HC Deb 11 December 1968 vol 775 cc439-65


1. In this Schedule:

  1. (1) the expression 'continuing candidate' means any candidate not elected or not excluded from the poll at any given time;
  2. (2) the expression 'first preference' means the figure '1' standing alone opposite the name of a candidate; 'second preference' means the figure '2' standing alone opposite the name of a candidate in succession to the figure '1'; 'third preference 'means the figure '3' standing alone opposite the name of a candi- 440 date in succession to the figures '1' and '2'; and so on;
  3. (3) the expression 'next available preference' means a second or subsequent preference recorded in consecutive numerical order for a continuing candidate, the preferences next in order on the ballot paper for candidates already elected or excluded from the poll being ignored;
  4. (4) the expression 'transferable paper' means a ballot paper on which, following a first preference, a second or subsequent preference is recorded in consecutive numerical order for a continuing candidate;
  5. (5) the expression 'non-transferable paper' means a ballot paper on which no second or subsequent preference is recorded for a continuing candidate:

Provided that a paper shall be deemed to have become a non-transferable paper when ever—

  1. (a) the names of two or more candidates (whether continuing or not) are marked with the same number and are next in order of preference; or
  2. (b) the name of the candidate next in order of preference (whether continuing or not) is marked:
    1. (i) by a number not following consecutively after some other number on the ballot paper; or
    2. (ii) by two or more numbers; or
  3. (c) for any other reason it cannot be determined for which of the continuing candidates the next available preference of the voter is recorded;

(6) the expression 'original vote' in regard to any candidate means a vote derived from a ballot paper on which a first preference is recorded for that candidate;

(7) the expression 'transferred vote' in regard to any candidate means a vote derived from a ballot paper on which a second or subsequent preference is recorded for that candidate;

(8) the expression 'surplus' means the number of votes by which the total number of the votes, original and transferred, credited to any candidate, exceeds the quota;

(9) the expression 'count' means:

  1. (a) all the operations involved in the counting of the first preferences recorded for candidates; or
  2. (b) all the operations involved in the transfer of the surplus of an elected candidate; or
  3. (c) all the operations involved in the transfer of votes of an excluded candidate or of two or more candidates excluded together.

Method of voting and counting votes

2.—(1) Each voter shall have one transferable vote.

(2) A voter in recording his vote—

  1. (a) shall place on his ballot paper the figure 1 opposite the name of the candidate for whom he votes: and
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  3. (b) may in addition indicate the order of his choice or preference for as many other candidates as he pleases by placing against their respective names the figures 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on in consecutive numerical order.

3. A ballot paper shall be invalid on which—

  1. (a) the figure 1 standing alone indicating a first preference for some one candidate is not placed; or
  2. (b) the figure 1 standing alone indicating a first preference is placed opposite the name of more than one candidate; or
  3. (c) the figure 1 standing alone indicating a first preference and some other figure are placed opposite the name of the same candidate; or
  4. (d) it cannot be determined for which candidate the first preference of the voter is recorded; or
  5. (e) any mark is placed by the voter by which he may afterwards be identified.

4. The form of ballot paper to be used, and the form of directions for the guidance of voters in voting shall be in such form as the Secretary of State may by order pre scribe.

5. After the ballot papers for an electoral division have been counted and mixed in accordance with Rule 46 of the Second Schedule to the Representation of the People Act 1949, the returning officer shall examine the ballot papers and shall sort them into parcels according to the first preferences recorded for each candidate, rejecting any that are invalid.

6. The returning officer shall then count the papers in each parcel and shall credit each candidate with a number of votes equal to the number of valid papers on which a first preference has been recorded for such candidate, and he shall ascertain the total number of valid papers.

7. The returning officer shall then divide the total number of valid papers by a number exceeding by one the number of vacancies to be filled. The result increased by one (any fractional remainder being disregarded) shall be the number of votes sufficient to secure the election of a candidate. This number is herein called the 'quota'.

8. If at the end of any count the number of votes credited to a candidate is equal to or greater than the quota, that candidate shall thereupon be elected.

9.—(1) If at the end of any count the number of votes credited to a candidate is greater than the quota, the surplus shall be transferred, as provided in this paragraph to the continuing candidates for whom the next available preferences have been recorded on the ballot papers in the parcel or sub-parcel last received by the elected candidate.

(2) (a) If more than one candidate has a surplus, the largest surplus shall be dealt with first.

(b) If two or more candidates have each an equal surplus, the surplus of the candidate with the greatest number of notes at the earliest count at which the candidates in question have an unequal number of votes shall be dealt with first. When the numbers of votes credited to such candidates are equal at all counts, the returning officer shall determine which surplus he will deal with first.

(3) The returning officer need not transfer a surplus when that surplus, together with any other surpluses not transferred, is less than the difference—

  1. (a) between the votes of the candidate lowest on the poll and the votes of the candidate next above; or
  2. (b) between the total of votes of the two or more candidates lowest on the poll and the votes of the candidate next above, provided that the exclusion from the poll of the aforesaid two or more candidates lowest on the poll shall not reduce the number of continuing candidates below the number of vacancies remaining to be filled.

(4) (a) If the votes credited to an elected candidate consist of original votes only, the returning officer shall examine all the papers contained in the parcel of the elected candidate whose surplus is to be transferred.

(b) If the votes credited to an elected candidate consist of original and transferred votes, or of transferred votes only, the returning officer shall examine the papers contained in the sub-parcel last received by the elected candidate whose surplus is to be transferred.

(c) In either case, the returning officer shall sort the transferable papers into sub-parcels according to the next available preferences recorded thereon, shall make a separate sub-parcel of the non-transferable papers and shall ascertain the number of papers in each sub-parcel of transferable papers and in the sub-parcel of non-transferable papers.

(5) If the total number of papers in the sub-parcels of transferable papers is equal to or less than the surplus, the returning officer shall transfer the whole of each sub-parcel of transferable papers to the continuing candidate indicated thereon as the voters' next available preference, and shall set aside as a separate sub-parcel so many of the non-transferable papers as are not required for the quota of the elected candidate. The particular papers set aside shall be those last filed in the sub-parcel of non-transferable papers.

(6) (a) If the total number of transferable papers is greater than the surplus, the returnning officer shall transfer from each sub-parcel of transferable papers to the continuing candidates indicated thereon as the voters' next available preference the number of papers which bears the same proportion to the number of papers in the sub-parcel as the surplus bears to the total number of transferable papers.

  1. (b) The number of papers to be transferred from each sub-parcel shall be ascertained by multiplying the number of papers in the sub-parcel by the surplus and dividing the result by the total number of transferable papers. A note shall be made of the fractional part, if any, of each number so ascertained.
  2. (c) If owing to the existence of such fractional parts, the number of papers to be transferred is less than the surplus, so many of 443 these fractional parts, taken in the order of their magnitude, beginning with the largest, as are necessary to make the total number of papers to be transferred equal to the surplus shall be reckoned as of the value of unity, and the remaining fractional parts shall be ignored.
  3. (d) If two or more fractional parts are of equal magnitude, the fractional part shall be deemed to be the largest which arises from the largest sub-parcel, and if the sub-parcels in question are equal in size, the fractional part credited to the candidate with the greatest number of votes at the earliest count at which the candidates in question have an unequal number of votes shall be deemed to be the largest. When the numbers of votes credited to such candidates are equal at all counts, the returning officer shall determine which fractional part shall be deemed to be the largest.
  4. (e) The particular papers transferred from each sub-parcel shall be those last filed in the sub-parcel, and each paper so transferred shall be marked in such a manner as to indicate the count at which the transfer took place.

10.—(1) If at the end of any count no candidate has a surplus, or if any existing surplus need not be and is not transferred, and one or more vacancies remain to be filled:

  1. (a) the returning officer shall exclude from the poll the candidate lowest on the poll; but
  2. (b) if the total of the votes of the two or more candidates lowest on the poll together with any surplus votes not transferred is less than the number of votes credited to the candidate next above these, the returning officer may at the same count exclude the aforesaid two or more candidates lowest on the poll, provided that the exclusion of these candidates shall not reduce the number of continuing candidates below the number of vacancies remaining to be filled.

(2) If, when a candidate has to be excluded, two or more candidates have each the same number of votes and are lowest on the poll, the candidate with the lowest number of votes at the earliest count at which the candidates in question have an unequal number of votes shall be excluded, and, when the numbers of votes credited to those candidates are equal at all counts, the returning officer shall determine which shall be excluded.

(3) Upon the exclusion of any candidate, the returning officer, save as hereinafter provided, shall examine all the papers credited to that candidate; shall sort the transferable papers into sub-parcels according to the next available preferences recorded thereon for continuing candidates; shall transfer each sub-parcel to the candidate for whom that preference is recorded; and shall set aside as a separate sub-parcel the non-transferable papers.

11.—(1) If at the end of any count the number of elected candidates is equal to the number of vacancies to be filled, no further transfer of voters shall be made.

(2) If, on the exclusion of a candidate or candidates, the number of the then continuing candidates is equal to the number of vacancies unfilled, the continuing candidates shall thereupon be elected, and no further transfer of votes shall be made.

12. The order of priority of election of elected members shall be the order in which they are severally elected. If at the end of any count two or more candidates are elected, the order of priority shall be the order of magnitude of the numbers of votes credited to such candidates, beginning with the greatest.

13.—(1) Whenever any transfer is made, each sub-parcel of papers transferred shall be placed on the top of the parcel, if any, of papers of the candidate to whom the transfer is made and that candidate shall be credited with a number of votes equal to the number of papers transferred to him.

(2) Non-transferable papers (except such as in the transfer of a surplus may be required for the quota of the elected candidate) shall be set aside as a separate sub-parcel together with any parcel of non-transferable papers already set aside.

(3) On the transfer of the surplus of an elected candidate, all papers not transferred to continuing candidates and not set aside as provided in the preceding paragraph, shall be placed together in one parcel as the quota of the elected candidate and the parcel shall be marked with the name of the elected candidate.

14. Any candidate or his agent may, at the end of any count, request the returning officer to re-examine and recount all or any of the papers dealt with during that count, and the returning officer shall forthwith re-examine and recount accordingly the papers indicated without making any alteration in the arrangement of the papers in the various parcels, save where such alteration may be necessary in consequence of any error discovered in the recount; the returning officer may also at his discretion recount papers either once or more often in any case in which he is not satisfied as to the accuracy of any previous counting of the votes:

Provided that nothing herein shall make it obligatory on the returning officer to recount the same papers more than once.

15. If any question shall arise in relation to the exclusion from the poll of any candidate, or to any transfer of votes, the decision of the returning officer, whether expressed or implied by his acts, shall be final unless objection is made in writing by any candidate or his agent before the declaration of the poll, and in that event the decision of the returning officer may be reversed upon an election petition.

16.—(1) If upon an election petition—

  1. (i) any ballot papers counted by the returning officer are rejected as invalid; or
  2. (ii) any rejected ballot papers are declared valid,
the Court may direct the whole or any part of the ballot papers to be recounted and the result of the election ascertained in accordance with these regulations.

(2) If upon an election petition the decision of the returning officer upon any operation is reversed, the operation in question and all operations subsequent thereto shall be void and the court shall direct what operation is to be made in place of the operation in question, and shall cause the subsequent operations to be carried out and the result of the election to be ascertained in accordance with this Schedule.

(3) On any recount, subject to such modifications as may be necessary by reason of any order of the court, each paper shall take the same course as in the original counting of the votes.

17. The counting of the votes having been completed in accordance with this Schedule the returning officer shall publish a notice of the result of the poll and of the names of the persons elected. Such notice shall include a record of any transfer of votes made under this Schedule and of the total number of votes credited to each candidate after any such transfer, and shall be in such form as the Secretary of State may by order prescribe.

Mr. Lubbock

It is an interesting reflection that the system we advocate in the Clause and the Amendment is considered all very well for export, but not suitable for home consumption. On several occasions when it has been our task to confer constitutions on developing countries, we have chosen proportional representation. For example, in Guyana, the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), then Secretary of State for the Colonies, introduced such a system, although not along the lines I proposed. It was a list system and there are considerable differences between that and a transferable vote system. The House, therefore, has always thought proportional representation worthy of consideration for application to others but little thought has been given to its introduction here.

I do not propose to detail the mechanism set out in the Schedule which constitutes Amendment No. 45, because it is not necessary to understand how the single transferable vote operates in order to make it work for the electorate. One must only bear in mind that, instead of putting a cross against the name of a single candidate, the voter places 1, 2 and 3 against the names of three candidates in order of his preference and, therefore, gives himself wider freedom of choice.

For the counting process, I use an analogy in what was said by the Secretary of State for Defence when he appeared before the Select Committee on Science and Technology. He was asked why control of defence research appears to be so complicated. He said that it is like a transistor radio. When one turns it on, "pop" music comes out but, if one opens up the back, the circuits look very complicated. I hope that we can leave out any argument concerning details of counting and the job of electoral registration officers and consider the principles, which I outlined both in the debate on the White Paper and on Second Reading of the Bill.

There are four principles on which any electoral system should be based. First, it should enable every citizen to participate in the process of government by making an effective choice between persons and attitudes. Secondly, it should not only give the vote to every elector but should ensure that, roughly speaking, every vote has the same influence on the final results. In slogan form, this second principle could be represented by, "one vote, one value", which is of equal importance to "one man, one vote".

I recall the statement by the Minister without Portfolio about the electoral system in Rhodesia. He said, referring to the delimitation formula: This provides that as the number of Africans on the A roll increases, the Africans' chances of capturing A roll seats should increase proportionately."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th November, 1968; Vol. 773, c. 899.] It is, therefore, considered desirable that Rhodesian Africans should be represented in their House of Commons in proportion to the number of entries they have on the electoral roll. This is yet another example of Governments being keen on applying this principle to overseas territories, but not wishing to apply it here at home.

The third principle is that any system must give fair representation in accordance with the number of votes cast as between different points of view. This applies not only to the different parties, as in the continental party list systems of proportional representation, but also to different expressions of opinion within the parties.

Finally, the system should not be capable of giving arbitrary results because of the operation of extraneous factors such as delimitation of constituency boundaries.

I have no doubt that the Under-Secretary of State will argue against the single transferable vote as it applies generally and in the case of Greater London, in particular. Perhaps I can anticipate some of his arguments. First, we hear a great deal about "strong government" from opponents of electoral reform but if we recall the experiences this century in Parliamentary elections we find that we have had not such thing. On many occasions this century, we have had Governments either with no majority or with only a small majority which has been practically unworkable.

4.15 p.m.

The most recent case was in 1964 when, although, because of the praiseworthy efforts of their Chief Whip, the Government managed to survive for 18 months, there was a perpetual struggle to survive. No one would call that strong government. I believe that many decisions which should have been taken by the Government when they took office in 1964 were not taken because of the tenuousness of their majority. If they had been able then to deal more firmly with the situation in Rhodesia and to take the right kind of action to cope with the balance of payments crisis, particularly in the case of devaluation, we should not be in some of the difficult crises we face every few weeks today.

It was because of that small majority, which was a result of our present electoral system, that the Government failed to take these decisions and the country is now in a mess. Let us be clear that our system does not by any means give strong government. On the other hand, it is not the case that, with the single transferable vote, wherever it is applied, the majority is necessarily very small.

The second main theme of those who oppose the single transferable vote is the important argument about the association between a Member of Parliament and his constituency.

They consider that, by having multimember constituencies of from three to seven members, as provided for in Amendment No. 45 in the case of Greater London, there will be some weakening of this close association between a member and his supporters at an election. I must agree that this is a valuable feature of our present system, even though it is not one of the principles on which we should devise an electoral system.

Are hon. Members not sometimes misled by the size of their postbag into thinking that their association with their constituents is closer than it is? A survey conducted by the Sunday Times and published on 16th October, 1966, showed that 58 per cent. of the people in the sample knew who their Member of Parliament was. Thus, by inference, 42 per cent. of those questioned were not even aware of the name of their Member.

The second point about hon. Members' correspondence is, I think, that those who approach an hon. Member either by letter or through his advice bureau are only a tiny fraction of the electors in a typical constituency. Even many of the letters we receive from our constituents are instigated by interested bodies or pressure groups. For example, yesterday the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Ensor) sought leave to introduce a Bill on what he called "humane slaughter". I must have had 100 letters from constituents as a result of a pamphlet widely distributed in Orpington asking me to support him.

I do not believe that those who wrote those letters had thoroughly studied the objections to the Bill nor had considered the great weight of scientific opinion that the methods of slaughter adopted by Jews and Mohammedans are as humane as those adopted by Gentiles. I mention this as an example of the enormous postbag one can receive as a result of the activities of pressure groups and which may mislead one into thinking that one is in close touch with opinion throughout the country.

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

I do not want in any way to question the hon. Gentleman's zeal for the method that he is proposing, but I hope that he will not, in the process of his argument, do damage to the very positive relations between Members and the electorate under our present system. The first part of his argument is a complete travesty of the truth. Surely it is irrelevant. There may be only 500 or 600 a year who write, out of 50,000, because not everyone has a case that he wishes to bring to the notice of the Member.

Mr. Lubbock

I must apologise to the hon. Gentleman, who has had to listen to my argument on about five previous occasions. There may be some repetition in what I have to say. Some hon. Members who were not on Mr. Speaker's Conference may be hearing this for the first time. I agree with what he has said—one would not want in any way to denigrate the association between a Member and his constituency, and I am far from wishing to do that, because I depend on it very heavily, as the hon. Gentleman may know.

In my constituency I have a weekly advice bureau, and I probably have as heavy a post-bag as any other hon. Member. I counted the number of letters I received during the first six months of this year and they came to 2,251. I am answering 4,500 letters a year, and would be the last to play down the association between a Member and the constituency he represents. I am only trying to show that not all of the letters one receives are of equal importance, and that if one measures the connection, which has great value, purely in numerical terms, one may be misled into thinking that it is slightly closer than it is.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

The hon. Gentleman will understand that all hon. Members can deliver equally convincing "commercials". I would invite him to return to the Motion that he is moving. Much of his argument is familiar to me, too. Would he assure us that he will deal with something which I do not think I have ever heard dealt within this context before, and that is how, in a multi-Member constituency one has a by-election?

Mr. Lubbock

If the Chairman will allow me to deal with it, I will do so.

To return to the original question, there is a small number of very important cases which come to our attention, and with which perhaps only we are capable of dealing. I have been very disappointed in the performance of the Parliamentary Commissioner since this House established his office. I believe that hon. Gentlemen can do the job very much better. For this reason I would be the last to wish to lose this connection. But, with my experience of six years in the House I say that as a Member for a multi-Member constituency, the London Borough of Bromley which returned four Members, I would not be in any less closer touch because I represented only one part of it.

This leads me to the question asked by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow).

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

I am listening with interest to the hon. Member's remarks. As he knows I support him in certain parts of his argument. However, he should not be allowed to get away with the statement, "I have been very disappointed in the performance of the Parliamentary Commissioner", when it is quite unbacked by evidence. Many hon. Members very much appreciate the abilities of the Commissioner, within his terms of reference. If they are wrong, that is a matter for us.

Mr. Lubbock

It would be out of order to go into the rôle of the Parliamentary Commisioner in any detail. What I have said is that I do not think that the Commisioner can replace an hon. Member. I agree with the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) that we are already doing this job, have been doing it for many years before the Commissioner was appointed, and will continue to do it to the best of our ability, whether we have single Member or multi-Member constituencies. I am trying to point out that it would make no difference to any of us.

I agree with the hon. Member for Woking that we can all quote personal experience to back up this talk of the care and attention which we devote to Parliamentary cases. If someone comes to us with a pensions grievance, or with a complaint about the education of his child, we will investigate it carefully, obtain reports from the officers of the local authority or the Ministry concerned and, having satisfied ourselves that the complaint is justified, we will see it through to its conclusion in the hope that we can obtain a satisfactory result for the person concerned.

My point is that because one is one of three or five or seven Members representing a multi-Member constituency, one will not necessarily devote any less care to those individual cases than one does at present. One might even devote more time, because the constituents in one's; area would have a greater choice of hon. Members to whom they could take their problems, as they already do on some local authorities.

I want to answer the question put by the hon. Member for Woking about by-elections. In the case of the Greater London Council, where there is a by-election in a multi-Member constituency, the electorate throughout the whole borough is entitled to vote. We had a by-election in my own London Borough of Bromley quite recently and this was how the procedure went. All the 250,000 electors in the whole of the borough voted to replace that councillor who had died.

Mr. Onslow

When the hon. Member says all 250,000 voters, I am sure that he has made a mistake. What proportion actually voted?

Mr. Lubbock

I will deal with that point later.

The other alternative is for the multi-Member constituency to be divided into the same number of electoral areas as there are Members representing it, purely for the purposes of the by-elections which may occur, and for dealing with those personal cases which are as interesting to me as they are to the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson). With these two alternatives I believe that we have solved the main objection about the closeness of the association in our Parliamentary system between a Member and his constituents.

The third main objection in many people's minds is that the single transferable vote and proportional systems generally, lead to a multiplicity of parties. This arises from confusion of thought in the minds of those who have not studied this matter in any great detail, between the list system of proportional representation, common on the Continent, and the single transferable vote. This is used in the Republic of Ireland and Tasmania.

If we look at those countries we find that there is no multiplicity of parties. In Tasmania, we find that there are only two parties there as compared with the rest of Australia, where generally speaking, there are four, the Australian Labour Party, the Democratic Labour Party, the Countryside Party and the Liberal Party.

The contention that some people advance that the single transferable vote leads to an increase in the number of parties is false and arises from the confusion with these lists, such as one has in many European countries, where the smaller parties are represented. That deals with the question which is often raised of how the system works in certain overseas countries.

4.30 p.m.

If one has any doubts about this matter, it is instructive to look at the recent poll taken in the Republic of Ireland. The electorate was asked whether it favoured changing to the British system or retaining the single transferable vote which has operated in that country since independence in 1921. The result of the referendum on 16th October this year was that over 424,000 people were in favour of changing to the British system and 659,000 people were in favour of retaining the single transferable vote—a majority roughly of 233,000 votes in favour of proportional representation.

We see, therefore, that people who have had experience of the operation of the system for a number of years like it very much and do not want any change to be made even when, as in this case, their Government tries to persuade them, with all the propaganda weapons at their disposal, that this change would be in the people's interest.

Turning to the situation in Greater London, it is interesting to recall a passage from a speech by the late Mr. Winston Churchill, as he then was, when the Representation of the People (No. 2) Bill was being discussed on 2nd June, 1931. He said: Having to choose, as we shall have to choose if we are to redress the constitutional injustice, between the Alternative Vote, the Second Ballot and Proportional Representation in the cities, I have no doubt whatever that the last is incomparably the fairest, the most scientific and, on the whole, the best in the public interest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd June, 1931; Vol. 253, c. 102.]

If we are discussing the G.L.C. elections, to which I have attached the new Clause, we see from the results in the 1964 and 1967 contests why it would be desirable to make this change. There were some serious anomalies in 1964 and 1967. In 1967, the Labour Party secured only 18 out of the 100 seats, in spite of the fact that it received more than one-third of the votes. Similarly, in 1967, the Conservatives, with their 82 seats, were vastly over-represented in relation to the share of the poll which they secured. In 1964, it worked the other way round. The Labour Party had a very substantial majority, although it received only the minority of the votes cast.

One of the reasons for that is that in Greater London we have had multimember constituencies which correspond with the boundaries of the boroughs. For that reason, I thought that it would perhaps be useful to discuss the single transferable vote in the context of Greater London, because these multi-Member constituencies are ready made. Although, as I have shown in the figures which I quoted, it works very badly in the case of the "first-past-the-post" system, it would enable the single transferable vote to be introduced in the Metropolis with very little other change.

Another point worth bearing in mind in connection with Greater London is that as the population shifts, and people continue to move out from the centre, as they have done historically over a very long time, it would be necessary not to make adjustments to the boundaries, but merely to alter the number of councillors returned for each multi-Member constituency. The object of the Royal Commission on which the London Government Act was based on designing smaller boroughs on the periphery of London and larger ones in the middle so that as the population moved out the electorate would be equalised. Unfortunately, it was done the other way round.

Some of the largest boroughs are on the outskirts, in particular, the London Boroughs of Croydon and Bromley. Sooner or later, because these are the areas in which the population is growing most rapidly for the simple reason that land is still available in them for building houses, it will be necessary to redistribute the boundaries and transfer part of these boroughs to their neighbouring constituencies unless we are to have more than four councillors elected for one of the electoral areas. But with the system we are advocating there would be no necessity for that. We could merely alter the number of councillors returned without making any other consequential amendment.

The hon. Member for Woking asked me what the turn-out was at the recent G.L.C. by-election in my borough. It was 20 per cent. I said, after the result had been declared, that it was shocking that so few people had bothered to vote in an election which vitally concerned the interests of the 250,000 people who live in that area. But, in a way, I could understand it. The Conservatives have always had a very big majority in the London Borough of Bromley as a whole. One or two people wrote to me after my remarks about the poor turn-out and said, "Why should we bother? We knew that the Conservatives were bound to win and that our vote would have no effect".

That is one of the main reasons why there is a very poor turn-out of electors in local elections in many areas. It is not because people are disinterested in the services provided for them by their rural district, county borough or county council; it is that in the vast majority of cases they know that their single vote will carry no weight whatsoever in the result. Many of us, if we live in areas in which the majority party has a vast lead, go through life without influencing the result in the slightest. In many cases, we might as well have stayed at home in front of the television set on polling day for all the difference that we have made to the result.

I have never been able to understand why there should be such a strong antipathy, particularly among those active in politics, to the idea of the single transferable vote. Conversely, I have never been able to understand why it should be assumed that over the years we have gradually approached more closely to the ideal of a perfect democracy as more of our citizens have been able to exercise the vote and fewer of them have been able to exercise it twice. If a man's vote in one electoral area is worth twice, three or four times that of his fellow citizen in some other area, we may have the appearance of democracy, but it is more apparent than real. When millions are, in effect, permanently disfranchised because of the small influence which they may exert on the result of an election throughout their adult lives, it is not surprising that the majority of people, particularly the young, are beginning to wonder whether some other kind of system should be substituted for our parliamentary and local government democracy.

This is probably the last opportunity that we shall have to make a change in our system for the next 20 years. I hope that we take it.

Mr. English

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) spoilt the best part of his case, although he put up a very good defence for some of its weakest parts. He has spoilt the possibility of allowing individual local authorities to choose rational democratic systems of their own. Whether one accepts or rejects his argument for a particular system of election, his suggestion has the demerit of the present system concerning local authorities. We in our wisdom or lack of it, unlike other countries, say to all local authorities," You must all have an identical system of election, the system of election we think satisfactory nationally."

I will not enter into a long dissertation on the merits or demerits of our present national system of election. Suffice it to say that I believe that the overwhelming majority of hon. Members believe that for the purposes of creating a national Legislature and a national Government our present system of election is the best one. I know that the hon. Member for Orpington does not share that view, but all the arguments have been discussed so much that I shall not weary the Committee by going into them.

However, it does not seem to me that it therefore follows that the same system of election is appropriate to every one of hundreds, more than 1,000, local authorities. It does not seem to me that this is at all logical. Nor, in practice, is it the case. We have local authorities situated in the areas where the Parliamentary seats are marginal seats. For those local authorities one could say that the system of election which we have works reasonably well. We may say this, but I do not think that anybody can say that the present system works just as well in the overwhelmingly safe Parliamentary seats.

Quite irrespective of party, it is fair to say, surely, that local government shows some of its least pleasurable aspects in the places where there are overwhelmingly Labour-dominated councils, sometimes so Labour dominated that there is no Conservative representative on the councils. Alternatively, one knows of certain seaside resorts which are so overwhelmingly dominated by the Conservative Party that there may not be a representative of the Labour Party on a council. Even though possibly 20 per cent. or even 30 per cent. of the electorate may vote Labour. The Labour Party there is a totally unrepresented party.

It seems to me that there is a case for saying that a system different from the national system would be appropriate in certain local authority areas. I would not, therefore, wish to support the hon. Member's Clause, but I would ask the Under-Secretary of State if his Department, in conjunction with other appropriate Departments, would consider this possibility in connection with the reform of local government, because it seems to me that while we must have a democratic system of election, nevertheless, provided that the system is democratic in a recognised sense, there is no valid reason why a local authority itself should not be able to have some say in the sort of system of election that it wants.

This may sound an unusual idea, but the strange thing is that it does apply to just one of the areas the hon. Member for Orpington has mentioned. The City of London, unlike any other local authority, has almost semi-sovereign powers. Since the 18th century it has described its decisions as "acts" in the same way as we talk of Acts of Parliament, and this is quite right, because the City of London has, within very broad terms, power to alter its own constitution if it wishes to do so. The City of London is distinct from anywhere else in that it can alter its system of election. Legally, I believe, it could alter it tomorrow, by Act of the Common Council—although I do not think it is likely to do so.

Moreover, in the United States it is quite customary to allow individual electors by referendum to decide the constitutions of their own local authorities or even the constitutions of their own State Governments, within the Federal system. Therefore, it seems to me that there is nothing unusual or irrational in this. It would lead to considerably more participation—which is a word we all pay lip service to, but, when we have opportunities, do not always implement.

The only thing one has to look to is the possibility that somebody may wish to introduce an undemocratic system, a sort of little local one-party state. I think that there are hon. Members on this side of the Committee who wished to raise the issue of Northern Ireland at an appropriate moment. However, it is not beyond the wit of man to say that as there are various possible electoral systems and that, provided a system is democratic, we would allow any local authority to implement any of them it chose.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Lubbock

The hon. Member will appreciate that in the Republic where there is the single transferable vote, Protestants do have representation according to their numbers among the citizenry as a whole, whereas the very reverse is true of Roman Catholics in the North.

Mr. English

Much as I would like to, I will not allow the hon. Member for Orpington to lead me astray from the subject of the Clause and into the rather treacherous waters of Northern Ireland, although if the hon. Member wants to know it, my own view of the Ulster Constitution is that it would have been better if a Bill of Rights had been inserted in it, as is the case within the Federal system in the United States. However, I am sure I would be out of order if I developed that point.

What I was saying was that the essential thing is to preserve democracy. Where I think the hon. Member for Orpington spoiled his case was by bringing in such questions as the single-Member constituency versus the multi-Member constituency. Many of his arguments are perfectly true in the case of the small local authority. It is wholly untrue to say that single-Member constituencies are not desirable on the national scale. To start with, the constituency is much bigger; a single-Member constituency on a national scale might be a multi-Member constituency on a local scale.

There is also a much more centralised party system with proportional representation in some countries. The hon. Member says, "No", but I think that one does get a much more centralised system in some countries. It depends how one operates the system—I would give the hon. Member that—but he is totally wrong when he says that in the single-Member constituency contact is not as great as we think between Member and elector. This may be so, but it is overwhelmingly greater than in the multi-Member constituency.

With other hon. Members, I spent part of the summer in Sweden, where multimember constituencies are used for the election of members to the legislature, the Riksdag. [Interruption.] I am still on this question of multi-members; I am not on the question of the method of election. I asked a Swedish Riksdagman a simple question, "How many letters from your constituents do you get?" He sat and thought and then said, "I think that I have had a couple in the last six months".

Mr. Lubbock

The hon. Member will forgive me for saying so, but he has fallen into the very trap I was warning about in treating the system in those countries as though they were identical with those where the single transferable vote applies. Naturally, those representatives do not get letters from their constituents because the list is so vast, with on it the names of candidates determined by the party, so that the individual elector has very little interest in who is representing him. Where there is the single transferable vote the elector has the opportunity of choosing between candidates put forward as representing a party—Fianna Fail, for instance—and he has a very strong interest in the person he is electing and will communicate with him.

Mr. English

I entirely accept that there is a difference, but I do not think I would at all accept the hon. Member's description of the list as "vast" in the case of a Swedish constituency which usually has five or seven members. It is not a vast list, but a list of five or seven. The hon. Member is not using adjectives correctly by saying that it is a "vast" list. It is perfectly possible for the individual under the Swedish system to know and vote for his Riksdagman out of five or seven or whatever the number may be.

The fact remains that there is not the close degree of contact between member and elector that there is with the single-Member constituency system, but, irrespective of that, I do accept, as I say, that what is true and desirable for national Government may not be appropriate on the local government scale.

This is where the hon. Member for Orpington spoilt the best part of his case. He could have said that he would like to see this done with the consent of the Greater London Council or of its electors. He has not said that. He wishes to impose his proposal on the poor old Greater London Council as we have in the past imposed our system on all councils. This is a substantial weakness in what one might call a liberal position.

I ask the Under-Secretary of State, while rejecting the Amendment, to express a view on the possibility of local authorities having electoral systems suited to them, which may not be the same as ours, in any consideration of the reform of local government.

Mr. Onslow

I will not follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), interesting though they are, since I do not wish to prolong the debate. I wish merely to comment on one or two points raised by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock).

I agree with him that we have still some way to go before we approach the idea of a real democracy. I can think of many more reasons than the absence of a single transferable vote in our system for our being as distant as we are from anything that can be claimed to be a real democracy. Most of the shortcomings, which I would analyse if I were tempted to do so, would be found not far from this Chamber.

The point we are considering is the basis of elections and the case for having multi-Member constituencies and the single transferable vote. The hon. Member for Orpington was good enough to admit that in the G.L.C. by-election for Bromley only 20 per cent. of the electorate turned out to vote. I am not surprised that the figure was so low. I believe that the smaller the unit in which an election takes place the higher the percentage of voters is likely to be. I feel, and I have not heard him suggest this, that a Parliamentary by-election for a seat which had 250,000 electors would probably not produce a poll of more than 40 per cent.

I would regard this as a bad thing, a negation of democracy and all the other epithets which can be hurled about. The people will not vote because they do not know what they are voting about. It is the crystallisation of the issues and the personalisation of the candidate which will get people to the polls. A seven-Member constituency with an electorate of 350,000 is moving away from any real participation by the voters.

The hon. Member said that there was an alternative, that a multi-Member constituency could be broken down into fractions for by-election purposes. Pre sumably, a constituency returning seven Members would be broken down into parts of one-seventh to each Member. If one Member who had been returned died or resigned, then the by-election would take place in one-seventh of the constituency. How is this to be sorted out? Is the oldest Member to take the safest seat, thus avoiding the danger of sweeping defeats for Governments in by-elections, or is there to be a previously registered preference on these lines, "If elected, I undertake to put myself down for the one-seventh part which includes Orpington "?

This is entirely unworkable and ex tremely complicated. Why not stick to the single-Member constituency, which works extremely well? The only answer which the hon. Member for Orpington gives is that with a single-Member constituency there cannot be a single transferable vote. If forced to choose, I would come down unquestionably on the side of the single-Member constituency which serves this Parliament well.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I will deal first with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). I was sorry to hear him say that he thought the Parliamentary Commissioner had been a failure. My view, like his, is that the intention was not to replace the Member of Parliament. The Member of Parliament representing the single constituency does so much work and, when they were talking about a Parliamentary Commissioner, people did not appreciate that they were arguing for the wrong reasons.

In my five years in the House of Commons, the one thing which has impressed me is that Members of Parliament of all political persuasions, including Ministers, act as Ombudsmen.

The work of the Parliamentary Commissioner is additional to that, in a direction in which the Member of Parliament by himself would not be so successful. The Parliamentary Commissioner does not replace Members of Parliament but adds to their efficacy. Underlying that is the value of the single member representing the single constituency.

The hon. Gentleman sent me a copy of his pamphlet "One man, One vote". Taking up the point made there, even if, in the Winston Churchill sense, a man comes to an area as a carpet-bagger, it is not long before he will identify him self with the needs of that area.

The Amendment is one which has been argued many times over the last 30 years; I do not criticise that because it is a perfectly respectable argument, but I was sorry that in tabling the Amendment the hon. Gentleman should seek to denigrate the existing system, which is a point my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) mentioned. The pamphlet speaks of Members in safe seats not doing their job properly—

Mr. Lubbock


Mr. Rees

Some, or a few of them. Whether or not a Member does his job properly is not influenced by the size of the majority. But, of course, the size of the majority is one part of the argument of the hon. Gentleman. His argument is about safe seats and that in such a constituency a person might never vote for the candidate he wished to be elected. In the 25 years in which I have voted, in every local or national election, I have never voted for the man who has won. I have not felt that I have lost any rights. I have expressed my views by a cross on a piece of paper and, although my candidate has never won, I still have played a part in the democratic process.

New Clause 2 speaks of the principle of proportional representation. Like the hon. Member for Penistone I once sat at the feet of the late Professor Laski, and I can recall him saying that he had found 949 different methods of proportional representation; no doubt since that day the number has been added to. To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, he has come down with one precise scheme for only the Greater London Boroughs and the single transferable vote.

To deal first with the general principle, I have no doubt that most schemes of proportional representation would give more precision to the views of the electorate. In speaking of the views of the 30 million-odd electorate of this country, one wonders if they have precise views that can be parcelled up into the views of small groups of political parties. When television commentators go out into the streets and ask the views of individual electors one finds a curious cross-section of views and it is extremely difficult to decide whether a person is, in terms of this House, left, right or centre. I accept that there would be more precision in terms of people being elected. Even in terms of the Liberal Party, which has a small number of hon. Members in the House, I imagine that one could still find a spread of views.

5.0 p.m.

In this country we have, over the years, developed what I think is one of the great strengths of this country, namely, the single member constituency, with the majority candidate elected. The hon. Gentleman said that in countries which have some sort of proportional representation, either by referendum or other wise, the majority of the people prefer the existing system. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that if there were a similar sort of referendum here, there would be the same result. I have always felt that referenda in general never lead to change. Certainly the Australian experience has been of that kind. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can necessarily read into that some sort of essential truth, except that people like what they have got—an essential con servatism.

I should be with them in this sense, that the system which we have built up here over the years, bit by bit, is the correct one. Our democracy works, and one reason for that is the clear majority which is given to the Government of the day.

Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)

What about 1964?

Mr. Rees

There was a majority of three then, and hon. Gentlemen say that that led to an incorrect view of how one should deal with the economic situation. But the previous Government had a majority of 100 for five years, yet they did not deal with it, either. Indeed, they got their majority in 1959 by paying more attention to getting votes than to dealing with the economic situation. I am sure that if the Chief Whip were here he would agree that he had greater control over the Parliamentary party when there was a majority of three, than he has with a majority of 80.

Mr. Lubbock

Is it not a reasonable hypothesis that if the Government had had a more substantial majority in 1964 they would have taken firmer action to deal with the rebel regime in Rhodesia, and that they would have devalued a long time before they did?

Mr. Rees

I was a mere P.P.S. at the Treasury at that time, and it is not for me now to comment on questions of devaluation. I think that the hon. Gentle man is wrong in what he says about Rhodesia. I think that there were many other complicating factors in that situation which made it difficult to deal with other than the size of the Government's majority in the House of Commons.

We do not, as a result of our system, have monolithic parties. If anybody had sat down at the beginning and asked, "What sort of a constitution shall we have?" or "What sort of political parties shall we have?" I am sure he would have drawn the conclusion that our system would have produced monolithic parties, because, on the face of it, it seems that that would be so. In fact, my experience over five years is that in neither of the major political parties, nor, indeed, in the Liberal Party, does the existing system lead to aught else than a multiplicity of views. On both sides of the House people are held together by strange bonds which look to be thin, but which are powerful and allow great diversity of opinion. People talk about the Whips, and about Members being Lobby fodder. This is simply not the case. It is true in a certain essential and important way, but it is not true that our system does not lead to a great diversity of views. If one looked at the relatively few members in the Chamber now, one would expect different attitudes and different outlooks on a common cause. I therefore reject the general principle.

Over the years the G.L.C. has been a remarkably well run authority. In the days of the London County Council, and going back to before 1888, when it was the Metropolitan Board of Works, it was always exceptionally well run. There is something good about it. I should be the last, therefore—and I shall come in a moment to the point made by my hon. Friend—to want to introduce this system of the transferable vote into the G.L.C. I accept that at the moment the Labour Party is under-represented on the G.L.C. I suspect that on the 1964 General Election the Conservative Party was under-represented, but I do not think that it matters very much. It might offend the purists, but it does not offend me very much. There has been a swing in popular opinion, in terms of 1964, for almost extra-Parliamentary reasons. The G.L.C. is not an authority which I should want to muck about with, because it has been remarkably successful.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) said that perhaps one could have a variety of election systems for different local authorities but I could not commit anybody on that. If local authorities are to be bigger—and all the signs of informed public discussion seem to lead that way—I hope that embedded in them there will be small enough authorities to have on them the man or the woman who is the local representative, because the work done by local councils is extremely important. In the cities in the North—I accept that the position is different in the South where there is a more fluid society—at all hours of the day and night people knock on the door of the man who is the local councillor, and it is important that we should maintain that state of affairs.

Mr. English

I am not, naturally, asking for any assurance now that my hon. Friend will do any such thing. What I am asking is that he should try to ensure that somebody in his Department studies this possibility. If, for example, we have larger authorities, I strongly suspect that in the south-western one the present system of election will allow little scope for the Labour Party, and I leave the Opposition Front Bench to form their own opinion of how many members they might have on the Welsh one.

Mr. Rees

If there is a change in local authority structure, this will be a matter for many Departments, and I am sure that that will be borne in mind. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that sympathetic remark, and that the Committee will reject the new Clause.

Question put and negatived.

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