluminous. The Conference is to consider redistribution, the franchise, the conduct and cost of elections, and the method of election, and I also gathered from the Home Secretary's speech that it was specially to consider the question of assimilating the local government franchise with the Parliamentary franchise. These are very big questions; many of them are very controversial; and if it took the Departmental Committee, of which I was a member, a year to go into these questions, how long, Sir, is it going to take your Conference to go into them? It seems to me that this might very well occupy the Speaker's Conference for another year. If so, when are we going to get redistribution? I would suggest that the Speaker's Conference should be empowered—and I suppose it will be—to make an interim report on redistribution alone, because that is an urgent matter. The Home Secretary told us that it would be asked to consider redistribution first, I think very properly. But it is also to consider electoral reform, Proportional Representation, and so on. Proportional Representation materially affects the question of redistribution. If the desire of my hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey) is to be carried out and Proportional Representation adopted, the whole question of redistribution is fundamentally affected, because under Proportional Representation you must have large constituencies, as everybody knows. Therefore, I suggest that probably the best plan would be for the Speaker's Conference first to dispose of this question of Proportional Representation; and if that is disposed of, it will then be free to go on with the question of redistribution. I am glad that the Home Secretary, on behalf of the Government, has accepted the main recommendation of the departmental committee with regard to redistribution, that is, the creation of standing machinery to examine this matter. We suggested that this standing machinery should consist of a statutory standing commission, of which Mr. Speaker would be chairman, and that it should be a continuous commission, charged with the examination, from time to time, of the boundaries of the various constituencies throughout the country. But there is one point which, I hope, whoever replies for the Government will make quite clear. The Home Secretary stated, as I understood, that the standing machinery or commission to deal with redistribution would report from time to time, as, of course, it will, if it is adopted. But I rather gathered from the right hon. Gentleman that every time it reported, its report would entail an Act of Parliament. I think the intention of the departmental committee was that this standing machinery or standing boundary commission, whatever you call it, should make its recommendations which should be brought into operation, not with the whole paraphernalia of an Act of Parliament, but by some kind of Order, many of which, no doubt, would require the confirmation of the House of Commons. I think that should be made clear. I think it is now universally agreed that this system of a standing statutory commission to deal with redistribution will be very much more satisfactory than the old system, under which we allowed anomalies to grow up over long periods of time before we did anything to stop them.

If you go back, you will find that there was redistribution in 1867, another one in 1885 and then no more until 1918. There was a period of 18 years between the first and the second, and 33 years between the second and the last one, in 1918. I think that, in these modern times it is now universally admitted that far the better scheme will be to set up this permanent machinery which will have the matter constantly under review. In my view, redistribution ought to take place before the first post-war General Election. It should be complete, if possible, but, if not, then partial. If it is to be complete, it is going to take a long time and time is short, because, as soon as the European war is over, I think the demand for a General Election in this country will be absolutely impossible to resist. Everybody will be agreed that all the great post-war problems, which will then come up for decision in this House, must be decided, not by the present House of Commons, which has long outgrown its contact with the electorate, but by a new House of Commons infused with new ideas and new blood—by a House of Commons in the election of which, the men and women serving in this war will have had their votes. Therefore, I think that there is bound to be an election immediately after the end of the European war. If you look at the present position in the constituencies, you will find that there are very considerable anomalies. I should like to quote a paragraph from the report of the departmental committee on the present state of the division of constituencies, In paragraph 116, they say this: The figures just presented show that, by 1939, 119 constituency electorates in Great Britain had ceased to discharge their function of returning an equal share of representation to the House of Commons. Of these, 87 were reduced to a point no longer justifying their present representation, while 32 had increased to an extent which required their representation to be doubled, or, in some cases, even trebled or quadrupled. That was the position in 1939. Therefore, to-day, as the result of movement created by the war, it is obviously very much worse.

Putting the matter in another form, paragraph 118 states: If all the constituency electorates in excess, on the one hand, and in defect, on the other, in 1939, are separately aggregated, the former aggregate, that is, those in excess, will be found to return nine Members of Parliament per million electors, whereas the latter aggregate will be found to return 30 Members of Parliament per million electors. That was the position in 1939 and it is worse to-day, and I confidently assert that, if we were to hold the first post-war election without in some way dealing with the question of redistribution, the Parliament which would be elected would not be truly representative of the people of this country.

I should like to say a word on Proportional Representation. I should think that there are few Members in this House who have had the practical experience of Proportional Representation which I have had myself, because I was for eight years a Member of the House of Commons of Northern Ireland at its original inception, when its members were elected under the system of Proportional Representation, I myself underwent two Parliamentary elections under the system of Proportional Representation and I doubt if there is any other Member in this House to whom that can apply.

Sir Alfred Beit (St. Pancras South East)

Is that system still in use?

Sir H. O'Neill

No, under the Act which set up the Parliament, it was prescribed that, I think after a period of five years, the subordinate Parliament had the right to do away with it, and the Parliament of Northern Ireland did do away with it, but the first two elections there were held under Proportional Representation. As a result of my experience, I am definitely against Proportional Representation for General Elections in this country, and I will summarise my conclusions against it as follows. First, I will concede to the hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey) that the system does work. From the machinery point of view, it works perfectly well. We found that there were hardly any spoilt papers, although, instead of putting a cross, voters had to put the figures 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 right down the list of candidates. The count is very long and complicated, but it is not difficult, and I, myself, was once in the curious position of having to act as returning officer in an election under Proportional Representation of 13 people by an electorate of 52. That was the election of half of the members of the Senate of Northern Ireland by the whole of the members of the House of Commons. Even that, under Proportional Representation, worked quite well. We got some of the officials of the Proportional Representation Society to give their help and assistance, and it was carried through by a mathematical method of multiplying each vote by 1000. In that way it worked well. We were able under Proportional Representation to elect the 13 members by a constituency numbering only 52. The test worked as regards machinery.

But the whole object of Proportional Representation is the representation of minorities, who may get the quota over a large area but not be able to secure a member in constituencies of about the present size. If you carried out the system absolutely logically, the whole country would be one constituency. That is the logical result of Proportional Representation; in any case you have to have very large constituencies. A constituency with less than five members running jointly can possibly work, and it is much better to have six, seven or eight and even up to 10. If in this country we were to have constituencies returning eight Members jointly, it would mean, on the basis of a quota of 70,000 electors, which is the present basis of this House—a constituency of 560,000 electors. The individual Member would absolutely and completely lose touch with his constituents. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) that personal contact between the Member and his constituency is one of the foundations of our democratic system. Under Proportional Representation, with the vast constituencies in this country, there would be 500,000 electors and possibly more, and the personal touch between the Member and his constituency must absolutely vanish, and that would be a bad thing for the country.

Lastly, my objection to the system is that it does not suit the British characteristics. Our main idea of democratic government is a government and an opposition; one party in power and the other in opposition—two parties in the main.

Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)

And a few Independents.

Sir H. O'Neill

Certainly, they add interest to our proceedings, but in the main you must have two parties. The very shape of this Chamber shows that that is our system. If Proportional Representation were to work properly Sand to secure its object of giving representation to small minorities, it must mean, in the long run, that you would cease to have two parties in this House. You would have a number of groups coalescing for one purpose, hostile to each other for another and, in my view, that would sound the deathknell of the democratic system as we have known it grow and flourish successfully in this country over such a long period of years.

Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)

It is not for me to defend the Government in this matter, but the right hon. Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) was, I think, a little hard on it when he said that there had been some laxity on its part in bringing forward this Motion. He perhaps has forgotten that this time the matter is very much more complicated than it was at the end of the last war, and that, in fact, the Government did bring forward the Electoral Registration Regulations, which are very complicated and must have given the Home Office a great deal of work to compile. I am very glad that at last we are going to set up this Conference under your Chairmanship and guidance, Mr. Speaker, and I agree with previous Members when they said that the Conference was likely to be an extremely important one. Obviously, it should lead to fairly definite and clear results. If, as we now know, we are to have a permanent Commission set up for redistribution purposes, it will very likely be a long time ahead before we have an opportunity to consider electoral reform again because it seems in the past to have gone hand in hand with the redistribution of seats. Therefore what is done now as a result of Mr. Speaker's Conference will, I take it, last for a long time. I agree whole-heartedly with the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Sir D. Hacking). The suggestion he made, that the poll card should be an official issue was an excellent one and I hope that the. Committee over which you are going to preside, Mr. Speaker, will give very careful consideration to it and, I personally hope, adopt it. It will be a step in the right direction.

Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)

Does the hon. Member mean the issuing of poll cards to the electorate before the voting takes place?

Mr. Hall

I cannot speak of what the Committee may recommend but as I understood the right hon. Member it was that, instead of each party sending out a poll card of its own, with its own candidate's name in very bold letters on it, the returning officer, or some machinery set up under him, would be responsible for sending out a poll card to every elector, with his number stamped on it and the names of all candidates for that particular division in print of equal size.

Mr. Buchanan

I remember an experiment in Glasgow in 1920 when every member of the town council had to retire and there was a local veto election and they had poll cards. I would not like to see the same sort of thing done throughout the country. There was almost a traffic in them at the time.

Mr. Hall

The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has had that experience and no doubt he will be able, if he wishes, to put it in debate, but for my part, when, the right hon. Member for Chorley put forward the idea, it appeared to me to be a good one and I certainly hope that the Committee about to be set up will go into it and see whether the suggestion is a practicable one. One suggestion which the right hon. Member for Chorley did not make, but which is a reform which might also lead to economy, would be some sort of prohibition on the expenditure by Members of Parliament to the Association which supports them in their division. If this could be put into effect it would help considerably the party opposite, who, by newspaper accounts, cannot get adopted for anything like a decent seat unless they spend up to£1,000 a year on the local machine. Whether that is true or not, I do not know.

The Debate during these two days will, it seems certain, range very largely round the question of Proportional Representation. The question of Proportional Representation rouses very strong feeling. It is amazing how deeply some people feel on this particular matter. For my part I realise that the suggestion is a very attractive one from the point of view of exact justice. If you want exact representation as far as you can get it in this House, then obviously some form of Proportional Representation would be ideal. It seems plain, however, that this is impossible and that the arguments against it are overwhelming and that it would be afterwards regretted if we adopted the proposal.

I do not want to traverse the arguments already made by previous speakers, but to me one argument stands out as a good one and has not yet been put in this Debate. That is, that the expense to individual candidates under Proportional Representation, supposing they have not got some sort of group or machine behind them, would be considerable, and would certainly help to prevent independent Members from returning to this House. It is axiomatic that if we had, as we should have to have under Proportional Representation, much larger constituencies than we have now, it would mean a far greater expense to candidates and would thus give a great advantage to the larger parties who not only would have the machinery, but also the money to make their candidates known over the very much larger areas which would be brought into existence. One of the great needs of this House is to get younger men into it, and I am hoping that when the next General Election does come, younger men and women will not only fight but will be enabled to fight by the two or three great parties now existing, and it will be much better for them if they are able to stand in constituencies which are of the size that we know at present.

Redistribution is a very great problem. I was a member, with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Antrim (Sir Hugh O'Neill), of the Committee set up to deal with this subject and, as he said, we sat for the best part of a year, and the results of our labours are contained in this document in my hand. I would like to say in parenthesis how much I share the remarks of the Secretary of State for Home Affairs when he spoke of the debt we owe to the Registrar-General for his work as chairman of that Committee. If I may, I would like to add the names of Mr. Victor Derrick and Mr. Kenneth Macassey, who acted as secretaries of that Committee and who also helped members of it both to understand the problems they had to face and the documents and figures which they had to have for their deliberations. The members of the Committee were anxious not to be too controversial, but there are, as Members will have seen, one or two minority reports, and one of those minority reports deals with the question of redistribution. This reservation is not against redistribution as such, or as to its desirability, but only as to the time when it should come.

There was however a feeling by some Members that in spite of the difficulties full redistribution should take place. I do not know whether the Government have accepted that view but it appears from the terms of the Motion that they have. I think, on the whole, that would be a pity because it will take many years for the population to resettle itself, and as the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) said, constituencies are something more than just geographical areas. People get used to Members, they get used to the name of their constituency. I was rather surprised to find in my own division among people who one imagined were not too politically conscious, that the name of the Division meant a great deal to them, and when they heard there was a possible redistribution some of them said to me: "Does that mean that our constituency will disappear, that the name of it will go?" They want to stick to it. I think that is all to the good, and if we can, we want to preserve this feeling. It occurred to me, and I think it has been mentioned before by earlier speakers, that one way out of the present very real dilemma would be to increase temporarily the number of Members of this House in order to help districts like Uxbridge, Harrow, Hendon and Ilford. Those constituencies are at the moment represented by one Member each but should be represented by a much larger number. That would mean that the carving up of other areas—which might only be temporary if it is done immediately after the war—can be postponed until it is seen how the population resettles itself.

I would like to make one observation on the question of double-Member constituencies. If there were any physical reason why some constituencies should be run as double-Member constituencies, I would be able to understand why they continue to exist, but I have gone down the list and I cannot see any among them that it would be impossible to divide up into two single-Member constituencies. I had the misfortune once to fight one in the years that have gone, and the permutations of voting indulged in by the electors almost passed belief. It is perfectly obvious that very many electors in a double-Member constituency disfranchise themselves by voting for one candidate perhaps of the Left, and another candidate of the Right. In my own case a substantial number voted for me as a Socialist and also for a candidate on the other side who was deadly opposed to all I stood for. That either shows muddle-headedness on the part of the electors, or else it indicates that they have been put in a dilemma into which they should not have been led. I do hope, therefore, that the Committee which is to be set up will look into this and find ways and means of getting rid of double-Membered constituencies.

On the question of expenses, if we are to help younger people into the House, we must realise that it should be our object to make the fighting of elections as cheap as possible. I would, therefore, like to see a reduction in the amount per head which is allowable, and something done about the use of motor cars. To-day, there are very few candidates who would not agree that there is a lot to be said for the abolition of motor cars at election times except for invalids. Those of us who fight elections have to ask our friends at election times to lend us their cars. We know very well that they do not want to do it, because the cars get damaged, and that, more often than not, our opponents as well as our friends ride in our cars. The time has come when the whole thing should be overhauled and the use of cars shoud be made illegal except for invalids. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I welcome the setting up of this Conference and I am sure that under your guidance and wise Chairmanship it will produce good results and in the years to come we shall, I hope, get democracy working better than it has in the past.

Major Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)

My time is short, and the speeches until recently have been, on the whole, very long. Since we have been discussing this question of redistribution I have been sitting here, like others, hoping to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and wishing for a redistribution of time allotted to the speakers in this House so that we could equalise the time more than we have been able to do to-day. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is to reply in a few minutes to the speeches which have been made to-day and I have a feeling that he would like to have a speech by another Member for a Scottish constituency in addition to the excellent one we had from my hon. Friend the Member for East. Stirling (Mr. Woodburn). That is why I have endeavoured to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, so that my right hon. Friend might have the opportunity of making at least a few comments on the speeches of two representatives from Scotland, as well as on those made by other Members.

Scotland, of course, is primarily concerned with the effect upon the proportional number of Members of Parliament she will have as a result of a far reaching or partial measure of redistribution compared with the existing state of affairs and compared with the number of English Members of Parliament. That is our prime consideration and in the few minutes at my disposal I shall attempt to concentrate upon that and leave unsaid, regretfully, many of the things I should have liked to have said upon the general issues which will be discussed at the Conference. I wish the Conference well. Scotland would like to be represented on it and would like to feel that her voice was adequately represented and heard in the important discussions which will take place. Scotland's position must not be worsened from the present situation. If the main criterion for redistribution, or the sole criterion, is to be a matter of population, then, mathematically, it seems certain that the Scottish position vis a vis, the status quo, as vis a vis that of England, will be materially worsened. That must not be, because in the locust years, the years between the two wars, the population in Scotland very materially decreased and it was not due to the fault of the Scottish people. It is due partly to the fact that there has been a constant tendency throughout those years for industry and commerce to drift from Scotland to the south.

Sir A. Beit

My hon. and gallant Friend seems to be implying that the representation of the persons who at any rate get in in England would not be as good as that which they would get in Scotland.

Major Lloyd

I am not prepared to enter into a dispute about the merits of that; I was not attempting to imply anything of the kind. I was merely implying that the number of Members in Scotland will be proportionately less than the number of members for England. Figures which have been given to me give 22 additional Members for English constituencies and deduct 12 from the existing number of Scottish Members. That will not do and I want to make my protest against any suggestion that redistribution shall be calculated purely on the mathematical basis of population.

Other factors must be taken into consideration; the whole basis must be weighted by other considerations. I do not want a points system or anything of that kind but such factors as county areas, community centres, local traditions, esprit de corps and territorial considerations arc, for Scotland, essential. We in Scotland hope and believe that our English and Welsh colleagues will agree that Scottish tradition, history, pride and the spirit of the Union—which Scotland has endeavoured to hold as long as possible, although there is a strong Scottish Nationalist feeling—should be maintained by this Conference. We would urge that nothing whatever shall be done which will put Scotland into a more unhappy and inferior position than she is in to-day. Considering Scotland's national history, pride and traditions, I believe that her membership is small enough for the great part she is playing in the United Kingdom. At least it must not be smaller than it is at present. As I have said, all kinds of factors should be taken into consideration as well as the question of mere arithmetical population.

I would like to refer to the question of assimilation of municipal and Parliamentary boundaries. My own constituency of East Renfrewshire is deeply affected by this; it is the largest constituency in Scotland and has the only abnormal number of electors which it might be considered essential should be redistributed. I am more than willing that this should be so, although I should be sorry to lose a large number of my constituents. The Glasgow boundaries come right into my constituency and if I were to be asked, under redistribution, to hand over my Parliamentary constituents who are situated within the municipal boundaries of Glasgow, that would be fair. The boundaries of the constituencies adjoining Glasgow will, I hope, be rectified by this Conference. On the question of election expenses, I want to see younger and poorer men coming into the House of Commons without let or hindrance. Money must not stand in their way and I most earnestly hope that this consideration will be a vital factor in the minds of those who take part in this Conference. It was bad enough in the days before the war but so few will have any money at all when the war is over that if we want young men, now serving in the Forces, to come and help us, we must make it as easy for them, financially, as we possibly can. I ask my right hon. Friend to give me and other Scottish Members and the Scottish public, who will be indirectly listening to him, some assurance that he will use all his influence to get Scottish unity on this question and press whenever he possibly can for a square deal for Scotland. I confidently appeal to right hon. and hon. Members who come from England and Wales to see that Scotland gets neither more nor less than fair play.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. Johnston)

I would like first of all to pay a well-deserved tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the lucid and comprehensive way in which he stated the case for us all to-day. After he had finished I thought there was very little left to be said. The main purpose of the discussion is to propose a Speaker's Conference and after it has reported to the House would be the appropriate occasion for whatever recommendations they make to be debated, but, as matters have progressed, it has become obvious that the great bulk of the speakers are interested mostly for and against Proportional Representation. I am not going to say anything about my own personal views on the matter except that in Scotland we have had some experience of it as Northern Ireland has had. We had it for educational authorities between 1919 and 1929 and our experience was such that there was no body of opinion at the reorganisation in 1929 which advocated its continuance. It is equally true that prior to Proportional Representation we had an even worse expedient called the cumulative vote under which not only was protection given to minorities but the system was so organised that there were pretty nearly nothing else but minorities that got there. But whatever experience we have had will, pro and con—there are arguments for it too—be placed at the disposal of the Conference should the Conference desire it, and when it decides to make a recommendation to Parliament we shall all be free to express our views and vote as seems good to us.

But there is far more than Proportional Representation that is interesting Scotland in this matter. There is a very considerable body of opinion which is most apprehensive that, if there should be any re-allocation of seats on an arithmetical or mathematical basis, it will be manifestly to the detriment of Scotland. We have had a rough time of it economically for the past 15 or 20 years. We have seen industries drifting South, and the population drifting South after them. We were getting apprehensive about what might be the future of our country if the process were to be allowed to develop and we are anxious that consideration should be given not only to the arithmetical and mathematical possibilities but that other factors should be equally considered. I was very pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary say that there were such questions as sparsity of population which must be considered, as indeed they have always been considered in previous redistributions of seats. At the time of the union of the Parliaments—it is sometimes forgotten that we are here by Treaty rights—we had reserved to us a proportion of the Members of the House. In 1707 we had 45 Members. That was when we had a population of just over a million. It is now well over 4,500,000 and we have 74 Members, including University Members. At each of the redistributions that have taken place—1832, 1867, 1885 and 1918—consideration was given to the fact that there were areas in Scotland which could not be divided on a purely arithmetical or mathematical basis. It would really be impossible to add Argyllshire to, say, Ross and Cromarty or Inverness for the purpose of elections. In Argyllshire there are now no fewer than 100 polling districts, with 76 separate polling stations, and there are 10 islands. How could a constituency like that be added? There are other constituencies in a similar plight. We simply must, and I expect will, as in times past, take cognisance of the question of sparsity of population.

The apprehension, however, that exists in Scotland is about this precise arithmetical division. If we take for Parliamentary electorates a quota obtained by dividing the total electorate by the number of Members and allow a margin of 30 per cent. below and 70 per cent. above this datum line, there would be 17 seats below quota; the loss of 17 seats out of 74 would be a staggering blow. Further, the types of seats that we should lose would be almost equally divided. We should lose Bridgeton on that basis, which would be a very considerable loss. We should lose Kincardine and Western, Banffshire, Caithness and Sutherland, represented by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air, Ross and Cromarty, the Western Isles, Moray and Nairn, Orkney and Shetland, Montrose Burghs, Edinburgh Central, Glasgow (Tradeston), Hamilton, Midlothian and Peebles, West Perth and, last and possibly least, you would lose myself.

Mr. Buchanan

Thank God you have left Gorbals.

Mr. Johnston

Gorbals would be above the datum line. These are matters, however, which will be considered by the Speaker's Conference, which, no doubt, as in the past, will endeavour to be reasonable and fair and when their recommendations come before the House will be the time for all interested parties to express their views. I cannot see how we should advance any cause whatever by expressing in advance of the Speaker's Conference our determination to abide by one datum line only. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) asked a question about the kind of Parliamentary control which it would be possible to have if successive redistributions of seats should be decided upon by the Conference. There again I suggest that that is a matter which the Conference itself must analyse and make recommendations upon. It will be time enough for Parliament thereafter to see how it can retain control without at the same time requiring separate Bills to be brought forward every now and again.

This Debate has shown no diversity of opinion on the necessity for the Conference. Everybody agrees about that. Everybody agrees that there are vast anomalies in our electoral system and that the war has added to those anomalies. There are migrations of population to and fro. There are great industrial changes. It is imperative, therefore, that Parliament should now and again revise its electoral arrangements so that within the bounds of reason equal votes will have equal values. Seeing that everybody is agreed upon the necessity for a Conference, and as nobody has suggested any better method than a Conference presided over by Mr. Speaker, I am sure that the Government, subject of course to what is said when the Debate is resumed, have every reason to welcome the response which has been given to this proposal. They hope that the Conference will be as fair, as just and as reasonable as conferences have been in the past and that this Parliamentary system, which works by trial and error, which works sometimes without very rigid rules, but still works, will continue to function.

Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)

The right hon. Gentleman has helped the House very much with the short speech he has delivered. He has spoken with that pride of country which is so marked a characteristic of his and which we acknowledge so fully in this House. He did something that helped me to see this problem. Urgent though it may be in some parts of the country, the urgency is on the side of restraint and caution. It affects other parts of the country too. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out the losses which the House would experience if something in the way of exact arithmetical redistribution were made. I am concerned about the situation in the small country to which I belong. London is as large as Scotland and Wales put together numerically, but we are not the less important because we have a small population. In the redistribution scheme of 1917 we were allotted 35 county and borough divisions and one Member to represent the universities of Wales. I am not sure that if the quota suggested by the Secretary of State were applied, allowing for a margin downwards of 30 per cent. and a margin above the datum of 70 per cent., we would not possibly lose one or two Divisions. The Divisions which are in peril by such a redistribution are highly important. We dare not take away the representation of a Division that has existed for 50 or 60 years.

It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon the next Sitting Day.