HC Deb 13 December 1977 vol 941 cc299-422
Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I beg to move Amendment No. 24, in page 1, line 18, leave out from beginning to 'Assembly' in line 6 on page 2.

I move this amendment not in any partisan way, nor am I aware of any public pressure on the matter. I have not received public representations, but the issue is not unimportant. The Committee should not consider electoral reform unless the electorate—which is the element that matters—expresses a desire for such reform.

I voted for and support the Bill but I realise that there is not yet wholehearted public support for our membership of the EEC. Therefore it is better to leave things as they are. The acceptance of this amendment would allay suspicions while a change in the electoral system will only aggravate those suspicions.

It has been said, even this afternoon, that this is a question of principle. But I first want to deal with one or two peripheral considerations. First, it is said that acceptance of the amendment will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the Bill to be implemented within the time limits that have been set out. That may be attractive to some of my hon. Friends but it is not my intention to frustrate the Bill. Therefore, I am comforted by the fact that timing appears not to be crucial. The Prime Minister has said, perhaps anticipating today's debate, that failure to attain the target date is not the end of the world.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart), who always speaks with enviable clarity, has repeatedly asked the Government to explain how the acceptance of this amendment will prejudice the progress of the Bill. It seems that he has never received an adequate reply.

Apart from that, if the Government go dilly-dallying on the way it will then be outwith them to argue that time is of the essence. If the Government dither and procrastinate, they cannot then persuade us that we are compelled by force majeure to take a decision which, if we had time to consider it, we should not contemplate.

There is a second peripheral consideration. It is argued that, after all, the Assembly is unimportant. It is suggested that we are dealing with an advisory Assembly and it does not really matter what we do. Therefore, the argument is: let there be a revolutionary change in our electoral system because its incidence is insignificant. That seems to me to be standing the argument on its head.

Whatever its incidence, it is a change of some importance. The real argument seems to me to be that if the Assembly does not matter, it affords no pretext for any such change and it is better to leave the electoral system as it is.

However, when we say that the Assembly is unimportant, we are speaking only in the short term. The Government in their White Paper say that the Assembly, transformed, will be in a developing situation. We all know that any change that we make now will become increasingly singnificant as that situation develops.

The third peripheral matter is that, if we support the amendment, we shall disrupt the Lib-Lab pact. That is put in a low key and is given a low profile. I note that Christopher Mayhew, whom many of us will remember as a former Member of this House warned Labour Members of Parliament who want the pact to continue that they must abstain on Clause 3 and not vote against it. That is rather pusillanimous. On any matter of constitutional importance, it is not good enough to abstain.

I do not wish to repeat the miserable experience of the minority Labour Government of 1929–31. A few years afterwards Lord Attlee confessed that the Labour Party had voted against its principles under the compulsion of a bargain with the Liberals. In any case, we are in a much healthier position than were the previous Labour Government. So far as I know, no bargains on the 1929–31 pattern have been struck with the Liberals. The Liberals are free to decide issues on their merits, and so are we.

However, I give this warning to some of my colleagues. If, with Labour support, the amendment is defeated, the result would be significant. The breach would have been made and Liberal support would increasingly be dependent on our acceptance of proportional representation.

However, we should not be overborne by those considerations. We should consider the principle. I cannot express myself in any violent terms. In fact, I confess that I was once a supporter of the list system. In mitigation, I should add that, at the time, I was a child. On behalf of the Labour Party, my father negotiated a list method of election for County Durham. There was all-party agreement. It was to be an electoral experiment. However, on second thoughts, the Conservatives withdrew their support and the plan was scuppered.

As it happened, Labour swept County Durham and, apart from the debacle of 1931, has done so ever since. It seemed to be a factor which affected my father's thinking. It certainly affected mine, and ever since then I have tended to take a regional view about proportional repre- sentation. When in 1964 we had a brief debate on the single transferable vote, I was not among the 20 Members who rallied to its support. In fact, the only present colleagues of mine who did so were the Leader of the House, the current Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure and my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis).

I accepted the case put by the Secretary of State for Energy, when he said that if the proposition were accepted There would be a movement toward the centre which would weaken the basic alternative choice which is the real advantage under a party system."—[Official Report, 9th June 1964; Vol. 696, c. 252.] Like Lord Attlee, I regard myself as Left of Centre. For me personally, being Left is more important than being Centre. But for democracy in this country, the Centre is probably the more important. Within the dialectic framework which is vital to a virile democracy, we have evolved an unwritten, subtle, sensitive, responsible system of government. I believe that that is far more important than the arithmetic and the statistics. I believe that what is important is our political behaviour, or the spirit of the constitution, or our way of political life. I do not think—and I do not think that the Committee ought to think—that this is the moment to allow the thin end of the wedge of change. On the contrary, I believe it is particularly apposite now that we should uphold the position of Members, preserve the position of the constituencies unimpaired, resist the party caucuses and reject the concept that we can vote for a list.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has argued the difficulties of vast constituencies of half a million or so voters. But I would rather face those difficulties and not tamper with the constitution, whatever the demands of expediency may be.

Some time ago I forecast that we might be in for a period of political stalemate. So far that forecast is holding good. But what has been quite unexpected has been the success of the present Government in effectively governing without a majority.

If we are to have a continuing stalemate, it is better to build on that experience. There is no occasion to prejudice matters by changing the electoral system now. I believe that we should accept the Select Committee's recommendations that it would not be appropriate to bring in an entirely new method of voting at this stage, that in the European context this would be inopportune and that the first-past-the-post system should be used.

Later we may be compelled to change the electoral system, but that would have to depend, as I said earlier, on an interest and concern spread in the political parties and shared by those concerned—the electorate. Meanwhile, it would be foolish, dangerous and unnecessary to countenance change. I hope that the Committee will decide that the occasion for it has not yet arisen.

4.45 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

It might be for the convenience of the Committee, in the way that we are conducting the debate, if I put a view on behalf of the Government at this early stage.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

How much of the Government?

Mr. Rees

If I contain myself at this early stage I shall not reveal my true feelings about the hon. Gentleman. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) for putting down the amendment, because it enables us at long last, when we have skirted around it for a time, to discuss and then vote on this matter of the electoral system.

May I repeat, first, what I said last evening about the procedures that are involved either way? I think that they need to be made clear. If the amendment is carried, the Committee will no doubt agree to the consequential amendments removing all references to the regional list system from the Bill. If the amendment is defeated, the Government will table amendments to remove from the Bill the last six words of Clause 3(1) and the whole of Clause 3(2), as well as Schedules 1 and 2. This will provide for the elections to be held on a regional list system and will remove the procedural device for switching to the simple majority system by resolution.

The procedural device in Clause 3(2) was introduced solely to enable the two electoral systems to be set out in the same Bill. The Committee can, therefore, make a choice between the two systems. The Government favour the regional list system, but Government supporters will have a free vote on the issue. The subject of method has been discussed generally many times, but, given the way that it has come out of a day's debate, I should like to explain how the regional list system would work and to set out the Government's reasons for recommending it in preference to our traditional simple majority system.

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

Before my right hon. Friend leaves the point of principle, would not this be a useful opportunity for him, for the first time on behalf of the Government, to explain why the Government prefer this system recommended to the electorate?

Mr. Rees

I shall do that in the course of the debate.

Claue 4 provides for the electoral regions to be used in the regional list system. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would each be an electoral region. Scotland would elect eight Members, Wales four and Northern Ireland three Members, and the nine electoral regions in England are set out in Schedule 3.

The electoral regions chosen for England are based on the existing economic planning regions. The one exception is in the South-East, where, to avoid a massive area with more than 12 million electors and 24 representatives, Greater London has been separated from the South-East Economic Planning Region. The number of seats allocated to each region depends on the size of its electorate. Roughly speaking, the result is that each region has one Member for every half million or so electors.

The Government believe that the choice of the economic planning region as the basis for regional list constituencies is reasonable and fair. The planning regions are relatively familiar and generally reflect existing regional characteristics. I will come to the discussions later. There has to be a base for a list system, and I am arguing that the economic planning regions are a basis on which it can be done. The Government recognise the importance of observing these as far as practicable.

Some hon. Members will notice that Schedule 3 departs from the proposal in the White Paper on direct elections by separating East Anglia from the East Midlands. Each of these is an economic planning region in its own right, but they were combined in the scheme in the White Paper and have now been kept separate one from another in the scheme in the Bill to reflect the wishes of a number of hon. Members.

I know there are those who dispute vigorously whether their constituencies or the counties containing them should appropriately be placed within the electoral regions concerned. We can argue the details later. My own view is that it would be difficult to find a better alternative to the proposals in Clause 4 and Schedule 3. I think that the fact that they are economic planning regions has merit in the European context.

In each region political parties may field as many candidates as there are Members to be elected for that region, and independents, of course, may also stand. As in our parliamentary elections, the voter will vote for one named candidate only. But for regional list elections a vote cast for a candidate will be not only a vote for that candidate but also a vote for the party which he represents. In other words, votes cast for one candidate may help to elect other candidates in the same party. It is, therefore, essential that the voter is able to see as a group all the candidates standing for the same party.

The number of candidates contesting each multi-Member region makes the normal form of parliamentary ballot paper unsuitable because of the advantage it gives to those whose names are higher in alphabetical order in a very long list of candidates. A new form of ballot paper has therefore been devised which places the names of candidates alphabetically and horizontally across the ballot paper. The names of the political parties are listed alphabetically and vertically down the ballot paper—this is shown on page 60, Schedule 4. It will be noted that this enables the voter to see at a glance the individual candidate for whom he is voting, that candidate's party, and the other candidates in the same party who may also benefit from his vote.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Is not my right hon. Friend seeing this matter through rose-hued spectacles? He says "at a glance". Is it not true that for South-East England the likelihood is that there will be at least 60 candidates?

Mr. Rees

The problem of the large number of candidates is one aspect, but I shall come in a moment to the question of half a million people in one constituency, which will be the case in first past the post, where there are other problems as well. Whichever way it goes in elections to Europe, given 81 seats, there are problems. I am trying to set out the problems, because they have to be considered.

The allocation of seats between parties and candidates is as follows. First, the total vote for each individual candidate is determined. Then the votes of each candidate on the same party list are added together to give the total vote for each political party. Next, the seats are allocated between the political parties according to the "highest average" rule, which means that the seats are allocated proportionately to the votes received. Within the party totals, the seats go to the individual candidates who have won the most personal votes.

As regards the principle raised by my hon. Friend, I yield to no one in my support for the Westminster system in constituencies, in the sort of system we have for election to the House of Commons, and also for the rôle of the Member of Parliament. I shall not develop that theme. I checked this morning what I said on behalf of the then Opposition—in 1972, I think—about a single transferable vote system for Northern Ireland. I find that I put the case for the Westminster system and method of election but said that in the particular case of Northern Ireland I supported the single transferable vote as an exception. The same goes here.

I believe that Europe is different, because there will be 81 United Kingdom Members and because of the rôle of the European Parliament. I want it to remain different and I believe that the regional list system is appropriate for the European Assembly, which we are discussing today.

I believe that the regional list system—given the half a million electorate that there would be in the 81 seats on first past the post, and comparing that with the proportional system that I am recommending—is likely to produce a fairer result. The simple majority system is excellent where there is a comparatively large number of constituencies—in our case, 635. However, the fewer the number of constituencies involved, the more dramatic is the effect of a swing of electoral opinion on the allocation of seats as between competing political parties. That is not a matter of what the situation was a year ago or what it is now. Whenever elections are held for Europe on the basis of 81 seats, a marginal swing would have a profound effect on the number of people from each party that would go to Europe.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

My right hon. Friend keeps talking about political parties as though he is assuming—and no doubt this is realistic—that the groups put up on the ballot paper will be political party groups. He referred a moment ago to the need to be fair. Given that there is a division of view within the principal political parties with regard to European policy, how does my right hon. Friend define a fair result in this context?

Mr. Rees

I have been considering this matter in the context of my own part of the country. I want to refer in a moment to the timing and the steps that must be taken in selecting candidates—and it would be done on a different basis when eigh or nine constituencies were being lumped together to form a larger constituency—the ideal way would be to have a spread of candidates with different views, selected by the parties. In that way the candidates could express their different views and where the electors were voting not for one person but for a party, the individual's views would receive expression.

The simple majority system, I repeat, is suitable for the House of Commons where there are 635 seats. But, when there are 81 seats to be filled—

Mr. Ron Thomas (Bristol, North-West)

My right hon. Friend talked about the transference of X number of votes from one candidate to another because they were allocated to parties. Then, in answer to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham (Mr. Spearing) about fairness, he said he hoped that there would be a cross-section of can- didates. So presumably we could have a situation where the votes given to an anti-Marketeer were then given to a pro-Marketeer who was second in the ballot.

Mr. Rees

In each area there would be a party list and, of course, there would not be a transference—that is not the correct term—but nevertheless the votes would be used in that way. That is the case. But in all parts of the House there are differences of views in all parties. I believe that this system would allow those views to be expressed in a better way than on the 81-single member system. So the point I am making is that there is overall a more proportional result.

Mr. George Cunningham

Proportionate to what?

Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Farnham)

I want to get this right in my mind. The Home Secretary is saying that any member of the electorate who wishes to vote for a particular individual cannot do so without at the same time voting for other members of the same party, however much he may dislike their views. Secondly, if there are three or four independents standing in one of these groups, does an independent automatically get the votes of another independent on the same system?

Mr. Rees

The first question the right hon. Gentleman asked was simply repeating what I had said. With regard to the second point, no. An independent might break through first time round. But an independent could be elected. As one moved down the list and the votes were averaged, it would be possible for an independent to be elected.

This matter of timing is important. I think that I should go into it in some depth because it is a factor that we have to take into account.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say whether in his view an independent will not be at a disadvantage if we adopt the regional list system?

Mr. Rees

If an independent, or, indeed, any other individual candidate, gets a sufficient number of votes, there is not the slightest reason why he or she should not be elected. But he is not a member of a group and would not be carried in by the collective view. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the system he will see that of course it is possible.

Mr. George Cunningham

Will the Secretary of State confirm that an individual candidate is at a disadvantage compared with a group candidate to the extent that an individual candidate cannot get elected to the European Parliament if he stands and not one single member of the electorate votes for him, but a group candidate can stand and get not one single one out of the many millions of votes of the electors and still get elected? Is that not a wee bit of a flaw in the system?

Mr. Rees

It is what the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) calls an absurdity, because, whereas it could happen, it would be extremely surprising if it did. It would be extremely freakish if it happened, but in principle it is right. If one is looking for odd results, taking the first-past-the-post system that I support, it is equally possible to have somebody elected to this place on very much a minority.

Mr. George Cunningham

Not on no votes at all.

Mr. Rees

That may well be. Although my hon. Friend is putting it that way, because mathematically he is right, it could not happen in practice. That is the point I am making.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

My right hon. Friend is perhaps correct in talking about the absurdity of the example put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham). Of course, that would be unlikely to happen. But the key point to be made is that the votes that are cast for parties will carry more weight than those cast for independents. Therefore, constituents will cast votes in an unequal fashion whether they vote for parties on the one hand or independents on the other, because some can be transferred and some cannot.

Mr. Rees

Yes, that is absolutely right. But I have not noticed that many independents have been elected to the House of Commons in recent years under the existing system. I am glad to know that my hon. Friend is speaking up in favour of independents.

Mr. Skinner

I am speaking up for the Labour Party.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Rees

I am glad that we understand that we are both speaking for the same thing, because I am not speaking in favour of independents.

I turn to the question of timing. It is extremely important to get this clear in the debate. One of the advantages of the regional list system to those who want to make it more likely that Britain will be able to meet the proposed target of May/June 1978 and to ensure that the direct elections take place is that it is the fastest system. I am not saying that that should weigh against those who are not in favour of it.

As I explained on Second Reading, under the regional list system, the multimember constituencies are specified in Schedule 3. Therefore, once the Bill has received Royal Assent the political parties will know the final nature of constituencies and can begin the selection of candidates immediately. If the simple majority system is chosen, a minimum of 18 weeks will be required after Royal Assent for the determination of 78 single-member constituencies. I shall return to that matter.

The Boundary Commissions can do some preliminary work before Royal Assent, but until the Bill is on the statute book, they will not have formal authority to proceed. It should take them only a couple of weeks to produce their initial proposals for the first-past-the-post system. Most of the 18 weeks will be required for consideration and representations by the political parties and the production and publication of new proposals by the Boundary Commissions.

I shall take a little further the figures that I have given in the past. If the Committee agrees that the Boundary Commissions should be required to establish the constituencies for the first election, the following approximate timetable after Royal Assent could apply. For the Boundary Commission to proceed, making regulations and the preparation for elections would take 18 weeks at least. The Boundary Commissions' proposals would be brought to the House and debated, and it would take about two weeks for Parliament to consider them. I cannot be absolutely sure of that time.

Sir Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)

Would it not be possible for the Boundary Commissions to start work imimmediately after tonight if the Committee decides to go for a first-past-the-post system?

Mr. Rees

The Boundary Commissions can do preliminary work, but it is not possible—whatever view one has—to allow the Commissions to proceed without statutory authority. That would be wrong.

Then there is the question of the selection of candidates and the campaign. That could take six weeks. I simply cull a time from the air. All hon. Members know the practices in their own parties. The figures that I have given are minimum and there is some element of guesswork in them.

The point that I am making is that we are in December. There have been arguments about the delay which has arisen because of the strong feelings on both sides of the question and because of the nature of the situation. I do not apologise for the fact that the delay has arisen because of that. It is one of the factors implicit in the discussion.

Royal Assent is the key date from which we must work. It is clear that unless there is a speed-up in procedures when we get back after Christmas, the chance of a first-past-the-post election being held in May/June next year is extremely remote. That might please the anti-Marketeers.

Mr. Neil Macfarlane (Sutton and Cheam)

Why the indecent haste when only a few weeks ago the Prime Minister said that it would not be the end of the world if we did not achieve the objective by 1978?

Mr. Rees

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said what he has said. The Leader of the Opposition has taken a similar attitude in different parts of the world. I am giving the dates.

Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

The Secretary of State says that he makes no apology for the fact that we are holding the debate in December 1977. Can he give us one reason why this debate was not held in December 1976?

Mr. Rees

For the reason that I have just given. Many Bills come through the House on the basis of election manifestos and they can go through quite quickly. The speed sometimes depends on the size of the majority. There are differences of opinion, certainly on this side of the Committee and I believe on the other side—although perhaps not to such a degree. It remains that this has been a factor in the speed with which the Bill has come to the Committee.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

I know that the Secretary of State is trying to set out the timing schedule as fairly as he can. He said that it was all right for the multi-Member electoral boundaries to be decided by Parliament but that in no circumstances would he accept that single-Member boundaries should be decided by Parliament.

Mr. Rees

I remember being a junior Minister in 1969 when the Government of the day put forward proposals for new constituency boundaries. We were told forcefully that it was not right for the Government of the day to put proposals before the House that had not been dealt with by the Boundary Commissions. There is a point of principle here. I would not want to put a Bill to the House when I have asked colleagues in the Home Office to come up with a scheme for dividing the seats in the United Kingdom into groups of eight and then have a debate in the House of Commons.

I can illustrate the situation by considering what would happen if the Boundary Commissions, under option 5, came forward with a scheme for eight or nine seats to be put together to create a new constituency. I have given thought to this in the North of England. In Leeds, for example, if the Commission went north of the city to achieve the extra two or three seats, it would be moving into the Tory area. If the Commission went south of the city it would move into a Labour area. The larger Leeds seat would get its character from whether one moved north, south, east or west.

When one is cutting up the country into groups of eight or nine constituencies, at the end of the day hon. Members will have different ideas about where the starting point should be. I have considered what should be done in the London area. There are two or more ideas about what to do. The political complexion of seats will depend upon whether one moves round the periphery of London to places such as Barnet, Harrok and Uxbridge. If one moves down to the centre so that the suburban seats are joined with the working-class seats, that could determine a different result. If the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) believes that when that debate comes before the House of Commons it will lead to an academic discussion, he is mistaken.

I could draw up European boundaries for the first-past-the-post system which I would regard as admirable. I would be prepared to put them before the House. I suspect that there would be a political edge in the cutting-up of the country, because I might not be particularly objective in what I did. It is therefore a good idea, I believe, to stick to the Boundary Commission arrangement that we have made.

Mr. David Howell

I take it that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the multi-Member constituency boundaries can be drawn without any of these problems and that somehow there will be no difficulties of the kind he envisages in the single-Member seats even if the boundaries of those single-Member constituencies are drawn predominantly on county-boundary lines.

Mr. Rees

That is why in putting the proposals in the White Paper I suggested using the economic planning regions. No one could suggest that I or the Government, in deciding on that system, had culled something out of the air for party advantage or any other reason. The planning regions were drawn up 13 years ago and I would hope therefore no one would suggest that I was seeking party advantage in handling it in that way.

Mr. Nigel Lawson (Blaby)

That is precisely why I propose in an amendment first-past-the-post constituencies on a county basis, because, equally, nobody could suggest that the counties had been plucked arbitrarily out of the air—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If the right hon. Gentleman has proposals for changing the county boundaries, let him put them before the House. I was under the impression that the Government accepted those boundaries. Why does he not then go on those boundaries? It means some multi-Member constituencies, but that is what the Government are proposing for the Scottish Assembly.

Mr. Rees

The reaction of certain of my hon. Friends during that question illustrates the sort of debate we shall have when these proposals come before the House. Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends believe that the county boundaries were drawn up with a certain lack of local government objectivity and a great deal of political subjectivity in the early 1970s.

I am trying to put all the aspects of this matter on the record in order to ease the debate that we are to have. Under the regional list system the political parties will have to consider their arrangements. It would be a much newer concept than for the single-Member, although larger, constituencies. The Home Office will consult the local authority associations about the practical arrangements, such as the appointment of returning officers.

I turn now to the question of timing, and here I am trying to be as objective as I can. I have made an unofficial estimate of what will happen under the regional list system after Royal Assent. Preparation for the elections will take at least six weeks. The Bill provides for a four-week period for the election campaign, and so we are talking in terms of three months for the regional list system, but that is if the regional planning areas are accepted as the basis for the larger constituencies.

So what is the situation? First-past-the-post arrangements certainly appeal difficult to achieve in time for May and June, and the time taken for the regional list system would depend on the Royal Assent, which provides the key date. The timing of the European elections also would not be a matter for the Government alone. The target is May/June, but the matter would have to be settled by all nine member States if we fail to meet that target.

5.15 p.m.

On at least three occasions on Irish legislation I supported the then Government when they put forward a scheme of PR for the Province. I made it clear that in general PR was not acceptable to me beyond that point. PR tends to produce coalition Governments or Administrations. The simple majority system is rather different, which is why we have it in our parliamentary and local government. The European Assembly, however, does not produce a Government or Administration. The Members elected from Britain will not even sit as one delegation but as members of the various political groups, and our representatives will number only 81 out of a total membership of 410. Furthermore, the European Assembly does not have any independent legislative functions. As Article 137 of the Treaty of Rome explains, it has" advisory and supervisory" powers. I should like it to remain that way because I am certainly not a federalist.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

Will my right hon. Friend deal with the thin-end-of-the-wedge argument? It is not right that if we legislate here for PR in respect only of the European talking shop, that will increase the pressure for PR to be applied to this place, and is that not what the Liberals want?

Mr. Rees

I can only speak for myself, and I shall argue this point in the New Year. I supported PR for Northern Ireland and I still do.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

So do I.

Mr. Rees

I did not support it because I regarded it in any way as the thin edge of the wedge, but because I was trying to look objectively at the problems of Northern Ireland. I am trying now to consider the nature of the European problem, given the rôle of the individual Member of Parliament in his relationship with his constituency and the rôle that the Member plays in this House, a rôle which has produced men of remarkable ability of all parties over the years, because they were given the support of their constituency parties. But this does not apply in the case of the European Assembly, and nor does it apply to the duties that a Member of the Assembly will have.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)

Surely there is no analogy between Northern Ireland and Europe. PR was introduced into Northern Ireland precisely in order to create a situation in which a community otherwise deprived of representation could share in that representation and government within a subordinate body. The European Assembly will have none of these characteristics.

Mr. Rees

I was answering the question about the thin end of the wedge. I did not regard the Northern Ireland proposals as the thin end of the wedge, and I do not regard these as such, either. The European Assembly is a different body and I want to keep it that way. I believe that it would be better to have representation over a wider span with a larger number of members. One Member will not be representing one particular part. This could lead to a different sort of Member with a different sort of responsibility.

Mr. Skinner

Is my right hon. Friend saying, on the basis of the Irish analogy, where certain political parties in Ireland could not be represented because of the so-called gerrymandering, that in the European context that deprived minority is not the Labour Party but the Liberal Party? Is he saying that if we adopt a similar approach here to that adopted in Northern Ireland our purpose is purely to assist the minority in this place, namely, the Liberal Party?

Mr. Rees

I was responding to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) about the thin end of the wedge. I used the Irish analogy to show that I could support PR for one part of the United Kingdom without arguing that it was therefore necessary to use it at Westminster.

Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)

Will the Home Secretary explain just how he sees the work of the European Members? In the South-East 14 Members will be representing 7 million people. How can 14 Members do that when they belong to different parties? We at one time had dual-Member constituencies in the United Kingdom. They were abolished, and as far as I know no one suggested that they should be restored.

Mr. Rees

On previous occasions I have been asked how one would canvass. The same applies to one-Member constituencies with half a million electors in the first-past-the-post system. Whatever we decide, and whenever we have elections into Europe, the Member for Europe, whether he be a Member for halt a million people or shares his responsibility over a region, will develop a different relationship with his area. Certainly he will not be doing the job that we are doing here. I would not want a European Member to be a competitor for the work that is done by individual Members of this Parliament.

Given a limited number of seats available and the limited nature of the European Assembly, I recommend with conviction that the House should adopt the regional list system for the elections to the European Assembly on a free vote tonight. The considerations that I have outlined and that have led me to make this recommendation do not apply to Westminster elections or to elections to the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. In all these other cases I stand by the superior advantages of the simple majority system. I do not believe that the arguments for the simple majority are nearly as compelling, however, when one is talking about the European Parliament.

The regional list system will enable us to make speedier progress and it is liable to produce a more representative result than would be the case with the simple majority system. Where there are 81 seats, the swings would be enormous between elections in a way that we have never seen before. I recommend that the House should reject the amendment and decide in favour of the regional list system.

Mr. Douglas Hurd (Mid-Oxon)

The main concern of most people on this side of the Committee is that the Bill should succeed. We have given clear proof of this twice, once by asking our members to support the Second Reading of this Government measure and, yesterday, by sacrificing half a day of our own time to ensure that today's decision was taken in an orderly way at a reasonable hour. No one, looking at the evidence, can doubt our commitment to the Bill. Without that commitment the Government's measure would be dead—murdered by the Government's supporters.

We are concerned here with an inevitable difference of opinion on an important but secondary part of the Bill—the system used for the first round of elections. This is less important, in my opinion, than Clause 1 and the whole question of the powers of the European Parliament. That is more important than the system of election, and will be discussed again. That is why I resent the attempt made by some commentators outside the House of Commons to impose a bogus test on this debate today. There has been an attempt to link enthusiasm for Europe with support for the regional list. I am not alone in finding that argument irritating and illogical.

Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have carried the heat and the burden over Europe, and when the Division lists are studied tomorrow it will be found that they are divided about the system of election while remaining united in their support for the success of this country in Europe. Like the Government, we are having a free vote tonight, and what I say about the system of election is my own personal view.

I have come to the view, unlike the Home Secretary, that we should have the first-past-the-post system for the first round. I say this as one who actually favours electoral reform in this Kingdom and who has spoken and voted for it accordingly. But in this matter I want above all to see direct elections held in this country successfully and in an orderly manner.

When we began discussing this matter in Select Committee 18 months ago I came quickly to the conclusion that it would be a mistake to depart from the existing system for the first round. Direct elections are a major innovation for this country. They are not merely a technical change. To impose another major innovation at the same time and in the same process would be a mistake.

Many people have discussed this matter since the Select Committee. I have been to many political meetings since then, in different parts of the country and I have been powerfully reinforced in my feeling that one should not pile one innovation on top of another. However, it is a balance of judgment. There are some arguments in favour of proportional representation for the first round which I accept. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) made some points in Blackpool, and again last night, which strike me as valid, but on balance my own judgment comes down on the other side.

There are three particular points that I pick out of the arguments for the Government's proposals for a regional list system. Such a system abolishes single-Member constituencies for Europe. This is an important point for many of us—it is not a fad or a quirk. I hold strongly to the notion that a Member of Parliament, whether for Westminster or Europe, represents and should be open to all those living in his area. I find it very distasteful to imagine sitting as a Member for a multi-Member constituency and in theory having only those people who have voted for me coming to see me. That is a narrower view of our profession than most of us would want to see, and personally I dislike it.

It is possible to reconcile the PR system with single-Member constituencies. The Germans do it and the Hansard Society did it. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) did it in his amendment to the Scotland Bill, for which I twice voted. A PR system can retain in large part the single-Member constituency, but the regional list system abolishes the single-Member constituency and therefore alters the basis of our profession.

The second argument one hears in favour of the regional list system is that it is proportional and as it is generally agreed that we should move to a common system within the Community, which is likely to be PR, therefore, we might as well get it over and done with. There is a lot of loose thinking in that argument. I welcome the fact that the Community will agree to try to work towards a common system, but I share the doubts that have been widely expressed that this will happen quickly. When that agreement is reached it is quite true that it is unlikely to be on the basis of the first-past-the-post system. However, it is also unlikely to be on the basis of the regional list system either. The regional list system is not practised in the Community. I believe that it was discovered by a Liberal professor in the Forests of. Finland. It is not a system that the Community is likely to adopt.

We are faced with the prospect of having to change twice. We shall have to change from the first-past-the-post system to the regional list system if the amendment is defeated. Then, when the common system is devised we shall have to change again. I do not accept the argument that it is easier to change from one form of proportional representation to another than it is to change from first past the post to PR. Anyone who has ever moved house knows that it is just as hard to move five miles as it is to move 500 miles. The same applies to changes in the electoral system.

I deal now with the question of timing which the Home Secretary discussed today. I believe that this is crucial to the judgment of many hon. Members and that there has been a great deal of obscure and misleading talk. The Prime Minister has smudged his words, and he did so again this afternoon so as to convey different impressions to different people about what he is up to.

5.30 p.m.

It is a little surprising that some people, including the Liberal Party and The Times this morning, have accepted some of the arguments about timing without doing their homework. If we do our homework, we come to a rather different conclusion from that which is now being widely bandied about. It is important to note what the Prime Minister has actually been saying as opposed to the impression that has been created. He has not been saying and did not say this afternoon that, with the regional list, we can meet the target date of May/June 1978. He has carefully avoided that statement. The Leader of the Liberal Party has said it, as has the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but the Prime Minister has not said it—nor, so far as I am aware, has the Foreign Secretary or the Home Secretary.

The Prime Minister has said something different—namely, that with the regional list it will be possible to hold these elections next year. That is true. It will be equally possible to say that under the first-past-the-post system we can hold these elections next year, but this ignores the crucial point "Can we meet the target date of May/June next year?"

The Prime Minister finds himself in the situation of a man who has undertaken with a group of others to use his best endeavours to catch a train that will leave in May/June 1978. It is not much good such a person charging up the platform shouting" Haven't I done well? We have missed it by only 10 minutes". That means that everybody has to sit down with his timetables and work out the next train he can catch. Whether he has missed it by five, 10 or 30 minutes is irrelevant. These are the political facts of the matter, as I understand them from people in the Community. Once the target date of May/June next is missed, every member of the Community is absolved from it. Every member country will have to agree a new date in the light of its own political situations as well as of ours.

The Prime Minister is not answering the vital question, which is not "Can we hold these elections in 1978?" but "Can we hold them by the target date of May/June?" This is where homework becomes so necessary. The Opposition are not equipped to do their homework accurately, and I hope that the Minister of State in replying to the debate will correct me if I am wrong about timing.

We are now near the beginning of the Committee stage of this Bill and there are many clauses still to be discussed. The Bill will then have Report stage, Third Reading and discussion in the other place. Then there will be the Easter period, and we shall consider Lords amendments. We have tried to work out how many days all this will take because, as the Home Secretary rightly said, it is the date of Royal Assent that is crucial. On this calculation the Government will need to allow 10 more days in Committee. If we go through this process allowing a normal period of time, that will mean Royal Assent on about 24th May under a regional list system. If that were so, it would be too late to meet the target date for the regional list system.

In these calculations we have made two assumptions—which are still very much assumptions. The first is that the Government will obtain a timetable motion immediately we return after the Christmas Recess. The second assumption is that the Government will be willing to allocate two days each week in Committee until the Bill has completed its Committee stage in the House of Commons. That would be a much better performance than we have achieved hitherto on the Bill. We have not even achieved two days a week in Committee this Session. The most we have managed to achieve is one and a half days this week and one half-day was an Opposition day. Therefore, in our calculation bringing Royal Assent to 24th May we have assumed a better performance in the provision of Government time on this Bill than we have hitherto.

The Home Secretary was not very clear on the question of timing before Royal Assent, but what he said about the timing after Royal Assent was most interesting. Speaking of the regional list he thought that the country would need three months after Royal Assent before the date on which we could hold elections. In other words, if we assume that the last date is 30th June within the target area, Royal Assent will have to take place by the end of March.

The question of timing which the Government have not yet answered is "Can we meet the target date on the regional list?" The answer is "Yes, but only if the Government completely change their tactics and priorities." In other words, that can happen only if they allot all the legislative time available in January and February to this Bill, leaving wholly on one side the Scotland and Wales Bills and only if they treat the European Assembly Elections Bill as a matter of absolute urgency.

The Home Secretary did not give us an assurance to that effect this afternoon. Is he prepared to give an assurance that all the legislative time available to the Government in January and February will be allocated to this Bill?

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I was considering that matter on the basis that I was not sure whether the Opposition were saying that they were prepared to support a guillotine motion.

Mr. Hurd

I am able to help the right hon. Gentleman. He will be aware that we believe the guillotine should not be brought forward before we have had an orderly vote on the system. Now that the Government have brought forward, as we suggested this proposal before there is any question of a timetable motion, it is fair to say—and I am supporting what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said in Brussels the other day—it would be easier for the Opposition to provide some form of acquiescence if we come to some form of timetable motion later. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is what my hon. Friend said in Brussels and I am simply passing it on.

Is the Home Secretary saying that in those circumstances the Government will provide all the legislative time available in January and February on this Bill, with no further Committee discussion on the Scotland Bill, the Wales Bill or on other Bills? Will he give this Bill absolute overriding priority?

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I have put to the Committee the time table from the point of view of the Home Office. The Committee must take into account the timetable that will be involved from Royal Assent, and how the Government will handle this matter when we come back in the New Year for wider discussion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] But I have taken into account the fact that the Opposition have offered support for a guillotine motion.

Mr. Hurd

What I said was that it would be easier now to provide some form of acquiescence. Those were the words I used. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition spoke in Brussels on this topic and gave not a clear pledge but a suggestion of what might be reasonable. If the Home Secretary had read The Guardian, he would have spotted that before.

Although the Home Secretary said something about the period between Royal Assent and the election date, he has failed to answer the question about what will happen to the timetable leading up to Royal Assent. It is only if the Government are able to give a clear undertaking on this point that the argument about timing has any validity at all.

Mr. Edward Heath (Sidcup)

Rather than pursuing all this shadow boxing, will the Home Secretary give a clear answer? If there is a guillotine motion when Parliament returns after Christmas, will he say whether we shall get this Bill through with Royal Assent in time to have the elections by the end of June?

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I cannot give that view, but it is important because I gave the figures in terms of a first-past-the-post result. What I am saying is that, given the period of 26 weeks on the first-past-the-post system, the guillotine would have to be pretty sharply brought in, and we shall have to move quickly to meet the May/June deadline.

Mr. Hurd

The Home Secretary is trying to lead us away from the argument by raising the matter of the guillotine. I have done my best for him on that, but the real problem does not lie with us. It lies with the Lord President who has consistently, in two Sessions of Parliament, denied the Bill the time required. If the Home Secretary is now saying that there has been some repentance, a total change of mind and that the Labour Party and a united Cabinet are determined that as soon as possible after Christmas the House of Commons will consider the Bill and no other Government legislative matters, then the Home Secretary will be in a position to pursue his argument on timing. However, he will not otherwise be in a position to use that argument at all. Those who have swallowed his argument should reflect on these exchanges.

I come now to the matter of the first-past-the-post system and I want to consider the other side of the coin. Supposing that tonight—and it may be the vote will be close—the Committee decides in favour of the first-past-the-post system. I hope that the Government will not then retire into a prolonged fit of inactive gloom on the subject, simply to prove the rather small point that they have been trying to make about timing. A certain amount of mourning and lamentation may be called for, but let it not be too protracted because it will be important for the Government to consider quickly how to reconcile the view of the Committee—which would then have been expressed in favour of first-past-the-post—with the view of both the Government and the House of Commons that there should be orderly direct elections in this country as soon as possible. There are several possibilities here for accelerating the operation of the first-past-the-post system.

In making his case for the regional list system the Home Secretary has understandingly spoken deprecatingly of these suggestions for alternative possibilities. That is natural in debate, but if it turns out that the Committee does not take his advice and goes for the first-past-the-post system, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look again seriously at some of the suggestions and, with his experience and that of his Department, he may be able to produce some better ideas.

One suggestion was embodied in the amendment that has been tabled by the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper), to which some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have added their names. Of course, there are difficulties in defining boundaries however it is done, but this seems to be a valid and serious-minded effort to meet the problems. It is a different proposition from the one that the Home Secretary put up solely to knock down again, the suggestion that this should be done privately in smoke-filled rooms in the Home Office.

There is also the amendment that has been put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) and others of my hon. Friends. It is a different approach, in that it is more history and less arithmetic than the approach of the hon. Member for Farnworth. Again it is an attempt to solve the problem of achieving a quick first-past-the-post answer.

Another suggestion that has been made—and the Home Secretary can blow upon this, but he should consider it if it becomes necessary—is that the four Boundary Commissions should be asked—this matter was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle)—if there is a vote for the first-past-the-post system, to organise themselves and to make recommendations in the form of a schedule that the House of Commons could consider later in its discussions on the Bill. There have been precedents in other Bills for such preparatory work after Second Reading and, indeed, this afternoon the Home Secretary mentioned the Boundary Commissions and said that they could do preliminary work. This would be much more modest than what has accepted with other Bills, where preparatory work has started after Second Reading. We are not proposing that there should be new staff or new premises, a palace equipped and furnished or that millions should be spent. We are not in that line of country at all. We are suggesting that the existing staff of the Boundary Commissions should, if the vote tonight goes for the first-past-the-post system, turn its mind to this prob- lem. Indeed, it would be amazing if the staff had not done that already.

Last night the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) intervened, referring to a letter that had been written by Lord Thorneycroft, as Chairman of the Conservative Party, to the Select Committee upon which the right hon. Gentleman and I sat. In the letter Lord Thorneycroft said that the Conservative Party wanted some opportunity for local inquiries and that that was the best way of operating. That letter was written in July 1976. No one could have seriously supposed then that the Government would be inactive and would have held the matter up—with the connivance of the Liberal Party—until now, and that it would be only now that we were faced with this almost intolerable choice.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

The Opposition spokesman owes it to his own colleagues to quote Lord Thorneycroft accurately. He said: The party feels it essential that there should be opportunities for some local inquiries which would give only an extra three months Are we now to take it that that is less essential?

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Hurd

Yes, because that letter was written in July 1976 when there appeared to be if not a great length of time, at least adequate time to go through what seemed to us to be the best procedures. We are not in that position now and, unlike the Liberal Party, we are prepared to make some sacrifices of preference to get the Bill through in adequate time.

I have sketched out—and it is only a sketch—the possible ways that have so far been put forward in which the Government could operate the first-past-the-post system. We understand that they do not want to. There are ways in which it could be done much more quickly than the Government have supposed. With any of those ways there would be no more arbitrary or artificial way of drawing constituency boundaries than with the method embodied in the regional list system.

There are always difficulties here and that is why it is such a tragedy that the Government have wasted so much time. If we are up against a time scale, we must make a choice and the ideas that I have outlined for the Government's consideration are no more arbitrary or objectionable than those proposed with the regional list system. The key to timing is not the choice of system but the political will of the Government to see this through. When we have evidence of that will, which we have not had so far, the matter of timing will fall into place.

I apologise for having spoken so long, but I have set out my personal reasons for preferring the first-past-the-post system for the first round of direct elections. Our support for the Bill is a support for the principle. That support does not depend on any particular result tonight. After all the arguing is over and there has been a clear and a definite decision by the Committee on the system we shall want, and shall work for, early and successful direct elections in this country, for the simple but adequate reason that in our view they will help to bring about a more sensible and democratic Community.

Mr. Gerry Fowler (The Wrekin)

I am not in any general sense a supporter of proportional representation and I voted against it in the Scotland Bill. I did that for the simple reason that it would be an absurdity to introduce proportional representation at an intermediate level of government while maintaining first past the post, simple majority voting at local government level below and at parliamentary level above.

It is perfectly fair to argue that we could not introduce a proportional representation system without the risk of infecting the whole of the rest of our democratic system, but that argument—which is rightly a defence against proportional representation in the Scotland Bill at this stage—should not affect our argument today. There is a simple mathematical reason for this. It is clear that the smaller the number of persons elected by comparison with the total size of the electorate the more unrepresentative they may be on a simple majority system of voting.

Some of my hon. Friends may argue that this does not matter, that there are overriding principles which require politics to take precedence over mathematics and that, however small the number of those elected by comparison with the electorate, we should stick to our traditional system because of the risk that we may infect our parliamentary system and be forced into proportional representation willy-nilly. It would be no bad thing if we began to consider more seriously the merits and demerits of various alternative systems of proportional representation as they might apply to the election of Members of the House of Commons. I am not advocating that we adopt any of them, but merely saying that it is about time that we began to consider the matter a little more carefully than we have done in the past.

I do not accept that rejection of the amendment means the inevitable adoption of proportional representation in the election of Members of the House of Commons. If we accept that argument, it means that we have accepted an argument which does not relate to the election of the European Assembly alone. If we then consider the elections to any international assembly of which this country may be part, however few representatives this country had—even if it were as low as five or 10—we should be bound by the logic of that argument to have single-Member constituencies and a first-past-the-post system because otherwise we might infect our system of election to the House of Commons. I regard that argument as utterly and totally absurd.

If we face an election of only 81 Members for the whole United Kingdom and if we are honest—and I do not believe that we should push aside the Prime Minister's arguments in his speech a year ago last October—hon. Members are not totally innumerate and they must realise that a first-past-the-post system would produce very severe distortions in the pattern of representation.

We all know that in Scotland, merely by accident of the day on which the election was held, it would be possible for the Scottish National Party to win all the seats. It would be equally possible for the Labour Party to win all the seats and it is just possible that the Conservative Party would win them all. It all depends on the day on which the elections are held. Only a marginal change in the support for the parties in Scotland which are fairly evenly balanced, could produce such a result.

In Wales, it is likely that the Labour Party would win a majority of, if not all, the seats. That is irrespective of the fact that it may not have an overall majority of the electorate.

In England, it is unlikely that the Labour Party could win all the seats. In some circumstances it may even be unlikely that it would win any of the seats. It is possible that the Conservative Party would take them all. As an English Socialist, I am not happy at the prospect of being completely unrepresented in the European Parliament by any spokesman of my party.

The Labour voters in my constituency would not be very happy about the arguments of some of my hon. Friends which would leave my constituents with their views, whether for or against the Market, utterly unrepresented in the Parliament.

With the first-past-the-post system, we face acute difficulties in drawing boundaries. My right hon. Friend gave an example earlier from the North of England. Let me take my own area. Shropshire cannot, under a first-past-the-post system, produce a single-Member constituency. It has only four parliamentary constituencies and would therefore have to be amalgamated with another county.

It is no good some hon. Members opposite suggesting that we follow the fairly-drawn county boundaries of 1972. Some of the counties would have to combine and the question is with whom. If Shropshire combined with substantial parts of North Staffordshire, I should be delighted because it is likely that we would be represented by a Labour Member. I doubt whether the hon. Members for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), Ludlow (Mr More) and Shrewsbury (Sir J. Langford-Holt) would be as delighted.

If Shropshire were combined with what was Herefordshire and the northern parts of Worcestershire, I should be in despair and the Labour candidate selected for that constituency would know that, whether he was pro or anti the EEC, there would not be a cat in hell's chance of his being elected. The drawing of boundaries would be all-important. Taking the much broader regional area on the system selected in the Bill, we shall achieve a fair balance of representation

It may be that if we were discussing elections to a governmental assembly, from which a Government were drawn and to which they were responsible, I might not adduce these arguments. It might be that in those circumstances we would say that the risk of infection of our parliamentary system was too great and that we should draw back. But we are not discussing elections to an Assembly of that type. We are discussing elections to an Assembly which is essentially consultative and deliberative and has certain powers which it can use only in extrenzis and which it is unlikely to use. It is an Assembly from which no Government are selected.

Are we really going to say that such an Assembly should have in it—and this is the risk that we are taking—a wholly unrepresentative selection of people as the British contingent? It may be that Conservative voters in Scotland will be represented only by English Conservatives. Labour voters in England may be represented scarcely at all and, if they are represented, it may be mainly by Welshmen. The substantial number of people who vote Liberal may not be represented at all. Scotland could be represented entirely by a party the politics of which the vast majority of hon. Members, as unionists, reject utterly and totally. That would be a disgrace to Parliament and a disgrace to this nation.

I am well aware that some of my hon. Friends would like to reduce the European Assembly elections to absurdity because they wish further to discredit Europe. I fully understand that argument, but I have no doubt that they will recognise that the logic of their position is that in elections to any supra-national assembly the same arguments will be replayed and, if they carry the day today, they will be jeopardising the future of any international body to which we might elect representatives.

If some of my hon. Friends adhere to the notion that we want a wholly European Assembly which does not include simply Western Europe and some adhere to the notion that we should, perhaps not in our political lifetimes, strive towards some system of world government, they must bear in mind that the arguments that they are adduring today will be replayed on those later occasions to the great discredit of this country.

6.0 p.m.

It is high time that we had a more open mind towards what is the appropriate system of election for each level of assembly. No one, I hope, would suggest that we want proportional representation in parish council elections. Few would advocate in the House that we want a system of proportional representation in district elections. However, by the time that we get to the level of this place there may be a reasonable argument. The argument is clear-cut when we get to the level of the European Assembly.

If we are to have a fair chance of representing the view of those who send us here and those who will send their representatives to Europe, whether they be pro- or anti-Common Market, there must be some form of proportional representation from a statistical standpoint. I hope that the amendment will be rejected.

Mr. Heath

In previous debates on this subject I have expressed my views very definitely about the attitude that I hope the House will adopt. To begin with, therefore, I want only briefly to touch on the main issues.

The first issue is the importance of having direct elections. I believe that they are important in themselves. They are important because they will make the European Community a democratic Community in its eyes, in the eyes of its members and in the eyes of the rest of the world. As the powers have already been transferred to the Community institutions, I believe that the European Assembly, which has certain specified responsibilities under the treaties, should carry out those responsibilities through a democratically directly elected Assembly. That is why I believe that the matter is important for the future of the Community.

I also believe that having direct elections is important from the point of view of those who will vote in the elections. Whichever system is adopted, it will make them feel that the Community belongs to them and that they will have a valid say in how the powers and responsibilities that are being transferred are exercised. Moreover, whichever system is adopted, direct elections will enable those most concerned with the activities of the Community—for example, those in industry and agriculture and those affected by economic and social matters—to lobby their directly elected representatives in the European Assembly and to try to influence them in the action that they take over the other institutions in the Community.

For all those reasons I believe that the Assembly itself is important and that it should be directly elected. It should be seen to be democratic. I hope that everyone on the Opposition Benches who has supported the European policy in the past will agree with my analysis and will regard it as important that we should have a directly elected Assembly.

I now move to the second aspect, which is the timing. It is important that the elections should take place, as the Heads of Government originally agreed, in May-June, or by the latest the end of June and the beginning of July of next year.

That is important for a number of reasons. First, it is important in the carrying out of obligations under the treaty. The European Council and the Council of Ministers have achieved a momentum. We all know that in politics once a momentum has been built up with a specified target date, there is disillusionment and the momentum is lost if the target date is not reached. If it is not reached, it takes a long time before the momentum is regained. That is the position, how-ever much we may wish the momentum to build up. That is a fairly obvious and acknowledged fact in the House. We have seen it constantly with legislation in the past. We know that once the momentum is lost it takes a long time before it can be built up. That is the general position in the Community.

The third aspect that affects us as a House of Commons, a Parliament and a country is the one to which the Community looks to us for leadership. The one thing to which the Community looked to us for leadership when we became a member was the democratisation of the Community. It may differ from us in many respects. For instance, it may not like our attitude towards industry, agriculture or other aspects of Community life, such as foreign affairs. However, it was prepared to accept leadership from us in a number of different spheres. Above all, it expected it, wanted it and asked for it in the democratisation of the Community. However, that is one area above all in which we have failed the Community so far.

I do not think that there is any point in trying to allocate blame. That is not my purpose tonight in any respect. However, the rest of the member States are ready to have their elections at the time at which, it was agreed, we should all aim. We, the oldest of democracies, with what we like to think is the most efficient democratic system, is the one member of the Community that is unable to fit in with the plans of the rest of the Community to allow it in its own way to become democratic. I find that a lamentable aspect of our general approach.

Mr. Skinner

If the other European nations were avidly looking for leadership in democracy from this country, why is it that they have tried to impose their system of election upon us? Why do not they accept our first-past-the-post system?

Mr. Heath

They have not tried to impose any system upon us. If they were trying to do so, we should not be debating these matters tonight. The question of which is the best system is something that we discuss among ourselves. When finally we come to the stage when the Community tries to achieve one system for the whole of its elections in the same way as we have one system for the whole of the Westminster parliamentary elections, it will be a matter of negotiation within the Community as to which system we use.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

No, leadership.

Mr. Heath

If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to interrupt, perhaps he will rise to his feet.

Mr. Powell

Certainly. If the Continent of Europe wishes to learn from us, it will imitate this House. It will not seek to impose its notions or ideas on elections upon our better understanding. If the argument is from leadership, it is with the practices and the past and traditions of the House.

Mr. Heath

With great respect, the right hon. Gentleman does not have a valid argument. Leadership does not consist of saying "You will follow exactly what we have done". Leadership consists of trying to bring about an agreed approach by a Community of nine nations that is advancing along a new path together. That is the leadership that it expects from us.

Mr. Philip Whitehead (Derby, North)

If there is to be that agreed approach—I accept that it should be agreed—surely it will come at the second election and not at the first. Why, therefore, should we embark on a quite different system for one election only, which is totally untried and about which many people throughout the country have, quite rightly, a great suspicion?

Mr. Heath

That comes within the next group of points with which I wish to deal. First, there is the importance of our playing our part at the time that has been agreed by all the other members of the Community, for which they themselves are ready and for which our Prime Minister has said he will use his best endeavours.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

He has not.

Mr. Heath

The right hon. Gentleman may not have done so, but I do not wish to debate that either. My purpose is to achieve direct elections for the Community in accordance with the timetable to which we have aspired. Even if the right hon. Gentleman has not carried out his undertaking to the utmost, I do not see why we as a party should adopt a procedure that will make the situation even worse. That is the next argument to which I shall address myself.

I turn to the question of the system. I have said from the beginning that I do not believe that the first-past-the-post system is suitable, for a variety of reasons. We have accepted it in this country where we have 635 seats, many of them being returned with a very small majority with electorates of 50,000 to 60,000. We accept the system because we have said that there will be swings and roundabouts and that it will roughly work out all right. If we look at the end of The Times handbook at the conclusion of a General Election and note the number of marginal seats on each side, we see that the system roughly works out all right. However, with only 81 seats and constituencies of more than half a million, I do not believe that people are prepared to accept that 81 seats can be decided by 10 or 11 votes in each of the great majority of seats. That is why as a basic approach to the matter I do not accept that the first-past-the-post system is suitable for only 81 seats with electorates of half a million or more.

My second point is that the European Assembly is not a body that is to form Governments, support Governments and dismiss Governments. It is there as a representative body, in the same way as the Senate or the House of Representatives in Congress in Washington is there as a representative body.

Mr. John Mendelson


Mr. Heath

I think that the hon. Gentleman wishes to say that Congress also has powers of legislation but, leaving that aside, it is first and foremost there as a representative body, and the European Assembly is there as a representative body. If the European Assembly is a representative body, the most important thing is to make it representative, and that we cannot do on a first-past-the-post basis of 81 seats and an electorate of more than 500,000 for each. Therefore, we must turn to a different form of elections for its Members.

I do not believe that it is a valid argument to say that because we, the Westminster Parliament, with an entirely different purpose, have been prepared to accept a system which can undeniably be shown from time to time to be unfair and unrepresentative, the rest of Europe must follow it. Indeed, there are many people in this country—and I suspect many in the House—who are asking themselves whether the Westminster system operates quite as perfectly as we have been led to believe by the academics who write the books. When we look around the world and see that no country to which we have given the Westminster system has kept it, we might at least ask ourselves whether we are perfect in as many respects as we should like to think. But that is a separate aspect of the problem.

We now come to the question of the alternative system to first past the post. I wanted to see an added-Member system—

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

The right hon. Gentleman gave the analogy of the United States House of Representatives. Is not the proper analogy with the United States Senate? Why is it that the system there produces a representative spread of parties and personalities when it is very similar to first past the post?

Mr. Heath

It is because there is a very large number of seats. [Interruption.] Indeed, there are 435. The Americans have also been prepared to work on that system because of the swings and roundabouts. In Europe, the distortions are obvious of having an election in this country mid-term in a Government's unpopularity, with our seeing one party sweep into power in Europe from this country, the whole business being reversed at a later stage, and the minority parties being excluded. That is not a justifiable system. I would have hoped that most people would accept that as well.

Mr. Rathbone

May I remind my right hon. Friend that built into the American system for the election of Members of the House of Representatives is a complicated mathematical formula to make the system simple, so that there is reasonably precise representation by each representative of the same number of votes in each State?

Mr. Heath

That is part of the Ameri can system.

I move on to the alternative to first past the post, which is a system of proportional representation. I would have preferred one which had added Members, but that was not accepted by the Select Committee, though it has been worked successfully in European countries.

Another aspect that I find disturbing is the assumption in some quarters—not so much in the House, but outside—that any system other than first past the post cannot be understood by the British electorate. I see no reason to believe that. Other electorates apparently can understand their systems perfectly well, and I see no reason why the British electorate should not be able to do so. I am convinced that it can, and so is the electorate.

6.15 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd), who made an impressive speech from the Opposition Front Bench, believes that it is unwise to take two steps at a time, as he described it, by introducing the elections and having a different system from the first past the post. My judgment differs from my hon. Friend's here. In politics the opportunity to make a change comes when one is making a new approach, and the elections to Europe are a new approach. They give the opportunity to make a change in the electoral system. I agree with the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) that if we do not make a change on this occasion we shall have a battle about the matter at each election, and all the forces that are against making the change in any case will feel themselves reinforced.

My hon. Friend also said that he believed that there would not be a unified European system in the election after this, that it might take some time. On that, I might well share my hon. Friend's views, but if I did it would only reinforce me in the belief that we should make a change on this occasion. The thought of going on with election after election to the European Assembly on a first-past-the-post basis, and the represenation swinging wildly from one side to the other at election after election, only convinces me all the more that we should change the system now to one that is more representative than first-past-the-post. On those points I disagree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Spearing

The right hon. Gentleman said a little earlier that the public should be able to understand the system. But does he not agree that in South-East England not only would there be 60 candidates and one vote per person but probably candidate A could receive more votes than candidate B but, because of the carry-over system, B would be elected? Does he not think that that would be difficult to explain to the public?

Mr. Heath

No. I think that the proportional representation aspects of elections can be perfectly well explained to the general public.

As I have said, I should have preferred the system of added Members. I think that that would have been a better system, but if we must choose between first-past-the-post and a system of regional lists I have no doubt where my vote will go. It will be for the regional list, and that is where I hope the vote of a majority of hon. Members will go, for the reasons I have already given.

I want to pose one other question to the members of my party. What disadvantage is there to us on this side of the Chamber in supporting the regional list system? Of course, there are problems with multi-Member constituencies. There are problems with single-Member constituencies with an electorate of over 500,000. There are problems whichever electoral system one has. But what disadvantage is there to us on the Conservative Benches in having a regional list system?

It is said that such a system would mean discussion about candidates. It would, but that would happen with constituencies of 500,000 voters embodying eight or nine present constituencies. Therefore, I ask myself and the party to which I belong "What disadvantage is there to us in supporting a regional list system tonight?" I cannot see one disadvantage to us.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)

I am listening with care to my right hon. Friend's arguments. I voted for what might be called the Mackintosh amendment on the Scottish Assembly, but I am thinking of not voting the same way tonight. I should like to answer my right hon. Friend's frank question about the advantage to our party by telling him of the point that one of my party workers put to me a few days ago. He told me" You said that local government reorganisation was good. You said that we should change and improve the system. You said that we should make the Health Service changes, and that they were good. You voted for the water service changes. All those changes were advocated by you on the basis that they would improve the system." I found that a very difficult point to answer. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will tell me what I should say to my constituents.

Mr. Heath

My hon. Friend must reconcile himself to the fact that as his constituent is so obviously sceptical about his advice on any subject there is no reason to believe that he will accept what my hon. Friend says on any matter. I shall therefore continue my argument along the path that I have mapped out for myself. Apart from the disadvantage from which my hon. Friend suffers, I see no aspect in which the regional list would be disadvantageous to this party. On the other hand, I see disadvantages, and very strong disadvantages, in the other courses.

Here I come to the question of timing. If there is a guillotine—I would support a guillotine because of the importance of this subject, which I have already discussed—I do not see, in relation to what my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon said, that it is necessary for the Government to give up the whole of their legislative time in order to get this Bill through. That might be understood as meaning that this was blackmail on the Government to give up their devolution Bills. I do not think that my hon. Friend meant to imply that. No. The Government will have to give up, of course, a proper time under the guillotine for this particular Bill. I would hope that the Home Secretary would have sufficient influence with his right hon. Friend the Lord President, who is listening at the other end of the Bench, to ensure that that happened and that the legislation was fitted in together.

If that is the case, I have no doubt at all that elections on the regional list can be carried through by the time appointed by the European Council of Heads of Government. I hope that the Home Secretary will endorse that. But in being practical, I must say that I see no possibility at all of getting those elections with the first-past-the-post arrangement.

I have already said that shadow boxing was going on. Undoubtedly it is going on. We in the House of Commons know that the House will just not accept either of the amendments on the Notice Paper, one of them in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson), setting out a list of potential constituencies for the first-past-the-post system.

I would go further, from our experience in ordering constituency boundaries after a Boundary Commission. If there is a Boundary Commission, will the Home Secretary's right hon. and hon. Friends below the Gangway accept 81 constituencies on the nod from the Boundary Commission in a Bill of this kind? Not for one moment. Are we on the Conserva- tive Benches, for that matter, or are those on the Opposition Front Bench, prepared to give an undertaking that we will accept on the nod what comes out of the Boundary Commission on 81 European seats? Not for one moment. Nor do I suggest that it would be right to do so, either. When one is starting on a new allocation of constituencies, it is natural that the House of Commons will want to debate probably each of the 81 of them at the time.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

What makes my right hon. Friend think that either this House of Commons or indeed, the electorate accepts the present boundaries of economic regions? In many areas they are regarded as an absurdity. Why does he think that those are likely to be accepted as rational grounds on which to form an electoral system?

Mr. Heath

Again, there is a very practical reason. As the Home Secretary said, regional boundaries were fixed 13 or 14 years ago, and they have been accepted by Governments of both parties, by majority Governments and minority Governments. Although my hon. Friend is always very active, I have not noticed that he has attempted to introduce any Bills to try to change regional boundaries. These, therefore, are something which is in existence and can be accepted, if there is good will on the part of the Opposition to get the Bill through.

I believe that in this situation it is a matter of judgment. I do not believe that either solution is perfect. I come to the point that the elections themselves are important and that the timing is important. Whereas there is a perfectly good possibility of getting the timing that we want with the regional list system if the Government now carry out their proper responsibilities, I do not believe that there is any practical, realistic possibility of getting it with the first-past-the-post system That is leaving aside the point that I personally believe that the first-past-the-post system is entirely unsuitable for this form of election in any case.

What I hope to see is that, having carried through a system of PR, when it comes to discussions about a permanent system for Europe we shall have a much greater voice in settling that by having already used a system of PR than we would have if we just stayed with the first-past-the-post system, which the whole of Europe would say was not representative.

Therefore, I hope that tonight the amendment will be defeated and that the Government will go ahead with the regional list system with the utmost speed.

Mr. Bryan Gould (Southampton, Test)

The debate on proportional representation is very often presented as one in which all the forces of fairness, justice, reason and sweetness and light are in favour of reform, whereas only tired old party hacks, who see party advantage in the present system, oppose it, but I believe that once that debate is joined, and joined properly, we shall find that there are many and considerable advantages in favour of our present system, advantages to be claimed not simply on behalf of party politicians but on behalf of good government and the people of this country.

Those advantages, which I shall try to indicate briefly, are, some of them well known, and some less well known in the debate which has taken place so far. They are, of course, to the effect that our present system at least provides, in most cases, certainty. I talk of the Westminster context for the time being. It produces a system in which we are able to avoid the disadvantages and the weaknesses of coalition Government. It means that we can avoid in most circumstances the politicking that takes place after the voting has happened, the politicking between the politicians to sort out who should be the Government. It means that we can avoid what happens in some other countries—the fate of having a permanent and virtually irremovable Government.

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)

Let me get this quite clear. Is the hon. Member saying that in fairness, equity and democracy he prefers a minority elected Government—unrepresentative, in other words—to a coalition Government which is representative?

Mr. Gould

I shall come in a moment to the point as to whether the system which the hon. Gentleman prefers can really be justified in terms of fairness and accurate representation of the people of this country. What I am saying at pre- sent—I direct my remarks to the Westminster context for the time being—is that there are many considerable advantages to be obtained from our present system, and that these advantages have not yet been drawn out in any of the debates which have taken place.

I am in the process of saying that one of the advantages is that in most circumstances we avoid the uncertainties of coalition Government. One of those uncertainties is simply that extremist parties will be encouraged, by virtue of the fragmentation that will result if we have proportional representation. Where-as one of the strengths of our present system is that anybody who wishes to be active in national politics is in effect compelled to enter into the main stream of politics, under a proportional representation system those people will have the encouragement and incentive to form themselves into smaller groups which will inevitably reflect more and more extreme positions.

There are, of course, other examples and instances in which our present system is infinitely superior to the PR system This can be summarised by saying that under our present system a voter is able to cast his vote directly for the candidate he wishes to elect, whereas under almost any proportional representation system that one can imagine he can never be absolutely sure what will happen to his vote after he has cast it. There is a process by which his vote is then diverted to some other candidate whom he cannot identify in advance.

The one disadvantage that is claimed for our present system is that it is unfair. Of course, those who make this complaint are those who maintain that it is particularly unfair to them. That is, of course, those in the Liberal Party.

That unfairness argument begs the question, because we cannot be sure how people would vote; we cannot be sure whether they would vote in exactly the same way under a different system as they vote under the present system. Let us look at the Liberal Party, for example If we had a PR system, it is surely likely that many of those who currently vote Liberal might, for various reasons, vote in different directions. They might vote for another minority grouping which would be encouraged to come into existence. Also, if they were really confronted with the possibility that a Liberal vote would count, voting Liberal might be the last thing they would actually do.

The unfairness argument also begs the question of precisely what electoral system we are currently operating. If one starts from the viewpoint that we are operating a system that is simply a national popularity poll, of course it is unfair that 6 million Liberals are underrepresented, but if we are really running a system—it is what we have always done—whereby communities elect representatives to Westminster to represent those communities, the fact is, harsh though it may be for Liberal Members to accept, that only 13 communities wish to be represented by a Liberal Member.

Mr. Russell Johnston


6.30 p.m.

Mr. Gould

I am now leaving this point. I simply wished to begin with a brief indication of how I felt. It was meant as no more than that, and other arguments are involved in the debate.

I recognise that what we are debating today is not the question of proportional representation but the question of proportional representation for the European elections. I therefore wish to address myself not to those hon. Members who want PR in general but to those who are agnostic on the issue but who wish to look at it in the context of direct elections.

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the Committee whether he represents the 42 per cent. of the electorate which voted for him or the 58 per cent. which did not?

Mr. Gould

The fact is that 42 per cent is a higher proportion than anyone else received. There is no question that a Liberal candidate in that election could claim to be here in my place.

Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)

Answer the question. The hon. Gentleman does not represent a majority, since 58 out of 100 did not want him as their MP.

The First Deputy Chairman (Sir Myer Galpern)

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) knows the rules well enough and knows that he cannot make sedentary interventions. If hon. Members would address the Chair it would avoid unnecessary interventions and interjections.

Mr. Gould

I am addressing my remarks to you, Sir Myer. In the context of direct elections—

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

Since the electorate of Rochdale did exactly the same, are not the sedentary interruptions on my right pure humbug?

Mr. Gould

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

In the context of direct elections it is sometimes argued that the advantages of the first-past-the-post system would not apply. I believe that there are two main reasons for this, both of which have been explained in earlier contributions to the debate. The first is that in European elections we should not be attempting to form a government. Therefore, I assume that it matters less, that the British people in an election of this sort would not reach a clear conclusion, and that it would not be important that a majority should be formed.

Second, it is argued that in constituencies of such a size, and with multi-Member constituencies and so on, there would be no pretence that European Members of Parliament would have the same sort of direct link with their constituents as we aspire to in Westminster elections.

In that case it is argued that, by abandoning that pretence, we can afford to have multi-Member constituencies where the constituent goes to one Member who says "Yes, I agree with you but none of my colleagues do". The constituent then goes to each Member in turn and is given the same answer. Therefore, it is argued that we can afford to have party lists whereby the party machines determine in the end who should be elected and who should not. We can afford to have what I have already referred to as the diversion of votes whereby the votes cast for one candidate will end by electing another. Indeed, it could be a candidate who differed in an important way from the candidate for whom the vote was originally cast.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

The system proposed in the Bill does not have a party list of the type that my hon. Friend describes. While there would be a list of candidates for each party, those who would be elected would not be those who were numbered highest by the party selection committee but those candidates for each party who individually received the highest number of votes in the region. That avoids the weakness that is often seen in our parliamentary system.

Mr. Gould

I agree with my hon. Friend. What he says is correct. I do not, however, necessarily believe that that eliminates the element of party involvement in drawing up the list. It is that precise point which is the weakness when we consider what happens to a vote once it is cast. A vote cast for one individual on the list then becomes used and is added to the advantage of all other people on the list, even if one were determined not to vote for anyone else on the list.

This argument simply resolves itself into the argument that, because direct elections are not really intended to do what normal democratic elections do—that is, because they are deficient in precisely those important democratic elements which we regard as important in our own national life—we can afford for that reason to have an electoral system that pays no attention to those elements, and, in many respects, does violence to them. In other words, because direct elections do not really matter in the sense that they do not involve any real change in governmental functions, the voter does not really care so much—so the theory runs—about what happens to his vote. That is one logic that might lie behind PR for direct elections.

There is another alternative logic which I and my hon. Friends, and anyone who supports the Prime Minister's view of the way in which the Community should develop, find equally distasteful. That is the logic that direct elections are not just a piece of window dressing, as I suggested a moment ago, but are designed to create a new supra-national tier of government. On that assumption direct elections make sense, in that the British elections would in no way be meant to produce a British national delegation which could be regarded as representing the British national interest or the British people. On the contrary, the object would be simply to produce a British component whose size and composition would have no meaning in the British context and which would only be significant when added to form parts of a larger European grouping. In that situation it would simply not be proper for the British people to concern themselves with, or take a view of, the result of their voting—at least not in a British context—because it simply would not matter.

It would only matter if the British delegations were added to a much larger European grouping. That logic is the logic of European union. For those who espouse it, I thank them, because it at least leaves us in a clear position, and we understand what they are arguing for, but no one who is opposed to European union can possibly accept that logic.

Therefore, I would say that of the two possible features of PR one simply downgrades those elections and reveals that they are a worthless and expensive piece of window-dressing, while the other inevitably involves us in the creation of a supra-national tier of government. In other words, the logic of PR in this context is the logic of direct elections themselves with the same flaws and the same objections, in the opinion of my hon. Friends and myself.

Since neither of the two possible arguments for PR in this context can commend themselves to myself or my hon. Friends I urge them to vote for the amendment.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) who has put his argument, as always, with characteristic lucidity and persuasiveness. When I spoke during the Second Reading debate in July I said: I see, therefore, the choice of procedures as primarily a practical matter, a matter of giving effect to the principle of direct elections in a workable and democratic way."—[Official Report, 7th July 1977; c. 1494, Vol. 934.] The question of principle is settled. It is underpinned by four main considerations—first, the treaty commitment. Although Article 138 imposes no timetable it clearly envisages progress to direct elections and an obligation on signatories to accept that principle and work to that end.

Secondly, the principle is rooted in the basic philosophy of representative institutions in a democratic society which requires a direct nexus between the electors and the elected. Thirdly, there is the Government's undertaking to do their best to achieve direct elections by the summer of 1978 and whatever we may think of the Government here at home, when they speak in the international context they speak in the name of the nation.

Fourth, since that speech in July there is the additional consideration of two decisive endorsements by the House of Commons in the Second Reading debates. Therefore the principle of direct elections is res judicata and we are now concerned with practical matters, the mechanics and methods of best giving effect to the principle.

It is in my view important that we make our decision today within the framework of the practical matter that we have to decide, that is the procedures best calculated to give effect as punctually as possible to the principle of direct elections for the initial term and probably for the initial term only. That is the demarcation of our necessarily limited task today.

It follows from this that we have to identify the issues which are not in point today and accept their exclusion from our consideration. First and foremost, this is not a debate on the general principle and philosophy of proportional representation, its merits and demerits as compared with our traditional system. Not only is it not a debate on these matters in the broad context of political philosophy—

Mr. John Mendelson

What is it about?

Sir D. Walker-Smith

I am coming to say exactly what it is about. The hon. Member must try to follow an argument. I must say to the hon. Gentleman, not for the first time perhaps, and certainly not for the last, that, in the words of Dr. Johnson I can give him an explanation but I fear that I cannot give him an understanding.

Nor is this a debate on the propriety or otherwise of a future application of some such system to our elections to the House of Commons. Nor, indeed, is it even a debate on the propriety or otherwise of a future application of some such system to future elections in the European Parliament.

Mr. John Mendelson


Sir D. Walker-Smith

If in these few moments the hon. Gentleman has achieved an understanding I shall give way with even greater pleasure than usual.

Mr. John Mendelson

I am anxious to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman a question because I remember his past on these matters. Is his anxiety to exclude any substantive consideration of the entire issue that we are debating perhaps brought about by his desire that we should forget his past views on these matters? Does he not agree that many of those who have approached us, and certainly the Liberal Party, regard this debate as being very much a dress rehearsal for the introduction of proportional representation into this country? Why is he misleading the Committee?

Sir D. Walker-Smith

My optimism was clearly ill-founded. Not only has the hon. Gentleman not succeeded in finding and understanding, but he provides no evidence that he ever will. I am proud of my past in this matter. I invite the hon. Gentleman to read again—I do not suppose that he has read it yet—my speech of 7th April 1975 in which these matters were spelt out with, if I may modestly say so, a clarity and particularity which would enable even the hon. Member, with constant perusal and diligence, to begin to have the glimmering of an understanding. For good measure perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be good enough to read—since I am sure he did not listen to it—my speech of a week or two ago on the question of powers. I must resist the temptation to instruct further the hon. Gentleman because I would not like to take up too much time.

Attempts to elevate or expand the scope of this discussion from its limited and practical purpose to a generalised debate and to hypothetical situations is neither justified nor helpful. As to elections to the House of Commons, there is no doubt a case for a future change to some system of proportional representation, and that case has its sincere and staunch supporters. Equally, there is a case for the retention of our traditional and well-tried system, and that also has its supporters, no less staunch and no less sincere.

6.45 p.m.

I say to both these categories of right hon. and hon. Members that their case in respect of elections to the House of Commons is not decided, or even compromised, by the decision we make tonight. So far as concerns the issue of any change in our method of parliamentary elections to this House, that is an issue on a different plane, a different kettle of fish altogether.

On the separate and different issue of the possibility and propriety of proportional representation for our elections to the House of Commons, I say this, that I believe in the evolutionary processes of our unwritten constitution. One can trace the development and broadening of our pattern of representation, in particular for the one-and-a-half centuries since the arguments proceeding the Reform Act of 1832—and I must accept the melancholy fact that I have actively participated in these processes for more than a fifth of that time. I do not, therefore, say that we shall never have a system of proportional representation. As Sir Winston sagely observed in another context, it is an unwise politician who ever uses the word "Never".

I do say that proportional representation for this House should not be sought to be introduced by a side wind, as a claimed corollary and allegedly logical consequence of a Bill dealing with a wholly different election. It could properly he introduced, in my submission, only by the direct expression of the unfettered will of the House of Commons, as representing the electors, guided, assisted, and fortified, one would hope, by the detailed consideration and calm judgment of a Speaker's Conference expressly convened to consider this issue.

As for future elections to a European Parliament, the position, though different, is equally clear. So far from the methods in this Bill constituting a binding or even a persuasive authority for elections to the House of Commons, they do not even constitute such authority for succeeding elections to the European Parliament. This is because Article 138 calls for a uniformity of election procedures. That requirement has been waived for the first election, but member States will seek to implement it for the second and subsequent elections. It follows, therefore, that the decision today is a short-term one, liable to change and neither binding in perpetuity nor even setting a pattern for the future.

This being so, two opposing arguments can be and are advanced. The advocates of proportional representation say that a uniform procedure will almost certainly involve an application of proportional representation and therefore we should start now. The advocates of the status quo say that, since material change is probable, it is best to seek to restrict it to the substantial change that may become inevitable for the second and subsequent elections. Again, both arguments have some substance, but it is right to point out to the proponents of the first argument that proportional representation can and does assume a wide variety of form.

Time, fortunately, forbids a description of the various methods of election in the member States; but it is a pattern of considerable diversity. That being so, it is virtually impossible to anticipate the structure that a uniform system will assume. That means that if we are departing from our traditional system now, the danger of a double change within a relatively short time must be very real.

I come then to the question—against that background and that definition of the issues—which we have to decide, namely what it is best now to do. In my speech in July I said: there are obviously merits and drawbacks in both systems and … a fairly close balance between them."—[Official Report, 7th July 1977; Vol. 934, c. 1491.] Basically, I concluded that although the regional list system might result in a fairer representation between parties, at least on a strictly mathematical basis, nevertheless that advantage would be secured at the expense of local representation. Assembly constituencies, on the other hand, would have the advantage of being a less radical departure from our traditional system and would give a greater degree of local or quasi-local representation.

What brought the regional list system at that time into fairly close balance, in my view, on an analysis of the contents of the Bill, was its apparent advantage in respect of the time factor. Everything was specified in the Bill—the composition of the electoral regions and the electoral procedures—whereas the Bill as drafted envisages and requires detailed and fairly complex post-statutory procedures which might be time-consuming and would prevent any reasonable expectation of meeting the target.

The time factor, though not giving rise to any strictly legal obligations, is important in respect of good faith and reasonable consideration for other member States. I believe that that assessment, including the conclusion as to the time factor, was a correct judgment in the context of the Bill as drafted, and as matters then stood only a fortnight after its publication. Now, five months later, it is possible and appropriate to make a further appraisal, taking account not only of the contents of the Bill as presented but of the changes and improvements that the will of the Committee can insert into it. The main factors are those of time and practicality. The question is: is it possible to amend the Bill so as to create viable and appropriate Assembly constituencies with voting according to our traditional method avoiding the relatively complex and lengthy procedures of the Boundary Commission at present enshrined in the Bill?

Is it possible to define those constituencies now and schedule them to the Bill, thus putting them, in this respect, on the same footing as the electoral regions proposed in Schedule 3? To answer that, we have to look at the requisites of Assembly constituencies as defined in the Bill. They are defined in Schedule 2, Part II, on page 17: In Great Britain—

  1. (a) each Assembly constituency shall consist of an area that includes two or more parliamentary constituencies; and
  2. (b) no parliamentary constituency shall be included partly in one Assembly constituency and partly in another.
The electorate of any Assembly constituency in Great Britain shall be as near the electoral quota as is reasonably practicable having regard, where appropriate, to special geographical considerations. [Interruption.]

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. There is far too much conversation going on in the Chamber.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

There are therefore three specified requisites, and they reflect the basic requirements of fair and acceptable electoral representation, that is, a reasonable congruity of interest between the component parts of a constituency, and a reasonable parity of representation between constituencies. Those requisites do not extend to treating local government frontiers as absolute barriers, nor, logically, should they do so, since matters of concern to the European Parliament will not usually turn on question of local government.

These being the requisites specified in the Bill, deriving from considerations of reasons and principle, can they be satisfied by amendment of the Bill so as to provide for scheduling Assembly constituencies which satisfy those requirements? In my view, the answer is "Yes". It is an answer which fortunately can be based not just on hypothesis or surmise, but on proof and demonstration.

We know that it can be done if the House so wills, because we have at least one amendment already on the Order Paper—quite apart from what the Government might reasonably be expected to initiate if the Committee tonight expresses its preference for Assembly constituencies rather than a regional list system—which does this very thing.

I refer to Amendment No. 78, which provides for a new schedule defining the initial composition of Assembly constituencies. This schedule does exactly what is required of it by the Bill. It defines Assembly constituencies in accordance with the number to which we are entitled in the European Parliament and in a form which satisfies both the specified requisites of the Bill and the general requirements of reasonable congruity of interest and parity of representation.

Of course, it would be nice to have smaller constituencies, but that is not possible under our entitlement. We can, however have much smaller constituencies with a much greater congruity of interest than the electoral regions proposed in the Bill. They would not be so large as wholly to forgo local or quasi-local identity, which the electoral regions unfortunately and inescapably must forgo, with the inevitable consequence of a diminished interest on the part of the citizen in the elections and thereby in the work of the European Parliament.

Of course, there will be no precise mathematical parity of representation. That is impossible in all circumstances. But the point that the Committee should register is that the variation would be proportionately far less than in our present constituency electorates in the House of Commons, and the parity proportionately far greater than the Boundary Commission has been able to achieve through three decades of work and effort for our Parliamentary constituencies.

Anyone who doubts that proposition, including the hon. Member for Penistone, should look at the Home Secretary's catalogue of electorates in reply to my Written Question in the summer. Therefore, we have the ground work—the basis—for Assembly constituencies which would meet the requirements not only of the Bill but of proper electoral representation.

I submit this conclusion to the Committee. The decision that we make today should be made within the framework of the initial elections to the European Parliament without prejudice to any longer-term considerations which may arise for the electoral pattern in the United Kingdom or for subsequent elections to the European Parliament. That decision, within that framework, should aim at achieving the highest common factor of parity and practicality.

We now know—that of which we could not be certain on the presentation of the Bill—that a practical solution based on a reasonable parity of representation can be achieved on the basis of Assembly constituencies with our familar voting procedures. We know, too, that this can be done within substantially the same parameters of time as apply to the regional list system and that we are therefore, in good conscience and good faith, entitled to make our judgment tonight free from the constraint which would arise if one method could enable us to conform to the undertaking given as to time and the other could not.

These being the material considerations, in my view it is clear where logic leads us. I respectfully invite the Committee to follow that path and to take the opportunity afforded of establishing Assembly constituencies supported and sustained on the twin pillars of parity and practicality.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

The speech by the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) was rather like one of those long detective novels in which one does not find the answer until the last sentence.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

But detective authors always get it right.

Mr. Jay

If I understood the right hon. and learned Gentleman aright, I congratulate him on catching the criminal at the very end.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) rightly said that what is proposed by the Government represents a revolutionary change in our electoral system for purely short-term and irrelevant reasons. Why, after all, are we being asked tonight to introduce one variant of the proportional representation system into these elections? It is for two reasons, neither of which seems to me convincing or justifying so sweeping a change.

7.0 p.m.

The first is ostensibly to enable direct elections to go ahead in the spring of next year, though, as the Prime Minister said, there is absolutely no sanctity in that date. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) made clear today, it is doubtful whether, even if we adopt that system, it will make any difference to the timetable.

Secondly, and basically, the whole of this plan is being foisted upon us because the Liberal Party wants to introduce proportional representation into the normal electoral system of this country. To my mind, that is what we are fundamentally being asked to vote on today.

I should like briefly to look at some of the basic arguments for and against a proportional representation system of this kind. But, from that point of view, I address one question to the Liberal Party to which I have not yet had an answer. If proportional representation is the best, fairest and most defensible system in principle, why did not the Liberal Government introduce it when they had a large majority in the House of Commons for eight years from 1906 to 1914? We have not had a convincing answer to that question. Until we get one, I think that we are entitled to be a bit sceptical about the purity of the Liberal Party's motives.

I agree that there is one sound, theoretical argument for proportional representation, but there are arguments on the other side. If the object of an electoral system is to give arithmetical equality between party voting in the country and party representation in this Chamber, that can be achieved by proportional representation, and that is certainly one important element in the argument. However, it is not the whole argument.

The first disadvantage of proportional representation in principle that I see is that there is something to be said for a system by which the man who gets the most votes wins the election. The late Sir Winston Churchill, I believe, described proportional representation as a system by which the man at the bottom of the poll could get elected. That is not wholly irrelevant to our discussion.

Secondly, there is a good deal to be said for having only one Member of Parliament responsible for each constituency. It makes responsibilities clear and avoids confusion and duplication.

Thirdly, there is something to be said for everybody elected to the Assembly or Parliament being elected by the same method, not having some who are elected by a simple majority and others who are elected by an arithmetical system which, at any rate, some people do not understand. If all those three principles are to be accepted, it can only be done, so far as I can see, by the first-past-the-post system.

Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as we already know that in other parts of the Community people will be elected on the proportional representation system, therefore his third argument does not seem to hold on this occasion?

Mr. Jay

I am simply saying that in this country, or anywhere else, the fulfilment of each of those three principles—for each of which I think there is something to be said—can only be achieved by the first-past-the-post system. If my hon. Friend will reflect on that, he will see that point is valid. I am not suggesting that this argument in itself is conclusive. However, I suggest that it is one of the considerations to be weighed against the argument of mathematical equality.

There is another and even more powerful argument which leads me to question the basic argument for proportional representation in any form. The fundamental assumption of those who back proportional representation—and I know they do it sincerely and fervently—is that the electorate votes exclusively for a party. It is true that the electors vote very largely for a party—and they can do that under our present system—but I do not believe that they always vote exclusively for a party.

More important still, when we are elected under the present system we regard ourselves as representing all our constituents and not just those who have voted for us. In a real sense we represent our local party and, indeed, our national party, but in a real sense also we represent all our constituents. I think that most hon. Members will agree that when our constituents come to our surgeries with their housing or pension problems it never occurs to us to ask whether they vote Labour, Conservative, National Front or anything else.

The curious, as it seems to me, hybrid Members of the Assembly of Parliament who emerge as a result of some mathematical manipulation from the PR system will feel themselves not indebted to and representative of their constituents to the same extent, but rather of the party and the party machine. It seems to me that what these representatives will be interested in between elections, particularly if they are to be paid the vast sums that have been mentioned, is who is to compile the next regional party list. In reality they will be to a great extent representatives not of their constituents but of the party machine. I do not believe that that is a desirable change either in EEC elections or in our own elections here.

If anyone doubts that, let him look at the Bill to see the lengths to which the authors of the Bill, who have shown enormous ingenuity, have been forced to go to conceal the fact that they are really making the party label the decisive test. On page 30 in Schedule 4 there is a paragraph entitled Elimination of plural nominations and identical campaign descriptions. That is only the title of the paragraph, and we then find that the regional officer responsible for the elections has the right to alter the compaign description. Yet it is the campaign description and not the candidate for whom, in effect, under this system the electorate will, to a great extent, be voting.

The question has been raised of the independent candidates in this election. I have always believed that it is a fundamental of genuine democracy that people can start new parties, or stand as independents, or whatever they like as long as they can satisfy the conditions of paying a minimum deposit. That always seems one respect in which our system is superior to the one-party State system.

Recognising that, the authors of the Bill, again with some ingenuity, allow for independents to stand. Indeed, on page 60 there is an interesting hypothetical independent candidate who is described as Independent: Lawton, George Langley Viscount Lawton, of Castle Scarlet, Blankshire. He sounds as though he is probably a Euro-Communist, but I shall not follow that any further.

Is an independent a member of a group? If each independent is a member of a group of independents, one gets the odd effect that votes cast for a Euro-Communist who describes himself as an independent will be added to those of a crypto-Fascist describing himself as a Euro-Communist.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop


Mr. Jay

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to complete this, though it is not my main argument.

If the Home Secretary argues, as I expect he will, that the independents will not be allowed to add their votes to one another, we are brought to the conclusion that this somewhat penalises independents, because whereas members of a group can gain by other people's votes, the independent group cannot do so.

Mr. George Cunningham

Is not the situation that it will be up to individual independent candidates whether each of them wishes to stand as an individual independent candidate, or whether any two of them wish to band together and call themselves independent, or anti-Market, or pro-Market group, or whatever? They can choose that for themselves.

Mr. Jay

If I understand the Bill aright, if a group of independents chose to stand under some label, as independents they will benefit from the votes of one another, but if an independent wishes to stand, as my right hon. Friend might, as an independent, independent of everybody, he will be penalised by the system.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

As I read paragraph 4 on page 30, there cannot be more than one candidate standing as an independent, otherwise there will be more than one candidate with the same campaign description.

Mr. Jay

That might well be true, but I should like a little confirmation from my right hon. Friend before I accept it. But if it were true, it would only confirm my argument.

These are really just bizarre examples of the difficulties into which we get when we try to substitute a party label for the straightforward individual choice. I am not in favour of giving more power to party machines, to party lists and to the principles of patronage, of which we have seen a good deal in recent years.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way to me, because he has already done so to others many times, but I might have misunderstood what he said earlier about what the Bill says in Schedule 4 on page 30. Allowing for the obvious adjustment for the regional officer being in charge of the regional basis of the election as set out therein, is there such a point to be made out of that paragraph being rather sinister or disagreeable for the reasons that he has given? All these paragraphs are lifted wholesale out of the Representation of the People Act, and no words are changed.

Mr. Jay

I was, in general, making the point that under this system more weight will be given to the party label and to the party description than is the ease under the simple system that we have now.

Proportional representation, whether in an EEC election or an election here—and I do not think that we should wholly disregard this—would be an open invitation to extremist parties, and it would be bound to result in the election of more representatives of extremist parties than we are accustomed to at present. I realise that some might say that there is nothing undesirable in that, and that that is one of the difficulties that we have to swallow, but I think it is important that hon. Members should understand what it means.

I thought that the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) used some astonishingly weak and unconvincing arguments this afternoon. To quote only one, he held up the United States Congress as an example to us all, but he did not mention that for 200 years the United States Congress as well as the President have been elected by the first-past-the-post system.

I conclude that, on grounds of democratic principle, and not these short-term party arguments, although there are arguments for PR, there are also arguments of principle against it, and although, Sir Myer, you might think this a rather conservative sentiment I find that a system that has served the United States for 200 years and this country for 300 years is still good enough for me.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Thorpe

I begin by dealing with what is referred to as the thin-end-of-the-wedge argument. I find extraordinary the lack of confidence of so many right hon. and hon. Members that they will not be able to sustain their own arguments at a Speaker's Conference and in the House of Commons in future years. That seems an extraordinarily fearful indication that they fear that the moment the logic of their case is seen in the open it will evaporate.

As has rightly been said by the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), there will be no change in the electoral system in this country until and unless there is a majority of Members of Parliament and a majority on the Speaker's Conference in favour of it. The mere fact that the Conservative Government, in my view quite rightly, reintroduced proportional representation in 1973 in Northern Ireland has not brought it a step further in this House, though it has perhaps made people less prejudiced. Some people now begin to understand what it is about, but it has not advanced the case here. Therefore, I regard the thin edge of the wedge argument as a smokescreen to try to prevent people from looking at the case on its merit. There are arguments in favour of the first-past-the-post system and in favour of the proportional system. Those who say that we should not have a proportional system because it might prove workable show little confidence in themselves.

I support—and did so on the Select Committee—proportional representation by single transferable vote. That would remove a problem because, if there is a surplus in one party, one can transfer it to the candidate who is one's second choice. Under the regional list system one cannot do that, nor can one transfer the surplus from one party to another.

There are difficulties in the regional list system which are common to the first-past-the-post system. The question of the non-transferability is the same, in a different way. If, for instance, a Labour voter is passionately against the Common Market and his Labour candidate is in favour of it, would he vote for the party or for another party which has the same view as he has?

The theory that the first-past-the-post system is fairer is not borne out. The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) took a long time to reach his conclusions. I feel that if the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) were here he would have been taking a sweepstake on what he will come down in favour of and what against, and enjoy his Christmas better as a result.

I am faced with a choice of first past the post or the regional list system. There is also the SNP alternative vote system which involves some of the difficulties as first past the post.

I support the regional list system on four grounds—first, because of the ease and speed with which it could be introduced; secondly, because of the fairness of the result; thirdly, because it would enable the United Kingdom to send a delegation which has an accurate balance between the groupings within Europe; and, fourthly, because it is a system which we know works and which could be ready in time for May or June.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

It would help the Liberal Party.

Mr. Thorpe

Yes, it would help the Liberal Party, but no more than it should, because there would be a fairer representation of the Liberal Party vote. It is possible in this country to add 4 million to one party's vote and have only three more Members of Parliament as a result. I spend a lot of time explaining to people abroad why we have this system. The first-past-the-post system fails to satisfy any one of those four criteria.

The Tory Party is entitled to complain at the delay of the Government in introducing this Bill and in dealing with the representations of the Select Committee. I do not dissent from that. It should come as no surprise to members of the Opposition that there are hon. Members on the Government Benches, even some on the Government Front Bench, who would not be unduly unhappy if there were further delay and who would not mind particularly if the elections could be put off until after the next General Election.

I ask Members of the Tory Party "Do you want to achieve the target of May/June?" In my view, if we could achieve it it would be a great prize for Europe.

The Leader of the Opposition pointed out in Rome that there were more Tory Members who voted for Europe than there were Labour Members who voted for Europe. From that I must assume that the Tories are more enthusiastic in principle and that they can be deemed to want the elections on time if that is possible.

I wish to suggest to the Committee certain matters relating to first past the post which I should like the Committee to bear in mind. There have been suggestions in what I call the "Blaby and Farnworth amendments" that Parliament should determine the boundaries. I am far from confident that the House of Commons could agree on the boundaries.

The Select Committee on Direct Elections to the European Assembly said: The Committee are strongly of the opinion that the four Parliamentary Boundary Commissions should be responsible for making recommendations on the composition of the constituencies to be used. This would involve dividing the United Kingdom into 81 single member constituencies. Lord Thorneycroft, in his evidence to the Committee on behalf of the Conservative Party—and it does not matter what the date is, because presumably the Tory Party's principles are unchanging—said: The Conservative Party believes that the responsibility for defining the boundaries of the constituencies throughout the United Kingdom for the Direct Elections to Europe should rest on the Boundary Commissions for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That was his view and it was genuinely held. These are matters which should be dealt with, not by the House of Commons but by the Boundary Commissions.

If we accepted the "Blaby and Farnworth amendments", the dispute about boundaries among hon. Members would take just as long as if we left it to the Boundary Commissions and it would be more controversial at the end of the day. The hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) referred to the debate last year and quoted from his own speech. He said: The Home Secretary had a rather sibylline passage on boundaries in his speech, reflecting an almost similarly obscure passage in the Green Paper, when he said that we might simplify the remit of the Boundary Commission or have other arrangements approved by Parliament. We should put down a marker, even in advance of the Select Committee. I do not wish to be discourteous or to recall uncomfortable memories, but we go for the Boundary Commission with whatever simplifications may be appropriate—not arrangements between the parties or in smoke-filled rooms."—[Official Report, 30th March 1976; Vol. 908, c. 1222.] That is the view of the Select Committee and the Tory Party itself. They may all change their minds and I accept that that is possible. It would be rather like the judge who found for the defendant at one stage, on the facts, and then changed his mind and said "What appears to appear to me now is not what appeared to appear to me then".

The hon. Member is up against the logic of time. If one adopts option C, which means no representations and no inquiries, that will take only nine weeks. Not even the Leader of the Opposition with her passionate faith in the supreme virtues of first past the post would say that there should be no inquiries and no representations. Option B, which involves one round of representations and no inquiries, will take 18 weeks. In my view, that is wildly optimistic. That time scale assumes that seven weeks of preliminary work has been done, but that must be added to the 18 weeks, making 25 weeks in all. The reason that 18 weeks is given for that system is that it is assumed that seven weeks' work can be done before Royal Assent. In addition, there are two weeks for the House of Commons to debate and six weeks for the campaign and selection of candidates. That makes a total of about nine months and even that is wildly optimistic.

In the Select Committee I asked if it was not a little optimistic to say that there would be no revisions or alterations made in the recommendations. I was told that it was "very optimistic".

I see the possibility of even option B taking nine months, but the Tories are not satisfied with option B. Lord Thorneycroft asked for option A which requires some local inquiries. That would give us a period of 30 weeks under the first-past-the-post arrangements, but even that is wildly optimistic because it takes no account of the 18 weeks of preliminary work which would have to be completed before Royal Assent.

Let us take, therefore, the Home Secretary's example. For option A the time scale is well over a year, and for option B it is about nine months. I put the logic of this to the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon. If one takes six weeks' campaign and one assumes that polling day is on 30th June—and I am cutting it as fine as I can and putting the case against myself—the campaign will have to take from 14th May. If immediately preceding that the matter is dealt with for two weeks in the House of Commons, and we subtract from that the 18 weeks for the Boundary Commissioner, it would mean that it would have had to have started in mid-December, which is now. The Bill should already by now have received Royal Assent with the seven weeks' preceding work completed. If option B is accepted, therefore, the last possible moment for doing it was the end of October.

I therefore say to Conservative and Labour Members who are in favour of direct elections that on the evidence before us the logic of the situation is that we could not get options A and B for first-past-the-post through in time. I believe that the reason there will be objections is that the Home Secretary says that there will be a bunching together of four, five, six or seven constituencies, and by the nature of the permutations there could be different political results. Those who felt disadvantaged would say so and would have their objections heard.

We will therefore have all this paraphernalia which could last up to a year in order to be the only nation in the Nine which is unable to meet the target for the five-year period of the present European Assembly.

Mr. Hurd

The right hon. Gentleman is fairly developing his case and he is sketching accurately the views which we expressed to the Select Committee and which I think by and large the Select Committee endorsed 18 months ago about the best manner of proceeding. This afternoon I tried to show that we are prepared, unwillingly, in order to make speed, if the Committee on a free vote decided on first past the post, to accelerate these procedures. I suggested three ways—I know that the right hon. Gentleman does not like them—in which we could do this.

The right hon. Gentleman has not addressed himself to the timetable under the regional list, or which we got no satisfaction from the Home Secretary, and the question of whether the regional planning boundaries are not equally arbitrary and therefore open to objection within the boundaries which a Boundary Commission might produce.

Mr. Thorpe

Those of us who know Lord Thorneycroft accept that he is a good democrat, and I accept the good faith of the Tory Party in putting its evidence forward. The Conservatives genuinely believed that the Boundary Commissioners were the appropriate body to carry out this quasi-judicial function. That is an absolute test. It may be because of that that the whole of the elections will be put back, but that is another matter. The Tories believe that local people should be able to participate in local inquiries, but it would be profoundly wrong to deprive people of the right to make representations. [HON. MEMBERS: "But you are doing so."] I hope that hon. Members will permit me to come to the regional list proposals because I believe that it would be possible with them to meet the timetable and for there to be a degree of amendment to the proposed schedule.

Paragraph 14 of the White Paper fairly put forward the case for PR and for first past the post, and it refers to the tendencies for swings in electoral opinion to be magnified. It says that this would be enormously magnified with 81 constituencies. Of course, the Government themselves give the game away in paragraph 24 when they say that there will have to be PR in Northern Ireland. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) may not approve of this, but why did the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) reintroduce PR in Northern Ireland? Why has the Labour Party kept it? It is because it is crucially important that minority opinion is not only fairly represented but is seen to be fairly represented. The Government give the game away because in paragraph 24 of the White Paper they are saying that if we have first past the post we must have PR in Northern Ireland because it is the only system that permits us to see that minorities are represented—

Mr. Powell

Can I help the right hon. Gentleman?

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Thorpe

It is doubtful, but I give the right hon. Gentleman the chance.

Mr. Powell

Then I shall take it. The real reason is that, as in so many matters, the Government were under a misapprehension. They thought that representation would be increased, representation which they regarded as fair—representation of a minority. In fact the distribution of the population is such that the balance between the minority and the majority is almost exactly the same on first past the post as on PR, but they did not know that.

Mr. Thorpe

I fear that the reason the right hon. Gentleman is misinformed on that is that at that time he represented in the House of Commons the constituency of Wolverhampton, South-West, and he was not as intimately concerned with Northern Ireland as he is now.

Mr. Powell

Yes, I was.

Mr. Thorpe

If it had not been for PR and the return of moderates and people of moderate opinion there never would have been a power-sharing Executive or a Sunningdale meeting. But what happened? Within weeks there was a Westminster first-past-the-post election and while 52 per cent. voted against Sunningdale, 11 out of the 12 Members returned were against Sunningdale, and that is what killed power-sharing in Northern Ireland. If the election could have waited for 18 months I think that power-sharing would have worked out.

There is no question, but that the first-past-the-post system—at the moment I leave aside the Liberal Party—will be distorting in its results in Scotland where three parties are roughly equal. There is no doubt that the Labour Party will be underrepresented in England and the Tory Party under-represented in Wales. Yet this will be the great democratic delegation that we are sending to Europe.

The arguments in favour of first past the post are these. We were told by the Select Committee that we should not have to change twice within a comparatively short period. But whatever we do will involve the new system and new boundaries. The chances are that the change which will take place in the second election will be infinitely less if we have the regional list system than if we change from first past the post to regional list. So there is not much logic in that.

We were also told that it would not be easy to reach agreement under the time-scale envisaged. It would be if we voted tonight for the regional list system which, if we can get the Royal Assent by next March, would give adequate time for the preparation of campaigns. We can do it my having a guillotine which I am delighted to hear the Opposition will acquiesce in. I am sure that as good Europeans they will contribute one or two of their Supply Days, and I am sure that we shall get along very well. I do not see why that should be unreasonable. The hon. Member for Mid-Oxon is no less a good European than I am, and if I had a Supply Day I should gladly give it.

The point that I find endearing is the idea that there will be a great relationship between the Member of Parliament and his 500,000 and 600,000 constituents. His surgery door will be open and the constituents will stream in. We were told in the White Paper that most of the issues discussed in the European Assembly will have as much significance for a region in England as for a European constituency.

The Committee should realise that we in this country already have regional administration in the form of economic planning boards and councils and consumer groups. They have one great defect. They are all appointed. It would add enormous strength to regional policies if we had regionally-elected Members of Parliament for the European Assembly. To those who are frightened that these European Members would compete with Members of this House, I say that it is far less likely for that to happen if they are elected on a regional basis rather than on a basis of bunching constituencies together.

Quite frankly, if there is a case for subdivision of the South-East from, say, 14 to 7, this is something that the House of Commons could do. For this reason, under the regional list system proportionality and fairness are guaranteed. If one is in a seven-Member constituency and gets one-seventh of the vote, one gets one seat. If one is in a five-Member constituency and gets three-fifths of the vote one gets three seats. Therefore, there is not the same argument about gerrymandering. It is a question of the size of the area involved. I believe that there could be variations under the regional list system, which, I believe we could have by the end of March.

Mr. Lawson

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has studied the regional list system and its effect as proposed under the Bill. The degree of proportionality increases very substantially in accordance with the size of the region. Some regions are larger than others, and there is no equal degree of proportionality across the board. Therefore, in the argument of whether a region should be divided this makes a difference.

Mr. Thorpe

The truth is that the first-past-the-post system is one of the most disproportionate systems ever devised by man. Under the regional list system the quota is the same, and the percentage is the same whether there are seven, 10 or four Members in a region. The regional list system indicates how many candidates are elected and the fraction is one-seventh, one-tenth or a quarter of what is permitted plus one. Although it may not have perfect proportionality, it is much closer to perfection than first past the post. If that is what is really concerning the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) he should not support first past the post.

If we are genuinely anxious to get a system through that is fair, speedy and efficient, we must forget all the old fashioned arguments about the regional list system being new and never having been tried before. In introducing the amendment, the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) made the best old-fashioned, conservative speech that I have heard for a long time—the first-past-the-post system was proved and was part of our tradition. Like roast beef and cricket, it was all part of the English way of life. But we are electing an Assembly for Europe. I want to see it elected, and the regional list system is quick, fair and easily understandable—

Mr. Jay

That is a joke.

Mr. Thorpe

The electorate is much more intelligent than the right hon. Gentleman thinks. Not least it was more intelligent over the European referendum than he thought it would be.

Dr. Colin Phipps (Dudley, West)

I wish to start with a reference to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould), who suggested that support for the principle of proportional representation in direct elections was a somewhat devious and clandestine attempt by the supporters of European union to bring that about. For my part I think that there is nothing clandestine or devious in my belief in European union. I am an avowed advocate of it, and I hope that direct elections will lead to it. I agree with many of the things that my hon. Friend put forward. The only difference between us is that he fears them and I hope for them.

The debate so far has been very largely about the thin-end-of-the-wedge argument. That is not surprising. Fundamentally, I believe that if the House were faced, in a context outside, with the question of electing people to the European Parliament, it would go for a system of proportional representation—perhaps not this system, but certainly a PR system of some sort.

All the arguments here against it have been against PR in this House. The arguments have taken the form of the majority government argument, the contact with the constituency argument, the letting in of extreme parties argument and the idea that with PR one is voting for an individual or constituency rather than a political party.

First of all I shall take the majority government argument. The argument that the first-past-the-post system produces a majority Government was good once. But we have not been producing majority Governments recently. It is said that PR produces coalition Governments. That is a genuine and accurate argument, but the fact is that we have a coalition at the moment under the first-past-the-post system. Many people do not believe that after the next General Election there will be a party with a natural majority in the House, and there is every chance that we may face a succession of coalition Governments of one kind or another. If it does not produce majority Governments there is very little argument for having first past the post at all.

My own preference for proportional representation has been developing ever since I became a Member of this House. It is connected with my belief that PR will help to decrease the power of the Executive over Back Benchers in this House.

Secondly, there is the constituency argument, and this is valid. But the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) put his finger on the difficulty of looking after 500,000 to 600,000 people. He also put his finger on something that has been concerning me since I came into this House. How does one get any kind of regional view put across?

The West Midlands, of which my constituency is a one fifty-seventh part, has had a very raw deal over the past 10 to 15 years. The regional policies that we have followed have deprived the West Midlands of much natural and proper growth that should have taken place there. This is bad for the West Midlands and bad for the country as a whole. When I try to develop these arguments it is very difficult to get 56 other hon. Members to put forward the regional point of view. The European Parliament will be very much about regional points of view, and it will be much easier to get seven people together to push the interests of the West Midlands than to get 57 people—

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

My hon. Friend must be joking.

Dr. Phipps

Far from joking, I believe that European policy is on a regional basis, and, therefore, there is a great deal of sense in having the elections on a regional basis as well.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

How far does my hon. Friend go on regional representation? It is precisely the case of the SNP that it feels that it will only get proper regional representation when Scotland is independent. Where does he draw the line?

Dr. Phipps

I am sorry that I do not follow my hon. Friend's argument precisely. I do not believe that the existence of an independent West Midlands would help its economic future, either within Europe or within the United Kingdom. I believe that, because it is an integral part of Europe, represented by seven members of the European Parliament, who are totally committed to its interests, it is likely to do well. Having a separate Parliament is the very last way to get these interests looked after.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Coventry, South-West)

How far does my hon. Friend think that seven West Midland Members would see eye to eye on regional policy, regardless of party affiliations? Does his desire for the regional list system outweigh his party affiliation and his political sense?

7.45 p.m.

Dr. Phipps

I believe that within a regional set-up there will be a much greater degree of self-interest among Members when it comes to the importance of their own regions. [Hon. Members: "No."] This seems highly likely, and the arguments adduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) and her friends in this debate have been that the delegates to the European Parliament will not represent the United Kingdom. I believe that half the trouble with the European Parliament is that they represent the United Kingdom too much. The fact is that it is natural for Members from the United Kingdom to wish to represent their regions. That is what happens at present in the European Parliament.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)

Has my hon. Fried not noticed that when we go to the European Parliament we sit in political blocs? Any idea that we may go across party lines is discounted by every political party.

Dr. Phipps

When I read the newspaper reports of debates in the European Parliament, it seems clear to me that British Members of whatever party combine together against French Members of whatever party.

I believe that the region is an important factor and that this will develop from a regional list system. The argument that there will be voting for individuals rather than for parties does not occur anyway in our present system. My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), who is not now present, suggested that there would be a great deal of patronage in the selection of European Members. The fact is that every Member of Parliament pays great attention to those who select him. We all pay attention to the general management committee in our constituency, or whatever body selects us and keeps us in Parliament. Therefore, I see no difference between patronage developed on a regional scale and patronage on a constituency scale.

Overriding all is the argument about fairness. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) said that this was an argument put forward only by the Liberals. I believe that the argument is fully justified. With 81 members in the European Parliament, I do not see that it is in any way just or representative to have representation that is confined to two or, at the most, three parties. It is totally unacceptable and unfair. For this reason alone I support PR for Europe.

Having given my reasons for wishing to see the PR system introduced, I must point out that the system which has been chosen has rather severe defects. The Government appear to have achieved the same effect with the devolution Bills. Faced with two quite clear alternatives, they have managed to fall between two different stools. If we are to have a PR system, that system should be taken to its logical conclusion and we should have some kind of single transferable vote system.

There is an amendment which the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) and I have tabled on this matter which, unfortunately, has not been selected. What the Government have done in producing this PR regional list system is to give an enormous advantage either to a member on that list who is particularly well known or to the first member on a list in which nobody is well known.

If we turn to page 61 of the Bill we see a list of five Labour Party candidates. I have never heard of any of them, and that is a situation which I expect will occur in respect of many electors in the election. Faced with such a list, my natural tendency will be to put my tick at the side of the name of the first blank space. If my name were Abramson or Aaronson I would have every confidence of being elected under this system. Indeed, it would be almost impossible not to be elected under this system. The only real answer for such a list if we do not have a STV system is to have yet another block. In other words, there would be a No. 1 block with the words "Labour Party".

Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

Is there not a possibility under the list of which my hon. Friend speaks that he could be rejected by the electors because he had been imposed on that electorate by a party organisation?

Dr. Phipps

I think that is true. The electorate has no say or choice under a first-past-the-post method, because that choice is undertaken by the general management committee. Under a different system it will have the opportunity to make a choice, and that is why I prefer the STV system with a number of different Labour candidates. 'The electorate certainly will have more choice than it has currently.

If a well-known or popular Member, such as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), were for some reason to stand as an anti-Common Market candidate in an anti-Common Market party, I suspect that he would draw many votes towards that bracket. I have no doubt that he could have six other gentlemen or ladies standing with him who might obtain no votes whatever, but they could be elected on the backs of the votes he received. Therefore, the system we are adopting is extremely unsatisfactory in respect of fairness to each of the individual candidates.

I urge the Government to place a block on the list with the name of the party so that the elector can vote for party. That would be an improvement in the system. Even better would be an STV system which would overcome the difficulty of the well-known Member on the list when the other Members were virtually unknown.

I shall be voting for the system of PR not because it will keep the Lib-Lab pact alive but because it is the only fair and proper system to use in these elections.

Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)

I am happy to be called following the speech of the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) because he and I serve on the Council of Europe and we know how Europeans can work together for the common good without becoming entrapped in formulae or machinery.

I wish to address my remarks to the Committee on the basis of being a good European and from the point of view of Europe working together. However, because I care for Europe I do not wish to be rushed into jumping fences before I know what is on the other side.

We listened with interest to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Devon. North (Mr. Thorpe)—a man for whom we all have the greatest respect, no matter what outside interests may say, a man of integrity, great capacity and judgment. I happen to disagree with almost every word he said. We must all concern ourselves with the argument he adduced. In other words, it is no use saying that one disagrees with something if one does not say why.

Having emphasised my commitment to Europe, I believe that we should know exactly where we are going. Unfortunately, whether it is Government or Opposition responsibility, none of us in this House knows that. That is one of the tragedies of the situation.

I spoke in the Second Reading debate on the Bill, and I was misreported in Hansard as saying that I predicted a federal Europe. However, because I was away in Europe I could not correct that misreporting. The one thing that I am sure will not happen in Europe is the development of a federal United States of Europe, but it is inevitable, and important to record, that there should be a closer coming together in Europe and greater co-ordination of policies. It is now a matter of finding the right machinery and democratic method.

I get myself into a bother over this. Hon. Members who are familiar with "Macbeth", whether as a straight play or, even better, as an opera, and with the cacophony that surrounds the witches' cauldron, will appreciate the difficulty in which I find myself tonight. I want to do what is right for Europe, and I know that the only thing that I can do that will be of long-term benefit to Europe will be to benefit my own country, the United Kingdom. This is where we can all go astray, simply because the target dates in the Treaty of Rome have long been overtaken by events, whether economic, social or political, and we get hung up. The dates were good some years ago but have long since been overtaken by events.

The characteristic of statesmanship in government is to be able to stand aside and measure how time has advanced. Many of the arguments that have been put forward during this debate have made me puzzle for a moment whether we have appreciated just how far Europe has moved forward since the Treaty of Rome.

One of the elements of any machinery for our new relationship in Europe must involve a directly elected Assembly. I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) because I believe that any elected representative to that Assembly would be representing not the nation of the United Kingdom but the people. A Member would go there to represent our people in respect of powers that would have been transferred from Parliament as the sovereign authority for this nation—just as we ask local government councillors to go to local authorities to represent the people in relation to the powers that we have bestowed on those institutions. I am very much concerned with this argument. A Member would be representing the nation or the people in terms of the powers that would have been transferred, for the time being, and in one way or another, to the EEC.

A matter that concerns me greatly is how the electorate, the people, will see it. Everybody is tossing up into the air tonight, comments on the standards of democracy as if one can draw a standard of democracy for a nation, another for local government and another for the EEC. Our people in the United Kingdom, whatever part of it they come from, are intelligent and well informed, and I know from the Northern Ireland experience that once one starts juggling with democracy in this fashion one can distort the will of the people.

8.0 p.m.

Having made reference to my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South and to the hon. Member for Dudley, West, I now come to the Home Secretary. We first exchanged views on television and we were hostile, but as we got to know each other better that hostility diminished. As far as I am concerned there has been a growing respect. I hope that it is mutual. I did not find any effort or solution in the Home Secretary's taking upon himself tonight glory for what he did in Northern Ireland, which his predecessors may have initiated. One cannot make a crown of thorns into a jubilee crown.

As for the single transferable vote, it may be presented as proportional representation but it is one or the most destructive forms of democracy. It is degrading in every sense of the word. With multi-Member constituencies one even finds those within the same party tearing the guts out of each other. It is all right for those who read academic books, but let us listen to those who have experienced it on the ground. The STV is not PR but a different process and it is the destruction of all that is good in democracy.

Dr. Phipps

I can see that the argument of the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) on STV applied in small constituencies might be valid, but if there is a large number of Members of one party on a list, is it not a much better form of democracy to allow STV—if only within the list of the members of that party? At least that would be a better indication of the preference of the voters. There might be one popular candidate or others that no one knows of at all.

Mr. Craig

I appreciate the argument of the hon. Member for Dudley, West and I was about to go on and expand the point, because that is an even worse situation than STV. If this is to work in Northern Ireland or anywhere, and if one wants a short, sharp proportional representation system, then the regional list is better in a constituency of three Members. But once there are constituencies of seven or nine Members, what will that mean? We must remember that according to the first clause of the Bill we shall be electing representatives of the people to a European Assembly. To whom will those Members be responsible? We are the people who speak for the United Kingdom, but to whom will elected representatives be accountable in multi-Member constituencies if elected under the regional list system in numbers of seven or 10? I do not see a sufficient degree of accountability there to satisfy the needs of a democracy. If I were going for a system of proportional representation, I should go for one of those unique compromises that we happen to be so good at in this country when we occasionally stumble on them.

I suppose that we can take credit for being one of those involved in drawing up the constitution of the West German Federal Republic where there is a nice mixture of the party list system, in a modified way, with the benefit of single-Member constituencies and an appropriate dash of proportionalism—that is, two-thirds from the constituency and one-third from the proportional element.

We have not got far enough in the debate to be taking over-definite decisions today. From my experience the country will run into a great deal of trouble once there is a plurality of franchise forms. In Northern Ireland, we have district councils, elected by STV. When we had a so-called devolved institution, it was elected by STV, but hon. Members have always been elected by the first-past-the-post system.

Mr. Rathbone

The right hon. Gentleman is not precisely correct. It is a modern phenomenon for all hon. Members to be elected by the first-past-the-post system. The last hon. Members elected by STV disappeared only in 1950. They represented university seats.

Mr. Craig

We had four Members from Queen's University who were not elected under a strict STV system as we know it, so the hon. Gentleman has taken a step aside from the reality.

It is interesting to note from the Northern Ireland experience what happens once we start with a plurality of forms of franchise. A very nice person came up to me in East Belfast and said "Mr. Craig, you are the greatest. We have given you our seven votes. We put No. 7 against your name in the STV system." Hon. Members may laugh, but this was not an isolated incident. It is the sort of confusion that arises from a multiplicity of franchises. Even when I was elected to this House, it was amazing how many papers were spoiled by people putting numerical descriptions rather than the straightforward cross.

I believe in a form of proportional representation, but I do not think that this country is sufficiently far advanced at this stage to decide upon it. One thing which makes me decide that is the Government's indecision. They come here with this important Bill having been unable to make up their minds about the form of franchise that we should have. The Home Secretary and I may be friends, but I must tell him that the way the Government have presented this to us is almost an insult.

The Government are saying that we can have the regional list system for the whole United Kingdom or the first-past-the-post system for Great Britain and STV for Northern Ireland. This is the Government who were talking only a few weeks ago about the integrity of the United Kingdom. I cannot reconcile these things.

Having castigated the Government, let me turn to the Conservative Front-Bench leaders. What have they done? Where is their amendment to correct this injustice? I see nothing from the Conservative Party, which believes in the first-past-the-post system, to suggest that it should apply throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. That puts me in a dilemma. While I might be tempted to take a risk on the regional list system, I shall not be party to a piece of legislation that is approached in such an unprincipled and ambiguous way.

Mr. Hurd

Perhaps I should remind the right hon. Gentleman of what took place in the first Second Reading debate in July. When the point that he is making was raised, my right hon. Friend made clear that we would not favour having a different franchise for Ulster from that in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Craig

I am conscious of that and grateful that the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) has drawn the attention of the record to that fact. However, if he means what he says, something should have appeared on the Order Paper.

Mr. Powell

It is on the Order Paper.

Mr. Craig

It will not be dealt with until after we have taken this decision. There has been dilatoriness in this matter. I can speak with a certain amount of confidence for all hon. Members representing Ulster constituencies, whatever their feelings about Europe. We want a form of franchise which will be effective in terms of representing the people of this country as distinct from the Government or nation. There is nothing in the Bill which gives us any confidence.

If I wanted to be selfish and to think purely in Northern Ireland terms, I should say that the regional list system would give a better representation of all interests involved in Northern Ireland, but we, as a nation, cannot have these distinctions. Once we recognised that principle, we would have to translate it into so many other areas. I cannot and my weight to it.

I do not know what my Ulster colleagues will do. I should like to see progress made in Europe. I shall not vote on the form of franchise, but I hope that hon. Members who do vote—whichever way they decide to vote—will avoid the confusion that arises out of a plurality of electoral franchises and that we shall have one that applies to everyone, in the name of democracy.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

I added my name to the amendment because I am against PR as a means of election to this Chamber and I am convinced that if we were to pass the Bill as drafted we would give an unnecessary fillip to the campaign for PR here.

My arguments can easily be compressed into the phrase that this campaign is the thin end of the wedge. That argument is amply justified by the experience in Northern Ireland to which the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) has just referred. The reason that there is a different system proposed for Northern Ireland in the event of the amendment being carried is that the Northern Ireland experience of STV already exists in relation to one kind of election. Having set the example, the Government did not feel that they could go back on it and provide a first-past-the-post system for the European elections.

Once the thin end of the wedge has been inserted, it goes on. Once it had been inserted by the Committee by the refusal of the amendment, it would go on. The reason that the Liberals are so adamant that we should pass the Government's Bill and the reason that Mr. Christopher Mayhew is threatening me, his old colleague, with eternal damnation if I do not subscribe to the sort of madcap ideas which took him out of my party and into the Liberal Party is that they believe that this is the thin end of the wedge.

For all sorts of good reasons, I do not accept that proportional representation is better for this country than the first-past-the-post system. I do not accept that it is necessarily fairer. It has always been difficult to understand why, if a majority of electors vote for candidate A, they should end up with B, C or D under a system that is supposed to be fairer than that which gives them their first choice. I accept that, in proportion to the total number of votes cast throughout the country, PR might be fairer in terms of getting the national will expressed, but I am convinced that the first-past-the-post system is just as fair. It gives us a system which on the whole—though not, I agree, invariably—provides stronger government than PR. One of the reasons that there are such strong arguments for PR in the country is the disenchantment with party politics in this Chamber. PR is an attempt to see that the extremes of party politics, as conceived by the media for the public, are inhibited by PR which is the system of coalition.

Mr. Russell Johnston

At the last General Election the Labour Party in Scot- land obtained 36 per cent. of the vote and 57 per cent. of the seats. The hon. Gentleman said that on a national basis PR might be fairer. Surely that is a clear example of where it would be fairer.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Lyon

The hon. Gentleman may be right in saying that that is a clear example, but it matters not. I am persuaded by arguments that persuaded the Liberal Government of 1906–14 that it is better to have a stronger form of government than a more representative system of election to the Chamber from which that Government are formed.

My experience and understanding of the world is that in the countries where PR exists there is almost invariably—not entirely—a system that leads to weaker government and to deals between parties to form coalitions. That does not give expression to a clear and logical form of party commitment which I espouse and which I am sure a great many Opposition Members espouse. In my judgment, it is unlikely that if we had PR in this country for election to this Chamber we should ever have a majority Labour Government again. That might be a desirable result from the point of view of Opposition Members, but I argue that it is very unlikely that we should have a majority Conservative Government again.

The reason why the PR system is desired by the Liberal Party is precisely that it is that objective that it wishes to achieve, so that it may have greater credibility and act as some kind of balancing item in the party structure. If the Liberal Party thought at the next election that it would be returned to power by 100 seats, we should soon forget much of this talk about PR. Therefore, let us not talk about humbug as did the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith).

We all came into politics because we are interested in pursuing a state of society that our individual idealogical backgrounds dictate as the more desirable for the country. We do it in honesty and with conviction. We believe that if we achieve the sort of society that we are seeking the country will be a better place in which to live. If that is true, it is undesirable that we should have a weaker form of government, a coalition alignment that inhibits progress towards the form of society that we seek.

For that reason, I am against PR. I say to my constituents that I shall never vote for PR in any circumstances. If that is what they want, they must look elsewhere in seeking a Member of Parliament to represent them.

Do my constituents really want it? It is true that the opinion polls seem to say that it is what they want. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) says, we have the result of PR. We have a coalition Government whether our constituents like it or whether they do not. All the evidence appears to be that they do not like it. Those who supported a Labour Government on a manifesto that was designed to produce an irreversible advance towards Socialism find that they do not like the coalition Government. Apparently those who voted for the Liberal Party on the basis that it would advance towards Liberalism do not like it either.

Although there is an appearance in the country that the electorate wants PR and a coalition Government, the reality is that it does not like coalition Governments. It likes an expression of a change of the party policy that accords with its mood at the election. That mood is expressed generally—not precisely—in the manifesto that is presented by the party that it selects. If at the next election it finds that it has been let down by that party, it will go to its Member of Parliament, the man who represents it—not some amorphous cloud of witnesses representing the region, but the man who represents the electorate in the constituency.

It will say "Why did you not do what you said you would do at the previous election?" If we have a PR system, a regional list system or a coalition system, all that the representative needs to say is "It was not my fault. I was going to do exactly what I said I was going to do in my manifesto. However, when we got in we had to count up the seats and do a deal. The deal was done above my head and I am not responsible."

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)


Mr. Lyon

If we have any real experience of a strong democracy it arises from the clear link between the constituency and the Member of Parliament.

Mr. Crouch


Dr. Phipps


Mr. Lyon

I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps).

Dr. Phipps

I take up two of my hon. Friend's points. First, he says that coalitions lead to weak Governments. I do not know whether his observations are different from mine, but is he saying that the sort of weak government that coalitions have produced in West Germany and Holland, for example, has led to less economic and social advance that we have seen in this country?

Mr. Lyon

Holland was surely a bad example to choose. It might be better to choose Germany. If there is an agreed policy, I accept that in certain circumstances there might be some sort of economic progress that might not be possible to achieve if the parties are warring between themselves. However, it does not necessarily follow that if they had had a first-past-the-post system in Germany they would have had any less strong government since the war and would not have had the same economic achievement. I am certain that in this country we would not achieve the Socialist society that I want to create by a system of PR and coalition government.

Mr. Penhaligon

We are not getting it now.

Mr. Crouch


Mr. Lyon

If the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) says that we are not getting a Socialist society under the present system, all that I can say is that we are getting much nearer to it than would be the case under a PR system. The system of PR is designed precisely to avoid us getting a society that is espoused both by Opposition Members and by myself—namely, our own conviction of what is right for society as a whole. I prefer to fight in that forum than in a forum dedicated to creating coalitions. It is for that reason that I do not propose to vote for PR.

It is said that I should consider PR because I voted to go into Europe and because I voted for the Second Reading of the Bill. It is said that if I believe in direct elections to a European Parliament I should believe in getting the Bill through in time to have the elections next year. That is the most deplorable argument I have heard in the whole debate. What timing has to do with the enormous issues of principle involved in the discussion of the two systems, I do not know.

The Heads of Government have been warned that we might very well turn down PR tonight, and that that could put back the timetable. I see no signs of consternation among the Heads of Government. It is clear that Europe could easily move to the year after next for its elections to the directly-elected Parliament.

I do not accept the argument of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) that that necessarily means that the mood of the moment will have passed and that we cannot revive that mood in the following year. Last Session we voted down devolution, but this Session we have the devolution Bills back again. If we miss the tide next year for direct elections to Europe, we can still have them in the following year if the heads of Government agree.

I do not find the right hon. Gentleman's opinions persuasive. All the deep and dire matters enumerated by the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) in the middle of the right hon. Gentleman's speech happened under a Government in which the right hon. Gentleman was the Prime Minister, and he argued for each in turn. Therefore, he and other hon. Members should have a certain humility in telling us that it is inevitable and right that we should have PR for Europe and that we must not miss the tide next year.

Indeed, as I understand it—and I understand it only from the Press—my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is anxious that we should not have an election to the European Parliament before the General Election. Therefore, I shall be doing my right hon. Friend a great favour in voting down the proposals put forward by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in his name. Most of the arguments used in favour of PR for Europe are capable of that kind of easy determination. I do not accept that there is anything overwhelming in the case advanced for PR that means that we must vote for it today, if we believe it to be wrong. I accept that for the Liberal Party, and perhaps some of my hon. Friends, PR for Europe, and perhaps even for this Chamber, is a matter of principle. In that case, it is right for them to vote for the words in the Bill. But if they do not believe in PR as a matter of principle I can see no reason in expediency why they should support the Government tonight and vote against the amendment.

Certainly, I do not accept that we must vote for PR in order to maintain the Lib-Lab pact. Liberal Members were not averse to voting down Clause 1 of the Scotland Bill. They said afterwards that the clause did not mean very much and that therefore it was not very much to vote it down. The argument is even stronger if we come to an issue of principle that means a great deal. If the Lib-Lab pact means that we should all be able to exercise our consciences, we should be able to exercise them on serious issues of principle such as this. We should have the same freedom to decide our room for manoeuvre as the Liberals had on Clause 1 of the Scotland Bill.

Therefore, the Lib-Lab pact is far from binding us to support the Liberals' view of PR. It would not be in conflict with any honourable compromise that we have reached that we should this evening decide in principle that it would be retrograde to vote for PR for Europe. If I am right, we should be buying a little time in order to put the Labour Party out of office for all time.

Mr. Gould

Does my hon. Friend recall that one of the concessions apparently extracted from the Government by the Liberals as the price for the pact was that we should have a free vote on this very issue?

Mr. Lyon

Indeed, and I have always thought that a free vote means a free vote, a free vote inside the Government. I hope that no accommodation is made for the payroll vote tonight. All votes here are really free votes. There is no such thing as a Whip. There are free votes as long as we are men of conscience and as long as we say that we shall vote as we think right. That position ceases only when we decide that someone on the Front Bench will tell us how to vote. I never did think much of the system, anyway, and I do not think that on this issue any of us could say that we should have our consciences subordinated to the wishes of the Government, their Whips, or any accommodation between the Liberals and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

What we must do tonight is to put all those considerations on one side and ask "What do we think is best for this country?" I accept that that means that we shall see the matter in terms of party considerations, because I joined my party in order to see that we had a better country, and I believe in the policy of my party because I believe that it will lead to a better country.

Therefore, I accept that there are party considerations to be considered, but because I believe that in the interests of the nation as a whole it is better not to have PR, I certainly shall not support it.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)

I, too, like the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon), am a signatory to the amendment. I support it, though not for entirely the same reasons as he does. Nor would he expect me to do so. There were a great many points in his speech with which I am in complete agreement, as I think will be a great many other hon. Members.

Before I deal with those, I should like to make one comment to the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig). The only reason why this amendment comes before the Northern Ireland amendment is the rules of order. A great many other hon. Members have signed the motion that Northern Ireland should have the same system of election as the rest of the United Kingdom.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd)—and, earlier, my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw)—said that so far as the Conservative Party is concorned, as I understand its position, the system which we decide upon tonight should be applied throughout the United Kingdom. I hope that my hon. Friend will reconsider his decision not to vote tonight and will, perhaps join the cause of those who are against the regional list system, and I gather from his speech that he was. [Interruption.] That is what I gathered. I may be proved to be wrong.

I am against this proposal in the Bill for two reasons. First, I am in favour of the individual Member system that we have at present, in any case. Secondly, I am against this particular form of proportional representation in principle, even if we have to have PR. If there were a genuinely free vote in the House of Commons, as we are told there will be tonight, with no pressure of any kind, I very much doubt whether there would be any more than a handful of Members who would vote for this particular form of PR. Even the Liberal Party does not want it. It wants to have the single transferable vote. I know very few hon. Members who think that the regional list system is the right system for the election to the European Parliament. There are only a handful of Members who are going to vote for this system out of a conviction that it is a good system and the best that can be obtained.

What are the advantages of the regional list system? First, there would be no individual Member representing a constituency. We are told by some hon. Members that the constituencies are so large that the concept of an individual Member representing them is not valid. But that does not apply to the American Senate election. Senators represent many hundreds of thousands of people—sometimes millions of people—and they have very close contact with their electors. I do not accept that argument for a moment.

What I believe is that for the very first time that we have European elections it is more important on that occasion than at any subsequent election to have an individual Member whom one knows is representing or failing to represent one in the European Parliament. The argument on the first occasion is even stronger. I resent, too, the inevitable fact that in the regional list system the selection of candidates will inevitably be in the hands of the regional party machines of the big parties, and of the Liberal Party, of all parties. There is no reason to assume that the regional party machines contain the right people to choose the candidates for these elections. What will happen in the Labour Party, for example? If one voted for one Labour Member, one's favourite out of a list of perhaps 14 in the South-East, one would be voting, perhaps, for members of the Tribune Group whom one might not want at all. One would have no way of differentiating between those whom one wants to represent one and those whom one does not want. One would have to vote for the list as a whole. That would be a bad thing.

There is a point which has not been made in this debate which is common to a great many systems of PR. That is that it is wrong throughout the lifetime of the European Parliament completely to do away with by-elections, for example. How ridiculous it is that there should be no way of measuring the movement of public opinion between these elections. Yet that is also proposed in the Bill.

We have been told on many occasions that we are to have a uniform system of elections to the European Parliament in due course. I shall believe that when I see it. It has taken us a great many years to get this far. We shall see whether we get a common system. It will be a very long time before we do. If I am wrong and we get to a common system of election, we shall certainly not get to the PR system of election proposed in the Bill, I suggest, because nobody wants this system. We shall therefore have to change our electoral system in any case if we adopt a common system.

If we are to have PR, which I personally am strongly opposed to, the least obnoxious form is the German system which I know a number of my hon. Friends are attracted to. I believe that the regional list is one of the most obnoxious systems of PR that could possibly be devised. Indeed, I sometimes think that the Government are so Machiavellian that they want this system to be passed in the hope that it will do irreparable damage to the cause of PR if such a ridiculous form of election were ever perpetrated on the British people.

The only argument I can think of for voting for the regional list system rather than the amendment is that, if there were a genuinely free vote, we could have the elections under the regional list system but we could not have them under first past the post. If that were true the fault would lie entirely with the Government who have delayed this matter for such a long time. We could have had the vote certainly last April, if not earlier.

Everyone knows—it is an open secret—that we shall not be able to have these elections in time. No one in the House of Commons believes that we shall have them in time. Those of us who had any lingering doubts on that score were not particularly encouraged to change our minds by the Home Secretary's answers to the questions posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon.

Does anyone seriously believe that after Christmas the Government will devote the major portion of Government time to getting this Bill though the House of Commons and another place in order to have direct elections in May or June of next year? The proposition is ridiculous. [HON. MEMBERS: "Or at all?"] Or at all is a different matter. But what is absolutely certain is that it is quite impossible to hold these elections under either system in May or June. Some hon. Members think that this is a very good thing. They do not want the elections at all. That is a perfectly understandable point of view. I think that is a great pity, but it is a fact.

However, we delude ourselves if we think that we shall be able to hold the elections under the regional list system rather than under the first-past-the-post system. The Government White Paper stated in paragraph 29 that it would take six months to select candidates and prepare for the elections. I do not think that it will need to be as long as that, but the Home Secretary said this afternoon that after Royal Assent we would need three months. Does anyone imagine that we shall get Royal Assent by then? If the Government were prepared to take this step and speed up this matter I believe that it would be just as easy to do so under the first-past-the-post system through the adoption of the amendments in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) and the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper). But the truth is that the Government do not have the will to do this. If they had the will, the Bill would be at a far more advanced stage than it is now.

The Prime Minister has said that it would not be the end of the world if elections did not take place in 1978. I think that he is seeking to find an excellent excuse for a decision that he has already taken. If the will had existed, the election could have taken place under either system.

Surely what is going on—and what hon. Members in their hearts know—is that this question is being used as the thin end of the wedge in respect of future elections to the Westminster Parliament. Whatever the Liberal Party may say, I do not believe that the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) would not use this as an extra argument for having elections to Westminster on a proportional system.

Mr. Russell Johnston

The hon. Gentleman will, of course, recognise that while it is true that we would wish to use that argument—we would never dream of denying it—nevertheless, the electoral system for this House will be determined by a Speaker's Conference which is representative of all the parties in this House. That is how it will be determined.

Mr. Channon

I am sure that is true. But that does not displace the argument that this is the thin end of the wedge. The hon. Gentleman out of his own mouth has said that he will use the argument—indeed, that it will be used by Liberal spokesman—to advance the cause of PR for elections to Westminster. Not only Conservatives believe this. The National Agent of the Labour Party, giving evidence to the Select Committee, said that the two issues could not be divorced, and he was fearful that one would lead to the other.

Is it not the case that a few years ago PR became the fashionable constitutional panacea for all our ailments? Every thing that was wrong in this country could be cured, at a stroke, it was said, by the introduction of proportional representation. That happened in 1975, after the two elections of 1974. It became fashionable for many academics to believe that this was some magic way of ditching the Left, if one took that view, or perhaps ditching the Right, if one took another point of view. It is not unlike devolution. That, too, is the fashionable constitutional remedy for certain ills, and just look at the mess we are getting into because we went down that road. It is a great mistake for the Committee to seek to make fundamental changes which are for purely short-term, expedient, reasons in advance of a Speaker's Conference.

We can have no confidence that in the past PR has necessarily led to the election of governments which we would all find admirable. There are plenty of examples where this has been so, but plenty of examples where it has not been the case. The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) drew our attention earlier to the example of pre-war Germany. There was also the example of the instability of Governments in France. Proportional representation is not a magic cure for these problems. The Committee should not be confused and bemused and bullied into taking a decision which, in their hearts, the overwhelming majority of hon. Members believe to be wrong and do not wish to take.

The arguments about timing are, in my view, false. The arguments about system are conclusive in proving that the regional list system is the worst possible form of PR. Until we have given the subject far more study, until we have examined this far more deeply, it would be wrong for us to take this major constitutional step by a side wind, merely to satisfy a few hon. Members in the Liberal Party. That is what we are being asked to do tonight. I hope that Conservative Members as well as Labour Members will join in overwhelming numbers to support the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), ensuring that the Committee accepts the amendment, thus giving us a first-past-the-post system in time for elections, not next June but at an early date thereafter.

Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

I hope to make a brief speceh, if only because my colleagues on the SNP Bench would prefer to keep our powder dry for the next list of amendments, which propose elections to the European Parliament by the alternative vote system. I am in some difficulty here and perhaps I could ask your guidance, Mr. Godman Irvine. These amendments are consequential on the defeat of the regional list proposal. Is it the intention, if the regional list proposal falls, for the Chair to call it a day, or do we move at that stage to the amendments tabled by the SNP?

Mr. Powell

I raised this question last night, at the conclusion of the debate, with the Home Secretary, who confirmed that in the event specified by the hon. Member, he would move to report Progress.

Mr. Reid

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. In that event my best course of action is to put on record the fact that the SNP will abstain in the Division tonight dealing with the regional list system. By our own head count, though we may be wrong, we expect the regional list system to fall by a sizeable majority, even if the SNP group is in the Lobby led by the Home Secretary. Our thinking is quite simple. If the regional list system proposal is lost, we progress to single-Member constituencies and turn our minds to what many hon. Members have asked for, namely, single-Member seats and simultaneous electoral reform. The only way of doing that is by the alternative vote system.

The right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), casting a rather baleful eye on the two systems contained in the Bill, said that they were both "bad" systems. Such is his Europeanism, such is his determination to get us directly into the European Parliament as fast as possible, that he opted with no hesitation for the "bad" European regional list system.

8.45 p.m.

We in the Scottish National Party are not as desperate as all that. In our opinion there are other things in the EEC that need reform and attention before we have direct elections, such as reform of the common agricultural policy, the fisheries policy and a careful look at common energy objectives.

We also feel that there is no real intention—as the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) has stated—of meeting the target date of May or June next year. Very few of us expect to meet that date. I have been talking to French parliamentarians in recent weeks and found that they do not want to have French direct elections in a year in which there are French national elections as well. In this country it is obvious that the Prime Minister would prefer to get a General Election out of the way before we come to European elections. I think that any desire for haste is therefore false.

The right hon. Member for Sidcup said that the regional list system was a bad system. If a Scottish nationalist may be allowed a touch of British nationalism for a moment, I find it quite alien that such a voting system should be imported into our polling booths. It will mean that there will be a monster ballot paper. In Scotland each elector will have one vote for between 30 and 40 candidates. One might as well have the ballot paper cast in the round. In Scotland, as elsewhere, candidates of the same party will be fighting candidates of the same party. In our part of the United Kingdom patronymics are still used, and there could be three or four McKays, McEwans or McSporrans on the same conglomerate voting paper.

I object also to the power of selection moving from the constituencies to the executives of the respective parties. It would not be impossible, given the regional list system, for the party hierarchy to say to a candidate: "Be a good boy, keep your nose clean, and you can go off to the fleshpots of Europe". That is not particularly desirable.

Nor is any account taken, with a regional list system, of the specific needs of different parts of the country. In Scotland the area covered by the Highlands and Islands Development Board has special needs in respect of fishing and oil, and its remoteness, as well as its strategic importance to the whole Western defence.

Only by the single-Member system can a seat be created there. Clearly the number of electors in the Highlands and Islands is small, and creating a constituency there means that the other Scottish seats will have to be correspondingly larger. I find it disappointing that the Liberal Party has gone for this poor system. In doing so Liberal Members are handing over the people in the Highlands and Islands to the "Strathclyde Mafia", who will undoubtedly determine who the candidates should be. There may be some hope that the Liberals will honour their pledge to give 10 seats to Scotland, so it may yet be possible to have an extra seat for the Highlands and Islands.

Mr. Russell Johnston

The hon. Gentleman favours the alternative vote, which he claims is a proportional system. Perhaps the Australian election results have been brought to the hon. Gentleman's attention. The Labour Party there got 40 per cent of the votes and 28 per cent. of the seats while the Liberal Party there—which in Australia is a Conservative Party—got 38 per cent. of the votes and 53 per cent. of the seats. If that is a proportional system, I will eat my hat.

Secondly, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether it is the case that the Scottish National Party is the only party in the House of Commons which is whipped on this vote and is therefore whipped against democracy?

Mr. Reid

In fact, we had a meeting earlier this evening to try to get that matter settled. Certain Members of the Scottish National Party might still vote for the regional list system if they feel so moved.

The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) will have to eat his hat. The whole business of electoral reform has to a large extent become one of semantics. If the hon. Gentleman has followed speeches made by myself and my colleagues over the past few years, he will know that we have not suggested adopting a system of proportional representation. We have talked about electoral reform, which is a different matter. We want a straight electoral reform which is much fairer than the present first-past-the-post system. If the hon. Gentleman will bide with me, I shall come to that point later.

I was dealing with the failings of the regional list system. The major failing is that the bond between the Member and his constituency falls. I appreciate that certain hon. Members would say that that bond is bound to go when dealing with electorates of 500,000 or 600,000. But, as the hon. Member for Southend, West said, American Senators seem to get by quite easily. Obviously the bond will not be the same kind as exists now between a Member of the House of Commons and his electorate. There will be no question of European MPs dealing with social worker problems of the type that we deal with here.

But many industrialists, local government authorities and trade unions will want a clear channel of communication to their "man" in Europe, who will be the conduit for them into the institutions of the European Communities. The alternative—under the regional list—is for them to pick and choose. For example, in Scotland some people might say "We will write to a Socialist Member, but we had better get double cover by writing to a Tory Member and, to make absolutely sure, we had better write to a Scottish National Party Member of the European Parliament as well." That would lead to gross confusion.

It is also sad and alien to British parliamentary traditions that, under the regional list system, an individual should feel moved to see only the Member for whom he himself voted. That is quite wrong, because in the House of Commons—and I hope in the EEC as well—Members will be representatives of the whole community from which they are elected.

It could be argued that the next time round there will be regional list voting anyway, so why not get the whole thing clean cut and dried now? I find that a curious argument. I have no stomach for a European Community where everyone is doing the same thing, the same way, at the same time, all the time. That is the kind of mentality that has led us to the standardisation of eggs and, indeed, water that has posed the question whether Scotch whisky can go on the market because water in Scotland might be impure, and so on. European ideals should flourish from the diversity of all the European peoples.

For all those reasons the Scottish National Party is extremely hesitant about the regional list system. At the same time, in common with the right hon. Member for Sidcup, we are not keen on the first-past-the-post system, either. In time past that has led to blatant unfairness in representation, not least since the war, for the Liberal Party. It has also led to unfairness for the Scottish National Party, but, being open about it, since we are "regional", the effect has not been as continuingly adverse as it has been on the Liberal Party.

Under the first-past-the-post system, it would not be impossible in certain circumstances for England to be represented in the European Assembly exclusively by Conservative Members, for Wales to be represented exclusively by Socialist Members, and for Scotland to be represented exclusively by Scottish National Party Members. Our friends and neighbours in Europe would find that a crazy system. Indeed, there would be adverse effects on this Parliament if British representation in Europe were of that imbalanced kind.

All those reasons lead the Scottish National Party to the voting system under which, but for the financial crisis of 1931, all of us would have been elected anyway. Perhaps I may remind the Committee of a little history. The Labour Government of 1931 put through an alternative vote Bill. That measure went through all its stages in this place, but it got into difficulty in another place. At that point the then Labour Government determined to use the Parliament Act to force through the alternative vote Bill. That would have been the system now but for the financial crisis of 1931 intervening. That is the system by which Members of the Australian House of Representatives have been elected this week.

That brings be back to the tiff that I had earlier with the; hon. Member for Inverness. Under the alternative voting system, one has one vote which is marked 1, 2, 3, 4, in order of preference up to the total number of candidates. There is no wasted vote. Second preference comes into use if no candidate has 50 per cent. of the votes. The bottom candidate drops out and preferences are added up until one candidate has an absolute majority. Only AV results in a single-Member constituency with ties between the Member and the constituency and a winning candidate who must have broad majority popular support. That seems to my colleagues and myself to be an eminently sensible system.

The hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) conceded something along similar lines. He wanted single-Member seats and electoral reform, and therefore he voted for the alternative-Member system, as did this Bench when the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) proposed it earlier, because two-thirds of the seats on the alternative- Member system are single-Member seats. There are difficulties about using that for Community elections because that two-thirds of the seats would be single. Member seats and the topping-up list would be 27. Therefore, the whole of the United Kingdom would have to be one constituency, but that is the ultimate logic of regional lists anyway.

This has been a useful opportunity for the SNP to put its position on the record. We have a third option, and I hope that after Christmas it will be possible for the House to come back to it if the voting goes as I think it will tonight. For the reasons that I have given, the SNP will abstain.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)

I followed the speech of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) with interest. Unfortunately the system put forward by the SNP not only has the disadvantage that, in the only mathematical analysis that I have seen, it would have given that party an undue share of the seats as compared to the votes that it received, but has the added disadvantage that the alternative vote combines with the party list system. If it was the method put forward in the Scottish Bill, it would be on the same lines.

This comes to the kernel of the matter, and I want to speak about this aspect of the party list. I am in favour of anything that develops a more accurate consciousness that our political structure is basically a party political structure. I am all for people coming together in groups. There is no other way in which we can transform society. I am in favour of party politics, and even more so of recognising that in this place and elsewhere we do take part in party politics. That is one reason why I supported the writing in on the ballot paper of the party as well as the name of the candidate.

There is, however, a world of difference between that and saying that the party structure as expressed through the grass-roots political developments and the activities of people should become subordinated to the party structures and machinery. That is a big and significant difference.

The moment we have a party list system of that kind, even party politics here will fray, because those concerned will have to keep their noses clean. What fertilises the whole body politic, what is the yeast in the mass, is the fact that the individual Member has not only a party base but a constituency one. From time to time a Member of Parliament has to challenge his party, and most things in history have happened because the individual Member has challenged the party and then won. I am not denigrating the party. On the contrary that sort of thing enhances it, but there has to be that vehicle by which the individual can move the party.

The trouble with the party list system is that we cut away this other base from a Member of Parliament. He cannot say "I do not care what my party says. I have my support locally. This I must do." Without that, the basic democracy of this place will fray, and through that the basic party political structure will become mechanical and bureaucratised and will sap the grass roots of the only hope that we have for the future, which are healthy grass roots.

That is my first point, that the system suggested is fatal for our representative democracy in this country and, indeed, in the long run for the party system itself, because we need to look at the specifics of the European situation to ask ourselves whom the Members represent. It is clear that they represent a party, on the one hand, in which they have played a part, and, on the other, an area of the Community.

But it is quite a different situation when the responsibility is not to the House of Commons—where party structures come to a head—but to a House elsewhere. The loyalties to the Community are fragmented because they are no longer representing a single community but a party and because they are only representing that party within Europe in so far as that party can join with other blocs. That then becomes their party. The direct party political links are severed because the direct link is with the European combination of parties.

9.0 p.m.

Our party system would follow suit. It also must move along in that direction. This is where we come to the thin end of the wedge. I have been told that this does not matter because, after all, we introduced proportional representation in Northern Ireland. That is what my right hon. Friend argued today. He was in favour of it there and he said that this was not the thin end of the wedge. My right hon. Friend is encouraging this system in Europe. That is two out of three, or two-thirds of the way. We have proportional representation in Northern Ireland and he wants it in Europe.

The Northern Ireland system is not analogous. It was deliberately introduced because a community in Northern Ireland was not being represented at all under the existing system. It was not sharing in Government and never could unless the structure was altered. We were in a dangerous situation caused by the existence of a deprived community. This was why it was necessary to introduce proportional representation in Northern Ireland. It was not on a party basis but on a community basis.

The situation in Northern Ireland cannot be called in aid as a reason for having that system in Europe. It is not analogous to the party political divisions which we have in this country and the party political divisions that exist in Europe.

The thin end of the wedge is that once we have a structure in which the machinery of the party is at its strongest—that is to say, the creation of lists for Europe—the political alliances that we have here will move in that direction. There will be a swing to this country. It is not only the thin end of the wedge; it is the thick end of the wedge and must be opposed.

An hon. Member commented on my opinion that fairness is the last refuge of the West. I accept that certain forms of proportional representation come closer to fairness on election day. There is a greater relationship between the votes cast for a party and the Members who are returned. But there are two caveats to that. We do not know the extent to which that type of voting would continue under a PR system. That is the error that we make. Much alternative voting takes place already. People say that they are Liberal but vote Labour to keep out the Tories. They vote in a specific and tactical way.

The difference is that under our present system the voters are in control of their votes. Under the proportional system voters cannot determine the end result of their votes. If I were one of the eight candidates for Scotland I might vote for myself and put in the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice) because my vote would be added to the group list. That would be the reverse of what I wished to achieve.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Surely the hon. Member must concede that the situation he describes is the one which obtains now, because in many constituencies candidates are chosen by small party groups and are foisted thereafter on to traditional voting patterns.

Mr. Buchan

Of course, but that is done open-eyed, and the introduction of this party list system is the method calculated to destroy the grass roots of the party, which makes the selective process narrow and tight. We want to expand on that and to enlarge the selection process, but a withering away at the roots through handing it over to the party bureaucracy will weaken the process.

These choices are made open-eyed. If only a small group is selecting the local party candidate, that is its problem. That group will have to campaign for his acceptance. But the members of the group are not in a position of having to mobilise the vote in favour of a candidate and of then finding that that vote is used to elect the candidate they do not want. The regional list system is the only one which can produce the completely opposite effect to that which was intended when constituents cast their votes. Measures that against the unfairness of the ratio of votes cast to the numbers returned.

But it is unfair in another way, too—far more unfair than the unfairness I was describing. Not only does it happen that control is put into other hands by the mechanics of the structure, but it happens, too, through the process of politics.

There is one sure effect of proportional representation which is that it leads to a proliferation of parties. There is no point in my remaining for a long period on the large group system if the only consequence of that is that people who are voting for me are returning someone from a different part of the political spectrum. The consequence of the pro- liferation of parties is a permanent coalition Government, which means a permanent centrist Government, and that means a permanent Government of the status quo. It is not possible to transform society unless people can vote consciously to achieve the kind of majority which will put into power a Government that will change the status quo, and this applies perhaps more to Europe than to Britain.

It applies even more to Europe because alongside me on that list there might be people who are not only far apart from me in the normal Left-Right political divisions but apart from me on the precise question of Europe. I might be standing in order to transform the Common Market, but the votes cast for me might go to returning someone on the list whose aim is to maintain Europe as it is or to move it towards a federal structure.

Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar (Belper)

May I as a pro-European suggest to my hon. Friend, who is anti-European, that there might be another way in which the system he is advocating for the European Assembly elections may serve the opposite purpose to that which he seeks? It is that by having the first-past-the-post system one will give, since the system is familar to the people of this country, far greater legitimacy to European Members and far greater right for them to speak for their constituents than would be the case with a list system. I foresee a considerable challenge to Westminster MPs from directly-elected MPs elected on a first-past-the-post system.

Mr. Buchan

That is a siren voice, but I am non-seducible on the question of Europe. In other things I may be seducible, but not on this.

We are told that it does not matter which system we use because the European Parliament will not matter anyway. I do not believe it. The very fact of writing in the party list system means that party structures themselves will be more and more concerned with Europe because there they will have a more powerful voice than on the party structure leavened on a local basis.

If we think that by making the European Parliament more representative we are strengthening it, we should think again. If we strengthen it, it will demand more power. We are told that the European Parliament is impotent anyway. If I could rephrase Lord Acton "All bodies seek power, impotent bodies seek absolute power". We have been warned.

Sir Frederic Bennett

At this late stage in the debate it is difficult to avoid repetition. I have no intention of speaking for long and standing in the way of others who wish to take part. There have been three points made that I wish to refute as one who is in favour of the first-past-the-post system.

First of all, the suggestion has been made over and over again—and I regret from the Front Bench—that those who feel as I do are responsible for the delay if it proves impossible to hold the direct elections next year. Whoever is responsible, it is not those of us who vote tonight according to our convictions. I profoundly resent the claim that I and others like me are standing in the way of European development in this field. It is better to wait longer for the election and get the system in which we believe.

I did not regard very happily the suggestions made earlier by certain Liberal Members that the two big parties are motivated by the thought that in the first-past-the-post system they are likely to do better. That may well be true. But we are politicians who belong to parties, and each of us wants his party to do best. But that is not the only reason why I favour the first-past-the-post system. In any case, if there is one group of hon. Members who have been motivated because a system favours their party, it is the Liberals.

Thirdly, I do not appreciate the argument that if one has large single-Member constituencies it will be impossible for Members to keep in touch with their constituencies. This produced the American example. I wonder if hon. Members have ever worked out the electorate of New York. On a first-past-the-post system New York with 20 million electors returns two senators. Not until now have we heard that it is impossible for one or two Members to represent 20 million, yet apparently it is undemocratic for a single Member to represent 450,000 people.

Nor have I heard the argument advanced comparing constituencies in this country. No one has suggested that Torbay, with an electorate of 86,000, is any less democratic than others with only 40,000 or 50,000. Those advancing this argument should press for a complete redistribution of constituencies with fairer proportions all round. To come here at this late stage and produce an argument for a different matter is not valid.

I believe that whichever system we adopt, it will be very difficult to get anything other than an extremely low, unrepresentative poll at the first election. We should appreciate that this is an innovation for us and it will be very hard to awaken real public political interest and get anything other than a low poll. I hope that I am proved wrong, but I have this suspicion. Not only are we having an entirely new election in order to send Members to the European Parliament, but in addition we are to be asked to approve a complicated, novel and almost incomprehensible system. In such circumstances we can only expect a derisory poll.

If those who want to advance the cause of European unity are suggesting that in some mysterious way the people of this country will be more likely to participate fully in a system which they have never before seen and do not understand rather than one which they understand, with all its weaknesses, they are putting forward an argument that cannot be sustained.

9.15 p.m.

The suggestion has been made that in a few years time we shall all have to come round to a new system anyway. That suggestion is even more bogus than some of the others I have heard adduced. If there is on thing that is certain, as is clear to those who understand the Continental system, it is that those on the Continent will not accept the system which the Home Secretary set out for us today. Therefore, in any event, within a short period of time if we have to go to another system we shall have to go to a fresh one in any case. Therefore, that suggestion should play no part in our deliberations in this debate.

Mr. George Cunningham

Nothing is easier in this debate than to draw attention to some of the bizarre consequences that would follow if we adopted the regional list system.

Earlier in the debate I pointed out in an intervention that it would be possible for a group candidate, not an individual candidate, to get elected without having secured a single vote. Many members feel that al though that is possible under this system, it is so unlikely that it should be ignored. However, although that is the most extreme manifestation of the anomalies of the system, we should bear in mind that, even if we were to pass an amendment to make it impossible for a person to be elected if he or she receives no votes whatever, it would be possible to be elected on a small number of votes—and a much smaller number than that accorded to other candidates who had not been declared elected.

There are other anomalies about the system as at present proposed that are worth mentioning. For example, it would be possible for Angela Rippon to stand for election in every single region. She could make up her own name for her group and could stand in each region, with one accompanying candidate in that group. She would have to withdraw—although that is not provided for in the Bill—from every region in which she was declared elected, except one, and the nonentities who had stood in Angela Rippon's group with her would be elected on the vote attracted to Angela Rippon. Such anomalies cannot be avoided in the proposed system.

For the moment we should take our minds away from those anomalies to the basic matter of principle. I have been recollecting in the course of the debate a phrase that appears at the beginning of one of Sir Louis Namier's great historical works in which he says that if the House of Commons had to consist of the 600 heaviest men and women in the country, the political parties and the various national interests could be counted on to secure their appropriate weight. In this debate people seem to be assuming that fairness and rectitude in elections consist in getting the proportion of the legislature which one is electing as near as possible to the proportion of that party's vote in the poll. I see the Liberal Bench agrees with that statement.

It has also been said in the debate that the system for which we are asked by the Government to vote is peculiarly suited to these European elections, even if it is not suited to other types of elections. I argue that this system is pecularly unsuited to these European elections—perhaps not to European elections at some future date, but certainly unsuited in this respect for the reason that the division of opinion between political parties on matters in general is not congruent to the division of opinion on Europe.

If the people of this country are to have any effect within the European Parliament, they should be exercising their votes for the European Parliament not according to whether they are proor anti-Europe, because that is a decision whether we stay in or out of the Common Market which belongs here and which will continue to be exercised here. They ought to be able to exercise their vote with regard to the European Legislature according to whether they were—for lack of a better word—fast or slow European people, according to whether they want European union to move quickly and severely or slowly and gently. We all know that there are fast and slow men within the Labour Party and fast and slow within the Tory Party—that is, within the two principal parties. We know, as a matter of practice—that was reflected in the language that the Home Secretary used in introducing the debate—that the groups that will stand in the election will be mostly party groups.

If the groups that were to stand in the election were to be fast or slow folk, with one group standing as those who believed in European federation, monetary union within 10 years and so on, irrespective of the party that they belonged to, and, on the other hand, the slow Europeans standing as a group, irrespective of the party that they belonged to, the electorate would have a real choice under the system proposed by the Government. However, as long as there is a non-congruent division of opinion, where the elector is wanting to choose, as he is traditionally accustomed to choosing, between the political parties, and at the same time wanting—and really having—to choose between different policy options with regard to Europe, the system cannot work.

The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) has frequently interrupted speakers in the debate to point out that now, with the single-Member constituency system in this place, the voter's vote can have secondary consequences that he does not like—but the voter does know before he casts his vote. Under this proposed system he would have no way of knowing what the secondary consequences of his vote would be.

For example, in the London region my guess is that the Labour Party would put up eight anti-Europeans—for lack of a better term—eight slow Europeans and, to show our broadmindedness, two fast Europeans. The anti-European voters would vote for somebody in the Labour group and would have eight possibilities to choose from, and the anti-European Labour vote would be spread among eight possible candidates, so their personal votes would be relatively low. However, the two fast European Labour candidates would attract to themselves a considerable number of votes deriving from pro-European Labour voters. The number of seats allocated to the Labour group would be determined by the totality of personal votes which would be principally anti-European personal votes, but which of the candidates actually got the seats would be determined by the personal vote for each of the candidates. Therefore, Labour anti-Market voters would find that they had ensured that six of the seats went to Labour, but also, by secondary consequences that they could not predict and did not intend, that two of those people were pro-European Labour Members or, I should say, fast European Labour Members.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) is advancing a good case for the single transferable vote which allows the voter to express a wide range of preferences. Will the hon. Member say whether he will support its inclusion? He is not supporting the first-past-the-post system which leaves the voter with no choice because every time the Labour Party decides to put forward a fast European the voted is unable to vote slow.

Mr. Cunningham

I agree with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's intervention, but that is not an option before us and the whole thing is complicated enough without considering options upon which we do not have a choice later tonight. I disagree with the second point. In my constituency, a fast European Labour voter has a dilemma because he wants to vote for me as the Labour candidate but he knows that I am an ultra-slow European. He knows that he has that dilemma and he has to weigh it up and decide to what he attaches greater importance.

The difference is that with the regional list system he knows that there may be secondary consequences which he does not intend, but he does not know what they will be. He has no way of controlling them. There is no way of avoiding that dilemma unless we submit every issue to a referendum, because people may agree with me on most issues, but disagree on one or two. We cannot avoid that difficulty except by referendum, but at least we can face voters with the choice which is plainly before them so that they know the nature of the dilemma and can put as price upon the two sides of the balance. It is not a difficulty which applies, to the same extent, in regard to the present system. There are regrettable secondary consequences in both systems, but with one a voter knows what they are and can weigh them up. Under the other system, he does not know what they are and therefore cannot weigh them up.

For all these reasons, this proposed system is peculiarly unsuited to this European election in which, as we know—though it could be different in future—the division of opinion on European matters is within parties and not between parties. If that changes, it would be appropriate to have this sort of system.

If we want the electorate to be sadly and severely disillusioned about whether elections to the European Parliament mean anything, this is the sort of system that we should face them with. They will vote and will end up with, say, fast European Labour Members when they were trying to express a slow European point of view. This will lead to deep disillusionment and low polls. There will be a feeling comparable to that experienced when one reverses a car with a caravan at the back. The way one steers has a perverse relationship to where one ends up.

Mr. Crouch

Is not the hon. Gentleman confusing the House? He talks about fast European Members making Europe go fast by their being in the European Assembly. Surely the speed at which Europe proceeds will be determined by national Parliaments?

Mr. Cunningham

I wish that I thought so. It is true that if this Parliament had any red blood flowing through its veins, it would be capable of making the Community go fast if we had the support of other countries in Europe or stopping it from going fast, even without the co-operation of others. However, nothing in our experience suggests that this Parliament has any blood flowing in its veins and there is every likelihood that the European Parliament, without formal powers, will, nevertheless, acquire power. There is a difference between power and powers and when it is directly elected, even by this unsatisfactory system, that Parliament will acquire power. As has been pointed out many times, the Parliament in Europe possesses that single power which is sufficient to build upon, namely, the power to dismiss the Executive.

For all these reasons, I think that we should stick to the first-past-the-post system for these elections.

9.30 p.m.

Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) has done the Committee a service by revealing further defects in the system of the regional list. I am known to favour proportional representation, but tonight I shall vote for "first past the post." I welcome the opportunity to say why. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) so nearly represents my view that I can now afford to be brief.

We are faced with Hobson's choice, with two alternatives which a large proportion of hon. Members do not welcome. We do not welcome either of them. The regional party list is not a satisfactory form of proportional representation. I hope that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury will not take it amiss if I say that in arranging such a list the party managers of his party might find it difficult to fit in anyone so independently minded as the hon. Gentleman. I feel that it is a system under which the people would not readily go out and vote in an election. They would not be enthu- siastic in their support for it. I do not say that the complexities would be beyond them, although I think that they are more politically mature than electorally sophisticated.

I have an instinct that if we wish the first election to a European Parliament to be a success, we should choose something more simple than the regional list system. That is one of the reasons that leads me to be against it.

Ideally, we should be aiming for the additional Member system, which offers the best of both worlds. The simple lead-in to the additional-Member system is the first-past-the-post system, and so I shall vote for first past the post.

Mr. Reid

Is not the logic of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument that the whole United Kingdom must be a single constituency? To create an extra third Members for AMS would mean 27 Members. In Scotland it would be impossible to work the AMS on a regional list basis with only eight Members.

Sir D. Renton

I have been into the simple arithmetic. Unfortunately, the starred amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) is not before the Committee. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to forgive me for not taking up the time of the Committee to argue the arithmetic with him. However, I believe that it would be feasible, although I agree that it would be a rough and ready exercise. If the Committee carries the first-past-the-post system tonight, at a later stage, either during discussion on the clause or on Report, we can consider going over to the additional-Member system. That is possible.

I shall vote for first-past-the-post for two main reasons. The first is that the people will like it and understand it. They will not find it unfamiliar. Secondly, it is the best lead-in to the additional-Member system.

When we consult our European partners on the ultimate system of voting we shall find almost certainly that there are others who think the same way as many of us about the additional-Member system. The Germans have it already in a slightly different form from that favoured by many hon. Members. The French have a variation of the first-past-the-post system. They have a second vote if there is no clear decision the first time. Both of those situations would enable the British, the French and the Germans to get together to consult the other six countries and to persuade them to decide, perhaps, that the additional-Member system might be the best. If we have the first-past-the-post system, that will be the easiest lead-in.

Mr. Rathbone

One point that has not yet been made in the debate is that the Germans have moved from the additional-Member system to a regional list system for European elections.

Sir D. Renton

All that I can say is that that is regrettable but does not invalidate my argument, because I do not under-estimate the powers of persuasion of British Foreign Secretaries and other representatives of the Government, from whichever party they may come.

Mr. Dykes


Sir D. Renton

I have promised to be very brief, so I cannot give way again.

I conclude by making a short point about the timing. As one who once had to help pilot a Boundary Commission Bill through the House, I am sure that all kinds of things could be quoted against me in the light of what I must now say. I am disillusioned by our now traditional procedure for treating the reports of Boundary Commissions. Seeing the Prime Minister in his place reminds me of the last time we had the reports of the independent Boundary Commissions for England and Wales, the preparation of which is a quasi-judicial process. We ought to have been glad to accept the reports, but, for various reasons that I need not go into now, we had interminable, sordid discussions late at night and many of the Commissions' recommendations were voted down.

Therefore, I say that we should either write into the Bill—and it may be a rough and ready exercise—what the constituencies are to be, as some of my hon. Friends and others have tried to do, or let the Boundary Commissions get on with the matter and we accept their decision, and not take up another two or three weeks discussing them and upsetting this quasi-judicial exercise for party political purposes.

Mr. John Mendelson

In the course of the debate a number of technical arguments have been advanced, but I do not believe that the technical arguments will carry the same weight as the matter of principle when the decision is taken. Everyone knows—certainly every hon. Member realizes—that a major decision is to be taken tonight.

However much some hon. Members, including some of my hon. Friends, have occasionally painted a picture of a bizarre or baroque outcome under a particular system, it is no part of my case to oppose proportional representation because occasionally there may be such a baroque outcome. We could not base a decision of major importance upon such occasional miscarriages of any system, whichever system might be adopted.

The case that must be met was made particularly, not for the first time, by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), a former Leader of the Conservative Party. I disagreed with a number of his detailed arguments, as did many other hon. Members. His argumentation was weak, but that does not detract from the principle that he advanced.

The right hon. Gentleman's analogy with the American Congress and the history of the Continental Congress was historically quite unsound, as he will realise when he reads his speech tomorrow. It is incorrect to suggest that all that was in the minds of the people who created the United States Congress when the first Continental Congress was elected was to have a representative organ. We must remember that there had been legislative assemblies in the States long before the first Continental Congress was elected, and that therefore legislative purposes were very much in the minds of those who created the first Congress. Therefore, it is quite wrong to suggest that there can be any analogy between what was in their minds and the purposes of the European Assembly that we are discussing.

It is equally wrong to suggest that the present position of the House of Representatives, as the right hon. Member for Sidcup said, and the European Parliament have anything in common. That is common ground so far. The argumentation was unusually weak for the right hon. Gentleman, but I deliberately repeat that it should not detract from the importance of the principle that he advanced. I am opposed to that principle because I do not believe that a movement, however slow, in the direction of having a proportional representation system is in the best interests of the people of this country. That is my main argument and the main burden of my case.

We need not attack each other too much for suspecting that somebody wants to move very fast towards a system which gives more and more powers to a European Parliament. All I know is that the present position and the present argument may be summed up in two propositions. In the Common Market countries I do not know of anybody who advances seriously the reasons for direct elections to the European Parliament who does not at the same time wish for an extension of the powers of that Parliament. In Holland and a number of other countries, people would regard it as rather offensive if one were to suggest that, as they are arguing for a European Parliament, they want that European Parliament to be powerless. Therefore, we have to face the fact that the purpose is an increase in powers and it is absolutely essential that when deciding upon the system of elections we should keep that in mind.

I believe that the strength of the British system is the close connection between the single Member for a single constituency and all the electors in that constituency. I believe that that, as the right hon. Member for Sidcup said, is something to which many people in the Continental countries have looked forward for many years, and when they said that they expected Britain to give some lead, they did not expect that we would abandon the strongest part of our system as soon as we joined the Common Market.

Mr. Dykes

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mendelson

No, there is no time.

That is the governing factor in the international situation. The position at home—I say this particularly to the Liberal Members who are present—is that people who have come to try and persuade me in the Liberal interests—I have met people from more than one part of the country, not only from my own constituency—have all frankly told me that their major aim is to see a transformation of the political and electoral system in the United Kingdom in the direction of proportional representation. They have been much more frank and outspoken about that than have the representatives of the Liberal Party in the debate today.

Mr. Russell Johnston

indicated dissent.

Mr. Mendelson

It is no use the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) disowning his own supporters. There is a major campaign going on. It is not very nice for the hon. Member to disown his own supporters.

We even know that the Leader of the Liberal Party is under duress. He has been told by no less august a body than the Liberal Council that a special assembly will be called to depose him if he does not make headway in the matter of PR. That has led to some pressure being put on my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. That is common knowledge. I am not telling the Committee anything new. That is the governing factor as far as the domestic political situation is concerned. The Liberals are perfectly entitled to it. But the result will be permanent coalition government in this country. There is no question about that.

I believe that it is in the best interests of the people of this country to be able to make a clear choice. If they want a Labour Government, they ought to be able to have a Labour Government. If they want to have a Conservative Government, they ought to be able to have a Conservative Government. If some bright day they want a Liberal Government, they ought to be able to have a Liberal Government. Certainly Mr. Asquith and Mr. David Lloyd George would have found no fault with the proposition that I am now advancing. The evidence is that they were fighting in the Liberal interest in the great days of Liberal Administrations. They never changed the system. They thought that it was a good system because it made it possible for them to have a clear position as the Government as well. The governing factor in the decision and this debate, as right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will know, ought to be one of principle and not a blurring of the issue.

Coalition government always leads to blurred responsibility. What is good is a Government formed by one political party. The strength in that system, as Disraeli always held, is that it is clearly accountable to the electorate. If the electorate does not like what the Government are doing, they know whom to blame. If they like what they are doing, they know what to approve.

9.45 p.m.

We do not have coalition government at the moment. We have only some agreement. But we are already seeing Liberal Members touring the country and trying to tell the electorate that they control the Labour Cabinet and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and have the greatest possible influence on the Prime Minister.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Does not the hon. Gentleman recognise that we are talking about the European Assembly, which does not produce a Government?

Mr. Mendelson

I am talking about the real purpose of the Liberal campaign for a change in the system. Liberal Members do not like it. I did not expect that they would like it. But they are touring the country pretending that anything that is done right by my right hon. Friends is done under their inspiration and that anything that goes wrong is solely the responsibility of my right hon. Friends. That is years ahead of any possibility of a system under PR.

For all these rather serious reasons I call upon all hon. Members who believe in the strength of our traditional voting system and in the future of democratic government in this country, to support the amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey).

Mr. David Howell

It is correct to say that most of my hon. Friends—not all—want direct elections and want to see the Bill go through. They would have liked to see the target date of May/June achieved.

That brings me straight away to the question of timing, which has been a central issue running through many of the speeches this afternoon. What has emerged is that the chances of making the May/June target under either system—the multi-Member system or the single- Member system—are now absolutely minimal. If one is asked why, the answer is that unless the business of the House and the whole of the Government's programme after Christmas undergo a great revolution, of which there is no sign at all, there is no chance of getting this business through before mid-May. The only way of getting it through would be under a successful timetable motion, but the chances of getting it through before the middle of May, well after Easter, are absolutely minimal and virtually negligible even with a successful timetable motion.

The Home Secretary tells us that following Royal Assent we would need a further three months before elections could take place. If we add three months to the Royal Assent date of mid-May, we are into August and August, of course, means that we miss the May/June date.

I therefore believe that it is the conclusion of the Committee that timing is not the factor in choosing between one system and the other which some hon. Members and some people outside the House of Commons have tried to suggest it is. This enables us to turn to the basic criteria on which we should decide between the two systems before us. Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I can offer only a personal view of the main considerations. Let me offer three quick comments before the Home Secretary speaks at the end of the debate: I do not want to detain the Committee.

First, I think that we should all pause long and think hard before doing away with the single-Member constituency idea and the golden thread, as it has been called, that links the elected Member with his constituency. I know that some will say that the topping-up system of PR—the list system—could cover both PR and the single-Member constituency. That is not what is proposed in the Bill and we have no means at the moment of getting it into the Bill.

Secondly, we should hesitate long before bringing in a brand-new and, by everyone's admission, a somewhat bizarre system of multi-Member constituencies, using a regional list system of proportional representation which would be for one election—perhaps for two—and then altered again. That cannot be the right way to conduct such changes.

Thirdly, I say let us beware of mixing innovations. The introduction of direct elections is a major constitutional innovation. There are many hon. Members who have spoken against it quite sincerely. Many have doubts about it. I do not. I believe that we should go forward, but we must be wary of mixing that great innovation with another, namely, the idea of bringing proportional representation into our nation-wide, kingdom-wide elections.

If I am asked to express the strongest view of all about this amendment it is that I do not see why we should be asked to smuggle through a new electoral system of the under-belly of this Bill in some sort of perverted Homeric episode. If there is a case for PR, I do not believe that it should be brought before us in this way. It would have been far wiser to keep these matters apart. It would have been wiser for the Government to seek to keep them apart from the first, although, as we know, other considerations have prevailed.

Let us go ahead with the Bill and do our best, even at this miserably late stage, when delay has made so many difficulties. It is right to say that supporting the amendment will not hinder and could well help the process of getting the Bill through. That is why I shall support the amendment tonight, and I hope that many of my hon. Friends will do so, too.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) mentioned earlier a problem he said he faced, namely, that in these elections—I think he was referring to the regional list system—it might be that in London there would be two "slow" Europeans and eight "fast" Europeans. He was suggesting that people would want to pick and choose between Labour or Conservative candidates under the new system. General Election results, whatever the views in various parts of the Conservative or Labour parties, show that we all seem to go up and down with the same swing, whatever our individual views. I would imagine that much the same thing would happen in this proposed system.

Mr. George Cunningham

That is what is wrong with it.

Mr. Rees

I found the speech of the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) interesting in two respects. He told us how he felt in a regional Assembly sharing a constituency with others. I understood how he felt. I make it clear that in asking the Committee to reject the amendment we are not asking for a vote in favour of PR in any other form of assembly. This is not a Trojan horse or the thin end of the wedge. It is a method of voting for the European Assembly, for which it is appropriate.

The hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) talked about the regional list system as being unusual. The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) called it bizarre. The regional list system is to be used in many countries in Europe; it is proposed to be used for elections for the European Assembly. Bizarre it may well be, in which case we are in good company. Unusual it is not.

I am sensitive to the problems of Northern Ireland, to which we shall come in the New Year. Those are problems for another day. The right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) raised an important issue when he said that in Northern Ireland, in the February 1974 elections, because of the small number of constituencies—12 compared with 78 in the Assembly—what happened was that the minority party won only one seat out of the 12. It may have been two in the February election and one in the October election.

It is exactly the same in the context that we are discussing here. We are talking not about 635 constituencies, but about 81 constituencies. There is no doubt that with 81 constituencies for Europe, if we go through the normal method of election, the slightest swing will result in the parties in this country being under-represented in the councils of Europe. We are talking about an Assembly that does not spawn a Government, a body which is advisory and supervisory. The list system is appropriate for Europe. A different type of representative will be created, perhaps with a regional interest that is not in competition with the House of Commons.

The major matter that we must face before we vote tonight is that of timing, on which we spoke last night and to which the hon. Member for Guildford returned. Whether the election is on the first-past-the-post system, in the first instance, or the regional list system, timing is important

In regard to the first-past-the-post system, there is no question of the Government introducing a scheme that bypasses the Boundary Commission or that is based on the counties. If the Committee chooses the first-past-the-post system, there is no doubt that there will be timing problems, not out of any dilatoriness—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh?"] The fact remains that a minority Government are very much in the hands of the Committee, and it is the Committee that will decide tonight. If there is a problem with timing—and there will be with first past the post—the Committee must decide what it is doing when hon. Members vote, as they will in a few moments.

In regard to first past the post, the hon. Member for Guildford quoted some figures back at me. I think that he quoted them correctly. Undoubtedly, with first past the post the chances of being ready for May/June are very remote.

Mr. Jim Spicer

Will the Home Secretary say where the fault lies if we are not

ready for the first-past-the-post system in May? Does it lie with the Opposition or the Government?

Mr. Rees

The problem is that for the last 18 months we have had a minority Government, and that is a major factor in controlling the House of Commons. If the Committee chooses the first-past-the-post system, it will be deciding that the chances of being ready for May/June are remote.

If the Committee votes for the regional list system, which has many advantages in the context of Europe, we can be ready for May/June. It is for the Committee to decide which system it wants. Timing is in the hands of the Committee.

In recommending the Committee to vote against the amendment I ask hon. Members to take the timing into account. The regional list system is appropriate for Europe, and I recommend it on behalf of the Government.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 319, Noes 222.

Division No. 50] AYES [9.59 p.m.
Adley, Robert Callaghan, Jim (Middlelon & P) Evans, John (Newton)
Aitken, Jonathan Canavan, Dennis Eyre, Reginald
Alison, Michael Carmichael, Neil Fairbairn, Nicholas
Allaun, Frank Carson, John Farr, John
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Carter-Jones, Lewis Fell, Anthony
Arnold, Tom Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Churchill, W. S. Finsberg, Geoffrey
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Flannery, Martin
Atkinson, David (Bournemouth, East) Clark, William (Croydon S) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Atkinson, Norman Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Fletcher-Cooke, Charles
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Clegg, Walter Fookes, Miss Janet
Banks, Robert Clemitson, Ivor Forman, Nigel
Bell, Ronald Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Forrester, John
Bonn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Cope, John Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Cormack, Patrick Fox, Marcus
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Corrie, John Fraser Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)
Berry, Hon Anthony Costain, A. P. Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Bidwell, Sydney Cowans, Harry Fry, Peter
Biffen, John Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.
Biggs-Davison, John Crowder, F. P. Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Blaker, Peter Cryer, Bob Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)
Body, Richard Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Deakins, Eric Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Dempsey, James Glyn, Dr Alan
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Doig, Peter Goodhart, Philip
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Dormand, J. D. Goodhew, Victor
Bradford, Rev Robert Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Gorst, John
Braine, Sir Bernard du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Gould, Bryan
Bray, Dr Jeremy Dunlop, John Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)
Brittan, Leon Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Grant, George (Morpeth)
Brotherton, Michael Durant, Tony Gray, Hamish
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Eadie, Alex Grieve, Percy
Bryan, Sir Paul Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Griffiths, Eldon
Buchan, Norman Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Grist, Ian
Buck, Anthony Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Grocott, Bruce
Budgen, Nick Emery, Peter Grylls, Michael
Burden, F. A. English, Michael Hall, Sir John
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Hall-Davis, A. G. F.
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Hannam, John McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Madden, Max Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoak[...])
Hastings, Stephen Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Rooker, J. W.
Hatton, Frank Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Ross, William (Londonderry)
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Marten, Neil Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Hawkins, Paul Mates, Michael Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Hayman, Mrs Helene Mather, Carol Royle, Sir Anthony
Heffer, Eric S. Mawby, Ray Ryman, John
Heseltine, Michael Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Scott-Hopkins, James
Higgins, Terence L. Maynard, Miss Joan Sedgemore, Brian
Hodgson, Robin Meacher, Michael Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Holland, Philip Mendelson, John Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Hordern, Peter Mikardo, Ian Shelton, William (Streatham)
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Shepherd, Colin
Howell, David (Guildford) Mills, Peter Shersby, Michael
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Moate, Roger Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Molloy, William Short, Mrs Rénee (Wolv NE)
Huckfield, Les Molyneaux, James Silvester, Fred
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Monro, Hector Sims, Roger
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Montgomery, Fergus Skeet, T. H. H.
Hunter, Adam Moore, John (Croydon C) Skinner, Dennis
Hurd, Douglas More, Jasper (Ludlow) Small, William
Hutchison, Michael Clark Morgan, Geraint Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral Spearing, Nigel
Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Speed, Keith
Janner, Greville Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Spence, John
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Mudd, David Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Jeger, Mrs Lena Neave, Airey Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd) Nelson, Anthony Spriggs, Leslie
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Neubert, Michael Sproat, Iain
Jessel, Toby Newens, Stanley Stainton, Keith
Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Noble, Mike Stanbrook, Ivor
Jopling, Michael Normanton, Tom Stanley, John
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Nott, John Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine O'Halloran, Michael Stoddart, David
Kerr, Russell Oppenheim, Mrs Sally Stokes, John
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Orbach, Maurice Stradling Thomas, J.
Kimball, Marcus Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Tapsell, Peter
King, Tom (Bridgwater) Osborn, John Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Kitson, Sir Timothy Page, John (Harrow West) Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Knight, Mrs Jill Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Tebbit, Norman
Lamond, James Page, Richard (Workington) Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Lamont, Norman Paisley, Rev Ian Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Langford-Holt, Sir John Parkinson, Cecil Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Pattie, Geoffrey Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Lawrence, Ivan Pavitt, Laurie Tierney, Sydney
Lawson, Nigel Pendry, Tom Torney, Tom
Lee, John Percival, Ian Trotter, Neville
Le Marchant, Spencer Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch Urwin, T. W.
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Prescott, John van Straubenzee, W. R.
Lewis, Arthur (Newham N) Price, C. (Lewisham W) Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Price, David (Eastleigh) Wakeham, John
Litterick, Tom Pym, Rt Hon Francis Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Lomas, Kenneth Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Loveridge, John Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Warren, Kenneth
Loyden, Eddie Rees-Davies, W. R. Weatherill, Bernard
Lyon, Alexander (York) Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts) Wells, John
McAdden, Sir Stephen Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
McCartney, Hugh Richardson, Miss Jo Wiggin, Jerry
McCrindle, Robert Ridley, Hon Nicholas Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
McCusker, H. Ridsdale, Julian Winterton, Nicholas
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Wise, Mrs Audrey
Macfarlane, Neil Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Woof, Robert
MacGregor, John Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
MacKay, Andrew (Stechford) Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW) TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Mr. Phillip Whitehead and
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Robinson, Geoffrey Mr. Paul Channon.
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Roderick, Caerwyn
Anderson, Donald Bottomley, Peter Cockroft, John
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Bradley, Tom Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)
Armstrong, Ernest Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Colquhoun, Ms Maureen
Ashley, Jack Brooke, Peter Concannon, J. D.
Awdry, Daniel Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Conlan, Bernard
Baker, Kenneth Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Corbett, Robin
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Buchanan-Smith, Alick Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)
Bates, Alf Bulmer, Esmond Crawshaw, Richard
Bean, R. E. Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Critchley, Julian
Beith, A. J. Cant, R. B. Cronin, John
Benyon, W. Carlisle, Mark Crouch, David
Bishop, Rt Hon Edward Carter, Ray Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)
Boardman, H. Cartwright, John Davidson, Arthur
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Chalker, Mrs Lynda Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Judd, Frank Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Kaufman, Gerald Sandelson, Neville
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Kershaw, Anthony Scott, Nicholas
de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Sever, John
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Knox, David Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Lambie, David Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Lamborn, Harry Sillars, James
Drayson, Burnaby Latham, Michael (Melton) Silverman, Julius
Duffy, A. E. P. Lester, Jim (Beeston) Sinclair, Sir George
Dunnett, Jack Lever, Rt Hon Harold Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Dykes, Hugh Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Edge, Geoff Lipton, Marcus Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Lloyd, Ian Snape, Peter
Ennals, Rt Hon David Luard, Evan Stallard, A. W.
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Steel, Rt Hon David
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Fairgrieve, Russell McElhone, Frank Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Faulds, Andrew MacFarquhar, Roderick Stott, Roger
Fisher, Sir Nigel McGuire, Michael (Ince) Strang, Gavin
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Maclennan, Robert Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Magee, Bryan Temple-Morris, Peter
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Mallalieu, J. P. W. Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Marks, Kenneth Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Freud, Clement Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
George, Bruce Mason, Rt Hon Roy Tomlinson, John
Gilbert, Dr John Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald Townsend, Cyril D.
Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) Mayhew, Patrick Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Ginsburg, David Meyer, Sir Anthony Viggers, Peter
Golding, John Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Goodlad, Alastair Miscampbell, Norman Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Gourlay, Harry Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Graham, Ted Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Grant, John (Islington C) Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Walters, Dennis
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Ward, Michael
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Newton, Tony Watkins, David
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Oakes, Gordon Watkinson, John
Hampson, Dr Keith Ogden, Eric Weetch, Ken
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Ovenden, John Weitzman, David
Haselhurst, Alan Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Wellbeloved, James
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Palmer, Arthur White, Frank R. (Bury)
Hayhoe, Barney Pardoe, John Whitlock, William
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Parker, John Wigley, Dafydd
Heath, Rt Hon Edward Penhaligon, David Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Hooley, Frank Perry, Ernest Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Hooson, Emlyn Phipps, Dr Colin Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Horam, John Price, William (Rugby) Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Prior, Rt Hon James Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Radice, Giles Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Raison, Timothy Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Hunt, David (Wirral) Rathbone, Tim Woodall, Alec
Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Rhodes James, R. Young, David (Bolton E)
John, Brynmor Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Johnson, James (Hull West) Rifkind, Malcolm Younger, Hon George
Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Roper, John TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Rose, Paul B. Mr. Joseph Harper and
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Mr. Donald Coleman.
Jones, Dan (Burnley)

Question accordingly agreed to.

To report Progress and ask leave to sit again.—[Mr. Walter Harrison.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

I understand that the business motion is not to be moved.

Committee report Progress; to sit again tomorrow.

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