HC Deb 23 January 1945 vol 407 cc686-723

Notwithstanding anything in any previous statute if any local authority shall pass a resolution to the effect that it desires its election to be conducted on the principle of the single transferable vote the Minister shall make the necessary arrangements to that effect in the form of an order but no such order shall have effect unless a draft thereof has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.—[Sir G. Mander.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Sir Geoffrey Mander (Wolverhampton, East)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

As I have several new Clauses on the Paper, may I ask are they to be taken together or should I confine myself, for the moment, to this first one?

Mr. Speaker

I thought the first one more or less embodied the main principle, but no doubt the others could be discussed at the same time. As they are consequential, I think it would be the most convenient way.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

On a point of Order. Would it be possible to safeguard the Amendment to Clause 4 about the election of aldermen which deals with a separate point and comes up later?

Mr. Speaker

I am in the hands of the House. But if the principle is not accepted in the first new Clause, then the other two are bound to fall.

Sir G. Mander

I think it would be more convenient, Mr. Speaker, if we did take them all together. This is a very modest proposal indeed. Some of us entertained high hopes of what might result from the Speaker's Conference, but we know now that nothing came of it, so far as Proportional Representation was concerned. I venture to think that the Conservative Party and the Labour Party were unwise in the decision they came to, as were the Liberal Party in 1918 when the matter rested in their hands. However, that is past history, and it is not possible now to reconsider it. I hope that the Government will give sympathetic consideration to what is surely a most modest and reasonable suggestion. It is nothing more than to allow local aulhorities, if they so wish, after giving one month's notice to each member, and by a three-fifths majority, to try the experiment of carrying out their elections by a system of Proportional Representation. If, after a trial of six years, they are unhappy about it, it would be open to them to rescind it and to go back to the present system.

There is no point whatever in describing the system of Proportional Representation; we all take that for granted. The mechanics of it, are, I think, well understood, and I do not want to give a number of examples. I should however like to be permitted to give just two, in the sphere of local government, to indicate the sort of difficulties that arise. In 1937, for instance, at the annual one-third rotation election in one large Lancashire city, the Conservatives secured 25 seats with a total vote of 98,000, whereas Labour obtained six seats with a total of 64,000. In the same year, in a Yorkshire city, Labour secured 11 seats with 37,000 votes, an actual minority of the votes, whereas the Progressives, with 39,000 votes, secured only five seats. One could give any number of such examples in the Parliamentary sphere and in the local govern- ment sphere. To many of us, it does not seem really consistent with truly democratic methods and a proper system of representation that people so unrepresentative of the popular will should be elected.

I am not asking for a reversal of the system; I am only asking that facilities should be granted to those local authorities who agree to make the experiment, and that they should be permitted to do it. What precedents are there in other countries? One could give precedents, as regards local government—that is all I am talking about now—in Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, Norway, Sweden and Holland. But let us confine ourselves to the British Empire which knows how to do these things as well as or, I think, better than any other country in the world. In the Cape of Good Hope Province of South Africa, and New Zealand, local councils have optional powers, such as proposed by this Clause, to apply the single transfer of votes to their elections. The same applies to Canada, in the Provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the city of Winnipeg in Manitoba. I think, therefore, we can say that this is not a novelty so far as British people are concerned. They are using the system, and they are finding it sound and useful in all parts of the British Empire.

I ask the House to bear in mind that we are not asking for anything on a Parliamentary basis. That has been dropped for the time being. We are not asking that all local elections should be on this basis. We are merely asking that an experiment should be permitted in the cases I have referred to. Surely, it is the very essence of British development, by trial and error, to try a thing and see whether it is an improvement on something which has gone before. If it is not an improvement, then we can go back. No one could claim that the last word has been said on the matter of representation of the people by the British system as it exists at this moment. It may be that experiment will show that Proportional Representation is not an effective method, that the country does not like it and the local councils do not like it. In that case, no harm will have been done, and we will be precisely where we were.

I hope, of course, that as the result of such experiment as might take place under this Clause, that the country will be gradually converted to the view that this is the more sensible system, if we want the House of Commons and the local councils to be a real mirror of the people and to represent their will in correct proportion to the numbers of the voters and not as the result of a conflict of parties giving hugely exaggerated representation to one party and very much diminished representation to another, as at the present time. It may be that many hon. Members here hope that as a result of this experiment the people will come to say that Proportional Representation is an unsatisfactory system, and that the present one is better. I am not pre-judging that; I am willing to leave that to the result of experience, but what I would ask, and ask most seriously, of the Government, is that, having rejected all the larger things, many of us hope they will look favourably upon this modest and reasonable suggestion that is now being put before the House.

Mr. Edmund Harvey

I beg to second the Motion.

I wish to emphasise the point which my hon. Friend made that this is quite a different matter from the very large Parliamentary question that was decided against by the House some time ago. It is a matter indeed which was not discussed in Mr. Speaker's Conference because it was felt that it was totally outside the scope of the measures that were there considered. But it is a matter which falls within the scope of this Bill. It is a matter in which, I think, we may ask many hon. Members, who are not prepared to consider Proportional Representation in Parliamentary matters, to be willing to allow this experiment to be tried in municipal government. There is an immense difference between the problems of municipal government and the way in which they should be dealt with, and the problems which come before Parliament. A very large proportion of the work of city councils and other municipal authorities has no element of party controversy in it. It is a question of getting efficient, honest and enlightened Government and we want for that, the services of all the best people.

12.45 p.m.

Unfortunately, under the present system of elections for municipalities, it is impossible for a very large number of citizens to have any hope of election in the wards in which they would naturally be candidates. This applies not to one party but to all parties alike. There are sections of London where no one holding certain political views would have any chance at present of getting elected to the council of the metropolitan borough in which they reside. There are numbers of councils consisting of only one political party and that is not a healthy thing. I think every one, however strong their party views, would recognise that it is very important that there should be other points of view represented on the council, even if they are the wrong points of view, in order that public opinion should be expressed and objections met, and the policy of the party in power subjected to reasonable criticism from its opponents. It is a bad thing that criticism should be driven underground and should not have expression on the body itself.

It is also a bad thing that the opportunity of service should not be given to a number of public-spirited citizens who are willing to serve their towns, their county council, or their district council, but who cannot honestly fit in with the party views of the particular party in the area in which they stand. This applies not to one point of view or to one political party but equally to all. We can all think of different parts of the country where, whatever our own political point of view might be, we should know that there was no chance there whatever for any one of our particular view being elected to a particular municipality. That is a thing we should profoundly regret. It is of great importance that we should strengthen local government, that we should encourage the largest possible number of public-spirited citizens to take part, whatever their political views. If we give the opportunity of this method of election to the municipalities, we shall be opening up an avenue for service which will be for the good, not merely of the individual citizens but of the whole community, and will make for a wider basis for our municipal life. It is not a healthy thing, however good a party may be, that that party alone should control, year after year, the municipal life of its district without any opportunity for other parties—I will not say replacing them, but putting their point of view inside the municipality, and taking some part, even though it be a minor part, in the work of the administration.

The hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of this Clause referred to the British Empire. We can look also across the water to the great United States of America, and see there with what remarkable success this principle of Proportional Representation in municipal life has been applied. In the case of New York, it has given the opportunity for service to people who were denied it under the rule of Tammany. It challenged a corrupt administration and it brought in New York City a new hope into municipal life. In the great city of Cincinnati it has also been adopted with striking success. A very interesting instance of it occurred, not in America, but in Italy in the course of last year. One of the American officers in charge of a district in Southern Italy had recently, in consultation with the military authorities, to decide that it was desirable to have an election of representatives of the town of Atri, who would co-operate with the military authorities and carry out the necessary work. He decided, being a citizen of Cincinnati, to introduce the principle of Proportional Representation into this local election. It was a town of some 22,000 inhabitants where the standard of education was less than in any town in our country because ten per cent. of the inhabitants were believed to be illiterate. Yet the election was carried through on the method of Proportional Representation with great satisfaction and only about two per cent. of the votes were spoiled. This officer, Captain Garrigan, said the people loved the whole thing, and he had not heard a single word of complaint. If it can be done with such success in such difficult circumstances, with how much greater success could it be applied here with all the background of education we have in this country: I would beg the House to give the opportunity, which is all we ask, to local authorities if they so desire it to make this most valuable experiment.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)

This matter did not come specifically before the Speaker's Conference. I think it was within our terms of reference but it was not specifically discussed. We discussed Proportional Representation for Parliamentary elections and, having dis- cussed that, the other matter, was not brought to our attention and we did not therefore, as a conference, express any views with regard to it. I am bound to say, however, having expressed my view at an early stage in this House in accordance with the line I took in the Speaker's Conference of opposition to Proportional Representation for Parliamentary purposes, that the same views which I had with regard to Parliamentary representation apply to local government representation. The hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey) gave us very good reasons, in his view, why this method should he adopted. In the first place, he wanted us to follow the example set by certain cities in the United States, and he described in very glowing terms the wonderful results that followed from the adoption of Proportional Representation in local government in that country. Of course we cannot check up on his statements; it may be that he is correct, and that it produced very wonderful and beneficial effects in that country, but democracy as it is worked in this country is totally different from democracy as it is worked across the other side of the Atlantic. Therefore, even if his statements are accurate—I am not doubting his good faith—even if there is nothing to be said on the other side as regards the working of this system of Proportional Representation in the municipalities of the United States of America, yet I would be very loath to assume that, transferred to this country, they would necessarily produce equal advantages over our present system.

Sir G. Mander

What about the British Dominions?

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

If I remember rightly, it was principally America that was mentioned by the hon. Member to whom I am referring.

Sir G. Mander

Would the right hon. Gentleman allow me to interrupt? He has picked on America, but I pointed out that it was widely used in the British Empire, in Canada, in South Africa and New Zealand, and the remarks that he has made surely cannot apply to the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

I referred to the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. I was not referring, at that moment, to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who is a Member of the Liberal Party who moved this new Clause. I was referring to the hon. Member for the Combined Universities and I think I am within the recollection of the House in saying that his two principal arguments were, first, that it had been adopted with great success in the United States—I have already dealt with that—and second that it was a wonderful experiment, and that we should at least try it as an experiment. I gathered he was of the opinion that it had not been tried in this country before and that we should, at least, open the door for it.

I will come back to that in a few moments but, in the meanwhile, I will address myself, since I am especially asked to do so, to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the mover of this new Clause. He said that it applied in different parts of His Majesty's Dominions. That may be so, and again it may be true—but I am doubtful—that it has been an extraordinary success there. Even there, however, the way democracy works, particularly in Municipal matters, differs from the way it is worked in this country, and I do not think the Mother of Parliaments should go out of its way to adopt a plan for this country because in other parts of the world, even in our own Dominions, it may or may not have proved a great success.

Let me give my reasons generally for disapproving of the system which is here proposed. Though it is a little hidden, in the course of Sub-section a (c), the second of the two new Clauses, appears what, in fact, is the proposal—that we should sweep away our present wards for municipal purposes, and that the Secretary of State should divide the area of the local authority up into a new lot of divisions which may or may not be an amalgamation of certain wards, because quite clearly a single ward is not large enough to effect the purposes which those who desire the transferable vote have in mind. So there is a very large revolution involved, and the abolition for local government elections of the ward system is implied in the creation of the transferable vote. It is the same kind of thing, of course, to which we objected in the Parliamentary elections; that one of the essential antecedents to the possibility of Proportional Representation is the over-riding of the Parliamentary constituency by some large area to return a great number of candidates at one time, and the counterpart to that in the proposal for Proportional Representation in a local government area is this Sub-section 2 (c), which means that the ward system, for the purpose of local government, is to be abolished and, in its place, there are to be these new areas which the Secretary of State is to create. That would make a considerable muddle. In the first place, as I understand it, the ward system would still remain for parliamentary elections. Therefore you would have different areas for the municipal elections from those you would have for the parliamentary elections, which would introduce a complication.

Now in regard to this matter of Proportional Representation producing this marvellous effect, that instead of crisscross party politicians, you will have a marvellous selection of the very best men for the locality which you have never had before, I ask, Is that really the case? What you will get by Proportional Representation is a lot of log-rolling in order to get second preferences. Then you are going to get great complications at the time of an election and, finally, when most elaborate calculations have been gone through, you will have a number of people who may or may not be widely different from those you have under the simple system. I have never been able to understand why it was thought that Proportional Representation was a great reform that would produce the marvellous results that its supporters, in their enthusiasm, anticipated.

1.0 p.m.

I come, in conclusion, to the question of the experiment. It may or may not be known to the mover and supporter of the Clause that Proportional Representation has already been tried in Scotland. In the election for an educational authority there was in Scotland, between 1918 and 1929, a provision very similar to what is being proposed by this new Clause. So far as I have been able to ascertain, the result was that it made practically no difference to the political representation so far as politics entered into the election, that it made practically no difference with regard to the personalities who were returned and that it created a considerable muddle. The electors were confused by this system, which they did not thoroughly understand. There was no advantage and at the end of 11 years this experiment, having been tried, was regarded by almost everybody concerned as having worsened the system of election, and it was abandoned. I believe that the idea that it is a great reform is just moonshine. I do not believe in the merits which are attributed to it by its enthusiastic supporters. That is my theory, and in view of the fact that it was adopted for a local authority in Scotland, and later discarded, I hope the House and the Government will share with me the view that this idea ought to be rejected.

Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)

No one has greater respect and affection for my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) than I, but if he will forgive me for saying so I think that of late he has become conservative and suspicious of new ideas and experiments. The main thesis of his argument was that this was a novelty and that it should, therefore, be turned down. His idea was that we do not like the change and that we should carry on in the old way, even if there is a strong argument for the experiment. After all, he said, it is only an experiment—

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

I did not say anything of the kind. I do not regard this as a novelty; it is not a new experiment. The whole point of my speech was that it had been tried and had been a failure, and that for that reason we should not adopt it.

Sir P. Harris

That makes it worse. My right hon. Friend takes his view on the fact that there has been one little experiment in education, and on that builds up his whole case. He is so suspicious of new ideas that he resorts to picking out a tiny experiment and ignores all the other experiments which have been carried out in other parts of the world as not carrying any weight at all. Let me reiterate some of the countries where it has been tried. They are practical, progressive States like Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Switzerland. This system has been used in many parts of America. But my right hon. Friend said that America does not matter, that America is a new country and that old England must not learn anything from the United States. He said we must isolate ourselves, put ourselves into a world apart and ignore the experiments which have been tried in other countries. My hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Sir G. Mander) mentioned New York, one of the greatest and most progressive cities in the world. You have only to visit New York, with its sky-scrapers and its atmosphere of novelty, to see that it has some claim to be regarded as an important centre of city government. It was notorious under the old system, for various reasons, that the city government of New York was corrupt, rotten to the core. Tammany became a by-word and then, very wisely, men of good will, of all parties, who wanted a clean system of government in New York, came together and made the successful experiment of Proportional Representation. The government of that city was cleaned up, and New York is now a well governed city.

I should have thought that my right hon. Friend would have treated seriously an experiment made in the Dominions. I can understand him treating foreign countries with contempt, but I would like to remind him that both Australia and New Zealand have Labour Governments, which are very progressive in their ideas. For years in both Australia and New Zealand they have had on the Statute Book legislation for making experiments of this character. I maintain, quite apart from the fact that there have been experiments and experience in using this machinery successfully and effectively in other parts of the world, that there is an overwhelming case for it in this country. For some time local government has been very much held in suspense. Great powers have been taken by Government Departments to override local councils. You have it in the police and the fire brigade: you have this attempt to centralise much of the machinery of local government at Whitehall. It is very important that we should satisfy ourselves that the system of local government must be made as good as it can be if we are to resist this attack on local government by authorities in London, who want to see greater powers concentrated in Whitehall, in Government Departments. It is notorious that in many parts of the country the best men do not get on to the local councils. In London out of 28 borough councils, seven are limited to one party. In other boroughs no man or woman who is not a Conservative has the ghost of a chance, however qualified or competent, of getting on to the local council. In some of the councils of the East end of London no man or woman who does not belong to the Socialist Party, however keen or competent, has the ghost of a chance of getting on to the council. I had this experience in my own borough, in Bethnal Green, where, for six years, nobody could get on to the council who did not belong to my party. Labour was excluded, there was no opposition or criticism. It was a one-party totalitarian authority. Now the position has been completely reversed; all the members of the Borough Council are Labour members. Again, there is no opposition or organised criticism. The whole thing is run by a caucus.

The case against any change in our system is that it is better for the Government to have a large majority. There is the suspicion that if this experiment were made for Parliamentary purposes it might lead to too many groups. But that does not apply to local government. Local authorities have to carry out the laws entrusted to them by Parliament. They have to see whether the streets are well paved and well lit; they have to see whether housing is good and that education is properly administered; they have to see that there is no undue influence in appointments which are made. Undoubtedly, in some parts of the country great social pressure is brought to bear on authorities, when making appointments, to try to ensure that the person appointed belongs to a particular party. The safeguard against that is to have strong opposition, criticism and discussion. You can have that only if every party has a reasonable chance of getting representation. I think this reform is vital if we are to get the best out of local government.

I am sorry that the House as a whole does not appear to be interested in this matter of the representation of our people. I should have thought that after nine years Parliament would have been interested in an issue like this, particularly when it applies to local government. I am satisfied that sooner or later this reform will come. It may not come through this Parliament, but I think that in the end the common sense of the people will demand that we should have the best local government we can, and that in order to get it we must have on our councils the best men and women of all political parties so that each and all can make a contribution. I think it would be unfortunate and a tragedy if only those men and women who could get on to a local council were those who were members of particular political parties. Therefore, I hope this new Clause will not be turned down by the Government and trieated as a small affair. We are modest in our demand; we do not ask for a complete revolution, or that this experiment should be compulsorily applied to all parts of the country, but that if a local council wants to make this change, deciding that it is in their best interests, they should be permitted by Parliament to make it.

Petty-Officer Alan Herbert (Oxford University)

I am sorry I was not here when this new Clause was moved, but I would like to say a few words about it now because I was elected to Parliament under the system of the transferable vote. What puzzles me is that anybody should believe in the magic formula of "one man, one vote," and oppose the single transferable vote. Take the cases—and they are numerous—of three-cornered Parliamentary contests, as a result of which a Member is elected, not by the majority of the votes. Is it not an abuse of language to say of the people who have voted for candidate No. 3—say a Labour or a Liberal candidate—that in their case, it is "one man, one vote"?

1.15 p.m.

Quite apart from the members that the new method may produce, I regard it as a great thing because of the psychological effect that it will have on the voter. It will give him a sense that his vote is a real thing, because the mechanics of it are such that every voter has three or four or more choices, but has only one vote, and his vote is effective. It is impossible to say under the system that his vote has been split, or that anyone's vote is wasted. I believe that, once you have this reform and it is explained that under it the vote will have a fair shot at the target and will not be wasted, it will get rid of all this talk of frustration. When I am told that all this is confusing and difficult, I say that it is not necessary for voters to understand the complicated formula. All they have to do is to put 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 against their favourite horses and, whatever the experience of Scotland in the old days, a generation brought up on football pools will not find any difficulty in doing so.

Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline)

I appreciate that the supporters of the Clause have asked for the minimum that they could have asked for. We cannot say that they are extravagant in the claim that they are making. They are asking that local authorities should be permitted to have the system of the alternative vote if they so desire. My quarrel with them is that it should be left to the local authority to decide whether or not the alternative vote should be adopted. If they had "gone the whole hog," and asked that the system should apply to all local government elections, I am not sure that I should not have been supporting them. I have no particular prejudice against Proportional Representation. I believe it is the fairest system of voting. I have no doubt it is a complicated system, but I think our people are intelligent enough to understand a complicated system of voting.

My objection to Proportional Representation for Parliamentary elections is the difficulty, especially in Scotland, of a sufficient number of candidates being able to cover the sort of constituency which would return three, four or five Members to this House, but when we come to local government elections we are dealing with an entirely different proposition. I am sorry that I must disagree completely with my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) with our experience in Scotland of Proportional Representation in connection with the election of education authorities. The Local Government Bill of 1929, which placed education authorities under the county councils, got the stiffest opposition not only from Labour but from Conservative Members as well. We were opposed to the system being changed at that time and I am not quite sure that, if the opinion of Scotland was asked to-day, they would not go back to the old system of Proportional Representation. I am surprised at my right hon. Friend going all over the world for illustrations when there is one in his own country which has worked quite satisfactorily. Men and women were asked to come forward because of their interest in education, and they were elected, and from the first day to the last I never heard any complaint that the system was working unfairly. All sections of the community, Protestant, Catholic, Socialist or Conservative, got their proportion of representation. There was no muddle.

I have been surprised to hear it said that people would require to be educated up to the system. We did not have it for very long but comparatively few mistakes were made by those who recorded their votes. I should have no hesitation in saying that no harm would be done to this country from the governmental point of view if our local elections were on the system of Proportional Representation. The constituencies are never so large in connection with local government that the candidates are not known all over the place. Try to imagine the North of Scotland sending four or five Members to the House of Commons. What area would they cover—Orkney and Shetland, Caithness, Sutherland, Cromarty, Inverness and the Western Islands? It is only there where there are physical impossibilities for candidates to be known that the system of Proportional Representation is not applicable. As far as local elections are concerned, I do not think there is any difficulty at all. I am sorry to differ from my right hon. Friend but it was not because of any breakdown in the system of election of education authorities that it was abandoned. It was the desire of a Tory Parliament at that time to change the system. If it had not been for the votes of English Members the change would not have been made. We prefer to have our own system and I believe that the people of Scotland would accept it in preference to the control that they have now through the county councils. I cannot support the Clause as it stands. I can see muddle arising through each local council deciding whether or not it will adhere to the present system or adopt Proportional Representation. I think hon. Members might have gone the whole hog and asked that local elections should be without exception on the system of Proportional Representation.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security (Miss Wilkinson)

The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Sir G. Mander) is, of course, the best possible sales talker for Proportional Representation in any form whatever, and he always gives a very rosy picture which might convert those who have not much closer experience of the system, which probably some of us have. It is easy if you start producing particular examples of arithmetical absurdities, to show that no system which is not Proportional Representation can possibly be regarded as theoretically perfect, but after all the problem of democracy, and the object of voting, is not to secure a kind of mathematical justice and a mathematical picture of a kaleidoscopic electorate. It is the job of getting government done in the simplest possible way. My right hon. Friend referred to the Continent and to the British Empire, just as the Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey) tried to draw an idyllic picture of conditions in poor, battered, war-torn, devoted Italy, where some amiable American, wondering how to deal with the mess that Mussolini and the Allied armies had made, conceived the bright idea of introducing the Cincinnatti experiment. No one complained, but then for some years in Italy they have been used not to complain. To take an exceptional case of a pettifogging town in Italy and talk as if that could be applied—

Miss Rathbone (Combined English Universities)

That is what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) did.

Miss Wilkinson

Anyone who sits for Combined Universities ought to produce arguments a little more relevant.

Sir P. Harris

The right hon. Lady has ignored New York.

Miss Wilkinson

Not in the least. I am coming to it. As it happens, I have a good deal of experience. I am not dealing with Proportional Representation in general, but as I have seen it actually working. I was present at a number of elections under the Weimar Republic—

Sir P. Harris

That is not the system.

Mr. Harvey

Surely, the right hon. Lady realises that the German system is utterly different from the single transferable vote. She objected to me mentioning a recent Italian experiment based on the single transferable vote, and she is deluding the House by suggestinǵ that her experience of the very different Weimar list, system, to which we are entirely opposed, is a reason why we should not consider allowing the single transferable vote.

1.30 p.m.

Miss Wilkinson

The difficulty about making a speech on this subject is that no one will allow you to get on with your argument because they always want to interrupt in the middle of a sentence. If the hon. Gentleman had allowed me, I was about to say—in fact he took the words out of my mouth—that this was the list system. It was not the single transferable vote. Whenever one gets into a discussion about Proportional Representation it is always curious the way in which the pea is never under the thimble which is on the table at that particular time. When the Leader of the Liberal Party lectures my right hon. Friend for being so conservative, I might remind him that none of the systems of Proportional Representation was introduced by Liberal Governments when they were in power, neither by the overwhelmingly successful Liberal Government of 1906 nor the Liberal Government in Canada under Mr. Mackenzie King. When the right hon. Gentleman points out that on the Bethnal Green Borough Council there were once 100 per cent. Liberal members and now there are 100 per cent. Labour, I must remind the leader of the Liberal Party, great democrat as he is, that perhaps the electorate of Bethnal Green actually wanted the change over from 100 per cent. Liberal to 100 per cent. Labour, and therefore just voted that way. When it comes to talking about a choice of this, or any other, kind, I always think that the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Petty-Officer Herbert) ought, at any rate, to keep quiet, because he can get into Parliament with only 5,206 votes.

Mr. Reakes (Wallasey)

Do not be personal.

Miss Wilkinson

After all, we are discussing the practical way in which these things work.

Petty-Officer Herbert

It seems to me that the right hon. Lady is showing a most woeful ignorance. If her assertion was correct, is not the only remedy that which is now being proposed?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)

I would point out that this is a new Clause, and I do not think that either the Minister or private Members should endeavour to go into the position of any particular constituency.

Miss Wilkinson

I got led away because to me this is a most fascinating subject. I have been taking part in discussions on Proportional Representation ever since my under-graduate days. The Government will have to resist this new Clause. In its present form there has been added a requirement that any order for the conduct of the elections of local authorities on the principle of the single transferable vote shall be subject to an affirmative Resolution of each House of Parliament. It is true that the single transferable vote is the best known system of Proportional Representation. It can only operate where the number of vacancies to be filled are two or more, and so it is distinct from the alternative vote which can apply to single member constituencies or wards. When the question was considered by the Speaker's Conference, it was rejected by 25 votes to four. On the Second Reading it was rejected on an Amendment. It can be argued, as has been argued during the course of this Debate, that there is not such a strong argument in regard to local authorities as there is when we are dealing with the Parliamentary system, since there it upsets that bedrock two-party system which most people regard as one of the fundamental factors in the success of our constitutional methods.

I am afraid that I have been tempted to be a little controversial when replying to the arguments that have been used, but I think that I shall find a much more general measure of agreement when I say that it is important that we should have local elections during the coming year. Whatever may be the effect of the prolonged absence of Parliamentary elections, their absence in local government is more serious. If we tried to work this new Clause with the best will in the world it is difficult to see how the division into much wider wards could be done in so short a time as to make it possible for the elections to take place in 1945. Any new system of voting is difficult to work. Even the football pools have had to go through an immense amount of advertising and explaining before they could be understood even by the gentlemen who put their money into them. There would be a great deal of difficulty in setting up the machinery for a new system of voting.

I agree with the point that was so well made by the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) when he said that whatever might be the merits of the sys- tem itself, if we had a situation where some municipalities were adopting it and some were not, even if the system were perfect, we might get a hopeless confusion in everybody's mind. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because it will be difficult enough to get these elections and everything else going in 1945, when the men are returning from the Forces and we are faced with so many other problems. To attempt to introduce this highly controversial system, and still more to make it permissive, would, in the view of the Home Office, make confusion worse confounded. Therefore, if we are to resume local elections at the earliest possible date, we think it is much more important to get them done satisfactorily than to experiment with such controversial methods of voting as those of Proportional Representation have proved to be.

Petty-Officer Herbert

The figures which the right hon. Lady gave about me are erroneous. She did not attempt to answer my argument about how, under the present system, millions of votes are wasted and made ineffective, producing a sense of frustration in the voter and a consequent lack of interest in Parliamentary and local elections. I argued that in a system of Proportional Representation every vote is effective.

Miss Wilkinson

I think that they were not so much arguments as a string of optimistic assertions and I do not share the hon. and gallant Gentleman's optimism. I can only say with regard to the Scottish experiment, where it applies to education authorities, that questions of education rouse the passions and interests of the people at more points than general questions of local government. I am assured that the experiment was not in fact so very successful in stimulating extra interest or encouraging new people to come forward, and that when the authorities concerned were asked to give their views on what had happened, there was only one exception to the general opinion that the sort of extra interest suggested by the hon. and gallant Gentleman had not in fact been aroused. There was only one authority that did not want to return to the previous system. We can all argue the matter point by point and say that this or that system may work here or there, but here we have a case that we can look at on our own doorstep. I am sorry if I made a mistake about the hon. and gallant Gentleman's figures, but I took them from Dod's "Parliamentary Companion."

Mr. Pritt (Hammersmith, North)

I had intended merely to say a few words so as to show I was not deserting the cause, and I feared that we should all be told we were flogging a horse—I will not say a dead horse, but a horse which has been flogged many times already. One thing is clear, and that is that the House is still willing to misunderstand the question and take part in a general discussion, and, therefore, I will say a few words about it.

I would like to deal with the argument mentioned by the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson). It was not his argument; indeed, he was refuting it. That is the suggestion that the system of Proportional Representation is too complicated for the ordinary elector to understand. The British elector, in spite of the people he sometimes elects, is a pretty intelligent person. He can understand how to win a war and how to build an Empire for hon. Gentlemen opposite to exploit, and the notion that he cannot understand a voting paper is an insult to the electorate such as we expect from the people opposite. I do not know where the suggestion came from in this Debate, but it is unjust, and many electors with far less general education than the ordinary man understand it without difficulty. I hope I will not be thought to be insulting in any way to the population of Ulster by saying that, by and large, after allowing for their standard of living and this and that little trouble, they certainly do not display a general range of intelligence and commonsense which is in any way superior to that of this island. I hope that that will not offend them. If it does, I am afraid that I cannot withdraw it. It is well known by those who had actual experience of Proportional Representation in Ulster—experience of being elected under it, and some of them of being defeated under it—that the ordinary Ulster peasant or worker had not the least difficulty in understanding the working of the system.

Mr. Alexander Walkden (Bristol, South)

Could my hon. and learned Friend say why they abolished the system?

Mr. Pritt

I cannot say why, but I imagine it was a Tory intrigue because it looked like giving minorities proper repre- sentation. I want to answer one observation of the hon. Member for Dunfermline. He said that he would support a wider Amendment if it covered the whole local government system, but he was doubtful about it operating in patches. It is a wee bit hard to the supporters of Proportional Representation when they come forward with a scheme in this way. They have behind them the prestige of the first Speaker's Conference, which gave unanimous support for it. There was some measure of support from the second Speaker's Conference, which was in favour of it. It was only rejected by the House of Lords—which is always in favour of innovation and reform—when it was brought forward in 1918. With that measure of prestige, apart from the arguments in favour of the system, it is hard to be told that the present proposal is much too wide and sweeping. So they tried something a little smaller, and that was refused too. So, finally, they try the smallest instalment on earth to give it a real chance, and then up jumps the hon. Member for Dunfermline and says that we ought to be a little bit bolder.

1.45 p.m.

Mr. Watson

In Scotland, I would point out, we did try to apply Proportional Representation universally.

Mr. Pritt

I am not complaining. It may be a perfectly good argument that the hon. Member is raising. All I am saying is that when we tried a bigger thing, somebody attacked us for being big, and when we tried something smaller, the hon. Member appeared to advance a serious argument against it. I am not attacking the Scottish proposal at all. I will deal a little later with the merits of the argument that the hon. Member advanced. What inflicts me upon the House for a little longer than usual is the speech of the right hon. Lady. She is not here at the moment, but I shall say exactly the same things as I would say if she were here.

First, let me say that I am glad she has recovered her health, but I am sorry that she has not recovered her manners. I hoped that she would have mellowed a little in her old age. On the contrary, she advanced to the House an argument which certainly does not represent a high mental age and which was certainly both flippant and insolent. She mentioned the old argument that we did not want a mathematical representation of the electorate here and said, "We want a Government that will get the job done." I can, at any rate, agree with her that we want a Government that will get the job done, but none of the reactionary opponents of Proportional Representation, on whatever benches they sit and whatever their political history, have ever been able to explain what magic there is about a system of getting an accurate representation of the electorate in the House of Commons which will suddenly produce an impossible form of government. Until they do that, the arguments are not worth the paper they are written on or the time they take to enunciate. She said that the Liberals never introduced Proportional Representation. It is childish of her to say so, and it has the additional demerit that it is not even true. In 1918 the Liberals did introduce it, but the right hon. Lady's friends threw it out. She said also that perhaps the reason why Bethnal Green changed over from 100 per cent. Liberal to 100 per cent. Labour was that they wanted to be 100 per cent. Labour. That is another illustration of the right hon. Lady's childishness. I have not the exact figures, but I imagine that if you looked at the voting returns you would find that what Bethnal Green wanted to do was to return 30 per cent. Labour and 70 per cent. Liberal, or vice versa. I imagine also that Bethnal Green might have been better served if it had returned representatives on the basis of, say, 30 per cent. Liberal and 70 per cent. Labour. As it was, the existence of a nasty, ugly Fascist movement was more prominent in Bethnal Green than anywhere else.

The right hon. Lady also said that this is not the moment to introduce this system—it is the only moment we have to introduce this proposal—because it is necessary to proceed with the elections for these councils without undue delay. I quite agree with her, but, after all, this proposal is only permissive, and if it is put on the Statute Book, the boroughs can apply it if they wish to do so. Assuming a little commonsense in the boroughs, and personally I have very little difficulty in assuming it, I should imagine that if they looked at the matter and saw that it would not be practicable to invoke these powers at this election, they would arrange to invoke them for the next election or for the one after. The right hon. Lady also said that it would be very difficult to work this system side by side with the other. I do not know about that. For very many people drink goes deeper than politics, but we have no difficulty in working the system of local option side by side with another system. I should have thought that it was really too childish an argument for the right hon. Lady, who also said that the Home Office thought it would be difficult to work Proportional Representation. I always find that if one wants to know what the country is really thinking, one should ask a Home Office expert on public opinion, and then turn his statements upside down. Then one will have the right answer.

The hon. and gallant Member, the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Petty-Officer Herbert) asked the right hon. Lady to answer one argument, which he said was unanswerable. The right hon. Lady demonstrated, in a few well-chosen words, that the argument is indeed unanswerable. The argument was that there is a real waste of votes if you do not have Proportional Representation. The right hon. Lady tried to reply that the hon. and gallant Member was painting a paradise. There are very many graves on the road to paradise, and those of politicians are scattered along it, but it is no excuse for hell to suggest that what they really wanted was not paradise. It is literally true that if you take any reasonably-sized constituency, local or Parliamentary, which selects its Members in reasonable groups by the system of Proportional Representation, you get something like a 90 per cent. true representation of public opinion and something like 95 per cent. of the voters can really feel that their vote has had some effect or that they have voted for the winning candidate.

One has only to look at the vast majority of councils in the Southern counties of England or in borough councils like Bethnal Green, to see that you may pass your whole life without any notion of your vote ever being of the slightest use. I live in a Southern county. The only time my vote was ever of the slightest use was one occasion when it really was of complete use. I travelled down to my country cottage about six o'clock one morning in order to get there to record my vote. I did so, and I think my vote was actually worth £150, because if I had not cast it, the Labour candidate would have lost his deposit. That is about as near as voters over about one-third of this country ever get to really affecting the government of their country. I do not wonder that the right hon. Lady was foolish enough to think she could answer the argument, and I do not wonder that she utterly failed.

Mr. Hugh Lawson (Skipton)

I wish to support the proposed new Clause and to put forward a few arguments which ought to carry some weight with Members of this House who have not closed minds on this subject. I was amazed to hear the right hon. Lady's new definition of democracy. I have heard many definitions, but when she said that democracy was getting government done in the simplest possible way, I thought it was one of the widest definitions I have heard. I am sure Hitler would be pleased to endorse that definition.

I support Proportional Representation because I believe it is the most practical and sensible way of ensuring that Government represents as truly as possible the desires of the whole population. If one agrees in general terms that that is what Governments should do, and agrees that the mechanism of Proportional Representation produces this result, I cannot for one moment understand the argument against Proportional Representation. In fact, I have never yet seen a positive argument against Proportional Representation. What usually takes place is, as we have had to-day, all sorts of negative objections to it being put up. The proposed new Clause would apply Proportional Representation to local government where the circumstances are a little different from Parliamentary elections, and one of the reasons why many people have not felt disposed to support Proportional Representation for Parliamentary elections is because they feel that, whereas under the present system of voting in any particular constituency the result might not come right, taken over the whole country, what is gained on the roundabouts is lost on the swings, Conservative gains on the South Coast being counter-balanced by Labour gains in such areas as industrial Yorkshire.

That argument does not apply in local government where the areas are smaller and where you now get absurd anomalies such as a council being 100 per cent. of one party or another. There is therefore more reason for applying Proportional Representation to local government than to Parliamentary government, for in the former the anomalies produced by the present system are more marked than in Parliamentary elections.

I wish to deal with some of the other objections that have been put up against Proportional Representation in general and to see how they apply in the local government field. The first argument is that it will increase the number of parties. Suppose it does. Suppose we get in a certain number of boroughs, where the councils have decided to apply Proportional Representation, a multiplication of parties; will that completely wreck the ship of state? I do not think it will. The application of Proportional Representation to a number of boroughs will prove whether or not this system will produce in this country a multiplication of parties. Personally, I feel that it will decide the argument. All the indications from outside are that Proportional Representation will not necessarily produce more parties. Secondly, the argument had always been brought against us that constituencies will become too large. The right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), who spoke about the abolition of ward boundaries, as though there was something sacred about them, suggested that constituencies would be very big. If we amalgamated five wards in any borough I doubt whether we should get a constituency anything like as large as a Parliamentary constituency, and a person incapable of getting to know a constituency of this size is surely not fit to sit on a council at all.

Another argument which is always put up against Proportional Representation as part of the general case is that it does not give the elector an opportunity to decide a major or specific issue one way or the other. It is alleged that, as a result of an election it does not show what is actually in the mind of the people on some big and important issue. I do not think that is a valid objection, and even if it were it does not apply to local government. Local authorities are not called upon to make such big and far reaching decisions but to carry out decisions which have been made by Parliament. Therefore that objection falls to the ground.

One final objection there is which is always made against Proportional Representation, whether in regard to national government or local government. It is, as the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh said that it gives opportunity for log rolling and wangling. I am not sure that this argument does not come from a lack of understanding how Proportional Representation works Under our present first-past-the-post system of voting, suppose we have in a local government ward two candidates, a Labour candidate and a Conservative candidate, and some other candidate comes along. By taking a certain number of votes from one side or the other he can actively affect the result of that election.

2.0 p.m.

If one desired therefore to institute logrolling at a local government election I should think the best possible way to promote candidates was to ensure three-cornered contests, in which votes could be attracted from one or the other candidate. The present system of first past the post seems to me to be the one most likely to lead to log-rolling and wangling if people wished to do that. Proportional Representation with the single transferable vote means that one can vote for the candidate of one's choice, and one's vote will only be transferred to some other candidate when it is perfectly clear that the candidate of one's choice has either got in or could not possibly get in. I am quite convinced that the system of voting in which wangling and log-rolling are least possible is this system which we are asking should be made available for such local authorities as desire it.

I think that those who have put up what they consider to be arguments against this scheme now have an opportunity of showing whether they really believe in the validity of their arguments. I am content to put the matter to the test. If the opponents of Proportional Representation think their case is so strong, then let this new Clause be passed, let local authorities try it; if their arguments are so strong the facts will very soon prove that the scheme will not work, and the matter will be settled for once and for all. If, on the other hand, their ob- jection to Proportional Representation comes from some belief that it will adversely affect the fortunes of their own party, and really they are not quite so sure of their arguments, they will resist this new Clause because they do not want to see their arguments disproved.

Sir William Beveridge (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I should like an opportunity of doing more than giving a silent vote in favour of this new Clause, particularly having regard to the arguments against the Clause given by the right hon. Lady. I have only three points to make. The first comes from her opening argument that the object of elections is a good Government. I think we should realise in this country that a Government without an Opposition is not a good Government, and that having an effective opposition to criticise in any assembly of Britain, is an essential part of good government. When you have a system which in many local areas gives a 100 per cent. one-party council, that is a bad system, and it requires altering. One does not have to prove that by altering it, you will get to paradise; you will at any rate get away from the kind of purgatory that exists. I suggest that the right hon. Lady's first argument is a conclusive reason for making a change of this character, to get rid of the serious evil of local government areas where you get a one-party government, which is not British and is not good government.

The second reason why I should like to support this proposed new Clause is to increase the power of the voter, and therefore to increase his interest in elections. I will not say anything more about the arguments that the voter cannot understand the transferable vote, except to say that arguments of that sort, which reflect on the intelligence of the voter, really in fact only reflect on the intelligence of the people who use them. Everybody knows that the voters can place their preference, 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on. I suggest that the fact that they could have the chance of doing so, would make them more interested in elections than they are at present, when they know that the chances are that anything they do will be thrown away.

The third argument I want to give in favour of this new Clause is that I believe the adoption of the transferable vote will also help to improve the quality of the candidates, because each party, in making up its list of candidates, if it knows that for success it may have to count not only on its regular voters, but on voters transferred from one of the other parties, will have a reason for putting up people on personal grounds, apart from party grounds, who will get additional voters. That is an argument which applies more widely than does this Clause. These are the three arguments I want to give in supporting this new Clause. I would appeal to the hon. Member who gave all the arguments in favour of this Clause and then said he was not going to vote for it, to reconsider his decision. If the Clause had been made compulsory and applied to everybody, then it would have validated one of the arguments used by the right hon. Lady. It would in fact have been her only valid argument. I refer to her argument that if this were made compulsory local government elections could not be held in 1945. As it is not being made compulsory it can be introduced at any time when a local authority has decided on it, but it need not apply in 1945. It will give the authorities time to think the matter over, and decide whether they will adopt it or not.

I suggest that the idea that there would be any confusion in having one system in one local authority area and another system in another area is really no argument at all. After all, areas are separate. A man will only vote in one area, for one local authority. The fact that Dunfermline has one system and Berwick-upon-Tweed another, will not cause any confusion to the highly intelligent electors either of Dunfermline or Berwick-upon-Tweed. I am sorry that the Government propose to resist this Clause. I hope those who support it will press it to a Division, so that we can see who those people are who are prepared to bring about this really important improvement in our electoral system.

Miss Rathbone (Combined English Universities)

I had not intended to speak, and if I do so now very briefly, it is only because an argument I want to use has not yet been brought forward by any speaker. It is perhaps very unlikely to be put forward by any speaker who is not, as I am, completely independent politically, and who is not a strong protagonist or antagonist of Proportional Representation. I have been and am still a protagonist of Proportional Representa- tion in general, but I have had doubts in recent years as to the applicability of Proportional Representation to Parliamentary elections for reasons which I will go into in a moment. I think there are few subjects which have been before the country for many years, and have been carefully studied and hotly debated over and over again, about which there is such a complete cutting-across of parties and cutting-across of levels of ability, as the question of Proportional Representation. I remember once drawing up a list of those able people who had studied the subject in the past and favoured Proportional Representation, and those who were against it. They were extraordinarily equal. Many of our best speakers and thoughtful statesmen were for Proportional Representation, more of them perhaps, but very many were against. Surely the point is that we have a really difficult question here where there is much to be said on both sides.

What ought to be done? Put it to the test. By trying the experiment here Proportional Representation can be tried out in the sphere of government where, by general admission, the objections, such as they are, least apply. What are those objections? I will not give them in detail, but one is that Proportional Representation, on the whole, needs large constituencies, too large for one member to cover adequately. That does not apply to local government. The other is that we want so badly in these difficult times a very strong Government, and that Proportional Representation might lead to splitting Parliament into small groups. There, again, that applies infinitely less to local government. I was a member for, I think, 15 years, of the Liverpool city council. One was always struck by the fact that the principle on questions of policy which separated the parties mattered so little, party labels were extremely unofficial; what mattered was the experience, the expertise, of members in health, education, housing, and finance business that was coming before the city council. Therefore, I think there is an overwhelming case for this proposed new Clause.

If the Government turn down this new Clause, they do so for a reason about which they have reason to take warning. Why is it that though Proportional Representation has been so powerfully supported by able people for the past 30 or 40 years it has not been tried? It is because when it came to the point the party which was in power, or which expected to get into power at the next General Election, always thought it might lose more than it gained by introducing Proportional Representation. So it was with the Liberal Party. When they had the chance in 1918 they refused it. Actually they had a very strong element of power in 1924. They were beginning to think, "Well, perhaps after all it would be a pity to try it." They thought the Liberal Party would be able to do without it, that the party was on the upward move. I warn the party which, is in the majority at present that the time may come, as it came to the Liberal Party, when they will bitterly regret not having secured at least an instalment, this little modest instalment, which enables this system to be tried out. It may lead in the future, if the system were successful here, to that party getting representation which they may very badly need in order to be able to attain their legitimate interests and express their point of view on greater issues than local government.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)

I would like to give one or two reasons why I feel this Clause should be supported. The strongest reason for supporting it is the speech of the right hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary, who, I am very glad to see, has recovered and is back in our midst. I cannot help feeling that neither her heart nor her head was in the argument. She seemed to be either reading from a rather uninteresting brief, or else failing to answer the questions put by hon. Members on this side of the House. One good reason for supporting this proposed Clause is because of the state of local government in this country at the present time. Unless something is done to recover interest in local government, it is my belief that we are in for a very bad time during the next decade. We are throwing on to local government very great responsibilities.

2.15 p.m.

Mr. Guy (Poplar, South)

When the hon. Member says, "We are in for a very bad time," whom does he mean?

Mr. Lindsay

I am speaking of the whole country; I am not interested in the purely party side of this at all. I happen, like the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) to be Independent, and I can speak with freedom on this matter. I would reiterate the hon. Lady's warning that there is a somewhat cynical attitude towards this question, which has in the past been supported by many distinguished men of all parties. The Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Petty-Officer Herbert) made a very interesting reference to football pools. Mr. Tom Harrisson, when doing a survey in a certain Lancashire town, set out the various functions of local government in the form of a football pool coupon, at the time of a local government election, and this had the effect of sending up the voting by a considerable percentage, simply because the people were familiar with that way of arranging names.

I think that the argument that the right hon. Lady used about the people not understanding this method is a complete insult to the British electorate. This method of numbering is widely used in connection with sports. As I have taken part in some of those sports, particularly Association football, I know something about the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson), after making a most persuasive speech in favour of this Clause, said that its optional nature would complicate matters; but are we to have everything in this country regimented? Why should we not have local differences? Another argument has been that this was not the right time. I think that that has already been answered. This would merely make it possible for any local authority to introduce this system when it wished. In some parts of the country less than 20 per cent. of the people and in one case less than 10 per cent. go to the poll at all.

My hon. Friend has mentioned education. What is the problem in regard to education, so far as local authorities are concerned? It is that you cannot get people, especially in Scotland, with the requisite knowledge, to sit on local authorities or on to the governing bodies of schools. Ask anybody in London about the position there. Now, in Scotland, under the new Bill which is foreshadowed, we are not even to have powers of co-option. I would prefer this system by which it would be possible, as the hon. Member for the Combined Universities has said, to get people with expect knowledge to come in. There are many men in the Forces and men who have given their services in Civil Defence, the Home Guard, and other forms of national service, who want to go on to local authorities, but who do not belong to any of the well-formed political parties. This Clause would help them to stand for local authorities.

The argument has always been made that in Parliamentary government we must have strong central drive and that if there are two parties you are more likely to see a definite policy pursued by one of them. The argument continues that, under Proportional Representation, you would get a large number of small parties, and weakness in government. This does not apply to local government. Local authorities do not want a strong central party drive. They want people with expert knowledge, to sit on committees and so on, and people with great local knowledge, who are not necessarily identified with national politics. I was very surprised at the speech of the right hon. Lady. I thought it was the weakest speech I ever heard in an attempt to defend this case. Unless we can get very much more powerful arguments from my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, I shall certainly feel forced to vote for the Clause.

The Solicitor-General (Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe)

My hon. Friend has certainly put a formidable task in front of me by his concluding words, but I shall try to deal with it on the basis that a number of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay), have obviously been greatly moved by the general principles which they believe underlie the application of Proportional Representation, and their intense belief in them. I appreciate that, but I ask all hon. and right hon. Members to consider this point. The general question of Proportional Representation in the Parliamentary field was not only considered at the Speaker's Conference, where it was defeated by 25 votes to four, but it was also considered by this House on the Second Reading of the Redistribution of Seats Bill, when the Amendment was rejected by a large majority.

The real issue to which we have to address our minds to-day—here I hope I take everyone with me—is not the general question, but whether there is sufficient differentiation between conditions in local government and those in Parliamentary government to justify a new approach to the problem. The main distinction which has to be made by those hon. and right hon. Members who have pursued that line has been that there is not the same acute party distinction in local government matters, and, therefore, not the need for a decisive majority which is usually put as one of the arguments against Proportional Representation in the Parliamentary sphere. I should remind my hon. Friends that there is an ever-increasing area of local government into which party politics is coming more and more strongly. It is not material to-day to say whether that is a good thing or not, because one cannot turn back the clock which was wound so strongly after the last war.

Mr. Lindsay

Would my hon. and learned Friend indicate which area in local government he is referring to which he says is becoming more and more organised on party lines?

The Solicitor-General

I was referring to geographical areas. There are a number of them: I could give two in particular.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not think the Solicitor-General had better do so now.

The Solicitor-General

I shall not, of course, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, pursue the matter further. Apart altogether from that argument, I have listened with the greatest care to all that was said, especially, if I may pick them out, by the right hon. Baronet, by my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Sir G. Mander), and by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir W. Beveridge), on the point that you are going to get better candidates by this method, and that those candidates are going to have a better chance of getting in, under Proportional Representation. On the first of those points, I am still entirely unconvinced, and I assure my hon. Friends that I have tried to approach their argument with as clear a mind as I could. I rather deprecate the suggestion that party loyalty and party work are something derogatory in the equipment of the politician, be he national or local.

In my view, the main requirements are, first, a burning interest in politics, and, second, an ability to work, if necessary, for 18 hours a day. I do not think that there exists this large non-politically-minded class on whom we can draw, who are prevented from coming to the assistance of benighted public life because they do not like party politics. The second point, which is more important, is; supposing that they do come, are their chances going to be improved? Again, I have put it to myself—my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) might not be very hopeful of the answer I should get from myself but I tried to put the question—what is the increase in their chances of being elected? Is it likely that in these local councils, with the pronounced trend that we have seen, somebody of the other party is going to get in on the sort of Proportional Representation in local government that we have seen? I should have thought, taking the extreme examples which have been postulated by my hon. Friends, that the change would be extremely small. I can think of very few cases where it would be effective at all.

Mr. Pritt

Certainly I have great confidence in my hon. and learned Friend's capacity to give himself an answer, and I think he can give an answer to a great many other people. But could he not give consideration, not merely to the point that Proportional Representation might give us many people that we should not otherwise get, but to the point that it would give fairer representation for the various parties?

The Solicitor-General

I certainly shall deal with that. I think that that is married to my next point. I do not want to burke the issue, and if I do not deal with it perhaps my hon. and learned Friend will interrupt me again. The point I was going to deal with was the arrangements that would have to be made in order that this system should be carried out. It could not be proportional in any real sense—in the sense which my hon. and learned Friend has put to me by his interruption—unless the constituencies for local government returned at least three members, and it would be less likely to be proportional unless the constituency returned five or seven. There is the dilemma which I see with regard to this proposal for local government. In order to get the truly proportional relationship which my hon. Friend wants, you would have to have these bigger constituencies.

2.30 p.m.

Let me take the minimum which I have put—that is, a three-member constituency. It would either require, on the one hand, what is suggested as being possible, that is, working on a permissive basis, the abolition of the retirement by annual thirds, or it would require redrawing the ward boundaries and making much bigger wards. Let me deal with this, because I think it is an arguable point which my hon. Friends will consider. In the first of these proposals, to abolish the principle of annual thirds, it would be abolishing a great deal of the continuity and co-operation in local government work which has provided a great part of its success. I dealt with that point on the Committee stage and I do not want to repeat my arguments now. On the second point, that there were to be these bigger constituencies, and I am taking the minimum so as to put the case properly against myself, there would be, roughly, instead of a local ward, something approaching the size of a Parliamentary division. My hon. Friend shakes his head, but I represent three wards of the Liverpool City Council in my division. If there are to be these bigger wards, and if three people are retiring at once, the three councillors who are elected will represent something like the area of my division. I do not think that would get the relationship we want or the individual attention. We have to give great individual attention ourselves, and to provide opportunities for seeing our constituents, but, of course, our position is nothing like as intimate as that of the city councillor, who has his people on his doorstep every other day. Many hon. Friends of mine, who have been city councillors, are familiar with that position.

Mr. Messer (Tottenham, South)

I have them day and night.

The Solicitor-General

I am sure we all recognise the peculiar qualities which bring that special position to my hon. Friend. I think there is a serious question about the intimate connection of local government. I only mention, in passing, the difficulty that we would have with regard to the Boundary Commission which would have to deal with the matter, and the additional work which it would make. I think it was the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed who said that we should never have the same person troubled with different systems of voting. If there is somebody who elects a parish council and a district council, I should have thought that would be a point and the difficulty would arise. Is it a difficulty? My hon. Friends who oppose this say that it is not. I have listened with great interest to what the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) said on this point, and he knows as well as any of us the difficulties of getting information with regard to what people thought of an experiment that took place from 1918 to 1929. With regard to the Scottish Education Committee experiment, the information that we have was, as my right hon. Friend said, that, with one exception, all the authorities consulted were opposed to the continuance of Proportional Representation, that the electors found it difficult to understand—not so much the mere question of putting down the figures, but what effect it had in the working out of the system. In fact, it was summed up very well in the words in which it was passed on to me—"The public could not be bothered about it."

That being the reproach, the other striking feature, as the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) said, was that it did not bring about, after 11 years of trial, any of the changes which we have heard proclaimed so eloquently to-day. There was no appreciably greater representation of minority groups, no minority groups, as such, were brought into existence, and, generally, the feeling was—and I yield to no one in my admiration for the intellectual qualities of my own countrymen—that there was no result for a great deal of bother.

Sir G. Mander

This new Clause applies to England, not to Scotland.

The Solicitor-General

I have not worked out the sinister implications of the differences between England and Scotland which my hon. Friend would read into that, but I am giving the results of an

experiment which is considerably nearer than some of the examples which my hon. Friend gave in dealing with this matter. I am sorry to have taken up so much time, but I felt that what has been said did demand my best attempts to answer the points raised, and I ask hon. Members to remember the difficulties which I have mentioned with regard to local government, and our desire to get local government functioning as early as possible in this special position, and to ask them not to press the new Clause, having so clearly and forcibly ventilated their point of view.

Sir G. Mander

May I put this to the Solicitor-General? We have had a long Debate—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman is doing. If he is withdrawing, it is all right, but he cannot make another speech.

Sir G. Mander

Before I come to a decision whether to withdraw or not, I want to put a question to the Solicitor-General. In view of the fact that a prolonged Debate has taken place and that nearly all the speeches have been on one side, will the Solicitor-General, in the absence of the Home Secretary, take the matter up with his colleagues to see whether, in another place, something on these lines cannot be done?

The Solicitor-General

I am sorry, but I am not going to ride out on something which, I am sure, would not have the result which my hon. Friend wants in this Bill. What I can promise him is that the Home Secretary will consider with the greatest care the arguments advanced. With regard to this Bill, my hon. Friend will bear in mind what I said about our anxiety to get these local elections functioning at the present time, but I really could not hold out any hopes.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The House divided: Ayes, 17; Noes, 208.

Division No. 5] AYES. [2.41 p.m.
Beveridge, Sir W. H. Hughes, R. Moelwyn Procter, Major H. A.
Driberg, T. E. N. Lawson, H. M. (Skipton) Rathbone, Eleanor
Evans, D. O. (Cardigan) Leslie, J. R. White, H. Graham (Birkenhead, E.)
Gallacher, W. Lindsay, K. M.
Gruffydd, Professor, W. J. Lipson, D. L. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Harris, Rt. Hon. Sir P. A. Mander, Sir G. le M. Mr. Edmund Harvey and
Herbert, Petty Officer A. P. (Oxford U.) Pritt, D. N. Mr. Reakes.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. Sir G. Grigg, Rt. Hon. Sir P. J. (Cardiff E.) Robertson, D. (Streatham)
Adamson, Mrs. Jennie L. (Dartford) Gunston, Major Sir D. W. Robertson, Rt. Hn. Sir M. A. (M'cham)
Adamson, W. M. (Cannock) Guy, W. H. Ross Taylor, W.
Agnew, Comdr. P. G. Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir D. H. Russell, Sir A. (Tynemouth)
Albery, Sir Irving Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley) Salt, E. W.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Hammersley, S. S. Scott, Donald (Wansbeck)
Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.) Hannon, Sir P. J. H. Scott, Lord William (Ro'b'h & Selkirk)
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Hardie, Mrs. Agnes Shephard, S.
Barnes, A. J. Headlam, Lt.-Col. Sir C. M. Shepperson, Sir E. W.
Beattie, F. (Cathoart) Hely-Hutchinson, M. R. Shute, Col. Sir J. J.
Beaumont, Maj. Hon. R. E. B. (P'ts'h) Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Sidney, Captain W. P.
Beechman, N. A. Heneage, Lt.- Col. Sir A. P. Silkin, L.
Berry, Hon. G. L (Buckingham) Hewlett, T. H. Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W. D.
Bevin, Rt. Hon. E. (Wandsworth, C.) Higgs, W. F. Smith, Sir Bracewell (Dulwich)
Blair, Sir R. Hogg, Hon. Q. McG. Smith, E. P. (Ashford)
Boothby, R. J. G. Hopkinson, A. Snadden, W. McN.
Bossom, A. C. Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence Spearman, A. C. M.
Bower, Norman (Harrow) Hurd, Sir P. A. Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife E.)
Broad, F. A. Hutchinson, G. C. (Ilford) Storey, S.
Brocklebank, Sir C. E. R. Hutchison, Lt.-Com. G. I. C. (E'burgh) Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith) Hynd, J. B. Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury) Jenkins A. (Pontypool) Strickland, Capt. W. F.
Brown, T. J. (Ince) John, W. Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (Northwich)
Bull, B. B. Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A. Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Bullock, Capt. M. Joynson-Hicks, Lt.-Comdr. Hon. L. W. Suirdale, Colonel Viscount
Burden, T. W. Kerr, H. W. (Oldham) Summers, G. S.
Castlereagh, Viscount Kerr, Sir John Graham (Scottish U's) Sutcliffe, H.
Charleton, H. C. Kirkwood, D. Tasker, Sir R. I.
Chater, D. Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F. Taylor, Major C. S. (Eastbourne)
Chorlton, A. E. L. Leach, W. Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'd'ton, S.)
Christie, J. A. Levy, T. Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Clarke, Colonel R. S. Liddall, W. S. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Cluse, W. S. Linstead, H. N. Thomas, I. (Keighley)
Cobb, Captain E. C. Llewellin, Col. Rt. Hon. J. J. Thorneycroft H. (Clayton)
Colegate, W. A. Lloyd, Major E. G. R. (Renfrew, E.) Tinker, J. J.
Colman, N. C. D. Loftus, P. C. Tomlinson, G.
Conant, Major R. J. E. Lucas, Major Sir J. M. Touche, G. C.
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Lyle, Sir C. E. Leonard Tree, A. R. L. F.
Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L. MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G. Turton, R. H.
Craven-Ellis, W. McEntee, V. La T. Viant, S. P.
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Mack, J. D. Wakefield, Sir W. W.
Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill) Maclay, Hon. John S. (Montrose) Walkden, A. G. (Bristol, S.)
Denville, Alfred Maclean, N. (Govan) Walkden, E. (Doncaster)
Douglas, F. C. R. Magnay, T. Ward, Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury) Maitland, Sir A. Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side) Marlowe, Lt.-Col. A. Waterhouse, Captain Rt. Hon. C.
Dugdale, John (W. Bromwich) Mathers, G. Watkins, F. C.
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. (Kens'gt'n, H.) Mayhew, Lt.-Cot. J. Watt, F. C. (Edinburgh Cen.)
Dunglass, Lord Mellor, Sir J. S. P. Watt, Brig. G. S. Harvie (Richmond)
Eccles, D. M. Messer, F. Wayland, Sir W. A.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T. C. R. Webbe, Sir W. Harold
Edwards, N. (Caerphilly) Morrison, Major J. G. (Salisbury) Westwood, Rt. Hon. J.
Edwards, Walter J. (Whitechapel) Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) White, Sir Dymoke (Fareham)
Entwistle, Sir C. F. Morrison, Rt. Hn. W. S. (Cirencester) White, H. (Derby, N. E.)
Everard, Sir W. Lindsay Mott-Radclyffe, Major C. E. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W. (Blaydon)
Fermoy, Lord Nall, Sir J. Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.
Findlay, Sir E. Neven Spence, Major B. H. H. Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Fleming, Squadron-Leader E. L. Oldfield, W. H. Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Foster, W. Pearson, A. Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Fox, Squadron-Leader Sir G. W. G. Perkins, W. R. D. Willoughby, de Eresby, Major Lord
Fyfe, Major Sir D. P. M. Petherick, M. Windsor, W.
Galbraith, Comdr. T. D. Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W. Windsor-Clive, Lt. Col. G.
Garro Jones, G. M. Peto, Major B. A. J. Wise, Lieut.-Col. A. R.
George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G. Lloyd (P'b'ke) Pickthorn, K. W. M. Womersley, Rt. Hon. Sir W.
Gibbons, Lt.-Col. W. E. Plugge, Capt. L. F. Woodburn, A.
Glanville, J. E. Prescott, Captain W. R. S. York, Major C.
Glyn, Sir R. G. C. Prior, Comdr. R. M. Young, Major A. S. L. (Partick)
Goldie, N. B. Pym, L. R.
Graham, Captain A. C. Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Green, W. H. (Deptford) Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead) Mr. Carey and Mr. Buchan—

Question put, and agreed to.