§ 17.—(1) If it appears to the Secretary of State that a Bill passed by the Scottish Assembly under the provisions of section 2(6) of this Act would not be in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole he may lay the Bill before Parliament together with a statement that in his opinion it ought not to be submitted to Her Majesty in Council.
§ (2) A Bill laid before Parliament under sub-paragraph (1) of this paragraph shall be subject to the same powers of rejection and procedures as a Bill laid before Parliament under subsection (3) of section 36 of this Act.'.
No. 151, in Clause 5, page 3, line 18, at end insert—
'(c) as to the method of voting, and the method of counting and transferring votes.'.
§ No. 77, in Clause 6, page 3, line 40, after a ', insert constituency '.
No. 80, in Clause 6, page 4, line 9, at end insert—
(5) Subject to subsection (4) of this section where the seat of an additional member of an Assembly is vacated the vacancy shall be filled by the first willing candidate of the party of the vacating member on the relevant party priority list as prepared at the preceding ordinary election under the provisions of Part V of Schedule I to this Act such candidate not already being a member and having indicated his willingness to fill the vacancy as required by the standing orders of the Assembly.'.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
The object of this series of amendments is to change the electoral system that is proposed for the Assembly from a first-past-the-post system to a proportional representation system. I ask the Government to listen to the debate and to consider the points 1413 that are made in an as objective a way as possible.
The situation is curious, because in the European Bill the Government are proposing proportional representation as their preferred method of election and they are applying a two-line Whip on that issue. But for the Assembly the situation appears to be reversed. I hope that the Government will not whip against a system that they are recommending for European elections. I hope that we shall persuade them to consider this change in the electoral system as carefully as possible. I hope that they will not regard the amendments as wrecking amendments but will accept that they are designed to improve the Bill.
This is an all-party move. It is a move by Scots Members from all political sections whose chief objective is to make the Assembly as satisfactory and as democratically workable as possible. I recall that I moved a similar amendment in January to the first devolution Bill. At that time several hon. Members said that the proposal made the Bill more sensible. They said that it made the whole system more workable but that they were so opposed to setting up an Assembly that anything that made it work more satisfactorily must be thrown out. They said that they wanted to make the Bill look as ridiculous and as dangerous as possible.
In spite of what has happened to the last clause, it looks as though the Government will get the Bill. They achieved large majorities on Second Reading and on the guillotine motion. So we must achieve the best system possible and not try to make the Bill appear to be ridiculous and dangerous, because it looks as though the Assembly will come into existence by 1979.
I hope that those who are opposed to the principle of devolution will consider what is the best method of electing the Assembly, since we are to have it. I know that some hon. Members who are opposed to some developments in Northern Ireland supported proportional representation there because of the specific merits of the situation and because they believed it would work well.
Since we are likely to have an Assembly we must address ourselves to 1414 the political situation in Scotland. The core of the case for proportional representation is that the political situation in Scotland is not the same as it is in the United Kingdom. In the 1950s and 1960s we had in the United Kingdom a two-party system in which the Labour and Conservative Parties together gathered 95 to 97 per cent. of the votes cast. The operation of the first-past-the-post system was roughly proportional and just. It was seen to be so by the people in the country and they accepted the outcome of the elections.
The difficulty is that when there is a political system, as there is in Scotland, where three major parties run neck and neck and two minor parties run behind, any one of the major parties, by putting its nose only slightly ahead could reverse the situation and scoop an absolute majority in the Assembly on the strength of an increase of 2 or 3 per cent. in its popular vote.
I know that Clause 4 provides a procedure by which the Assembly may be dissolved. But that procedure is a safety valve and almost certainly the Assembly will last for its full four-year period. We must consider that if one party achieves 35 or 36 per cent. of the vote it will get 57 per cent. of the seats and that a Scottish Executive could govern Scotland on the basis of just over one third of the popular vote for four years.
I can think of no more serious damage that we could do to an Assembly than to tie this undemocratic can around its neck. Such a situation would encourage people to say that the Assembly did not represent them. They would say that the Executive had 65 per cent. of the popular vote against it and that in those circumstances they need not take notice of it.
Those chosen to act as the Government should have 50 per cent. of the votes cast behind them. If that happened, it would be a great asset to the Assembly. It would be a more satisfactory form of government, it would be more likely to last and to make a contribution to the good government of Scotland.
Should people believe that I am exaggerating I remind hon. Members of what happened at the last General Election. At the last election, in October 1974, the 1415 Labour Party was the largest party with 36 per cent. of the votes. Yet it achieved 58 per cent. of the Scottish seats. If that were repeated in the Assembly the Labour Party would have a clear, absolute and unshakable majority for four years on the basis of 36 per cent. of the votes cast.
At the last General Election the Scottish National Party got 30 per cent. of the votes and a mere 15 per cent. of the seats. The Conservative Party polled 26 per cent. of the votes and got 23 per cent. of the seats. If the same method is used, one party could govern Scotland on the basis of 36 per cent. of the votes cast for a full four-year period. That is not a satisfactory way of running the Assembly. The amendment proposes a proportional representation system of election which would remove the difficulty.
I shall explain the details of the amendments. First, they provide an interim measure. The proposal is for the first election only. The object is that if there are aspects of the electoral system which the Assembly finds do not work satisfactorily, it can propose changes, subject to the approval of this House. Secondly, the amendments are designed so that no delay is involved. There would be no question of a delay in the timetable.
The meat of the amendments is that the Assembly should consist of the same number of elected members, that is 150. But, instead of the Government system of having three members for some of the existing Westminster constituencies and two for others, this proposal is that there should be two members for the large constituencies and one for the smaller constituencies. That would produce 100 members who would be directly elected to the Assembly. The remaining 50 would be added on a proportional system so that the end result would produce members of the Assembly who would be closer, proportionally, to the votes cast in Scotland.
§ Mr. Powell
I may be anticipating the hon. Gentleman, but may I ask whether the latter category of Members should, in his view, be paid less since they would have less to do because they would have no constituencies?
§ Mr. Mackintosh
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. May I come to that point later? I hope to explain these matters in detail. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, this is the West German added-Member system, which has worked there for the past 30 years. These problems have been faced and tackled. The point about this is that the 50 Members would be divided so as to produce a proportional result.
I wish to deal with a few details before I come to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). The position of the 50 added Members is crucial in the argument about whether this is a feasible system. Many hon. Members raised the point when we debated this in January. In this amendment we are proposing two votes, which is a change from the amendment proposed in January.
The point is that members of the public going into the polling booth would have two votes, one for the candidates for the constituency and the second for a party list, which would also be printed on the ballot paper. I know that we are not supposed to wave bits of paper around in the Chamber but there would be a set of names on one side of the ballot paper and a series of lists on the other, as I have here, and as is used in the German system. In any constituency the elector will cast one vote for the preferred candidate for that constituency and the other for a Labour, Liberal, Conservative, or whatever other party is listed on the ballot paper. There would be six or eight names at the top of each party list.
This is roughly the same system as the Government are proposing for the European elections, with this great improvement, that in this case the elector would have a choice, if he wished to exercise it, between the member for the constituency and his overall party affiliation. The point is that there are many constituencies where, because of tactical voting, electors may prefer to cast their vote for someone whom they respect and want for that constituency but who does not represent their normal party allegiance. Let us take the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) as an example. He is not present, but it is fair to mention him because I am simply talking about his electoral position.
1417 In Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles in days gone by, when my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) stood as a candidate, there were 10,000 or more Labour voters in that constituency. Now the Labour vote is about 2,000 to 2,500. It is not beyond the wit of man to calculate that many Labour supporters and Conservative supporters vote for the right hon. Member who leads the Liberal Party. If they did not have two votes they might say "We would prefer that gentleman to represent us in this constituency, but we do not want that vote to add up on any proportional basis towards a Liberal list."
This method of voting allows people to vote for the candidate they prefer for the constituency but to put their party vote on the party list from which they want the additional Members to be added. This means that in those constituencies where the third party is hopelessly out and the elector cannot use his votes in any meaningful way, those votes can be used for the party to get additional Members into the Assembly and to make up the proportion properly.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Who will draw up the Labour list? Who will draw up the Conservative list and who will draw up the Scottish Labour Party list?
§ Mr. Mackintosh
My hon. Friend is hurrying me through my explanation. The second point, to which I was coming having described the electoral system, is that the list system is drawn up by the respective parties. This is the normal procedure in countries that have a list system. It is the procedure proposed for the European Bill. I have doubts about this in the sense that one worries about the kind of person the official party may choose. There are other points about this just as important. We have to look at where the system has worked in practice.
Because the top names on the list are printed on the ballot paper there is a great attempt to get a list on which at least the top dozen names are impressive—people who will command public support. I have heard some say, in criticism of the list system, that the parties will simply put on hacks, they will put on the party stalwarts of no ability, with no reputation except that of total obedience to the party machine.
1418 If any party went forward to the Assembly election with that kind of list it would stand condemned by the Press, public and electors. One thing about which the public would be worried is the idea that the Assembly might be packed with unsuitable or incapable people. That kind of tendency on the part of the official party lists would be the cause of serious damage to a party's electoral fortunes.
One of the curious things about the argument is that sometimes exactly the reverse case is put. People come along and say that there will appear curious people with famous names, pop artists, people who are known on television, who are constantly in the public eye and who are put on to the list to add glamour and draw attention. Anyone who goes at the top of the list and whose name is in that way publicised is likely to be chosen on the added-Member system. Such people would have to be prepared to serve for four years in the Assembly at a level of pay which we shall discuss in a moment. They would have to be prepared to serve and give of their time.
One of the great attractions about this is the possibility of getting people to serve in the Assembly who are public figures but who may not have put in the groundwork in an area which would enable them to win a local nomination with the particular conditions there. One of the greatest problems facing us is that we shall have to find 150 people of considerable capacity to run this Assembly. The problem will be getting men and women of quality to do this job, who will find it exciting and challenging.
All hon. Members know that the numbers of people who have not thought about coming to Westminster, particularly in Scotland, are considerable. These are people who have played a part in our public life, who have political affiliations, whose position is known but who are not in a position, were elections to be called, to put themselves before a local committee because they have not done the grass-roots canvassing, the fetes, the detailed, often tedious work necessary to be done by people in local parties. I know that many people will say "If they haven't done that, don't have them," but there are some whom we ought to have in the Assembly, whose 1419 rôle in Scottish public life has been considerable, people whose names would be an enhancement to the list.
One of the attractions is that the system allows parties to get one or two people of this kind on to their list whom they may otherwise not be able to persuade a local constituency to take, or who might themselves be unable to do that kind of work.
§ Mr. Jim Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I presume that these superstars might well be involved in some territorial work, either of their own volition or because the people in a particular area wanted to involve them in a local problem. Does this mean that there would be a clash with the territorial interests of the constituency Members?
§ Mr. Mackintosh
The position is that the normal convention would apply, that they could not take up complaints and grievances and that Ministers would deal with the constituency Member.
Hon. Members must realise that as the Bill is drafted there is not one Member per constituency but two, and in some cases three. The Scottish Assembly will already have moved on to the system where it is not clear who precisely is the constituency Member. There will be competition between Members. Hon. Members know perfectly well that in the United States a state is represented by two senators and several Members of the House of Representatives. A little bit of competition between elected Members to see who gives the best service is highly satisfactory.
§ Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)
Is it not true, whether or not we like the Bill, that after the first election the constituencies will be split, so that what the hon. Gentleman is saying will not have any further relevance?
§ Mr. Mackintosh
It all depends on what the system the Assemby decides upon for the second and subsequent elections. The idea of two Members for a constituency is not a bad thing. I cannot see any great objection to it in democratic terms. The answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) is clear. The list Members would not be attached to any con 1420 stituency. They would not have any responsibility of that kind. If they cared to concern themselves it would be with general matters such as transport, the Highlands, economic development, housing and matters of that kind.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
I am following the hon. Gentleman with great care, but there is something I cannot yet understand. How could a Member of the Assembly cope with the large number of people for whom he would be responsible, even though he may have someone else to help? How could it be said, as we say here, that his responsibility would be to a certain set number, about 60,000 electors? How could any person manage double that amount?
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
I am afraid that the hon. Lady's mathematics are slipping. If there are two Members per parliamentary constituency, one does not have double the amount but a half. But perhaps I have misunderstood her.
§ Mrs. Knight
Surely the point is, looking at it in our own context, that if two constituencies were thrown together, any person in those two constituencies would be able to approach both or either Member.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
The hon. Lady misunderstands the Bill. There is no throwing together of constituencies. There are two Members per single constituency. In other words, there are more Members per constituency than at present. The seats when redrawn will be smaller, but on the first election there will be two or three Members for each Westminster constituency.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mary-hill raised the question of the specific territorial responsibility of list Members. They would not have such responsibility. They would be added Members and would concern themselves with issues of policy. They would not deal with specific issues in the constituencies as against constituency Members.
The right hon. Member for Down, South raised a broader point to do with parliamentary pay and whether there would not be first and second-class Members in practice in certain terms. I apologise for spending some time on these 1421 points. These are detailed matters which need elucidating. I am not surprised if some hon. Members, like the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight), find them difficult, because we have not been able to publicise them since we went so quickly into Committee following Second Reading. We have not had time to brief hon. Members.
What would have happened if this electoral system had been applied in October 1974 in Scotland for a Scottish Assembly? Given the existing intentions and votes of the electorate, as far as we can determine the result would have been 58 Labour Members, 45 Members from the Scottish National Party, 36 Conservatives, and 11 Liberals for the 150 seats. The end result in seats would have been at the most 2 per cent. or 2½ per cent. out of proportion to the votes cast for those parties in Scotland as a whole.
§ Mr. Buchan
In that event, how could a Government conceivably have been formed? One could have had, for example, a Labour-Liberal pact outvoted by the Conservatives and the SNP. The same situation would have applied to a Labour-SNP pact or perhaps even to a Labour-Conservative pact. How could this system have worked in achieving the aims of any parties?
§ Mr. Mackintosh
My hon. Friend raised the same point in the last debate on this matter, and I shall answer it, even if not to his satisfaction. It is a very important point and I shall come to it.
I want to look now at the specific objections to the system raised here and in other countries where it has been applied and has worked and to consider their experience.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
When the hon. Gentleman does deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), will he perhaps consider that the alternative is to have a situation such as that in Quebec? In the election there four parties competed and the nationalist party, with two-fifths of the votes, got two-thirds of the seats. It governs with a majority in the Quebec Parliament but it frustrates the wishes of the majority.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for pointing that 1422 out. Government by a party with 70 per cent. of the seats based on 41 per cent. of the votes, as is the case in Quebec, means a crisis of democracy in a first-past-the-post system, because it does not represent the majority of the people.
The fear of the right hon. Member for Down, South is that, with a list system, there are two different classes of Member. This matter has been raised in countries which have such a system. I do not know how such a situation would settle down when worked in Scotland, but where it has been worked the tendency is for the constituency Members to have higher prestige and for there to be a desire on the part of the list Members to get themselves eventually elected for constituencies.
Secondly, there is the advantage that the list system has allowed people to come in who may not have territorial bases but who have considerable public standing and reputation and who have a great deal to contribute to the work of the Assembly, which has been much appreciated. I have not had the impression that, for example, in the Bundestag there is any distinction in practice between the two kinds of Member, except that the list Members like to prove that they can be elected by a constituency and seek to be so.
I do not think that anyone would recognise differences of remuneration or powers, and I am sure that in most cases the list Members would work as hard as the constituency Members. But they could devote themselves to other aspects of work in addition to the normal duties of a Member of the Assembly. We know that in this House some Members do a great deal more constituency work than others. There are others who devote themselves largely to national or international issues and may do rather less constituency work. Some, indeed, do neither, while some do both—and I am not being invidious here. We have these varieties.
The idea that there are droves of people who not only do constituency work but have so much time left that they can do everything else as well is a mistake, and the prospect of having some Members free of constituency chores is important and helpful in the running of the Assembly. One of the objectives of this whole exercise is to find within the Scottish population—they are there—150 1423 people of talent and ability sufficient to control the Civil Service, to give leadership to the people and to make them feel that the Assembly works well.
I shall find an echo in my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian in saying that if this Assembly turns out not to be a democratic success, we cannot go back to square one. What we should then come to is unknown and unclear. This is an experiment in regional or national democracy within a multinational State. If it does not work, it will be bad for all of us. It will not be a victory for the "pros" or a defeat for the "antis" orvice versa. We are talking of an Assembly which is to come into operation, and we have to be careful about how we get the right people into it and how it will operate.
I am not attacking any political party in pointing out that a number of the political parties in Scotland are thin on the ground in talent. None of them could quickly say "We can immediately produce 150 people of sterling, outstanding quality." I am not denigrating anyone. It is a fact. One of the helpful features of the list system is to try to meet such objection.
I turn now to the deeper, longer term objection posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). He says, in effect, that if in the Assembly there is no party with an absolute majority, the result will inevitably be a coalition or a one-party Government with the assent of another party, though not perhaps stipulated in any formal pact—as we have seen, one party can support the Government of another party without such a formal pact. Surely that would be a great source of strength to the Assembly. It would prevent a minority party in terms of popular support from trying, as a Government, to put through the Assembly extreme policies unacceptable to the majority of the electorate.
Having several parties is a guarantee, particularly within a fixed-life Assembly, that if one party, in Government with the support of another, is not fulfilling its objectives, is not governing well and is losing support, the minor party which has been supporting it can transfer its support to another party, thereby produc- 1424 ing a situation in which moderate government can continue.
All I can say to my hon. Friend is that there are only two choices in the problem that he poses. One is strong government, as he alleges, by a party with minority support in the community but an absolute majority in the Assembly. I suggest that that does not remain strong government. It becomes subject to such public criticism that it cannot go on, and it is far better in those circumstances to have a Government who may not represent the pure milk of doctrine of party A, B or C, but who have behind them the majority support of the community. This is the safe method of proceeding.
In the European Assembly Elections Bill there is a proposal for proportional representation. The Government, for various reasons, say that they favour it for European elections, and on Thursday night they will be applying a two-line Whip for this proposal. I hope that the Government will give careful consideration to the amendments because in my view the case for proportional representation in Scotland is far stronger than the case for it in Europe.
I know that some of my hon. Friends and some Conservative Members have another fear in addition to that voiced by my hon. Friend. They fear that if proportional representation really succeeds in Scotland it will be very hard to stop it coming to Westminster and that will be the thin end of the wedge. They do not want it here, even though they may think it might work perfectly well in a Scottish Assembly.
The position is quite simple. The political system in Scotland is different from that in the United Kingdom. As long as we have two parties dominant in the United Kingdom, there is some justice in our present electoral system and some popular support for the results of it. If we had a General Election in the United Kingdom which produced three parties running neck and neck, with 33 per cent. of the vote each, the case would be quite different, and I think that hon. Members would recognise that it would then be quite different.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Will not my hon. Friend also concede that the position is different in Scotland from that in Europe because 1425 in Scotland one of the major parties, unless there were a Labour-Tory coalition, would almost certainly be at one stage or another a party which is absolutely dedicated to the disruption and break-up of the British State? May I gently say to my hon. Friend that anyone who gets into an electoral coalitionary bed with the SNP had better realise the outcome. The demand of the SNP will be for just one thing—a separate State. That will be the price for a coalition with the SNP.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
My hon. Friend's arguments actually lead to exactly the opposite conclusion. If he has this phobia about the SNP and he votes against proportional representation, he will then have to face this fact. If there had been a General Election on this fixed-term system, under which the dates of elections cannot be changed, there could have been an SNP majority in the Assembly on the basis of 35 per cent. of the popular vote. Which does he prefer and think safer in the long run? He can have a coalition system, by which there will be enough votes in the Assembly to defeat extreme measures by any party from whichever source, including the source that he fears so much. I suggest to him that that is a far safer position than having a party with an absolute majority with the particular programme—
§ Mr. Dalyell
It is not a question of phobias but of believing that when the question is put to the Scottish people there will be every possibility not of an SNP ginger group but of an SNP Government. The Scottish electors may draw their own conclusions on that.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
My hon. Friend gets more and more obscure. I have tried to follow his views in his book, which I can recommend to hon. Members. It is wonderful bedside reading—the greatest cure for insomnia that I have come across. It does the job because, like my hon. Friend's arguments, it goes round in circles. Anyone who seriously takes my hon. Friend's view can do nothing but support the amendment.
I was referring earlier to the possibility of proportional representation coming into Westminster and suggesting that the Scottish political situation is quite differ 1426 ent from that in Westminster. It is one which would make a lottery of an election on the first-past-the-post system. Any of the three major parties which got its nose 2 or 3 per cent. ahead could scoop the pool, and that is not the way in which to run a democratic system.
When people suggest that surely this is the thin end of the wedge for elections to Westminster, my answer is that the political system here is quite different. The case here is not nearly so strong for a proportional system of this kind.
We do not wish necessarily in the Scottish Assembly to create a little carbon copy of Westminster. We may well want to run the Assembly in a different fashion with different rules. I believe that we can do better.
I know that it is the current fashion when we talk of different systems of democracy and Government for hon. Members to say "Ho, ho, ho." I remember going to the Smoking Room where a Conservative Member asked me what I had been doing. I said that I had been to the Bundestag to study the system there. He said "Good God—to study what they do in Germany? Ho, ho, ho."
That general approach is positively laughable. There are still people who cannot believe that other countries may have devised a democratic electoral system which meets the needs of a three or four-party system more effectively than ours. We have got to abandon this sort of outlook.
I am ashamed of the powerlessness of this House and of its lack of control of the Executive, and I want to see an effective Scottish Assembly set up. I wish that all Governments were held under tighter control by the House of Commons, and I wish to see an Assembly set up which really reflects the views of the people of Scotland and which holds the Executive accountable and responsible in a reasonable manner.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I have a very great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) has said, and no one is more conscious than I am of the unfairness 1427 of the present system and of the attractions of the system which he has proposed. But I must also declare that I am rather deeply attached to the constituency system as well.
I think it is a good feature of the House of Commons that we come here elected directly to represent a particular constituency. With all its troubles and all its faults and muddle, I believe that that basis of our system of democracy in this country is extremely important. It is a good thing that people who wish to take part in the work of the House of Commons should have to submit themselves at a public meeting—even if no one comes—to cross-examination by a mixed bag of people in a particular place. Furthermore, it is right that people should know who their Member is and who to go to with their complaints. From my point of view, at any rate, complaints are extremely important.
The House of Commons is also traditionally a check upon the Executive. It does not exist either to support Governments or to fight them. We are able to come here and speak about the grievances of our constituents. We are able to say where the shoe pinches. We are able to tell the Government to go away and put matters right. Therefore, while I am very much aware of the unfairness of the present system, I am also very much aware of the basic simplicity and excellence of the British democratic system.
As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman would give 100 seats of the Scottish Assembly to the party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Fifty."] I do not know who is to choose these Members. Whether it is 50 or 100 it does not alter my argument. Fifty Members are to be chosen by the parties. This is at a time when the parties less and less represent anything very much in the country. It is a feature of British organisations to demand what is in their interests. The hon. Gentleman also says—and here I agree with him—that there is probably in Scotland a pool of people who would contribute very greatly to the Assembly. But I rather dissent from the view that there are many great men who should not sully their hands by presenting themselves as candidates before the electorate but should be swept into 1428 office by the extreme credibility of their virtue and excellence.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
The right hon. Gentleman slightly misses my point. I think he has obviously made the point many times that there are Liberal candidates who stand for single constituencies all over the country in Scotland whose votes are wasted. The Members would be swept in not by their credibility but by the unused votes of Liberal candidates who ran third and fourth in 60 out of the 71 constituencies which did not elect Liberals. The right hon. Gentleman also knows that among the candidates for his own party there are some men who are not great men but are not bad.
§ Mr. Grimond
As we would expect from a part-time professor of politics at the University of Edinburgh, the hon. Gentleman has moved on to a different point.
I am not clear about one thing. Suppose by any mischance the electors of Berwick and East Lothian were to reject him—it is a possibility that is difficult to contemplate, but they might—would the votes cast for the hon. Gentleman then go to someone on the list? I should like the hon. Gentleman to say at some stage whether that is so. In that situation the votes cast for the hon. Gentleman would not assist in electing him at all but would be added to someone's name on a list—someone of whom the electorate had never heard.
I am not wholly against that, but I should like to be clear just what is being proposed. Is it the case that the Labour votes, let alone the Liberal votes, of Berwick and East Lothian would be added to someone else of whom the electorate had never heard but who had been put on the list by the Labour Party?
§ Mr. Mackintosh
The electors will have two votes in their constituency. They will be able to vote for the candidate of their choice, and those votes do not go to someone on the list. They are wasted. The electors also have a second vote with regard to the party list. That is the list containing leading members of the party whom the party has chosen. That vote is the electors' party preference and that is the one which adds up to the people whose names are on the ballot paper or on the list.
§ Mr. Grimond
Therefore the candidate for the constituency is simply wiped out and the candidate on the list gets in on the second vote in a constituency which, say, the Labour Party did not win. I see that and it may well be that it is the best we can do.
§ Mr. Alexander Fletcher
Might I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should ask the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) whether it is not a fact that if he were to lose his seat he could still find a place on the list and still remain a Member of Parliament by coming in by that method even though he had been rejected by his constituents?
§ Mr. Grimond
That is the point I was coming to. It could be an important part of the hon. Gentleman's proposition. All I am saying is that ideally people who have the courage to stand for a constituency and are rejected should not be thrown aside simply by the use of the second vote. That is a possibility.
There is a guillotine, and I want to sit down. I now understand the hon. Gentleman's proposal, for better or for worse. There is a lot to be said for it. But I am worried that we should at some level preserve the contact between the constituency and the Member. To that extent I agree with part of the hon. Gentleman's proposition.
Of course, it is particularly important for me. The difficulty in my part of the world is that if we had the normal system of PR we would have a constituency stretching from Perth to the Muckle Flugga. That is a long way to get in the requisite number of Members and it would divorce the Member from the constituency.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's attempt to ride two horses at once—to keep the contact between the Member and the constituency and at the same time to give some fairness to the electoral result. I hope that the hon. Gentleman might be willing to adjust his proposal so that the candidate for the constituency might still get in on the list.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
I pointed out that that was entirely possible. My proposal does not need to be altered in any way. 1430 People who are candidates for the constituency would also be on the list. It is not conceivable, but suppose the electory of Orkney and Shetland rejected the right hon. Gentleman, there might well be 30,000 electors throughout Scotland who would still like to have the right hon. Gentleman as a Member.
§ Mr. Thorpe
Before my right hon. Friend sits down, may I point out that there is a precedent. The Labour Party, when selecting its representatives to the European Parliament, has a form of primary election. There is no reason why there should not be a form of primary election to decide who is on the party list. That would meet the point.
§ Mr. Dalyell
It may seem odd to a lot of people that while parts of Britain are burning—[Interruption.]—we have a firemen's dispute—we are discussing the problem of representation of Perth and Muckle Flugga.
I shall be brief. I am concerned not with the theory or with the merits and demerits of PR as such but rather with the likely consequences in the Scottish context. It is unlikely that any of the four or five parties would have an overall majority. It is further unlikely that any party plus the Liberals would have an overall majority and it is extremely unlikely over the long term that the Liberals plus one other party would have a majority.
Therefore, what would be the result? Two out of three parties—Labour, Tory or SNP—would have to go into coalition to form a Scottish Administration. It would be very unlikely to be able to form a Scottish Administration without an agreement involving two out of the three parties—Labour, Tory or SNP. That is the reality of the situation.
Let us take first a Labour-Tory coalition. That might be a little difficult to put it mildly, whereas it might be possible that there could be a measure of agreement between my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) on matters of constitutional reform, for instance.
But what we are dealing with here is a Labour-Tory coalition Government in Scotland. It might be a great deal more difficult, for instance, to have a situation 1431 where the Administration is looking to my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) and the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) to sustain an agreed economic policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell (Mr. Hamilton) smiles. I put it to him that Transport House might have a lot to say about a Labour-Tory coalition in the Scottish Assembly and, indeed, so might Conservative Central Office.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
Does not the hon. Gentleman think that another group who ought to have some say in the matter is the people of Scotland? If the electors of Scotland wish to produce that sort of result surely it is the politician's job to sort it out and to produce an effective Administration, because that is the pattern which the electors seek?
§ Mr. Dalyell
It is up to the politicians to sort it out. But it would be difficult to sort out a Labour-Tory coalition in the government of Scotland given our very deep differences of opinion on Treasury economic policy and all sorts of other matters. That is the difficulty.
The other alternative, however, is a little less fanciful. It is either a Tory-SNP coalition or a Labour-SNP coalition. In such circumstances, what would the SNP Members do? I hasten to say that it is not like any coalition or agreement which might take place, for instance, in the Glasgow Corporation or any other authority. That is possible. It is possible for SNP groups to have some kind of formal or informal grouping with another party in a local authority. But we are not talking about a local authority. We are talking about a subordinate Parliament.
In my view, in such a situation, the SNP Members would have just one simple demand. They would not be over-bothered about the commitment to a Left or Right-inclined economic policy. They would let their partners have their way on that. If it was an SNP-Tory coalition, they would say "Let us have a laissez-faire economic policy. We are divided right across the spectrum, but we will let you have your way on that." Equally, if it was an SNP-Labour coalition they would say "We will go along with a Left-inclined economic 1432 policy, if that is your wish." But in both cases they would ask for something in return. They would seek to extract a commitment for more powers for a Scottish Government. That, inevitably, would be the quid pro quo. I do not think that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), who has doubtless thought about these matters, would deny that. It would be wholly natural and understandable.
I have no phobia about the SNP. I try to be a little realistic. I do not regard members of the SNP as enemies in any personal sense. But I try to think out what the scenario would be. It cannot be denied that their one demand would be for more powers for a Scottish Government.
§ Mr. Craigen
Is not this just another argument against having an Assembly, rather than an argument against a proportional representation or first-past-the-post system? There is no guarantee in this great scenario that a first-past-the-post system necessarily will result in any one party having a majority.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My hon. Friend is certainly on a good point. This is an argument against having an Assembly at all. But I say that an Assembly with a PR system is an even faster escalator to separation than an Assembly without PR. PR will make it quicker and more certain that in fewer years and months we shall get a separate Scottish State.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
I suggest that the opposite would be the case and that the first-past-the-post system could lead, hypothetically but not impossibly, to a Scottish Assembly which was inhabited entirely by SNP Members. If that was the case, that step would be taken both more quickly and to further lengths than the hon. Gentleman is suggesting.
§ Mr. Dalyell
That is possible. I for one have always accepted the position. But I would try to make it clear beforehand that people were voting for a separate Government. If, however, the majority of Scots voted for the SNP—[HON. MEMBERS: "Minority."] No. I am answering the hon. Gentleman's question. If a majority of Scots voted for the SNP, it would be a separate State. There is no question about that.
§ Mr. Rathbone
I may not have emphasised sufficiently the underlying weakness of that answer, because it does not require a majority of Scots to make not a majority but a totality of SNP Members in a Scottish Assembly. It is possible with a first-past-the-post system for there to be a total inhabitation of a Scottish Assembly by SNP Members based on a minority of the Scottish population.
§ Mr. Dalyell
If it was first past the post. But the issue becomes much clearer on a proportional system. It is as certain as anything can be that it would fall roughly quarter, quarter and quarter, with possibly the remaining quarter made up of Liberals, the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) and others. So, in my view, PR would accelerate rather than decelerate Scotland on the motorway to a separate State.
§ Mr. Powell
Will the hon. Member accept, as confirmation of the correctness of his analysis, the fact that proportional representation was imposed upon Northern Ireland for the purpose of electing the Assembly under the Act of 1973 with the actual intention that it should give a majority power to the separatist minority?
§ Mr. Dalyell
I have interrupted the right hon. Gentleman many times, and I would simply confirm, as I am sure is the case, that what he says is accurate and to the point on this matter.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
I was simply saying that what the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said in regard to the intentions of the Government in introducing proportional representation, which was that the minority would be given a position of control, is quite wrong. It was introduced in order to give the minority a fair representation.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Doubtless the hon. Gentleman will explain that in his own speech.
1434 I simply end by saying that in my opinion, in a proportional representation situation, the SNP would almost certainly be partners in a coalition. Given that coalition situation, those who sup with the SNP had better use a very long spoon indeed, because the truth is that once there is that coalition, we are on the road to a separate State.
§ Sir John Gilmour
I find this debate very difficult because it seems to me that we are complicating two issues at the same time. If we knew exactly what the size of the Scottish Assembly was to be, it might make it easier for us to make up our minds whether we felt that there was a reason for having a system of proportional representation. When we discussed this matter at the beginning of this year, I felt very strongly that it was quite wrong to have a situation in which one Member represented a constituency such as mine and that constituency sent two to a Scottish Assembly, so that in effect three people would be doing the work which is being done by one at present.
As I understand the Government's thinking, as a result of our discussions the last time, they feel that if we had an Assembly with 71 Members we would be bound to arrive at a situation in which no one had a majority and therefore one could not achieve a proper running of that Assembly. Therefore, the Government argue that we must have a bigger Assembly in order to try to put the matter right.
I wonder whether we are helping our constituents at all if we say to them that in one election they may vote for somebody first past the post, but the next week, when they go to another sort of election, they must vote in a different way. The House now has two propositions before it, one for some measure of proportional representation for this Bill and another, put forward by the Government, for some form of proportional representation for the European Assembly.
We shall also arrive at a situation in which we shall have our electors voting at intervals—not specified, but up to five years in a parliamentary election. They have regional elections and district elections at two-year intervals. They are also to have elections for the European Assembly and for a Scottish Assembly.
§ Sir J. Gilmour
The right hon. Gentleman may be correct in that. All I am saying is that it is all very well for us in the House of Commons to say "This is what you ought to do in this way, and this is what you ought to do in another way." What I am worried about is the ordinary person who lives in Auchtermuchty or Pittenweem, or wherever it may be, who goes about his ordinary business of fishing or farming, or whatever it may be, and says, "How on earth do you people in Westminster tell us that in one election we must vote in a proportional representation way and in another election we must vote first past the post?" I do not believe that my constituents can understand this because it does not make it common sense at all.
Therefore, I hope that the House will look at this, not on the basis of what pleases us—we can suit ourselves over so many things—but on the basis of getting a system which will enable the average elector in all the Scottish constituencies to make up his mind in a commonsense way. We should do this without holding one election in one way and another in another way.
Also I hope that we shall produce a system whereby elections are at four or five different times over a period of three or four years. We are doing our electors a great disservice and the trouble stems from the fact that the Government have started with this Bill before making up their minds about the system for election of this Parliament at Westminster.
§ Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)
Would my hon. Friend agree that one of the best services we could do our constituents is to make sure that their wishes of party representation are properly reflected in the Assembly to which the election takes place?
§ The First Deputy Chairman (Sir Myer Galpern)
Order. I had difficulty in recognising who was addressing the Chamber because the hon. Member turned away.
§ Sir J. Gilmour
Personally I would favour an Assembly for 71 Members, but I have put my name to an amendment grouped with those we are discussing which would make it slightly larger. I 1436 did this because it seems to me that if we are to have a Scottish Assembly we must devise a system under which the electors understand what they are doing. I do not believe that we do our constituents a service by having a system under which a certain number of members are elected on a first-past-the-post basis and another 50 by proportional representation. That will not make things easier for our constituents to understand. Therefore I cannot support the amendment and I hope that it will be rejected.
§ Mr. Buchan
I apologise for my slight interruption during a previous speech, but I did not know that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) was sitting down and that he would continue to sit down.
Some of the things that I have heard tonight almost make me want to vote for the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). I think that there has been a gross misunderstanding of the proposition that he has put forward. In many ways his proposals are perfectly reasonable and sensible in the light of what he is trying to do. However, I do not think I agree with what he is trying to do. His is a perfectly sensible prescription for those who want to manage society, but it is not sensible for those like me who want to change society.
That is my basic objection. I am in politics because I want to transform society. Others are in the business to preserve society as rigidly as possible. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian wants to manage it more efficiently, and if so this is what is required. That is not the reason why people join political parties. Therefore I reject my hon. Friend's basic premise.
The system that he proposes is that we should retain throughout the constituency link with the Assembly through two-thirds of its membership. This is good, and we all know it is good that Members should be responsible to a constituency in which they understand the macrocosm through their understanding of the microcosm problems.
I do not think that this is the only relationship between a Member and his constituency, because it is this second 1437 relationship that brings into question the list system. It is all very well saying that the list system will not become the property of the party in a crude sense, namely, in the sense that party hacks, such as myself, will inevitably figure on the list. That may be so, but even if that is the case and good Members can be produced for a list which would otherwise not stand up, it is still true that those Members must secure a base in their own party.
From time to time we all come into conflict with our party, but a secure base must exist to allow an individual Member to exercise his individual view when it is most necessary to do so. Shorn of that base, the list Member is inevitably in the position of having to retain the good will of the party. Although politicians come together because they have a common view about society, I have no doubt that there must be a leavening of individual Members so that they may exist to express their views.
For example, my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has raised a sharp question on this legislation, and indeed has raised many important issues in the past. Men and individuals make their own history. The system will be greatly weakened once the majority takes over, and if 50 Members out of 150 Members are to be the relevant number to secure a majority of any group in this House, would that enable the leavening of which I have spoken still to exist? Therefore, if we are in politics basically to change society, I cannot see how that aim can be secured through the list system plus proportional representation.
Let us examine the figures produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian. He said that the system had been grossly unfair, and I agree with him. As soon as there is a triple party, or even quadruple party, situation, with no clear lead in terms of a development of political forces in the country, there would tend to be a minority party with a majority of seats which would be able to exercise power. I do not think that is an inevitable factor in human affairs. Changes should occur in society to allow one or other of the parties to develop. That is how the course of history is changed.
1438 My hon. Friend said that in a Scottish context the Scottish Assembly on the basis of his figures would consist of 58 Labour, 45 SNP, 36 Tory and 11 Liberal Members. I suggest that that combination of figures, even if we were to add a list system, although endorsing the presence of party would inhibit the application of party attitudes within a Government. That kind of combination of figures may well prevent the acceptance of party attitudes, which means that political and social attitudes may not be expressed. In other words, Members could vote on that basis but could not carry out the policies on which they were elected.
§ Mr. Rifkind
Is that not a polite way of saying that if the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues wished to put forward measures which did not have the support of the majority of the electorate, they would be inhibited from so doing?
§ Mr. Buchan
I shall deal with that important point in a moment.
The argument must be seen in a Scottish context. That context involves a tripartite arrangement with the fourth party in a small minority. In such a situation, where may party policy be effectively examined? Who would constitute the Government to implement party policy if we had this new acceptance of an enhanced rôle for the party?
If the Labour Party were the largest party, with whom could it have a coalition which would effectively allow it to carry out the party's policy, the policy for which the list system would be precisely devised under the proposed system? Would it be with the Liberals? Even with the support of the Liberals the Labour Party would still fail to carry a majority of votes even under the proposed allocation. It would remain in a permanent minority, and the party which had 45 seats, the Scottish National Party, would be in a wrecking position. The Tory Party, with 36 seats, is in constant conflict with any attempt at social change. Therefore, there would be no possible majority to continue.
Would the Labour Party have an alliance with the Tory Party? I came into this business to change capitalism, not to operate it. There is no basis for 1439 a coalition, for my part, on basic economic and social questions, whatever contact I might have on a number of other significant and important issues. There would be no basis for a coalition on the crucial issues of politics which will determine the nature of our Government and society. Such a coalition is just not on.
What remains? Could there be a coalition between the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party or between the Tory Party and the SNP? There could be no other coalition. So the only effective Government in the Assembly would have to be formed by an alliance with the party which aims to destroy the Assembly and replace it with an independent State. That is a recipe for disaster. What kind of pact or agreement could be made or what basis for coalition could there be between either of the two major parties and the SNP? What would the SNP offer or, rather, demand for its support? That party has only one proposition—independence.
§ Mr. Thorpe
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the logic of his argument is that if we have a fair reflection of the wishes of the people of Scotland, this could produce difficulties, and therefore we are entitled to cook the books to ensure that it does not happen?
§ Mr. Buchan
On the contrary I am not saying that at all. I am not saying that there would be difficulties. I am saying that it would be impossible to carry out the policies for which parties were formed and which the proposed amendment would write into the system. The important thing is that the proposed system writes in the party position, and it is precisely the party position which cannot be carried out. I go much further than the right hon. Gentleman suggests. I do not speak of difficulties. It is impossible.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
My hon. Friend seems to neglect the fact that at the moment this Government are sustained by the Liberal Party, by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and his hon. Friends, who have some ideological differences with my hon. Friend, and by the SNP, which hopes for other things. All that this does is to prevent one or two items in the whole 1440 spectrum of the party's policy from being carried out, and these are items for which there is minority support in the country.
§ Mr. Buchan
I understand that, and I think that the intervention of the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) was more to the point when he said that there was a suggestion of cooking the books.
§ Mr. Buchan
I shall not give way until I have answered the questions which I have been asked. Of course, that sort of thing will occur in the present situation. I have no doubt that in an Assembly in which a party had a small majority the same kind of cross-support would occur. But we should not have written in a situation in which it was impossible for a party to govern at all. The reason that the Labour Party is in power now is not that there is a formal pact with the Liberals but that Labour is unable to bring in those measures which would defeat it at present, by delay, and second, that the Liberal Party, to save its own skin, must support the pact. That is not dishonourable, and I welcome it.
Those of us who are in business to change society have to accept such inhibitions, because our main aim is to achieve the kind of majority in which our party can carry out its aims. There are temporary difficulties, but that we should write them in as a permanent feature of political life would be intolerable. Of course, there is a problem facing us because we have no clear majority.
Another reason why I am not urging the Liberal proposal harks back to the SNP position. Given the circumstances of the SNP, the Tory second vote would go to the SNP, as would the Labour second vote, so the SNP would get a massive vote from those who were anti-Tory or anti-Labour. That would mean that the SNP would be most likely to be able to wreck the whole situation.
I reject entirely the PR concept because it is not based on what we are in politics for. It is totally and basically destructive of that.
Of course we need structural reform, but there is no way in which we can 1441 juggle electoral conflict between parties that have vastly dissimilar views by trying to produce such a coalition structure. The ultimate purpose and aim of such a concept is to preserve society because, by definition, the permanent coalition that would have to develop would mean permanent centrist policies that could only inhibit social change. Those who would grow up under such a structure and who wanted to reject it would find means other than elections to do so. Party structures would no longer be in a position to change society through parliamentary or Assembly means. That would be a dangerous position and such cooking of the books could not solve the much deeper problem. I believe that the Secretary of State has accepted that.
§ Mr. Malcolm Rifkind (Edinburgh, Pentlands)
The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) has just unwittingly made a remarkable admission of the true nature of the left wing of his party. He has admitted that a fundamental reason why he differed from the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) was that, unlike the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian, his object was to seek to change society. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire West implied that proportional representation would prevent him from pursuing that objective. If the hon. Gentleman was correct in saying that, he is admitting that his desire to change society is fundamentally incompatible with the wishes of the majority of the electorate. If we were ever in a situation in which the majority of the electorate wished to change society in the way in which the hon. Gentleman wants to change it, it would not matter whether the system of elections used was first past the post or PR. There would be a Left-wing majority to pursue the aims that the hon. Gentleman seeks.
§ Mr. Buchan
I do not follow the preamble of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) to his final conclusion. I am in business to achieve the majority, backed by the people of this country, that will enable us to change society.
§ Mr. Rifkind
We are not talking about the long-term objectives of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West, but about the short-term method of electing 1442 Parliaments and Assemblies. The hon. Gentleman cannot oppose proportional representation on the basis that he would then be opposed in pursuing his aims, unless he concedes that his objectives are not those of the majority of the electorate. The hon. Gentleman should consider that.
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). Much reference has been made to the West Lothian question and I sometimes think that if someone ever found an answer the hon. Member would change the question. However, clearly, on this issue the hon. Gentleman has fundamentally failed to understand what the debate is about. It is about the best way of creating an electoral system for a new legislature.
I sometimes think that debates about electoral systems take on the intensity and passion of a religious controversy. On the one hand, those who defend the first-past-the-post system imply that the political equivalent of the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah will await anyone who seeks to change the present method of election. On the other hand, those who support electoral reform sometimes imply that even the Second Coming must give way to proportional representation if the will of the majority is to be obtained.
Of course, the truth is neither of these extremes. We are not talking about some aspect of idealism, ideology or philosophy. The electoral system that is applied will be an inadequate mechanism whichever system is used to try to establish a representative political institution.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Can the hon. Gentleman answer this practical question? Granted that there might be a small Liberal representation and an even smaller representation from the party of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars), would the hon. Gentleman, as a Scottish Conservative, rather go into coalition with the Sodom of the Labour Party in Scotland or the Gomorrah of the Scottish National Party? He has to choose one or the other.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I should prefer the New Jerusalem to the Sodom of the hon. Gentleman's party or the Gomorrah of 1443 the Nationalists. However, the hon. Gentleman seems to be under a curious misapprehension that the present electoral system guarantees an absence of coalition Governments. Even with a first-past-the-post system operating for the Scottish Assembly, given the present disposition of the Scottish electorate, there would be a great probability of the same problem arising. It is quite likely that no one party would have an absolute majority and the hon. Gentleman would therefore still have to consider sullying his political purity by allying himself to Members of another party if the government of Scotland is to be continued. The problem does not arise only under proportional representation, though it is more likely to do so. No one party has an absolute majority in this House and the system has adapted, in the form of the Lib-Lab alliance, order to overcome that difficulty.
When considering the appropriate system of election to the Scottish Assembly, we must remember the fundamental difference between that and the proper method of election to this House. That difference is that the Assembly does not yet exist. We have the rare opportunity of starting from the beginning and deciding the appropriate electoral system for a completely new legislature
If the amendment proposed a change in the electoral system for Westminster I might vote against it—even though the arguments in favour of it might be similar to those put forward by the hon Member for Berwick and East Lothian. We should then have to balance the arguments in favour of proportional representation against the disadvantages of changing a system that has operated reasonably well for more than 200 years Some hon Members might favour proportional representation for this House. That would be a responsible position, but the advantages of proportional representation would have to be balanced against the disadvantages of disturbing thestatus quo.
In considering the best method of election to the Scottish Assembly, we are controlled by no such discipline. Whichever system we choose, we shall be creating a method of election for a completely new legislature and we have an 1444 exciting opportunity to consider the matter entirely on its merits.
There are many good arguments both for and against the amendment, but I hope that no hon. Member will vote for or against because of the effect that the decision on the amendment might have on some other legislature such as this House or the European Assembly. I know that there are hon. Members who favour or oppose the amendment not because of its direct relevance to the Scottish Assembly but because they are terrified or enthusiastic about the prospects of proportional representation in this House. Although I can understand that aspect, I hope that they will not allow it to determine their attitude when we come to vote on the amendments.
I say that for two fundamental reasons. First, I do not believe that the amendments, if carried, would create an irreversible precedent that had to be applied to the House of Commons or the European Assembly.
We have the precedent of Northern Ireland, where proportional representation was introduced, for good reasons or bad, but no one has seriously suggested that because it was introduced for Northern Ireland it must be applied in other legislatures. That does not increase or diminish the argument for different methods of election for other legislatures. With that precedent I hope that the Committee will agree that the same argument will apply with the Scottish Assembly. The issue will have to be considered on its merits. It would be a sorry pass if the House of Commons were to vote on such a fundamental issue affecting a subordinate legislature not on its merits but on disparate side effects that might be believed would occur if such amendments were carried. If the Assembly is to be created, I believe that it deserves the electoral system that is suitable for the job and the situation in Scotland. These are the criteria that should apply in considering the amendments. I am happy to support the amendments because of the circumstances that apply to the Scottish Assembly, which I believe point overwhelmingly to the desirability of a different electoral system for elections to that legislature.
The first argument must be that the two-party system, whatever continued vitality it has for the United Kingdom 1445 as a whole, does not exist in Scotland and has not existed for a number of years. It is unlikely to return for a good number of years to come. It has already been pointed out how the division of opinion in Scotland is split fairly equally three ways. However, there is another factor. If hon. Members consider the political history of Scotland and the voting habits of the electorate in Scotland over the past 70 years, they will appreciate that it is extremely unusual at a General Election for any one political party to command the support of even 50 per cent. of the electorate. That is not a phenomenon that has occurred since the rise of the Scottish National Party, although its rise has exacerbated the tendency.
If we consider the elections of the past 50 years since the Labour Party became the force in Scottish politics, the astonishing fact is that although it has on many occasions won a majority of the seats in Scotland in the House of Commons it has never in its history won 50 per cent. of the popular vote in Scotland. That was the position even before the SNP was invented. Never has the Labour Party achieved that target. Clearly the SNP has come nowhere near it.
It is a matter of some amusement, and certainly of delightful expectation to myself and to my colleagues, that the only political party that has achieved that target is the Scottish Conservative Party. In 1955 it became the first party this century to achieve a total plurality of the Scottish popular vote at a General Election. That indicates clearly that Scotland, irrespective of the SNP, is not a two-party system in the sense of at least one party being able to command a majority of the Scottish popular vote. In that respect it is different from the rest of the United Kingdom.
In England it is by no means unusual for the Conservative Party to acquire over 50 per cent. of the vote. In Wales the Labour Party has nearly always acquired over 50 per cent. In Northern Ireland the Ulster Unionists, or various groupings of Unionism have clearly demonstrated their support by the overwhelming majority of the Ulster popular vote. In Scotland that has not happened. Therefore, a Scottish Assembly that is to be concerned only with the political habits and loyalties of the public in Scotland should take cognisance of that 1446 phenomenon. The electoral system should reflect that fact.
There is a second consideration that has not yet been mentioned—namely, that we are at present a bicameral system. When Stormont existed the Northern Irish system had bicameral features. The Government's proposals for Scotland involve not a bicameral legislature but a single-chamber Parliament. That is of importance to the debates that we are now having.
Everyone accepts that the first-past-the-post system is inherently unfair, or can be, in many circumstances. One of the modifying factors that acts against that unfairness is that in most systems where it applies there is an upper House or revising Chamber that can take account of the non-representative nature that sometimes exists in the lower House. We know in this very Parliament how the other place is often used—many of us believe rightly—as a justification for rejecting certain of the amendments carried in this place. The argument is that the Government of the day, although they may have an artificial majority in the House of Commons, do not command the support of 50 per cent. of the electorate.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I follow the hon. Member's reasoning, but will he give an instance of when there has been a non-Conservative majority in the other Chamber to provide a countervailing influence to a disproportionate Conservative majority in this House?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The hon. Member's argument may be a very powerful one for reform of the other place. It is certainly not an argument, however, for the abolition of the other place, but for it to be more representative so that it does not have an in-built majority for one party. But if this House has within it a party which, while it commands a majority in this House, does not have anything like a majority of the British public behind it, the other place represents one way in which decisions taken by this House can be revised and secondary consideration given to them. That applies in all bicameral legislatures.
In Scotland this will not be possible if the Bill is implemented as it stands 1447 The decisions will be taken by an Assembly with an Executive which might be able to command the support of only 36 per cent. of the electorate. There will be no revising Chamber or any other place which can consider, review or give time for fresh thought on decisions by that Executive and by that unrepresentative Assembly. This, there fore, is the second reason why the electoral system that is to be applied to the Assembly, as long as the Government insist on a unicameral system for Scotland, should take account of the problem Therefore there is a greater need than would otherwise exist for a truly representative system for elections to the Assembly.
The third and fundamentally important reason why a different electoral system is required must be that not only is there a three or four-party system in Scotland, but that one of the parties—the SNP—differs from its opponents not simply in terms of its economic or social policies but because it fundamentally objects to the constitutional structure of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Rifkind
For once I am delighted to welcome the seated intervention by the hon. Member for West Lothian. Whether we go into a coalition with them will be a matter to be determined in the future. I would rather go into a coalition with any party—even the Labour Party—in a Scottish Assembly or elsewhere than allow the Assembly to be dominated by a party which, although it cannot command the support of the majority of people in Scotland, nevertheless had a totally unqualified control of that Assembly.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Would it not make relations with Conservative Central Office and, for that matter, Transport House, a little strained if there were a Labour-Conservative coalition in Scotland? What would that do to the future of British parties?
§ Mr. Rifkind
Frankly, the future of political parties in Britain is a minor consideration compared with the future of the United Kingdom itself. I understood that the hon. Member's aim was to seek to 1448 preserve the United Kingdom. He should realise that if, in spite of his valiant efforts, this Bill reaches the statute book, and if the Scottish people in a referendum vote in favour of an Assembly, he should not give up his work to preserve the Union.
In that case he should consider what type of Assembly is best likely to preserve and strengthen the Union. Would it be an Assembly elected by a system which could give a separatist party with a small minority of the vote total control of the Assembly, or would it be a system of election which was likely to produce a result representative of the will of the people of Scotland?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I wish that I were naïve enough to believe that if the hon. Member and his hon. Friends take part in the deliberations of the Assembly their sole objective will be to improve its committees. He and his colleagues will have only one purpose in fighting the elections to the Assembly and seeking to dominate it—
§ Mr. Rifkind
Not only that, but to seek to use the Assembly, to disrupt and break up the United Kingdom. If the hon. Member does not concede that fact now he is not being honest with his electorate or with this Committee.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Dalyell
If the hon. Member turns to the Second Reading debate, he will see that this was precisely the point that I made. I said that once an Assembly was established it would be no good anyone turning round to people such as me and saying that it was now up to us to keep the kingdom united, since our defences would have been taken away.
§ Mr. Rifkind
It is not correct for the hon. Member to say that. If the time comes when the majority of the people in Scotland wish the SNP to control the Assembly or to have separation from the 1449 rest of the United Kingdom, that cannot be denied them. Is the hon. Member seriously suggesting that we should encourage an electoral system which would produce an Assembly that could be controlled by a party that sought separatism and that had the support of only one-third of the public vote?
The situation in Quebec has been mentioned. Not only did the support for thePartie Quebecois go up from 30 per cent. to 40 per cent.—which was still a minority—but its representation in the provincial Assembly went up from six to 65. Although its share of the poll went up by only a modest 10 per cent., although it remained the minority party, its representation in the provincial Assembly went up from six to 65 seats. That situation created a fundamental constitutional crisis in Canada.
That is bound to happen whenever a political party seeks to use its artificial majority to disrupt the sovereignty and constitution of the country. The same happened in Chile, when Allende was elected on a minority vote but had more seats than his opponents. He sought to use his position of power to force through constitutional and economic changes that had been rejected by the majority of the electorate.
§ Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
I draw the hon. Member's attention to what happened in this House not so long ago. The Labour Party which was in opposition had a larger vote in the country than the Conservative Party which was governing the country. That did not prevent the Conservatives from governing the country in accordance with Conservative policies. There is no reason, therefore, why a party whose candidates have been elected to govern should not govern.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I cannot accept that comparison. It is true that there have been occasions in this House when the Government of the day have been elected on a minority vote. That happened in February 1974 when a Labour Government were elected, although they had less votes than the Opposition. It is one of the inadequacies of our present system. However unfair and unfortunate it might be when the two parties involved are Conservative and Labour, I suggest that it is fundamentally more dangerous when 1450 one of the parties challenges the fundamental constitutional structure of the United Kingdom.
Last time we had this debate I gave an example of what could happen. Let us assume that this Government tried to abolish the monarchy by seeking to use its artificial majority without the support of the majority of the electorate. That would precipitate a grave constitutional crisis. The same thing would happen whichever party was seeking to bring about a fundamental constitutional change without majority support. That is the situation which could exist in the Assembly if a separatist party were to be in control.
I do not believe that the nationalists will gain control of the Assembly at the first elections. But we are not concerned only with the first elections. The Assembly will exist for at least 40 or 50 years, if not longer. At some point it is not unlikely that the Scottish National Party may be able to command more support in Scotland than other parties. This must be a consideration which the Committee should take into account.
The vote we are to take on this amendment is of fundamental importance, not simply because of vague theories about proportional representation but because there could be direct and serious consequences for the United Kingdom depending on the electoral system chosen. That is one of the major objectives which hon. Members should take into account. I believe that if they do it will point them in the direction of supporting the amendment.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
I will not immediately follow the speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), although I thought he put the case most cogently. I want rather to spend a little time looking at the arguments advanced by those who oppose any suggestion of proportional representation, whether according to the method proposed by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and others, or by those who have advocated some system of single transferable vote.
I start with the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), since he is present and, I suspect, will be present throughout the long days on this Bill, 1451 which is a somewhat dispiriting thought at this time of night. The hon. Gentleman's argument against proportional representation, as I understood it, appeared to be basically that if we had it we would have coalitions—and, gosh, look how difficult they would be to make up!
There are two arguments contrary to that. The first is that if there is a first-past-the-post-system there is a strong probability—more than a possibility because of the three-party system which has developed—of the same situation occurring. This is because of the way public opinion is divided. It may be unsatisfactory to hon. Members that public opinion is divided in this way. They may regret it, but democracy is a system of counting votes. If the votes fall out in a way that we do not like, that is tough luck. It is something politicians have to deal with. It is the way in which, commonly in democracies, this situation is handled. Coalition is by no means extraordinary or all that difficult.
Let me give an example. The hon. Member said how terrible and impossible it would be for the Labour Party in Scotland to form any coalition with the Conservative Party there. I see the difficulties. Transport House would be in transports but not of delight I suspect. Smith Square would be in an uproar.
However, the hon. Member is more used than most to difficulties—he appears, relatively, to thrive upon them. In West Germany, for example, at the moment there is a coalition between the Social Democrats and the Free Democrats in the Government in Bonn. There are at least twoLänder, or State parliaments, where there is a coalition of Free Democrats and Christian Democrats. That appears to work rather well.
§ Mr. Dalyell
None of these parties in the Bundestag is committed to the breakup of the German State. The difference is that here is a party with the whole elaborate machinery of a party, the camaraderie of a party organisation, a party whose wholeraison d'etre is the break-up of the State. This makes the position fundamentally different.
§ Mr. Johnston
A little while ago the hon. Gentleman denied that he had any phobia about the SNP, whose Members 1452 are not here in great numbers. It is not quite as apocalyptic a situation as he describes. At the moment the SNP has about 30 per cent. support from the Scottish public. I do not believe and neither do a great many people in the SNP, that that means that all of these people favour outright separatism tomorrow. It is a fact that within the SNP, even within the Members of Parliament here, there is a gradualist approach, and a maximist approach and divisions between those approaches. The SNP is quite good at covering up those divisions, and I do not blame it for that because all parties do it to some extent. It is not as apocalyptic as he describes.
I do not see the impossibility of parties making accommodations in that situation. Nor, for that matter, does it necessarily follow, as the hon. Gentleman implicitly put it, that "If the Labour Party in Scotland goes into coalition with the SNP, the nationalists will be strengthened or we shall be discredited or find it impossible to pursue a programme". I do not think that either of those possibilities is a necessity.
We on the Liberal Benches are in agreement with the Labour Government. Some people, particularly Conservatives, tell us that this is liable to lead to our total destruction, that it is a form of self-immolation. It is not. It is part of the process of getting people to co-operate with limited objectives, which is what a coalition is. It is not a merging or fusing of ideologies. It is an agreement for specific objectives. It would be a good thing to develop such an attitude in this country, although it is not a primary argument for or against proportional representation.
The other argument, produced by the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour), was that it was all very complicated for the electors, particularly in East Fife.
§ Sir J. Gilmour
I take great exception to the suggestion that the electors of East Fife would be less able to make up their minds than the electors of Inverness. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw that remark.
§ Mr. Johnston
It was simply that the hon. Gentleman mentioned some specific places, like Auchtermuchtie and Pittaweem. He must remember that a very 1453 large number of workers in the United Kingdom, in the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Union of Teachers, and the ETU, for example, vote on a proportional representation system now. It is not a recondite, strange matter worked out in a Buddhist temple which would be incomprehensible to the electors in East Fife.
§ Sir J. Gilmour
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us what proportion of the people he mentioned vote under this system?
§ Mr. Johnston
I cannot exactly state that figure. I do not like producing guesses of figures, but it is certainly a large number. But in any event, apart from that, it is true, and should not be ignored, that in every democratic country in Europe—in the world, indeed—there are different systems of proportional election. Northern Ireland is often quoted here. It should not be forgotten that Eire has operated a system of proportional representation—through the single transferable vote—for many years, with no dire internal effects and no lack of comprehension amongst the Irish electors.
§ Mr. Rathbone
The hon. Gentleman is falling into the trap of drawing a difference between the first-past-the-post system and proportional systems. The first-past-the-post system is crudely proportional, and what we are discussing is what is the best proportional system for the election of a Scottish Assembly. Like the hon. Gentleman, I support a system which is more proportionate than the one used to elect us. I do so because of its greater proportionality. It is a trap which people fall into when comparing proportional representation with other systems of election such as we have here. They are all roughly proportionate.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Johnston
With all respect to the hon. Gentleman—and I hate arguing with people who have indicated that they agree with me—it appears to me that the first-past-the-post system when more than two parties are involved becomes progressively less proportional.
One of the main arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Pentlands and by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian is that, because we now have three major parties in Scotland, 1454 the first-past-the-post system becomes very much less proportional, in the same way as happened in the United Kingdom in February and October of 1974.
The other main argument advanced by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) was essentially, as far as I could understand it, that he would not be able to change society if we had a proportional representation system of any kind because he would be robbed of his chance of getting power and getting a majority. He said that that was really what it was all about. He also agreed with the hon. Member for West Lothian—who must be finding it difficult to get people to agree with him these days—that he would find the idea of a coalition with the Conservatives in Scotland an impossibility because of the deep ideological divide which separates them.
Yet at the same time he is equally prepared to argue—positively to argue, in fact—in favour of a system which allows, on a regular Buggins's turn basis, the Conservatives to get in, often for long periods of time. The logic of the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West is that in order to get his chance to be in Government from time to time he is prepared to allow the Conservatives to be in Government for very considerable lengths of time. He prefers that sort of sharp confrontation and change situation to any relatively stable integration such as might otherwise be produced.
I know that hon. Members are always reluctant to look at Continental examples, as the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian said, but Sweden, which has a proportional system of election, had the Social Democrats in office for nearly 50 years. Proportional representation does not always produce coalitions. But that is not really the fundamental question. The fundamental question is whether this is a fair system of election.
What are the Government proposing? They are proposing that for the first election there shall be two members elected to practically all the constituencies and that in some constituencies which have large electorates there shall be three. I understand that in places such as the Western Isles and Orkney and Shetland there will be only one.
§ Mr. John Smith
There is no parliamentary constituency that has less than two. Certain large constituencies have three. In the case of Orkney and Shetland there will be one to Orkney and one to Shetland. They have already been allocated.
§ Mr. Johnston
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. At any rate, that is not really the point that I am reaching. That is the scheme and of course there will be two votes, one for each candidate. If there are three candidates, I understand there will be three votes. I notice that the Minister is nodding.
I take my own case as an example so that I give offence to the smallest number. In Inverness at the last Wesminster election I got 32 per cent. of the poll in a four-way split. Let us suppose that at the first Assembly election the voting went in the same way. That is not an unreasonable or fantastic proposition. There would then be, with a poll of 32 per cent., not only one Johnston but two Johnstons. [HON. MEMBERS: "No)."] Yes, that would be the case.
Let me take as an example Midlothian, whose hon. Member is the Under-Secretary of State for Energy. A Labour voter will go out and vote for three Labour candidates. He will not vote for one Labour, one Liberal, and one SNP candidate. I accept that it does not appear quite so bad in the case of Midlothian, because, as I understand it, the hon. Member for that constituency has quie a sizeable majority. But what will be the position with regard to Dunbartonshire, East? The hon. Lady cannot have had more than 33 per cent. of the vote and we shall now get two Members for that.
At the last election the Labour Party in Scotland got 36 per cent. of the vote and 57 per cent. of the seats. This time we multiply the number of seats by two. We get twice as many seats for 36 per cent. of the vote. The distortion and the injustice are doubled, yet the Government are putting this proposition seriously before the House as the right thing to do, quite apart from the risks one runs in terms of the current situation and the likelihood that one party shall have an exaggerated majority in a new institution.
§ Dr. S. M. Miller (East Kilbride)
I have been listening carefully to the hon. 1456 Gentleman's views on PR. He has been telling the Committee of the disadvantages, which we all know about, of the first-past-the-post system. Will he now tell us what the positive advantages are of the system that he advocates?
§ Mr. Johnston
I shall certainly come to that. As one might reasonably expect, I was dealing with the counter arguments that have been advanced because this is a debate rather than an engagement in party pieces. I shall come back to the hon. Gentleman's question in a moment.
I want to turn directly to the amendment of the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian and to say something briefly about it. As the House knows, the Liberal position for many years is that we favour the system of PR referred to as the single transferable vote. That is the system used in Ireland and the one which was reintroduced in Northern Ireland by a former Conservative Government.
The major objection advanced against the AMS system—the added-Membersystem—during our previous debates was that the topping-up list as previously proposed was based on some sort of league table of the defeated candidates. This was rightly accepted by everyone interested in PR in principle as a fair criticism. That is why the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian has suggested that the added Members be topped-up Members from party lists.
There has, of course, already been criticism of this. Several hon. Members have asked whether a candidate would prefer to stand for election or go on to the party list. That is for the parties to determine. We are moving into a different situation. The elector has a relatively straightforward vote as before but, secondly, he has a vote for a party which comprises the proportionality of the result. I think that that is a fair and reasonable approach. Certainly it is one which my colleagues and I will support when the matter comes to a Division. It is one which overcomes the criticism felt by many hon. Members of the single transferable vote system, which I myself prefer.
I want now to say one or two brief words about the single transferable vote system. Although I am conscious that it may not necessarily attract the maximum degree of consensus support within 1457 what might be referred to as the PR lobby, that in no way detracts from my view that it is the best system.
Amendment No. 18, if accepted, is applicable and creates a greater degree of proportionality whatever system is finally adopted, whether it is the added-Member system or whether in the end it is the Government's system. The amendment provides that every vote in an Assembly constituency shall be a single transferable vote.
As hon. Members know, that means that instead of voting "X", the elector puts down "1", "2", and "3" in his order of preference. That is the essential advantage of the single transferable vote system as a system of proportional representation. It is not only about proportionality. It is also about preferentiality—I always think that it is a great pity that most good Liberal thoughts have to be expressed in multi-syllabic language—but it is also a preference vote as well as being a proportional vote, and that is its essential advantage.
In the case of a single-Member seat such as, for example, Orkney and Shetland, STV becomes essentially an alternative vote in the same way as it is used in Australia. That is the consequence of it. By eliminating the candidate with the least number of first preferences and transferring them, it makes sure that at least the man or woman elected gets more than 50 per cent. of the votes. That seldom happens now where there are more than two candidates, and that is very important also. If, however, it is applied to a multi-Member constituency, in respect of which we have tabled an amendment and which in our judgment is the fairest system, it allows the elector not just simply to express a party preference but to express an individual preference as between the party standard-bearers whom he might want.
Applying Amendment No. 18 to the AM system, which is practically the German system, again simply the alternative vote operates in the single constituencies. It does not have any effect on the list. The list system remains as before. In this case the single transferable vote cannot be applied to the list.
I want to re-emphasise the point rightly and properly made by the hon. Member for Pentlands. He laid stress on the fact 1458 that in the coming days and months we shall be building a new institution. It is a new opportunity to do something better, more effectively and more acceptably than it has been done before.
It is all very well to make criticisms, but it is not easy to change traditions in an established institution such as our own. It is not really even fair necessarily for people such as I and others to rail about this from time to time. It is a customary thing. That is so. But here we are producing something new, and I think that there is a real chance of producing something better. In pure terms of democracy, to produce an electoral system which is fairer than the one that we have is a good political democratic objective.
The second thing that I would say is that in the practical political circumstances that now obtain in Scotland. whatever one's particular preference may be—I am not endeavouring to attack any party at all—to have three parties running neck and neck is obviously a situation in which operating a first-past-the-post system, whose crudities, as I have pointed out before, are doubled and in some cases trebled by the Government's propositions, means that one can well start off in a way in which the public at large will look at this Assembly and say "It is nonsense. These people are trying to run our lives on the basis of having had 35 per cent. of the vote."
§ Mr. Johnston
It is all very well for the hon. Member for West Lothian to say "Hear, hear". At the moment that fact is largely concealed by the fact that everyone flows down into Westminster. It would not be concealed in that situation. It would be transparent. I think that our democracy should be as transparent as we can make it.
§ Mr. Dempsey
After listening to this debate, I thought that we were discussing an amendment that proportional representation should replace the system which has been well tried and tested and which has been found to operate fairly successfully.
§ Mr. Dempsey
Yes, for a very long time in this country. The amendment would replace that by a new approach known as proportional representation. But it is not a new approach. This country once had forms of proportional representation, and we abolished them under the Local Government Act 1929 because we found that they were confused, complicated and costly and that any advantages in them were outweighed by these several disadvantages.
When I listened to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), I could not help but recollect the definition given of proportional representation by a former well-known, renowned leader of the Conservative Party in the House, none other than Sir Winston Churchill. He said that proportional representation was a system whereby the candidate at the bottom of the poll could win an election. That is how he described it. We have had that point illustrated very carefully tonight by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). We talked about the possibility of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) losing his seat but, because of the number of Liberal voters in the country, he would be imposed on an electorate that had already rejected him, from the polls, the party hack list. This is where the party hacks would come from. Most people involved in the political parties know that.
Here we have an illustration of something that is totally anti-democratic. The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) was at great pains to tell us how democratic this system was. That is how democratic it is. One could have someone from the regional list, not elected at all, being imposed on electors by party people.
One of the cardinal failures of the advocacy of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian and of the case that I heard from the hon. Member for Inverness is that it completely ignores the constituency base.
The Assembly we are discussing is a mini-Parliament with quite extensive powers. According to the grapevine, it will have economic powers and marginal taxation powers. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands 1460 can argue for one system of election to this mini-Parliament without the same system being employed in the superior Parliament. I think that it must either be first past the post or proportional representation for both.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
Could the hon. Member tell me whether he voted for proportional representation to be introduced in Northern Ireland? If he did so, how does this square with what he has just said?
§ Mr. Dempsey
I accepted the advice of the Government. I did not oppose proportional representation in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Dempsey
I am a bit of a loyalist. I was loyal to my party. Quite frankly, in approaching elections to any Assembly a great deal depends on the individuals concerned. Looking at our own particular Assembly, whether we use PR or first past the post or some other pearl of wisdom system invented by someone, in all probability the result will be that no party will have an absolute majority. That is nothing new. We are governing today without a majority. American presidents have for years, since time immemorial, governed while the two Houses of Parliament were controlled by the opposite party. They manage to function for four years at a time. There is no reason why our system cannot operate so that a minority can govern the Assembly.
Northern Ireland is not the first instance in which an elected Government, have not agreed to give fair representation to minority parties on committees, for example. If a minority party has only one-third of the seats, it should get one-third of the representation on committees and one-third of the convenorships of those committees. There is no reason why, given good will, understanding, common sense and our built-in democracy this cannot operate in this case. Of course it can.
I am surprised that when we debate the system of election to our Assembly we seem to have all sorts of crystal-gazing about which will be the top party, the second party or the bottom party. We also talk about how many parties there will be, and how they will exist if someone does not have an overall majority. 1461 I do not think that is entirely relevant to the argument whether we should elect this Assembly on the basis of PR or first past the post.
I believe in first past the post and I stand by that belief. I am surprised to hear all the dissertations from the Liberal Party—
§ Mr. Penhaligon
If an election in Scotland gave the SNP an overall majority of the seats on, say, 37 per cent. of the poll, would the hon. Gentleman accept that as a mandate for independence?
§ Mr. Dempsey
No. The SNP, as any other party, would go forward to the polls in Scotland on the basis of an election manifesto. The SNP would know that it did not have the authority to determine Scotland's independence. It is the prerogative of the United Kingdom to decide whether Scotland or Wales or England should have independence. If we were deciding an issue of that nature, there would have to be a referendum in Scotland to decide whether the people want independence. I am not against a referendum, I am against independence, and I would campaign for the unity of the United Kingdom. I suggest that that would give the people of Scotland a right to determine by a democratic referendum whether there were a particular demand from any section of society north of the border.
§ Mr. Dempsey
I am answering the question. The SNP has no authority to campaign on the basis of a referendum for Scotland to be determined by the United Kingdom. That can be done only by this Parliament here at Westminster. I am saying that the fair way to tackle that problem is to have a referendum in Scotland if there is a demand for such an expression of opinion, and that we should let the Scottish people decide the issue rather than members of the SNP.
I stand by the will of the people. Even though I opposed our entry into the EEC, I accepted the will of the people on that occasion. I shall accept the will of the people on any issue in Scotland. Indeed, on the coming referendum, I shall again be guided by the will of the people. If the people reject the setting up of an 1462 Assembly, I shall accept that decision. Let us put these red herrings aside and deal principally—
§ The Second Deputy Chairman (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will address himself to the amendment.
§ Mr. Dempsey
That was why I mentioned the red herring, Mr. Irvine. It will lead me through troubled waters to the amendment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian ably introduced his amendment. I admire the way in which he delivered his remarks, but I differ from his approach to the problem. However, we do not know what is before us. We do not know the implications, and in 1929 we discontinued proportional representation as a system of electing governing bodies.
Having regard to the principle of this argument, I believe that we should leave well alone. We have all taken our chances under the first-past-the-post system. It has its advantages and disadvantages. I believe that the advantages of FPP outweigh the disadvantages. That is why I stand by that system because it gives the electors in a constituency the sole determining opporunity to elect their representative.
I believe that we are passing through a new phase in our electoral system. There is no longer the same deep-rooted loyalty to a particular party label and that should be recognised. There is a growing tendency to have a particular feeling and respect for and to have confidence in a candidate because of his or her stability, integrity, character and personal service to the people. Therefore, more and more electors wish to have an opportunity to express their appreciation of those who they believe are more suitably geared to serve a particular constituency.
In many respects, proportional representation would prevent that very important consideration by the electors, who, after all, are taxpayers. Their representative is accountable to the taxpayers for his activities in the House or any other Assembly. We should bear that thought prominently in our minds when we decide this issue. I certainly hope that we shall stand by the system which has proved its worth in days gone by and will, I hope, 1463 prove it in future, namely the first-past-the-post system.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)
I wish I could share the optimism of the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) about the personal vote which a Member of any Assembly can obtain under the present system.
I regard debate on this group of amendments as a logical progression from the debate we had on the last group. I do not want the Bill. I detest the Bill, and I do not want an Assembly, but we have had the vote on Second Reading and now the guillotine, and therefore we have to turn our attention to the Bill itself and see how those of us who feel passionately about the preservation of the Union can make the Bill better and how it can achieve that end, to preserve the Union.
I turn, first, to the precedent of Stormont because this is an important precedent in what we are discussing. Whatever anyone may think about it and what it did, Stormont it was a success as a devolved Assembly because the majority of people in Northern Ireland wished to maintain the Union. That is different from the situation which we now contemplate for the Scottish Assembly. The one concern of the Scottish National Party is to crack the Union.
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can explain why the Conservative Party forced a Division and voted against the clause which was in favour of the unity of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Benyon
The hon. Lady knows perfectly well that amendments which would have made that clause acceptable were not accepted, and we therefore voted to delete the clause itself, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) explained.
§ Mr. Benyon
In the case of Stormont, because there was good will, it worked, but because that good will is not there in this case, particularly from the Scottish nationalists, it will not work in a Scottish Assembly. We must see how we can give the people of Scotland the oppor 1464 tunity to express their wishes in this respect.
Later in our discussions on the Bill we shall discuss the referendum, and I am sure that it will be suggested that the referendum is the last recourse if the Scottish National Party obtains a majority in the Assembly and calls for complete independence. But we are likely to be faced with a series of situations in which a referendum will be necessary, and that would be a totally unstable and difficult state of affairs. It would be much better to create a form of representation in the Assembly which would truly reflect the wishes of the Scottish people and continue to reflect their wishes in future.
I suggest, therefore, that different conditions apply to Scotland from those applying, for instance, to Europe or to the future of the electoral system in this country. It is not a valid argument to state that, if we vote for proportional representation in the Scottish Assembly, we are—to use the terms used by some hon. Members—selling the pass in regard to Europe or Great Britain.
I say to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who is so concerned about the future coalitions that might arise under this system, that he is taking, too rigid a view about a Labour-Tory coalition or a Labour-Liberal coalition. In these circumstances we could very well have the sort of breakdown of the party system which many of us would like to see generally in this country. There is no reason why the hon. Member for West Lothian might not combine with one or two of my hon. Friends in a future Scottish Assembly and thereby create a majority that could govern. The hon. Member is being far too rigid in talking about this matter in terms of party allegiance.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Some of my colleagues understand that this could lead to the break-up of the Labour Party and trade union movement as we have known it.
§ Mr. Benyon
I forbear to comment on the advantages that that would bring. I do not know whether that is dealt with in the hon. Gentleman's book, but I must get it quickly.
The situation is not now and is not likely to be the same in future and allowances must be made for the unforeseen. 1465 This group of amendments will be crucial if the Bill reaches the statute book, and I hope that the Committee will support them.
§ Mr. Ogden
The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) argued that there were basic reasons why proportional representation should not be implemented in Scotland and that conditions were quite different in Northern Ireland. He suggested that the majority of hon. Members and the majority of people wanted Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.
However, the hon. Gentleman assumed that because some SNP Members here are committed to separatism, immediately or eventually, the majority of the Scottish people were not in favour of the unity of the United Kingdom. I do not know whether that has been decided and I do not know the answer for sure, although I think I know it. However, surely the situations in Scotland and Northern Ireland are not so different. There is a majority of people in Northern Ireland who want to remain part of the United Kingdom and some who look for an united Ireland. In Scotland, I hope, the majority of people want to remain part of the United Kingdom, but some seem to want separatism.
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) was oversimplifying. The contrast is that the divide in Northern Ireland has hitherto been between those who are for and those who are against the link, whereas in Scotland the division has hitherto been more complex. It has been between those against Union and those who are divided on other deep issues. That is the situation that produces the contrast with which the hon. Member for Buckingham was concerned.
§ Mr. Powell
If the possibility of a breach of the Union becomes imminent in Scotland, that might well, at any rate temporarily, consolidate those in favour of Union into one political force that would produce a genuine analogy with Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Ogden
We agree that there are weaknesses in the argument of the hon. Member for Buckingham, but we do not completely agree on what is the weakest party. It is not as simple as the hon. Gentleman suggested.
I want to put some questions to the Minister and I hope that he will be able to spend some time in answering them. He was unable to do that during the last debate because of the pressure of time—and I make no criticism of that—and he was busy answering questions from the Opposition. However, it will help to get me into the right Lobby if I receive some answers.
According to the Government's proposal, the Scottish Assemblymen—SAM 1, 2 and 3—will be elected on three different bases within a four-year period. The first election will be on a constituency basis. Then, between two and four months later, there will be a second election. Then, after the Boundary Commission has finally reported, there will be a return to one-Member constituencies. Will the Minister explain?
§ Mr. John Smith
I shall answer now. The House may be aware from consideration of the Bill that the proposition is that at the first election there will be elected either two or three Assemblymen per constituency. After a four-year period, when the Boundary Commission will have reported, there will be single-Member constituencies. There is no question of another election two to four months after the first.
§ Mr. Ogden
My hon. Friend has cleared up one point. Within the four-year period there will be elections in two geographical areas and not three, as I suggested. The present constituencies will be divided on the first two occasions between two-Member and three-Member constituencies. Later the Boundary Commission will have to get to work and we shall come back to a division of present boundaries. Is it really impossible for the Commission to revise parliamentary boundaries into legislative Assembly boundaries with all the safeguards that we require within 12 or 18 months?
The arguments for the first-past-the-post system had some validity up to five or six years ago. The theory was that the system at least produced a Government with a majority that could carry its 1467 legislation through a four or five-year Parliament. They would have no excuse for not getting legislation through and, if things went wrong, that would be the responsibility of the Government.
It seems now that the genius or folly of the British people has produced, in a muddled way, a great progression towards proportional representation in this Chamber. Perhaps the proportions of hon. Members of various parties are not those that would be produced by a full STV or PR system—the Liberals rightly complain that their numbers do not reflect their support in the country—but the system has produced a sort of proportional representation.
The whole basis of saying that the first-past-the-post system produced a strong, determined and united Government has gone by the board. We should look very closely at the proposals in the amendment. If the old system has palpably failed to give what it was intended to give, namely, a Government with a guaranteed majority, we should look at the alternatives.
§ Mrs. Knight
I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pent-lands (Mr. Rifkind) with great interest, as always, but he failed to persuade me on one of his major points, namely, that if we introduced proportional representation for the Scottish Assembly, it would not automatically follow for the rest of the country. I think that it would be inevitable that, once STV or PR—already, lamentably, introduced in Northern Ireland—was operated in Scotland, it would be only a short time before it was introduced for the Westminster Parliament. It is no secret that this is what the Liberal Party is hoping for. It seems logical to the Liberals as a first step on the road to proportional representation in this House.
I strongly oppose the group of amendments. Bearing in mind that the idea will spread, we should remember that we are discussing multi-Member constituencies—two people representing the same area. This simply will not work. It is rather like having two women in one kitchen; it is well known that that does not work, either. Inevitably some Members are hard workers and some are rather lazy. I can well imagine a 1468 system which would allow a totally unfair burden to be placed on one of the two Members in any area.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
If the hon. Lady is taking strong objection to the amendment, does she appreciate that the Government proposal is for some three-Member seats and some two-Member seats, which from her point of view is a worse proposal than that contained in the amendment?
§ Mrs. Knight
We are discussing the method of election, and that is very much tied in with the STV system.
§ Mrs. Knight
I make no secret of the fact that I entirely disagree with the whole Bill. Let there be no misunderstanding about that. I shall vote against it as often as I am permitted at every stage. I strongly object to what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, because I see the projection of the STV system into this place.
§ Mr. Rifkind
My hon. Friend keeps on mentioning the STV system, but that is not what is proposed in the amendment. The amendment puts forward the proposition of single-Member constituencies with only one Member per constituency, but added to that a total of 50 Members elected from a list system who will not be additional Members in individual constituencies.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The added Members will not represent a particular constituency. They will be in the same position as those who operate under the West German system. They will be added Members sitting in the Assembly but not representing a particular constituency.
§ Mrs. Knight
I strongly object to the idea because I do not think it is workable to have various Members or Assemblymen floating around who have responsibilities over a wide area to a large electorate. It is not possible for the system to work smoothly.
1469 I can imagine a situation in which a constituency is represented by a Conservative and a Labour man is anxious to make party points, he being on the second list. In that situation it can be envisaged that one will be played off against another. There would be a sort of political party game. one saying "I did better for him than you did."
We all know that in our constituencies we have our difficult constituents. I can imagine those constituents going to one Assemblyman after another, with the result that the whole process would be gone into over and over again. It would seem pretty easy to shrug off one's responsibilities towards constituents. It would be easy to say "Why should I take up their burdens when there are others who are entitled to do so?" I cannot see the system working.
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) was introducing a note of gaiety when he said that there could be pop stars on the list. How delightful that would be! It must be remembered that many pop stars have contested elections in recent years solely for the publicity. They have not had the slightest intention of working afterwards if elected. However, in the system that is proposed we could have people on the list who would be dead wood from the word go.
The hon. Gentleman said that we should not have any more the pure milk of party doctrine if we introduced the second list. I find that difficult to understand when he admits that the list would be nominated by the parties. Surely no party will nominate someone who is not going to follow the pure milk of party doctrine. It was the hon. Gentlemen who made the point about pop stars.
§ Mrs. Knight
He was saying that pop stars, for instance, could go on the list. I believe that the hon. Member's pro- 1470 posals would give rise to much more of the pure milk of party doctrine, not less. Furthermore, I cannot imagine people who voted for a personality on the first ballot then voting for a party hack on the next.
I cannot imagine how the hon Member's suggestions in the amendments will stop the power of the Executive in the way that he claimed. He did not explain that clearly. The factor which gives the Executive power over this House is that Members are too busy. There are times when Ministers with heavy responsibilities swallow the advice of civil servants whole simply because they have not had the time to go through all the suggestions made to them. The hon. Member's proposed system would do nothing to help in this respect, because it could make for even busier Members.
There has been reference to the complications of voting slips. I agree that it is had to have a complicated voting method. The public regard this as a serious matter and there is the risk of inconsistencies so that the amendments could make matters far worse.
It is foolish to argue that votes for a defeated candidate are wasted votes. A vote is never wasted so long as it is cast in favour of the person one supports. To say that a vote is wasted is like saying that a person who enters a race is wasting his efforts if he does not win. Equally, we could say that we are wasting our time trooping through the Lobbies in this place if we do not win. That is the strange argument that lies behind the suggestions of the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian. We must all at some time expand our efforts on something that does not succeed. We are not in the Alice-in-Wonderland race around the pool of tears where everybody won and everybody had to have a prize.
It seems totally undemocratic to say, as the hon. Member said, that the defeated candidate could win under his system. That remark above all others would induce me to go into the Lobby against his amendments.
§ Mr. David Knox (Leek)
After a long series of speakers representing Scottish constituencies, it seems to be the turn of Members representing English constituencies to speak, although in my case that might not be so obvious.
I take a different view from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight), and even her great charm has been unable to sway me to her way of thinking. I support the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), whose speech was even more brilliant than the one he delivered earlier this year when he introduced similar amendments to the Scotland and Wales Bill. Those amendments seem to me to be an attempt to ensure that the Scottish Assembly is much more truly representative of the wishes of the electorate than it would be under the Government's proposals.
The system proposed by the Government is unfair, unrepresentative and undemocratic. Under the scheme in the Bill an election with the voting pattern displayed at both of the 1974 General Elections would return the Labour Party with almost two-thirds of the seats on the basis of just over one-third of the popular vote. The Conservatives, the SNP and the Liberals taken together would have almost two-thirds of the popular vote but fewer than one-third of the seats.
I would not be too worried if the party with the majority of seats fell a little short of 50 per cent. of the popular vote, but it is completely different if a party with just over one-third of the popular vote achieves a clear majority. That would give to such a party the power to do what two-thirds of the electorate did not want to be done. The effect of that on the electorate could not be anything but bad. It would undermine their belief in democracy, which is already under a severe challenge. It would tend to encourage people to get their way by undemocratic means.
I understand that the Labour Party, looking at the 1974 General Elections, might say that this is fine. They might not be concerned if they got one-third of the vote and the majority of seats. But they must realise that it would require no great change in political allegiances 1472 to do the same for the Conservative Party or for the SNP.
The Labour Party should realise that elections to the Scottish Assembly will normally take place every four years. The elections may well take place at a time when a Labour Government in Westminster are unpopular. That could result in the Labour Party being left with no representation at all in the Assembly I suspect that if elections to the Assembly had taken place earlier this year that would have happened to the Labour Party.
I should welcome that situation if people did not vote for the Labour Party and it got less than 5 per cent. of the popular vote. But I do not think that it would be right if 20 or 25 per cent. of people voted for the Labour Party and that party had no representation at all. The argument is the same for the Conservative Party and the SNP.
It is not unreasonable to predict that it is unlikely that any political party in the foreseeable future will poll more than 40 per cent. of the popular vote in Scotland—far less a majority. In such circumstances there is an overwhelming case against the Government's proposals and in favour of the amendments. There is an overwhelming case against a system that could give complete control to a party—any party—with one third of the popular vote and in favour of the system proposed in the amendments which seeks to ensure a much fairer representation of the voters' wishes.
Although I do not agree with them, I can understand the reluctance of many people to countenance changes to the electoral system. We should always be wary of change, especially when we cannot see the full consequences of that change. But it is equally wrong to be adamant against all change. The constitution of this country will survive only if we are willing to adjust it in line with changing circumstances. There will always be people who will resist change. I hope that there always will be if only to ensure that those who advocate change make their case.
In the past we have changed the electoral system when conditions have changed. I remind hon. Members who 1473 attribute our political stability to our electoral system that that system has not been static. In the last century the electorate was extended as the new industrial social classes asserted themselves and demanded their political rights. Earlier this century the electorate was extended as women asserted themselves and demanded their political rights. Eight years ago when young people began to assert themselves and demand their political rights the voting age was changed.
In the past we rejected rotten boroughs when their manifest injustice became obvious to a changing electorate. We rejected the multi-Member constituency when its injustices became apparent. It is strange that the Government in their Bill are suggesting, at least in the short term, that this concept should be reintroduced.
Apart from a relatively short period in the 1920s we have had a two-party system in this country for a long time. Whether we in the big parties like it or not, we do not have a two-party system now; we have a multi-party system. If the constitution is to survive, the time is right for a change in the electoral system to meet this new development—the emergence of a multi-party situation. I am convinced that we need change, although I am not altogether certain that the proposals in the amendments are necessarily absolutely right. Having said that, it seems that the Bill provides the ideal opportunity to experiment with a possible change in the electoral system.
I will give my reasons for this view. First, however strong the case for change may be in the United Kingdom as a whole—with two large parties, one not-so-large party and the Scottish, Welsh and Irish parties—the case is immeasurably stronger in Scotland where there are three large parties of near equal size, plus a sizable Liberal Party, plus the Scottish Labour Party. A multi-party situation exists in Scotland. It has been there for some time and it will not go away.
The second reason is that in this Bill we are creating new institutions. It is much easier to introduce an innovation in a new constitution than in an older constitution. Thirdly, the Scottish Assembly offers us the chance to try a system of electoral reform without upsetting the 1474 Government and Parliament of the whole United Kingdom. If this system proves to be a success in Scotland it can be extended. If, on the other hand, it proves to be a failure, there is no reason why it should be extended to the United Kingdom. It can be forgotten or some other system tried.
Although neither I nor anyone else can claim with certainty that the amendment is the best method of reform, it possesses five characteristics which appeal to me and lead me to believe that at present it is probably the best form. The details of how the system works were explained by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and I do not intend to go over them now. Let me briefly mention the main advantages of the system, as I see them.
First, it is fair. I found the arguments of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) strange. He seems to want social justice but not electoral justice. I do not understand how this squares up. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian gave the figures of the seats, under this system, which the various parties would get, based on the voting in the October General Election. The figures based on the February General Election would be similar. In both cases the result of the formula in the amendments would be that the true wishes of the Scottish people would be more accurately represented in the Scottish Assembly than under the first-past-the-post system. The system proposed in the amendments would be much more just than the nonsenses inherent in the Government proposals, under which on the 1974 election results the Labour Party would have almost two-thirds of the seats from only about 36 per cent. of the popular vote.
The second reason why I like this system is that, unlike some forms of proportional representation, the scheme put forward in the amendment preserves the relationship between most of the Members of the Assembly and the people in a workable constituency. It means that constituents will still have someone to go to, someone to influence. It means that Members will be subject to public opinion—and not just public opinion in their own party. It is important that this be the case. One of the great advantages of the present system is that although a 1475 Member does not necessarily represent the views of political opponents in his constituency, he is subject to their views and moderates his views because of them. It therefore brings him nearer to the constituency consensus than if he had direct contact only with his own party members. The added-Member system ensures that relationship for two-thirds of the Members of the Assembly.
Thirdly, I like the system because it is simple, despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) has said. Only two votes are cast, one for the candidate, as at present, and one for a party. That is very much better than the more complicated system suggested, at least as an initial system, by the Government.
The fourth reason why I like this system is that, before additional Members are allowed at all, a threshold of 5 per cent. of the popular vote is required. This discourages the excessive fragmentation which is inherent in some systems of proportional representation. But I remind the Committee that there has already been some fragmentation under the first-past-the-post system. It is wrong to claim that fragmentation is produced only by systems of proportional representation.
The fifth reason why I like this system is that the amendments provide for the first Assembly elections only. They do not prevent modifications at a later stage if required. This means that the Assembly and this House will be able to deal with any problems and difficulties that may occur. So we are retaining a degree of flexibility while introducing a new system of election.
I understand that part of the case against any form of proportional representation, including this system, is that it means that party leaders may have to do deals behind Mr. Speaker's Chair or in smoke-filled rooms before any Government is formed. I do not think that there is much substance in that argument. Already earlier this year, under the present system, it has happened, and it is possible that it may well happen again in future. Why should it not happen? What is particularly wrong with it? When party leaders go into this sort of discussion and have to do deals of this 1476 nature, they have to do so on the basis of the principles of their party and of the manifesto on which it fought the General Election.
If a Government is formed, there will be compromise, but any such compromise is subject to the constraints of not offending too deeply those electors who voted for the party at the election, lest they withdraw their support at the next election. Such a compromise between party leaders is surely much better than the possible outcome of the Government's proposals, with the possibility, inherent in the Government's proposals, indeed, the probability—of a party which got about one-third of the votes getting complete power. Surely the scheme proposed by the Government is wrong. Surely, equally, the scheme proposed in the amendment is very much more desirable and very much more democratic.
§ Mr. George Cunningham
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. As you are aware, after this group of amendments is disposed of there are five further groups of amendments which need to be taken before 7 p.m. tomorrow, and in the light of that fact, I beg to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Mr. Cunningham
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Can you help the House with regard to your attitude to receiving motions of that kind? Would it be right to assume that you would not necessarily refuse to accept such a motion before the guillotine fell on any guillotined section?
If you are not prepared to receive such a motion at any time, the likely consequence is that all the time in any guillotine section will be taken up with the first group of amendments in any case. It may be that some people in the House would like that, as showing the disadvantage of having a guillotine on a Bill of this kind—a view with which I wholeheartedly concur. But it would be a pity if, having a guillotine, we were not able to have a vote on any amendment other than the first amendment in the first group of any guillotine section.
I hope, therefore, that you can tell me that your refusal of my motion on this 1477 occasion does not mean that you and your colleagues in the Chair would always refuse such a motion until all the people who wanted to speak on the first group had expressed themselves.
§ The Chairman
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Chair will use its discretion in any case in which such a motion is claimed during the remainder of the Committee stage of the Bill.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. Unless the number of speakers has completely run out on any particular section, surely what the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) has suggested would introduce a sort of guillotine within a guillotine, so that it would be very difficult for the House to express any coherent view about anything.
§ Mr. George Cunningham
Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. I hope that you and the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) will appreciate that unless an amendment is moved before the end of a guillotine section, no vote can take place upon that amendment. Consequently, unless we have other Members exhausting themselves who want to speak on the first group we shall only ever get a vote on the first amendment in the first group in any guillotine section. That might cut out not only some very important amendments but some amendments which have a chance of succeeding, unlike this one, which has not a cat in hell's chance of succeeding, and we all know it.
§ The Chairman
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall bear in mind the point that he has raised. I assure him that the Chair will use its discretion as and when the need arises.
§ Mr. Penhaligon
As I understand it, the basic argument for the electoral system proposed in the Bill is that it will give a clear result. As someone who represents a constituency just about as far from Scotland as it is possible to get, I wish to raise with the Committee an issue that has not been discussed at all but which to my mind shows that some 1478 times anything hut a clear result can be produced by our electoral system.
According to the electoral laws of this country, I am the Member for Truro, and have sat in this House as such for three years. It is, however, a fact—it gives me a little pleasure to admit it, but it is a fact, nevertheless—that on 10th October 1974 there were more Conservatives in my constituency than there were Liberals. The reason that I was elected to this House was the use, in my constituency, of tactical voting. I have some experience of this. Indeed, the Members on the Liberal Bench probably have as much experience of it as any. I wish to tell the Committee how it is possible in Scotland for mass tactical voting—which I know can happen in constituencies, because I was elected to this House purely and simply because of it—to produce an election result which, although it might be clear in the House in terms of the majority, is no clear indication of anything whatsoever.
I draw the attention of the Committee, by way of example, to the constituency of West Stirlingshire, in Scotland. In that constituency at the last election the Labour Party won with 39 per cent. of the poll, the SNP were second with 38 per cent., the Conservatives had 18 per centfl and the Liberals, gallant people though they were, had 4 per cent. It is my submission that it would be quite possible for the SNP to win that seat in a Scottish Assembly election when the number of people in that constituency supporting independence had actually gone down. It is quite possible that a united anti-Left-wing Socialist vote—if the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) will not object to my using the expression—could produce the appearance of a clear result, in that it could go down in the book as an SNP gain, when in fact it was nothing of the sort. This has already happened in my constituency in Cornwall and I shall certainly do my best to encourage it to happen again at the next election.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
Is it not therefore to the credit of the SNP that it has consistently supported electoral reform and will continue to do so?
§ Mr. Penhaligon
I do not argue with that. I am possibly one of a few hon. Members who are more likely to get elected to this House under the present voting system than under a system of PR, which must be some sort of distinction in itself.
Let me continue with this point. There is a pile of constituencies in Scotland—areas which I admit I have never heard of—that could well return SNP Members even though there was a real reduction in support for the nationalist cause. I am thinking of constituencies like Kinross and West Perthshire; West Stirlingshire; Lanark; Inverness; Ross and Cromarty; Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth; West Lothian; West Dunbartonshire; East Kilbride and East Fife. Everyone of those constituencies could change to the SNP purely and simply under this magnificent voting system, because of tactical voting.
We have heard speeches today in favour if the additional-Member system. I prefer the single transferable vote. I cannot understand the objections that some hon. Members have put forward to having a number of Members representing a single area. I would just as soon be one of five Members from Cornwall as the Member of Parliament for Truro.
I sometimes wonder just whom I represent in my constituency. I am trying to be honest, which is a rare thing in this House. I polled 22,000 votes and I admit that a substantial proportion of them were tactical. That means that in my constituency 51,000 people in their wisdom decided not to support me. Of the 22,000 who voted for me only a small number did so because I was a Liberal. Therefore, do I represent the majority of those people in this House or do I try to represent the 76,000 of which three-quarters chose not to vote for me?
It is a myth to suggest that our present electoral system produces a clear result or, at least, a clear indication of what the people have done. I hope that hon. Members will add that matter to their calculations.
I give a couple of other examples. Had the European referendum been fought by a "Yes" party and a "No" party, the result would have been two people voting "Yes" for every one voting "No". 1480 That would have meant that in this House there would have been 630 hon. Members voting "Yes" and only five voting "No", because there were no more than five constituencies where the "Noes" were in the majority. Would that vote of 630 hon. Members to five hon. Members have been a fair and clear representation of the people of Scotland?
I shall vote for the additional-Member system. I believe that any method must be clearer than the method that we have now. But I ask the House to provide an electoral system where people can go to the poll and use their votes to express the views which they honestly hold, as opposed to being tempted by people like me to use their votes for a cause which they do not totally support because in that way they may prevent something which at that moment they think even more objectionable. That is what tactical voting is about.
In Scotland, four-fifths of the Members might get in purely because of tactical voting. What conclusion Scottish voters would draw from that when there was an election, I do not know.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
If people voted tactically under the present system, how is it that, mysteriously, they will not vote tactically with PR?
§ Mr. Penhaligon
That is quite simple. They will know that even if, in a constituency, they are casting their votes for a lost cause, the additional Members will mean that those votes will represent something in the Parliament. That is just what is happening in my constituency now. People vote neither Labour nor Meb Kernow in my constituency, because they recognise that neither of those philosophies stands a chance of winning the seat. Fortunately for me, I appear to a number of them slightly less objectionable than the alternative, which is the Conservative, and I get elected.
There is no doubt that tactical voting would be finished if any of the electoral systems talked about today were introduced.
§ Mr. Buchan
In the first place, whatever happened to the 50 on the list straight voting as they wished, tactical voting would remain for the 100. But, secondly, the hon. Gentleman is being 1481 unjust to tactical voting. His presence here represents not necessarily a Liberal majority but an anti-Tory majority in his constituency. As a result, those who voted tactically—that is, Labour—have succeeded, because we have the Lib-Lab pact.
§ Mr. Penhaligon
Has it ever occurred to the hon. Gentleman, who in his constituency did not get a much larger percentage of the poll than I did—I think he got 41 per cent.—that in his majority there is a clear anti-Labour vote and that, at the next election, if the SNP organises its tactical voting—if the SNP wants some advice on tactical voting, I can supply it; it is quite an art—the removal of the hon. Member for Renfrew-shire, West (Mr. Buchan) will be relatively simple? Just what that would prove I do not know, except that it would take one hon. Member from the Labour Benches and add one to the SNP Bench.
At the moment, this does not happen in more than 30 or 40 constituencies in the country. But Scotland could be overwhelmed by it in any future election. Certainly the election of a Scottish Parliament, given the present state of the parties in Scotland, not only would be a roulette system of Scottish opinion but possibly would result in more votes being cast tactically than for people's real preferences. How people can support that system, I do not know.
§ Mr. Pym
This debate has been particularly important and interesting because it has revealed the extent to which there is a growing anxiety about our institutions and their democratic workings.
A few years ago, this debate would have been unimaginable. The extent to which our parliamentary system is questioned is of very modern times. The fact is that proportional representation and electoral reform are topics which for various reasons are attracting more and more interest.
The main argument is the extent to which Governments are elected on minority votes. This was the argument advanced strongly by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Knox) and the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon). There is nothing new about that. Indeed, most Governments are elected on a minority 1482 vote. But it is the extent to which that minority exists in relation to the present Government and this House of Commons that concerns us. Another example, that of Quebec, has been mentioned.
However, in the context of the Bill, this debate is something of a diversion, because the scheme envisaged in the Bill is a bad one and it cannot be made a good one by changing the method of election to the Assembly. I do not think that one can redeem the essential flaws in the Bill just by introducing PR.
It is most unfortunate that devolution in general, and this Bill in particular, is surrounded, as it always has been, by controversy and disagreement. If we want any evidence of that, we can find it in what happened earlier this evening.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
Am I to take it from what the right hon. Gentleman says that he agrees that the amendment, if carried, would make the Bill a better Bill, even if he does not think that it would remedy all his objections? If that is so, would that not be good reason for supporting the amendment?
§ Mr. Pym
No, I should like to make some progress.
What ought to happen in matters of major constitutional reform, such as devolution, the European Community or electoral change, is that there should exist a very broad measure of agreement about what is proposed. One will never get absolute agreement; I understand that. But the choice is either to have a broad degree of general support, which would entitle the Government and the House of Commons to proceed with such a change in the knowledge that a genuine degree of support exists, or not to proceed at all. I think that the feeling of the House of Commons on this Bill is that it would prefer not to proceed at all.
I know that we had a vote on Second Reading, but we all understand the deep 1483 uneasiness that exists about it. If the circumstances were different, if there were a scheme of devolution commanding widespread support, we could have an extremely useful debate, perhaps even a crucial debate, about how the elections to some Assembly were to take place.
The best method of election to a new democratic body, such as is envisaged by devolution, must be dependent, at least to some extent, upon the exact nature of the Assembly that is established and upon the precise responsibilities that it is to have. It makes a difference.
The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian admits, for example, that PR does not provide strong government. He used those words tonight. He also said that such a system for elections would reflect very closely the wishes of the people and the votes that were cast. That is very important. But that is a different issue. Is the role to be imposed on the Assembly under this Bill such as to require strong government or not? In considering the Assembly proposed in the Bill, I think that the House of Commons is fearful that the Assembly will be too important. That was one reason why Clause 1 was turned down tonight. However, whether PR would weaken that Assembly was a question to which the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian did not address his mind.
We seemed to have arrived at an era in which the fashion is for more and more elected bodies to be proposed. I think that some hon. Members feel that we are becoming in danger of having too many elections. However, to the extent that there is a need for additional Assemblies, clearly there is a case for electing some of them on a different system. I do not see any merit in insisting that all the democratically elected bodies for which the people of this country vote should necessarily be elected on the same system.
In this case, I think that it depends on what role the Assembly is to have. For example, the role of the European Assembly is entirely different from the role to be fulfilled by the House of Commons. The same is true of the Scottish Assembly. Therefore, it is not necessary to say that the first-past-the-post system should apply for all these Assemblies.
1484 Nor do I share the view of those who believe that any change in the system for any of these new Assemblies represents a precedent which is dangerous for the House of Commons. I know that hon. Members on both sides do take that view, but I do not. I am afraid that the position at present is that the climate is not right for constitutional change. The good will referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) does not exist.
§ It being Eleven o'clock, The Chairman left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again, pursuant to the Order this day.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again tomorrow.