HC Deb 10 October 1944 vol 403 cc1686-709

Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

Mr. Pritt

I was just answering the point that it is less easy under Proportional Representation to have a shadow Cabinet with a sense of responsibility, or that you do not get so good an Opposition. I should have thought that the argument is the other way. What makes for a good shadow Cabinet and a good Opposition is, other things being equal, a fairly strong representation of the Opposition. Sometimes it is said to be a demerit and sometimes a merit of Proportional Representation, but everyone agrees that it means smaller swings of the pendulum in the actual representation of the House, and therefore you will have a larger and better Opposition from which to pick your shadow Cabinet. I do not have to indulge in any unkind reflections of what kind of shadow Cabinets we have had at various times since 1931, but I would not have believed that anyone who was in the 1931–5 Parliament as a Labour Member will ever suggest that the present system gives you a good shadow Cabinet or a good Opposition. There were only 55, and it was a terrible job. Indeed I have a recollection of something very like a shadow Cabinet of which I, an entirely unknown lawyer, was actually a member because they could not muster a shadow Cabinet from the parties in the House. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not want to be reminded of that.

It is said that Proportional Representation will produce not only more parties but more sections and factions. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that it might produce religious factions or nostrums. We have had some nostrum merchants once or twice under the exist- ing system and they did not do much harm. They did not take more space than any other Member and they did not amount to anything serious. I should like to say this about the Roman Catholic Church. It is the best possible test to see whether you can get a Catholic party in the House, because it is a fairly large body, it is very active in a great many ways, and it is very keen on a great many things that come into the House. If anyone could possibly make a religious faction in the House it would be the Roman Catholics. Take the best possible case for getting a Roman Catholic into the House, that is, the largest possible constituency, a seven Member constituency with 400,000 electors. Does anyone believe that there is anywhere in the country a group of seven constituencies which could muster 50,000 Roman Catholic electors determined to put other matters aside and to elect a Roman Catholic as such? The answer is probably "Yes, one, to wit, the Liverpool area," and that would produce what it produces now, a Roman Catholic Member for the Scotland division. That is not much as the basis of a political party or a faction.

The right hon. Gentleman said there would be grave danger of one party being in power continuously. I cannot see that for the life of me. A majority is a majority and, subject to mathematical divergencies and irregularities, Proportional Representation will always produce you a majority in the House, not very large because the majority in the country may not be, but the present system will, if it works at the best, exaggerate that majority and that is all, but the present system is quite capable of doing, and often has done, the exact reverse, given you a majority of a party which is in a minority in the country. But the idea that one party should be in power continuously, which might happen by a series of chances under the present system, can never happen under Proportional Representation unless the country continuously produces a majority in that direction. If the country continuously produces a majority in one direction, I suppose it is right that that party should be continuously in power. It has happened often enough before, and I hope it will happen at the next general election and stop like that for good. That is a view not shared by the more anxious Members opposite.

Then the right hon. Gentleman took a series of arguments which he classified as the price to be paid. It is right to put it like that because no one of these arguments is an argument against a principle if the principle is a good one. He said constituencies would be unwieldy. Of course, that is a great inconvenience equally to the Member and to candidates, but in what sense unwieldy? There are two ways of a constituency being unwieldy; one that it is too large to travel round with convenience, and the other that it has too many constituents. Let us go back 50 years and take a constituency represented by the then Colonial Secretary—the Lonsdale division. It was then twice its present area. It occupied the whole of Lancashire north of the Sands. Having regard to the difficulties of transport, it was ten times as inconvenient as the largest Proportional Representation constituency could possibly be, but no one complained and everyone rushed to get into that seat. The supporters of the Hartingtons and the Stanleys almost tore each other to pieces to decide which family should oppress us.

Mr. Keeling

How many electors were on the register?

Mr. Pritt

If the hon. Member had listened he would have heard me put it as two points. Firstly, the constituencies and, secondly, the number of the electors, and I am coming to that. Nowadays the worst constituency is more convenient than the average constituency 50 years ago, even if multiplied by seven in size. Then we come to the number of Members. I was once a prospective candidate for a constituency which had 3,100 electors. I merely mention that because I was reminded by other Members that electorates were very small. If there were anything in this argument about the unwieldy constituency and the loss of personal touch we should have heard it when the electorates were enlarged.

To take a modern electorate of 54,000 people and turn it into a five-Member constituency of 250,000 is not nearly as big a jump as that jump of 3,000 or 4,000 to 25,000 or 30,000. There is very little in the question of loss of personal touch. It should be looked at from two points of view—first, the point of view of fighting the election, and, second, the point of view of looking after the constituents. From the point of view of fighting the election, it is just the same for every candidate. I am told, and it is proved to me by elaborate canvasses, that my constituency thoroughly approves of me and is ready to support me to a very high percentage against all corners. Yet I can walk round the streets of my constituency for hours and not meet anybody I know. It does not depend on personal touch, but on one's record and work. I do not believe that the difficulty, which would fall equally on all the candidates, of actually getting round and remembering the Christian names of all the babies would, apart from the fact that it is not politically profound, make very much difference.

When it comes to looking after your constituents, that is to say, attending to their grievances, I do not suppose I am any better than any other Member, but I manage to do that with the aid of two secretaries and giving seven hours a day to it myself. That has to be done because I have to look after some persons in adjoining constituencies as well. I am able to look after 50,000 constituents irrespective of their politics. Suppose five Members are elected, and they represent 250,000 people; is it really beyond their human, organising and administrative capacity for them—say, two Tories and three Labour men—to sit round, and say, "Everybody knows what we are and what we stand for, and they will come to us one way or another?" They could arrange to sit at the same time in different offices; one could be selected to deal with legal troubles, one who was good at local government could deal with problems under that head, and so on. If five people cannot do five times the work of five people by apportioning it in that way, they are not fit to be Members of Parliament, and certainly not fit to take care of themselves. It is the simplest problem on earth. If, as is suggested, one of the five, being very much better than the others, will get all the work thrown on to him, then, if he has any ambition either to serve his country or to remain in Parliament, what better advertisement could he want than that the whole place goes to him for help?

The right hon. Gentleman naturally and properly took up the question of by-elec- tions. That, again, is not a vital point. If it were the case that Proportional Representation would not work a by-election but it was a good thing in itself, the right hon. Gentleman said he would not let the by-election trouble stop it. I agree that is the way to look at it. I am not greatly enamoured of the scheme of alloting Members to wards in a constituency. Under that system one would not be a Member for a ward, but one of a group of Members for a constituency, and he would be alloted a particular corner of it only for the purposes of dying, that is to say, that when he died that ward would be the area in which there was a by-election. I much prefer the other system. If one Member of a two-Member constituency dies, there is a by-election in the whole constituency. Has anybody said that that is a ridiculous waste? If we adopted that system it would, incidentally, answer the right hon. Gentleman's other good point, that we want by-elections to show us, among other things, the trend of opinion in the country. If a constituency formerly had an average of 60 per cent. Labour and 40 per cent. Conservative, and a by-election showed there were 65 per cent Labour and 35 per cent. Conservative, one could state the trend exactly. If, however, we had, as I hope we shall have, shorter Parliaments and younger Members of Parliament, we would not die at such an excessive rate and by-elections would not be so frequent.

Lastly, the right hon. Gentleman said that there would be a terrible lot of wangling. Is not there a bit of wangling now? He said that there would be actual competition between two Members of the same party. Has anybody here ever attended a selection conference? I attended one at Gateshead and it was very amusing. I cannot see that there would be more wangling under the one system than there is under the other. I have not said a lot of the things I might have said, as there is not time, but I have attempted to answer the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman.

4.57 P.m.

Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)

I have listened to some of the speeches made in this Debate, and I now see that all the vital issues that have been sidestepped by the Speaker's Conference are the most important. Until this nation can devise some scheme for utilising the talents of the Members of this House instead of Members having to fritter away their time during most of the debating day in the smoking room and tea room, Parliament will not be so effective in the country as one would desire. After listening to the Debate on Proportional Representation, I am of opinion that the failure of the present system is not due to the fact that we have not had Proportional Representation. It is largely because the political parties have been dictated to by power organisations and to Members being un-principled in their work after they leave their divisions and come to this House. I cannot see that any system will guarantee us against that.

The hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) answered a number of objections that were put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence). I am interested to hear that he believes in a system that gives minority representation. No doubt, he could make a very fine speech on the platform to show why Russia should not allow any form' of minority opinion being expressed in the Assembly there, and why Proportional Representation, which would allow representation of Independent Socialists and Trotskyists, would be a crime against the nation. Therefore, he comes to the House and tells us of the great boon and blessing that would accrue from a form of Proportional Representation.

He asks one or two questions and answers them himself, and I think not at all fairly, because he says, in regard to the growing up of new political parties: "Surely a party will be thrown up by Proportional Representation that is not already in existence." It is one thing being in existence and another thing going to the country, appealing for support and raising a large number of false economic issues that will cloud the whole field of Parliamentary democracy. He does not speak fairly when he says that the only constituency he believes would throw up, say, independent Catholic Members, would be Liverpool. I think he also probably meant Glasgow.

I would say that that is true, and that Proportional Representation would throw up in this House representation of a religious kind from the Glasgow area. I am not in favour of throwing up opinion of that kind on the Floor of this House. I believe in an intelligent system where people with different religious points of view can find some accommodation in the various political parties, where they can make their representations and discuss them, and whittle down, if you like, the outrageous opinions they hold in relation to a large number of public issues. On the other hand, the hon. and learned Member does not see that in a city like Glasgow, if Proportional Representation threw up independent Roman Catholic representation, it would throw up also the Protestant League, which would send its members to this House. Glasgow would be a battlefield of religious opinion, fought largely by people who do not believe in religion at all, and who would go out with their broken bottles, razors and knives to become the defenders of democracy. We should see in this House the same kind of mentally deficient representation of the people of this country. Therefore, if it is said to be an advantage in Proportional Representation that it would throw up opinion of that kind, I am definitely opposed to it. I would confine religious opinion to the pulpit and to the spiritual field and would have political objectives fought, discussed and espoused by those who were capable of dealing with those problems in an intelligent manner. I find that most people who are fanatically religious know nothing at all about politics in any shape or form.

Other parties might be thrown up, with all kinds of minority opinion. We are told that it is an advantage to have a multiplicity of small parties in the House of Commons. It may seem a contradiction, but I say, as a representative of a small party, that we are not in a small party by desire. We are quite a large body in the State—[Interruption]—not with an unprincipled record like the party of the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith. I would go into the Labour Party on principle and not with the unprincipled desire to blackmail that party into doing the things that the party are not ready to do in the country, because they have not public backing. I did not intend to say it, but I say it now. It has been shown throughout Europe that where the Communists can only get their foot in, it is not long until they have got their whole body in, by any means in their power. They will use Proportional Representation as a means of getting them into the field where they can utilise their full power to threaten, cajole and blackmail the members of other parties in the State.

No members of my party have a desire to set up as a large political party in the State, competing with other parties. We believe that the Labour Party did, and should, represent our point of view. We are outside it not because we disagree with the Labour Party, but because the Labour Party do not do the things that they say at election times they will do. Therefore, they make war on the adherents of the principles with whom they went into the electoral field to get agreement. It is not because we are devoid of ideals and principles in respect of those matters. We should like to see some form of basic understanding among political parties that they should carry on along the lines that they had adopted and that had been endorsed in the country. Unity means strength, if it has principle behind it. The large parties in the State should be capable of dealing even with minority opinion within themselves in an intelligent and reasonable manner.

The greatest danger, and one that nobody has discussed or has shown any means of dealing with, affects the two sides of the House. On one side are the trade unions who are seeking to become the dictators of the political parties inside this House and on the other side are the chambers of commerce of the Tory Party outside the House. Members are licked into shape and are driven into the Lobbies. Their very existence is threatened if they dare to defend the things in which they believe. Proportional Representation will not remove that danger. Take even the hon. Member for North Hammersmith. Suppose the Communist Party had 200 candidates and, under a system of Proportional Representation, they failed in each area to get a quota which would send them to this House. They could have a powerful minority opinion in this country still unrepresented on the Floor of this House.

When we are talking about enlarging an area the only method by which Proportional Representation could be completely effective would be to make the whole country one constituency, and to have the candidates standing for that one seat. They would represent it by Proportional Representation according to the amount of support they had in the country. I cannot see any great good to the nation at the present time from a system of Proportional Representation. We are told that there might be a majority party that would not be entitled to office. Therefore, we should reduce constituencies in size. They should be of a workable size so that Members would be not only Members of Parliament representing the political opinion and thought of the nation, but each Member would be the personal representative of his area. He could devote his time, intelligence and energy to meeting the requirements of his constituents, and, if necessary, developing the political activities and thought of the area.

I am not enamoured of this idea that Proportional Representation will remove all the difficulties in the nation. When hon. Members talk about previous Governments that had no power because they were Coalition Governments, I would remind them that a large number of people in this House believe that coalition is a good thing while other people believe that it is a bad thing. I think it is a thoroughly bad method of carrying on Parliamentary Government. I believe that the one thing that helped to destroy Parliamentary constitutional Government in France was this same method of a multiplicity of parties, with a so-called United Front, in which the smallest party exercised tremendous pressure on the majority party. The weakness of the leaders always inclined them to concede to the minority the right to use their power. That was because there was an unprincipled coalition.

The same was true even during the period of the Labour Government to which the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith referred. It was a minority Government. I believe when they were given the opportunity of power they should have presented a programme that was endorsed by the nation. If they were defeated on a number of important points on which they thought the nation would back them up, they should have said: "We will go to the country, and by this demonstration of political thought and principle we shall make ourselves strong enough to ask for endorsement of our point of view. If we are rejected, we shall be rejected because we are a principled party who are in advance of the thought of the nation at this time." They should have maintained their integrity and the party intact, have resumed opposition, and have worked for the gathering in this country of strength which would have given them complete domination in the political sphere. Therefore, I see in this Bill many weaknesses, but I see in this Amendment an attempt to show to this House and the country that all the weaknesses of 'the present system would be ironed out by Proportional Representation, whereas I consider it would increase the difficulties politically, and would help to destroy even the semblance of democratic opinion, and would sicken people of parties that would be thrown up which had no relation to the issues of our time. In this way the tremendous problems of work and housing and so forth would be obscured by a lot of differences that were not vital, that were sham, they would be brought into the open, and enemies of Parliamentary democracy would be created as a result. So far as I am concerned I am opposed root and branch to what in theory looks well but which, in reality, is in my submission a sham.

Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)

Owing to the lateness of the hour I will come to the points I wish to make as rapidly as possible. In contemplating the two previous speeches it has come to my mind that one of the great dangers of Proportional Representation would be, as has already been said, to make for a multiplicity of parties in this House, with the inevitable result that it would make it almost impossible with such a variety of views for the King's Government effectually to carry on. One essential thing is that we in Parliament, as far as possible, should expedite the public Business, and at the same time criticise His Majesty's Government as much as we like when necessary, but not wilfully obstruct the Government in the duties they have to perform and make government impossible. I specially, however, want to make a particular point, because I happen to be a Member of a double-barrelled constituency, and we in the double-barrelled constituencies are very seriously affected by the Bill. It is not a question of merely one or two constituencies, not a question of enlarging them or compressing them, it is a question of cutting them in two. That is a thing which should be done extremely carefully, and with every consideration. A Boundary Commission is to be formed. It is not for me to say beforehand what instructions the Boundary Commission should follow. Nevertheless, I can give my opinion on this matter. It should be made clear that the Boundary Commission, when dealing with these ancient constituencies which have returned two Members to this House over a long period of time, should be extremely careful. They should act on certain principles, possibly on geographical lines; possibly they might divide such a constituency on lines of industrial interest and so on. They should give every opportunity for representations to be made from every quarter in those particular constituencies. Great care should be given to this. Never let it be said of the Boundary Commission that they divided a constituency according to political identification, because if they did that some particular party—I am speaking for no party, it affects all parties—

Earl Winterton

On a point of Order. Is it intended to dispose of this Amendment shortly so that we may return to the main Question, in view of the number of hon. Members who wish to speak, or is that intended to take place on the second day's Debate?

Mr. H. Morrison

There is only one day for Second Reading.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

That question is one for individual Members, who are at liberty to return to the main Question.

Dr. Thomas

The Noble Lord has seen fit to raise his point of Order just as I was coming to my point. I believe I am perfectly in Order in speaking on the Bill and not continually on the Amendment, so let me return to my case. I ask that it should not be said of the Boundary Commission that they had split these particular constituencies in such a way that would give a certain political party representation in this House which normally they would not have and which would give that party representation almost in perpetuity. I believe the Minister should pay particular regard to these remarks because, as I see this Bill, its effect may well be revolutionary on the representations in those towns which have gone on in a steady way for a century and more.

The Boundary Commission should exercise the greatest care. I trust this accusation will never be levelled against the Boundary Commission in any decision it takes—I make this suggestion to the Minister; no doubt he has it already in mind; he has most things in his mind, but we may draw one or two to the surface. The Boundary Commission is to be composed, according to the First Schedule to the Bill, of four members. One is to be the Registrar-General, an expert in statistics. The other is to be a member of the Ordnance Survey, an expert on geography. There are also to be two other members, one appointed by the Secretary of State and the other by the Minister of Health. I believe these two members should be men of very wide vision indeed, not necessarily having any political connections, but nevertheless men in whom we can all have considerable trust, because I am sure that with the help of the two technical gentlemen it is possible that the two-Member constituencies could be split in a very fair and equitable way for all parties. Considering the number of Members who come to this House from these double-barrelled constituencies, considering the ancient history of these constituencies and the revolutionary change which is to be made in their political representation, it behoves the House and the Boundary Commission to act in a model way in this regard.

5.18 p.m.

Mr. G. Strauss (Lambeth, North)

I apologise to the House if, for the very few minutes which remain to me before the Government reply, I leave the subject of Proportional Representation, and come back to two speeches which were made earlier in the Debate by London Members about the representation of the City of London in Parliament. I want, as a Londoner who lives in London, who has a constituency in London and who works in the City of London, to say one or two words about the points made by those hon. Members. They were hard put to it to justify on any democratic principles that that small area with 10,000 residents should send two Members of Parliament to this House. They tried to do so on a variety of other grounds. I want very quickly to traverse the arguments they put forward. The hon. Member for the City of London (Sir G. Broadbridge) first of all made the point that the Common Council of the City was the repository of so much intelligence and imagination and initiative, that one really might have come to the conclusion that this House would be wise to dissolve itself and let the City Common Council take over the affairs of the nation. The main argument of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) was that the historic traditions of the City of London were so magnificent, that we would be well advised on those grounds to allow two Members to represent that constituency in this House. It is perfectly true that the City of London has very old traditions. Looking up the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London, I see that he himself, apart from being an ex-Lord Mayor, is Master of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners and Master of the Worshipful Company of Lorimers—I find that these were makers of mountings for horse bridles.

These ancient practices and traditions are interesting, but they do not justify special representation in Parliament. When it is said that the City of London is the ancient home of freedom and liberty and of the fight against tyranny, I suggest that it is quite wrong to confuse, as those Members do, the City of London, as a Corporation, with Londoners. Those fights for liberty were made by the people of London, and have no relation to the historical hangover which the City of London Corporation is to-day. This tradition of fighting for freedom, which used to be so magnificent among Londoners, disappeared a long time ago from the City. I do not think that anybody would suggest that at any time during the last century it has been in the forefront in the fight for liberty and reform. I do not think anyone would suggest that the activities of the two Members of Parliament for the City of London have been in the direction of the fight for freedom and progress against tyranny. Those traditions have disappeared; and we cannot justify on those grounds that the City of London, with its 10,000 population, should send two Members to this House.

Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)

My hon. Friend will recall that the late Lord Balfour, when Member for the City of London, was responsible for the declaration of the Palestine National Home.

Mr. Strauss

Let us consider the situation since his time. I do not think that the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London will be looked upon as a particularly active fighter for progress in the House to-day. Incidentally, the struggle of the City of London, even in the past—the long-distant past and the nearer past—has been a fight for freedom to exploit markets and the public. It was a fight for freedom for the merchants of the City of London, and had not as its prime motive a desire to fight for the advancement of the people. The hon. Member for South Croydon said that it would be a serious thing for people abroad if the status quo were altered and the City of London were allowed only one Member. I suggest that the reputation of the City of London among many people abroad is not particularly high at the moment. They recall, very regretfully, the part played by one section of the City of London in pre-war years in financing and supporting Nazi rule in Germany.

Then it is suggested that, because the City of London is the centre of the British Empire, it should have special representation. I say that it is not the centre of the British Empire. If any borough in London could be called the centre of the British Empire, it would be Westminster, where this Parliament and the Privy Council sits. But has anybody suggested that the City of Westminster should have special representation for that reason? It is also suggested that, because the City of London contributes such a substantial amount to the revenue of the country, it should be put in a privileged position. It would be an extraordinary situation if the richer constituencies were to have more Members of Parliament, and the poorer constituencies fewer. It was also argued that the City of London had a very fine financial reputation, in the sense that recently it had paid back loans to the Ministry of Health, and that, because of the credit it had achieved in that respect, because of its probity, it should have special consideration. That is a very curious argument. If the virtue and honesty of the constituency are to be a test for representation in this House, I would suggest that my constituency should have at least 10 Members; and I am not sure if, in view of the various financial scandals we have had recently in the City of London, the City should have any representation at all. There can be no justification, on any democratic ground, for the City of London having more than one representative. I do not think that, with 10,000 population, it should have any; but I agree that it would be extraordinarily difficult, for geographical reasons, to split the City up among other constituencies: therefore, I would be prepared to agree to the City of London having one Member. But if it is going to be advocated that that most gross privilege which the City of London enjoys to-day, of sending two Members to this House, shall be retained, the Government will meet with great opposition, which will be particularly keen in London, where this privilege of the City of London is especially resented.

5.27 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)

We have listened to an interesting Debate, which has ranged wide over the proposals in the Bill and the proposals in the Amendment. I would say one or two words about the main proposals in the Bill, which have met with a very large measure of approval in all quarters of the House. There are three main changes of a positive character contained in the Bill. One is the establishment, for the first time in this country, of permanent machinery for redistribution. In that respect we are taking a leaf out of the book of our own Dominions, for in the four largest self-governing Dominions, permanent machinery for redistribution has existed for a good many years. This permanent machinery will prevent the sort of bad distribution which exists at present recurring in future.

On that part of the Bill, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Lewisham (Sir A. Pownall), whom I do not see in his place at the moment, suggested that the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference that the number of Members of the House of Commons should continue substantially as at present should not be regarded as sacrosanct, and asked that we should be prepared, on the recommendation of the Commissioners, to make a substantial addition to the number of Members of this House. He reminded us that from 1885 to 1918 there were 670 Members of the House of Commons, and from 1918 to 1921, 707 Members. We have followed, in the Schedule which embodies the Rules for the guidance of the Boundary Commissioners, the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference. That recommendation was unanimous, and was the opinion of a number of Parliamentarians who possess between them a very great fund of experience.

Although I am not prepared to argue that 615 is necessarily an ideal number, or necessarily very much better than 625 or 605, at the same time, that is the view of the Speaker's Conference; and for that reason the Government have adopted it. I dare say, however, that, in the future, the English Members will demand fair play for England in this matter. Hon. Members will observe that the result of the present distribution between England, Scotland and Wales is that four votes cast in Scotland carry as much weight as five votes cast in England, and that eight votes cast in Wales carry as much weight as nine votes cast in England. That could he argued to be very unfair, and I was surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George), who, in supporting the Amendment, aims at a precise mathematical exactitude in this matter, should not have criticised that proposal in the Bill. However, the English Members may, I think, console themselves by the obverse reflection that four English Members of Parliament are equal to five Scottish Members and that eight English Members are the equivalent of nine Welsh Members. This question may be raised in the future, but for the purpose of this Bill, the Government have felt that it would be wise to accept the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference and not to amend it in any way.

The second important proposal in the Bill is to carve up abnormally large constituencies forthwith as an interim measure.

Mr. G. Griffiths (Hemsworth)

Can I put a question? The next Parliament will be 635 Members, will it not?

Mr. Peake

No, 640.

Mr. Griffiths

And the following one will be reduced again to the 615?

Mr. Peake

Yes, my hon. Friend has got it right; he has made a perfect mathe- matical calculation. The Government have accepted, and have embodied in the Bill, this proposal to carve up forthwith abnormally large constituencies, and, in that respect, there is an interesting Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) which was supported, I think, in the speech of the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles).

Earl Winterton

My right hon. Friend cannot discuss the Amendment.

Mr. Peake

No, I am not going to discuss the Amendment. I am discussing the speeches made by two hon. Members, which, I daresay, the Noble Lord did not hear. In these speeches, they suggested that we should go in for a sort of "overspill" proposal, and this matter can, and will, be raised in an Amendment, I think on Thursday. The Government have by no means closed their minds to a proposal on those lines, but they would like to hear the views of hon. Members upon the specific proposal contained in the Amendment before committing themselves to it. This part of the Bill has been received without demur in any quarter of the House, and even the proposal that the constituency, which has been represented by my Noble Friend opposite since the early years of this century, should be sub-divided—

Earl Winterton

My right hon. Friend had better not refer to my constituency because I might be tempted to make another speech on the same lines as one hon. Member to-day, who gave us a half-hour description of his constituency, and that would mean that I should have the Closure applied to me.

Mr. Peake

That would be most unfortunate. I was only going to observe that the proposal that the Noble Lord might bisect himself, and that the Noble Lord might be the Member for Horsham, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Worthing—has aroused no opposition in the House.

The remainder of the Debate was a discussion on the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey), a Member for whom I have the most profound respect and even affection. We have opposed each other at Parliamentary elections, and my hon. Friend is, in fact, now one of my constituents. My hon. Friend advocated Proportional Representation with a passion and sincerity which I have seldom seen exceeded in this House. I have the greatest respect for the hon. Member, but I think that, when he reads his own peroration in HANSARD to-morrow, he will realise that he put his case for Proportional Representation rather too high. If we can achieve all the good things for which we hope and aim by the mere adoption of an algebraical formula, then this is a very easy world in which we live.

The hon. Member for Anglesey produced, I think, a most reasoned argument for Proportional Representation, and I was interested in the speech she made. It was answered in a speech which I think was of outstanding capacity and brilliance by my right hon. Friend opposite, the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence). I should be wasting the time of the House if I endeavoured, in the few moments remaining, to repeat the arguments made by my right hon. Friend opposite, but I would strongly recommend any hon. Member who did not hear his speech to study it in HANSARD to-morrow, because it was the most powerful demolition of the case for Proportional Representation that I have ever heard.

The hon. Member for the English Universities spent a good deal of time dealing with the assertion that Proportional Representation would not work. I honestly do not think that he need have troubled himself in that regard. Most of us believe that the trouble with Proportional Representation is that it would work too well; and that Parliament would be reduced to a precise representation of all the views of all communities in the country. We should become, in fact, merely a cross-section of the community. If you want to produce a cross-section of the community, there is one very easy way to do it, and that is by asking the Registrar-General to select 615 names out of a hat. But we want something a good deal better than a mere cross-section of the community in this House. In my view, if we adopted the system advocated by the hon. Member for the English Universities, we should have a very large number of independent Members. Whilst the House works admirably with a small leaven of Independent Members, I honestly do not see how this institution could operate if we had 200, 300 or 400 Independent Members. When I see Independent Members anxiously trying to decide in the Lobby how they are to vote on some simple issue—whether we shall sit until 6.30 p.m. or 7.30 p.m., whether we shall suspend the Rule, or insert the words "as to" in place of "as regards" in an Amendment—I do not believe this House could work unless some of us had some party affiliations.

Miss Rathbone (Combined English Universities)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that an Independent Member has sometimes asked eight or nine hon. Members in the Lobby what the vote was about, and could not get a reply at all?

Mr. Peake

The hon. Lady precisely illustrates my point. We should be asking everybody all the time what we were voting about.

Mr. Pritt


Mr. Peake

As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh said, what we must aim at is an electoral system which produces a majority in this House capable of sustaining a Government in a settled policy and producing a closely-knit Opposition. I believe that it is on those lines that the country would be well-advised to proceed. The doctrine of mathematical exactitude will produce, in effect, an agglomeration of minorities, and it means a perpetuation of Coalition Government. While this particular Coalition has been a very good Coalition, we have experienced recently some little difficulties over a Bill known as the Town and Country Planning Bill, and if in times of peace we are to have perpetual Coalition Government, we shall have these difficulties greatly and constantly extended. I must confess that I was most surprised at my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), who desires to interrupt me, supporting the Amendment. I should have thought from his point of view that a system of Proportional Representation, which I believe would produce a House largely filled with well-meaning and good-intentioned Independent Members, would have been wishing goodbye for ever to the dictatorship of the proletariat which my hon. and learned Friend supports.

Mr. Pritt

I did not think that the dictatorship of the proletariat was relevant to the Bill, but if it really is such nonsense, will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House why two Speakers' Conferences have strongly recommended Proportional Representation, one of them unanimously?

Mr. Peake

I cannot speak for the Speaker's Conferences. I suppose my hon. and learned Friend refers to 1918 and 1930, both of which recommended Proportional Representation on a limited scale in the big cities. It is a curious thing that Proportional Representation is supported only by minority parties, and always by minority parties in the House.

Mr. Pritt

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain to us why every Conservative Member of the Speaker's Conference of 1918 and of 1930 voted for it?

Mr. Peake

There was a desire in 1918 undoubtedly to conduct a limited experiment in Proportional Representation. That was the desire, but a great deal of water has passed under bridges since 1918. For example, we had the minority Government of 1929–1931, at which time, may I remind the representatives of the Liberal Party in the House, what the Liberal Party said they desired was not Proportional Representation hut a system known as the Alternative Vote. The alternative vote was a device for dishing the Tories, and in regard to it, may I remind my hon. Friend opposite who spoke for the Liberal Party, of some rather crude words spoken in the Debate of 1931 by the present Prime Minister. He observed on the Third Reading of the Representation of the People Bill of that year, which hon. Members who were in the House at the time will remember: "Liberals are fighting for their lives by weapons of faction and intrigue." It was indeed a melancholy spectacle, but parties who see the electoral ground slipping from under their feet will, of course, clutch at any straw which offers. Therefore, I am not in the least surprised that the Liberal Party showed no enthusiasm for Proportional Representation in their hey-day between 1906 and 1910.

The discussion to-day has been very largely academic. The proposal for Proportional Representation was thrashed out very fully in the Speaker's Conference. It was voted upon there and defeated by votes of 25 to 4 on one resolution and 25 to 5 on the other. No one in their senses after this Vote would have expected the Government to embody proposals for Proportional Representation in this Bill and we have, therefore, done what the House of Commons expected in proposing the establishment of single-Member constituencies throughout the country. As regards the question of the City of London, to which two or three speeches have been addressed, that is reserved for future discussion, debate, dispute and division.

Mr. Bowles

On the Committee stage.

Mr. Peake

No, not on the Committee stage of this Bill. It is reserved by the terms of the Schedule for the Bill to be introduced on the first Report of the Boundary Commissioners recommending a redistribution throughout the country. The division in the Speaker's Conference on that issue was a very close one. To introduce any proposal in the present Bill in regard to the City of London would have resulted in very serious division in this House and would have split the parties supporting the Government from top to bottom, and I feel, therefore, that the House will approve of a proposal which leaves this question over, until wholesale redistribution is recommended. There are, after all, very many small constituencies which will continue to exist under the temporary proposals in the Bill, and if we are prepared to see these anomalies continue until the Boundary Commissioners have done their job, I do not think that it is asking very much of the House to ask them to leave the City of London where it stands to-day, until the Boundary Commissioners have completed their first big task. I do not think that there is anything more to be said upon the Second Reading of the Bill. There are some Amendments on the Paper which we can discuss when we come to the Committee stage.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 202; Noes, 18.

Division No. 35.] AYES [5.53 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester) Nicholson, G. (Farnham)
Adamson, Mrs. Jennie L. (Dartford) Greenwell, Colonel T. G. Nicolson, Hon. H. G. (Leicester, W.)
Adamson, W. M. (Cannock) Grenfell, D. R. Oldfield, W. H.
Agnew, Comdr. P. G. Gretton, J. F. Oliver, G. H.
Albery, Sir Irving Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth) O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Grigg, Sir E. W. M. (Altrincham) Paling, Rt. Hon. W.
Barnes, A. J. Grimston, R. V. (Westbury) Peake, Rt. Hon. O.
Barr, J. Groves, T. E. Petherick, M.
Barstow, P. G. Guest, Lt.-Col. H. (Drake) Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. Guest, Dr. L. Haden (Islington, N.) Peto, Major B. A. J.
Beauchamp, Sir B. C. Guy, W. H. Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Beech, Major F. W. Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir D. H. Prescott, Capt. W. R. S.
Beechman, N. A. Hannon, Sir P. J. H. Price, M. P.
Bennett, Sir P. F. B. (Edgbaston) Henderson, J. J. Craik (Leeds, N.E.) Pym, L. R.
Benson, G. Heneage, Lt.-Col. A. P. Quibell, D. J. K.
Berry, Hon. G. L. (Buckingham) Hepburn, Major P. G. T. Buchan- Raikes, Flight-Lieut. H. V. A. M.
Bevan, A. (Ebbw Vale) Higgs, W. F. Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)
Bevin, Rt. Hon. E. (Wandsworth, C.) Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Ritson, J.
Bird, Sir R. B. Hollins, J. H. (Silvertown) Robertson, D. (Streatham)
Blair, Sir R. Hopkins, A. Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. L. Salt, E. W.
Boothby, R. J. G. Horsbrugh, Florence Sanderson, Sir F. B.
Bower, Norman (Harrow) Howitt, Dr. A. B. Scott, Donald (Wansbeck)
Bowles, F. G. Hudson, Sir A. (Hackney, N.) Scott, Lord William (Ro'b'h & Selk'k)
Brabner, Comdr. R. A. Hume, Sir G. H. Shepperson, Sir E. W.
Braithwaite, Major A. N. (Buckrose) Hunter, Sir T. Silkin, L.
Brown, T. J. (Ince) Hutchinson, G. C. (Ilford) Silverman, S. S.
Brown, W. J. (Rugby) Hutchinson, Lt.-Com. G. I. C. (E'burgh) Smithers, Sir W.
Buchanan, G. Jewson, P. W. Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir D. B.
Bull, B. B. John, W. Stephen, C.
Burke, W. A. Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k Newington) Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)
Campbell, Dermot (Antrim) Jones, Sir L. (Swansea, W.) Storey, S.
Carver, Colonel W. H. Keatinge, Major E. M. Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Cluse, W. S. Keeling, E H. Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Cobb, Captain, E. C. Lamb, Sir J. Q. Strickland, Capt. W. F.
Cooks, F. S. Lawson, J. J. (Chester-le-Street) Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Colegate, W. A. Levy, T. Studholme, Major H. C.
Conant, Major R. J. E. Liddall, W. S. Sutcliffe, H.
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Linstead, H. N. Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'd'ton, S.)
Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L. Lipson, D. L. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Culverwell, C. T. Lloyd, C. E. (Dudley) Thomas, I. (Keighley)
Dagger, G. Loftus, P. C. Thomas, Dr. W. S. Russell (S'th'm'tn)
Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil) Logan, D. G. Thorneycroft, Maj. G. E. P. (Stafford)
Dobble, W. Longhurst, Captain H. C. Thorneycroft, H. (Clayton)
Douglas, F. C. R. Lucas, Major Sir J. M. Tinker, J. J.
Dower, Lt.- Col. A. V. G. McCorquodale, Malcolm S. Tomlinson, G.
Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury) McEwen, Capt. J. H. F. Turton, R. H.
Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side) McGovern, J. Walkden, A. G. (Bristol, S.)
Dugdale, John (W. Bromwich) Mack, J. D. Walkden, E. (Doncaster)
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. (Kens'gt'n, N.) McKinlay, A. S. Ward, Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Dunn, E. Magnay, T. Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Mainwaring, W. H. Watkins, F. C.
Edmondson, Major Sir J. Manningham-Buller, R. E. Watson, W. McL.
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty) Marshall, F. Wayland, Sir W. A.
Edwards, N. (Caerphilly) Mathers, G. Westwood, Rt. Hon. J.
Edwards, Walter J. (Whitechapel) Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. White, H. (Derby, N.E.)
Elliot, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. W. E. Mellor, Sir J. S. P. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W. (Blaydon)
Ellis, Sir G. Messer, F. Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Entwistle, Sir C. F. Mills, Colonel J. D. (New Forest) Wilmot, John
Erskine-Hill, A. G. Morgan, Dr. H. B. W. (Rochdale) Windsor-Clive, Lt.-Col. G.
Fermoy, Lord Morgan, R. H. (Stourbridge) Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Fildes, Sir H. Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.) Womersley, Rt. Hon. Sir W.
Foster, W. Morris-Jones, Sir Henry Woodburn, A.
Galbraith, Comdr. T. D. Morrison, Major J. G. (Salisbury) Woolley, Major W. E.
Gibbons, Lt.-Col. W. E. Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)
Gibson, Sir C. G. Murray, J. D. (Spennymoor) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:—
Glanville, J. E. Naylor, T. E. Major A. S. L.Young and
Gower, Sir R. V. Neal, H. Mr. Drewe.
Green, W. H. (Deptford) Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.
Acland, Sir R. T. D. Lawson, H. M. (Skipton) Reakes, G. L. (Wallasey)
Driberg, T. E. N. Leslie, J. R. Roberts, W.
Gallacher, W. Loverseed, J. E. White, H. Graham (Birkenhead, E.)
Gruffydd, Professor W. J. Owen, Major Sir G. Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Harris, Rt. Hon. Sir P. A. Pritt, D. N.
Horabin, T. L. Proctor, Major H. A. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:—
King-Hall, Commander W. S. R. Rathbone, Eleanor Mr. Edmund Harvey and
Miss Lloyd George.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a second Time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Captain McEwen]

Committee upon Thursday.