HC Deb 23 November 1977 vol 939 cc1538-92

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 1 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. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) is not able to be in his place, because I thought that he made a very strong and logical argument yesterday, but it was in some particulars a different case from the one that he argued in January. In January he envisaged an Assembly of 100 Members. Yesterday he argued the case for an Assembly of 150 Members. That is a considerable increase.

Many of us think that that is too large and too expensive. I certainly think so. It might have been wiser if the hon. Gentleman had adhered to the scheme of the original size. But as he protested the simplicity of the added Member system, in which there is a great deal of interest in the Committee, I thought of the lot of work that would still have to be done to explain the change to the public. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked some of the pertinent questions that would have to have a much wider public discussion before a scheme of this kind could be generally acceptable in this country.

If electoral reform is to be introduced, it must be done on its own merits, as an improvement on the arrangements that we now have. I do not think that there can be any other basis upon which such a change could be justified.

There has been talk in this debate of trying to frustrate the nationalists or one group or another by this reform, but I do not think that a reform of this kind should be brought in on that basis. It cannot be sound to change the rules with the objective of trying to frustrate any particular group or party. If the rules are to be changed, surely that should be done on principle and on their own merits, because such a change is judged to be an improvement on any of the alternatives or on the system that we already have. If that criterion is not fulfilled, I do not think that we ought to have a change at all.

It follows from that, of course, that if the Committee decides to leave the system unchanged, all the consequences of our present first-past-the-post system remain. This means an acceptance of the fact that a majority of seats will be achieved on a minority of votes, whether it be by a small minority of votes or, conceivably, by a very large minority of votes. It also means an acceptance of the fact that whichever party wins a majority of seats will be fully entitled to put forward thereafter its policies and the case upon which it was elected. We cannot have it both ways. The Committee must decide.

In the context of the Bill, I cannot say that I think that the House of Commons sounds ready for or is yet receptive of such a change. Certainly on the Conservative Benches there will be a free vote on this matter. Indeed, I think that it is to be a free vote throughout the House. I do not intend to tender advice I am known personally to be sympathetic to change. However, I think that an Assembly of 150 Members is too large, and I do not wish to vote for an Assembly of that size. Nor do I wish to vote for an amendment which has as part of its consequences the handing over to the Assembly of the responsibility of deciding how to conduct the elections that take place after the first election. I believe that that is a responsibility that the House of Commons ought always to retain absolutely for itself.

Therefore, there are those disadvantages. But we dislike the whole of the Bill and the concept behind it, and while the changing of the method of election to the Assembly to one of proportional representation may be a marginal improvement, it cannot possibly remedy the underlying weaknesses inherent in the method of devolution proposed. To that extent I do not think that a decision on this amendment is crucial.

This has been a useful debate and certainly a very important one in the general context of proportional representation, but I do not think that the result of the vote is critical in the context of the Committee stage of this Bill, because I think that the difference it would make would be only of a marginal kind. There are other matters that we want to bring about in the Bill which would have a more fundamental and far-reaching effect upon the operation of it. I do not think that this is one of them.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. You will be aware that in this section of the guillotine, which concludes in two hours and 50 minutes, we have to dispose not only of the present group of amendments but of four other groups, including Clause 2 stand part, Schedule 1 and Clause 3. In the light of that, I beg to move that the Question be now put.

The Chairman

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) raised this matter with me yesterday. I said at that time that this was entirely a question for the discretion of the Chair and that the Chair must make the decision in the light of all the circumstances. At this present time I regret that I cannot accede to the motion.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. Might I humbly submit that you should not be in a position of regret about your ruling? The reason we are faced with this problem is the guillotine overall. It would have been within your perception that there were half a dozen Members who wished still to speak to this amendment. Therefore, it should not be a matter of regret that you cannot accept the motion proposed by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham). I am sure that it is the wish of the Committee that the debate should continue, and it is a matter of sadness that we shall not have more time in which to debate the other amendments.

The Chairman

The use of the word "regret" was entirely as a matter of politeness to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury who raised the matter originally. The Chair has no views, regrets or otherwise. The Chair must do its duty.

Mr. George Cunningham

Further to the point of order. Nobody is going to blame me for the guillotine. I completely accept that the discretion must lie with the Chair whether to accept a motion for the closure, but you are faced with a dilemma, Mr. Murton, between either closing the debate on this group of amendments or not only closing the debate on the later group of amendments, which will be done automatically by the guillotine, but also ensuring, by a side wind of that, that there will not even be any vote on the later amendments. That is a very difficult position for you to be in. Neither the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) nor I put you in this situation, but I think that in reaching your decisions within that context the Committee surely would want you to give it the maximum opportunity at least to vote on later amendments. That will not be possible on any other amendment than the present one that we are on now, unless this debate is brought to a close comfortably before 7 p.m., in order to get the vote out of the way before 7 p.m.

The worst thing of all is that it is going to be the case—it does not matter much on this section of the guillotine—on every other section of the guillotine. All the Government have to do to prevent a vote taking place on a dangerous amendment—which is what I am worrying about—is to get someone to put in a preceding amendment and keep the debate going. There will be plenty of people to back up the Government in this. We shall be deprived not only of debate but of a vote as well. I want Members to understand that that is the situation, and if we do not do something about it on this section of the guillotine we shall have to do something about it on the later section of the guillotine.

The Chairman

I take note of what the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said. I quite understand his views. The Chair has to use its own discretion and the Chair can only do that.

4.15 pm
Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

I entirely and respectfully associate myself with the principle enunciated by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), that a constitutional change of this importance should not be made, even for one part of the United Kingdom, except on its evident merits and also after the fullest possible discussion by this House.

I do not think that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) is without those who sympathise with his point of view when we realise that the four hours of debate already devoted to this group of amendments have so far only served to indicate how many facets there are to this whole question of a change from direct to proportional representation.

I want to refer at the outset to a general consideration. In almost every speech made on the subject of proportional representation, it appears to be taken for granted that it is desirable that representation should be fair, in the sense of somehow mathematically reflecting in the elected Assembly the proportion of individual political opinions in the electorate from which it derives its mandate.

I do not believe that that is a correct view of this House or a correct view of any representative House which this House ought to be party to setting up inside the United Kingdom. This House is essentially a representation of the parts of the kingdom. We all sit here as the representatives of our respective constituencies. Although, of course, the grounds on which we, rather than others, have been chosen to represent our constituencies are party grounds, and although, without that link of party, there would be no meaning in the democratic process, the fact remains—and it is fundamental—that we are not here representing a numerical slab of the electorate of the whole United Kingdom. We are each representing a specific place and a specific comunity and its people. Indeed, this fact is embalmed in our very name, House of Commons, which does not mean the House of the common people or the House of commoners. It means the House in which the communities which make up the realm are represented.

The first-past-the-post system, so often despised—particularly by foreigners who do not understand many of the essential characteristics of this House—has the merit that it is the natural and appropriate way of selecting one person unambiguously to represent one community. It is from this fact about the House of Commons that we derive the importance of our constituency links—something that we come up against as soon as we begin to investigate any form of proportional representation because the link of a Member with his constituency is inevitably diminished, though to varying degrees, by any system of proportional representation whatever. [Interruption.]

I already have the assent of my hon. Friends representing constituencies in Northern Ireland, for we in Northern Ireland have witnessed—it continues today at the level of local government—the effect upon representation which is produced by proportional representation under the single transferable vote system, namely, that there is no representative whom any constituent can hold uniquely responsible or accountable for anything to which that representative assents. All is wrapped up in a kind of collective anonymity—the collective anonymity of the lumping together of constituencies and the collective anonymity of a group of people who are elected together by the single transferable vote.

If we value, as I believe we ought to value as the very basis of our authority, our individual constituency function and responsibility, we encounter at the outset a severe, if not a fatal, objection to the principle of proportional representation.

When the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) whom we miss this afternoon, was explaining his particular scheme, I think that all hon. Members, whether they were disposed or not to agree with him, were struck and were indeed shocked by the phenomenon of one-third of the Assembly who would have no constituencies at all. Unlike the giant of Greek mythology who lost his strength when he was lifted off the ground, these are to be Members who are apparently off the ground all the time, who will never touch down.

Even if one were determined to experiment with such a fantastic system as to have one-third of the Members unbeneficed while the rest were in direct and responsible contact with their constituents, I cannot imagine a less appropriate context for the experiment than the Assembly which unfortunately we are setting up under this Bill, an Assembly to deal with those very subjects where constant and intimate knowledge, and responsible knowledge of the problems, hardships, difficulties, and experiences one's constituents meet, is the very basis of the advice which is worth giving in a deliberative Assembly.

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)

The right hon. Gentleman has used exaggerated phrases, such as "a fantastic system". It is, nevertheless, a system that operates and works—and appears to work well—in the German Federal Republic. The right hon. Gentleman cannot argue that the Germans are so vastly different from us in their appreciation of and capacity for operating competently.

Mr. Powell

I have always made it a principle—and it does not go against the grain—to refrain from any criticism which would imply dispraise of the institutions of other countries. But we are here in our House of Commons, deliberating what measures we wish to put upon our statute book, and what Assemblies, on the basis of our experience in this House, we shall set up for devolving to them our own responsibilities in this place. So I do not believe we can be regarded as casting contempt upon those who come from a different tradition, and whose associations of government, of representation and of authority have different origins from our own, if we lean primarily on the experience that we in this House, and those before us, have drawn from our institutions.

Mr. Malcolm Rifkind (Edinburgh, Pentlands)

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he find any difficulty in opposing the idea of a minority of Members of a Scottish legislature not having a territorial responsibility when, at the same time, as I understand it, he fully supports the present composition of the legislature at Westminster, one House of which has no Members who have a territorial responsibility?

Mr. Powell

I have taken part in debates enough on proposals for the reform of the other House but what we are discussing today is the body to which this House of Commons intends to devolve—I fear it will prove "to transfer", and I fear it will be "to transfer irrevocably" if we do this—its responsibilities. We are not here concerned with what may be the residual, or what may be the useful functions of the other House of Parliament. We are concerned with the functions of this House and of another subordinate House which, in a sense, we are creating in our own image

The effect of proportional representation varies immensely—this is what often introduces confusion into this discussion—according to the pattern of distribution of the political population in the territory concerned. Let me explain what I mean.

If those who are of one political point of view tend to be concentrated in certain constituencies, the difference between the results of proportional representation and of first-past-the-post will be nil or minimal. That was the experience in Northern Ireland when, to the surprise and dismay of those who thought they would correct imaginary jerrymandering by introducing proportional representation for elections in Northern Ireland, it was discovered that the proportion of representatives returned who were Unionists and non-Unionists repectively was basically what it had been before. That was predictable, given the layout, so to speak, of the population in Northern Ireland.

On the other hand, the further one moves from that end of the spectrum towards the other end, at which political opinions are broadcast and peppered uniformly over all the constituencies, the bigger becomes the difference between the results of first-past-the-post and of proportional representation.

The usual phenomenon with which those who recommend proportional representation are concerned is this latter situation, namely, that the various contending political parties are spread so evenly that minorities have an exceptional handicap, under the first-past-the-post system, in breaking through the sound barrier and obtaining substantial representation, while on the other hand there is no necessary relationship between the proportion of a political view in the electorate and the representation of that political view in terms of membership of the elected Assembly.

We have these particular amendments before us today because there is here a special case within this latter case, namely, where one of the political parties is of a special kind—a political party which exists to reject the framework within which the elections are to take place and the franchise is to be exercised. We should not be having this debate but for the existence of the SNP as a formidable element at the moment in the makeup of the Scottish political spectrum. Indeed, some of us think that that is why we are here discussing this subject at all. However, I have no wish to be controversial in anything that I say. So far as I know, nothing that I have said lip to now is other than totally factual. Therefore, perhaps I was unwise even to stray into that subordinate clause.

I return to the consequences that are feared by those on both sides of the argument. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) says—and says rightly—that under proportional representation we shall less often have an overall majority for one political party. Therefore, says he, we shall more often have a greater risk of having a coalition between a party that is in favour of the Union and a party that is against it. I do not see how the hon. Gentleman's proposition can be disputed, and I agree with him—and so do my hon. Friends—that there are considerable dangers in linking together in unholy wedlock those who do and those who do not accept the system itself.

On the other side of the argument there are those who, equally rightly, say "Yes, but the first-past-the-post system might produce an SNP majority that has been thrown up by only a minority—perhaps not much more than one-third of the voting electorate." "How much greater then" says that side of the argument "the danger to which we are exposed under the Bill by the existence and the ambitions of the SN Punless we draw its teeth, unless we reduce it to probable coalition status by introducing proportional representation."

I believe that the fears of both sides to the argument are justified, but that the action which they propose is not proportionate to the real danger with which we are threatened. That danger is the danger that is implicit in the Bill itself, in what the Bill proposes to do, and in the way in which it proposes to do it.

Here again I am exactly on the same ground as the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire who doubted—and I share his doubt—whether any of these remedies will remove those reasons for which nearly half the House is committed against the principle of the Bill. If the SNP did not exist, and if we nevertheless proceeded in obedience to the theory that Scotland is a nation requiring separate directly-elected legislative representation, we should still be incurring essentially the same dangers, namely by creating a Dutch auction in which the winners would always be those who proposed and pressed further developments that would lead to a continuous loosening of the Union and would focus all the discontents in that part of the kingdom not upon their true and real causes, but upon the supposed deficiencies of the system of devolution.

4.30 p.m.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Moray and Nairn)

If the fruits of victory for the promise of Home Rule are as great as the right hon. Gentleman says, how does he explain the extraordinary turnabout on the part of the Labour Party, which was committed to Home Rule as late as 1957, yet at that time, when it was clear that the Scottish National Party was coming into a considerable degree of influence, chose to give up this policy?

Mr. Powell

There are all sorts of educational forces which operate on the minds of Members of this House. One of the educational forces is a consideration of electoral consequences; but another and perhaps equally respectable educational force is the necessity for debating alternatives to our present situation and doing so with the thoroughness which the procedures of this House, properly used. make possible. I believe that both of those contributed to the conversion.

I do not think that the danger in this Bill lies in the coalition between a Labour group and a Scottish National group in the new Scottish Assembly, nor do I believe it lies in the possibility that a 35 per cent. vote for the SNP could produce a clear majority in the Assembly; for if it is not the general and preponderant will of the people of Scotland to be separate from the rest of the United Kingdom, then neither via a coalition nor via a majority in the Assembly dealing with the subjects devolved to this one will Scotland be taken out of the kingdom.

The danger to the Union which we have seen from the beginning lies not in the form of election, nor can it be cured by altering the form of the election. It lies in the consequences, by the nature of things, of attempting to set up a directly-elected legislative Assembly for a part of a unitary parliamentary State. As so often, the proposal before us in the amendments—the debate on which has been and will remain valuable—is, in the last resort, an attempt to evade the essential question which the Bill throws up and on which, so far, this House has been taking the wrong decision.

Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)

I should like to follow the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) in respect of three points that he made. I respect the views that he expressed on Second Reading on the need to continue the unitary State and that anything which threatens that threatens the United Kingdom as a whole, although those views do not coincide with my own. I do not believe that by continuing the unitary State exactly as it is one necessarily protects the United Kingdom as a whole.

I should like to follow three of the right hon. Gentleman's assumptions on which he based his opposition to changes in the electoral system. I am wholly at one with him in one important respect, namely, that in this House or in any form of Assembly the identity of a Member elected by a specific area and community is one of the traditions of the British political system which I should be extremely reluctant to give up. It is an identity which the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) specifically retains. This is preferable to the proposed single transferable vote system proposed by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) which would create multi-Member constituencies.

The amendment of the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian retains the single-Member constituency, which means that the Member is totally answerable and is the only individual answerable to those who elect him to the Assembly. I support the amendment because it retains that identity of interest with the community from which the Member is elected. I do not think that there would be any confusion about the answerability of the elected Member to the community which elected him, or any confusion—as there might be in a multi-Member constituency—about the Member to whom an elector wishing to make representations could go. The amendment does not break the ties of the community, which are so essential.

The second point on which I differ from the right hon. Member for Down, South is that I do not believe that he fully answered the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) concerning the fact that in the British Parliament there is a large non-elected element that has to be taken into account. I refer again to the speech that my hon. Friend the Member for Pentlands made yesterday. He is the only Member to have pointed out that in the Scottish Assembly we shall have a unicameral system, where there will be only one chamber, whereas in the United Kingdom Parliament we have two, one elected and one non-elected. The non-elected part—it is a matter of opinion whether it works for better or worse—is there to provide a check on the actions of the other chamber. I strongly support the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Pentlands. When we are introducing this innovation—and the whole idea of an Assembly is an innovation—I do not believe that we are necessarily breaching any principles underlying the electoral system. Under this amendment a certain proportion of the Members elected to that Assembly would not be representative of the communities which carry out the elections. I think that is a point which the right hon. Gentleman should take into account.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

With this innovation, would the hon. Gentleman go into coalition with Labour or the SNP?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I shall go into that question in a moment, if the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) will hold his patience.

I turn to the third point that the right hon. Member for Down, South made, which underlies many of the speeches in the debate. Of course it is right that we should look at any new electoral system on its merits. One thing that marked many speeches was that—with respect to some hon. Members who have spoken—I felt that, to some extent, the approach to a new electoral system was coloured by the judgment of individual Members of what the outcome will be in party political terms. That is wrong. We must approach this on its merits and as a matter of principle.

One argument that has been used throughout the debate—the right hon. Member for Down, South used it in passing—concerns what will be the actions and influence in an Assembly elected by proportional representation of the one group that is dedicated to separating Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom. That argument has coloured many of the comments during this debate. There is a point that has not been made and which must be made. I am dealing entirely with the practicalities and not the principles, and I hope that I can put at rest the fears of some hon. Members who approach the establishment of a Scottish Assembly in a pragmatic way and fear what it may lead to. If opinion in Scotland is as I judge it to be, and as it has been expressed in opinion polls, the majority of people in Scotland are opposed to separation.

In the circumstances of a Scottish Assembly devolved from the United Kingdom dealing with Scottish domestic affairs, it is only fair to ask whether—the SNP approach when the time comes will be interesting—a party dedicated to the separation of Scotland from the United Kingdom will get the same electoral support as it gets now in elections to the United Kingdom Parliament. It is plain that the majority of people are against separation and that a party dedicated to separation will therefore not get electoral support for that very reason. I believe that we shall see a far greater polarisation back to the other parties, whether they be Socialist, Conservative, Liberal, Scottish Labour or whatever variations we may have. I believe that the rôle of a separatist party in the Scottish Assembly, having achieved that measure of devolution, will change dramatically from that which the Scottish National Party sees itself playing now.

I believe that there are counter-arguments to the argument put forward by the right hon. Member for Down, South both on the principle of the proportional representational system and on the practical results that may flow from it.

Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)

Surely my hon. Friend is missing the nub of the argument that those opposed to setting up the Assembly have put forward. The nub of the argument is not that the majority of people in Scotland are currently opposed to separation. We are afraid that if we set up a Scottish Assembly such discontents will arise, which have not yet arisen, as will promote the feeling towards separation. That is what most of us fear. We are talking not about the 5 per cent. in favour of separation but of those who will move towards it because of the problems that will arise from any separate Assembly.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I respect my hon. Friend's views, but I disagree with him. I believe that the balance of danger to the unity of the United Kingdom is greater by doing nothing.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said that it was important to view the amendment on its merits, not to mix up different motives for it. Approaching the amendment in an honest way, I believe that we must accept that the proposed Assembly will be set up. Therefore, whether one is for or against the Assembly, one should consider the amendment on the basis whether a first-past-the-post or a proportional representational system is the best answer. I suggest that is the more honest basis on which to approach the amendment.

I believe that the honestly felt fears expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) are more likely to be realised under a first-past-the-post system than under a PR system. Under the first-past-the-post system, as the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian said yesterday, 36 per cent. or 37 per cent. of the votes in Scotland would give one party more than 50 per cent. of the seats.

Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

If my lion. Friend is putting the matter in party terms, perhaps I may put this proposition to him. If the Assembly is set up and he is right in saying that that will in the short-term lead to a substantial reduction in the SNP vote and we shall therefore see a consolidation of Labour and Conservative support in Scotland, is there not a risk that the controlling party, whether it be Conservative or Labour, will tend to blame the limited powers for its difficulties in Scotland? That may be an attractive argument to the supporters of those two parties, hut it may also lead others to the conclusion that the instability of the Assembly constitution is such that they have the choice either to dispose of the Assembly and come hack to a United Kingdom Parliament or to see the re-emergence of the SNP when the logic of its argument for separation is presented to them.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

If the Assembly is unworkable because it has inadequate powers, that kind of situation could occur. I have said this before. That is why we have a marginally better Bill this time than we had before. The Bill now contains a clearer division of powers. I shall hope to move amendments on this matter later.

It is important that the Assembly he given powers which will make it more realistic and workable and reduce the risk of conflict. There are certain seeds of conflict in the Bill. I am glad we have the Committee stage, because it gives us the opportunity to try to improve the Assembly so that the kind of situation envisaged by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) will not arise.

I turn now to the practical point made by the hon. Member for West Lothian. I shall not go into the argument on principle. The question comes down to one of the workability of the system under proportional representation. As the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian freely acknowledged, based on the 1974 election figures, on the PR approach no single party would have an overall majority. Whichever party is to form the Executive will have to depend on the support of other parties within the Assembly. That is not an unthinkable type of situation. Indeed, it is the situation that we have in the House of Commons today. Yet the Government have now governed for more than three years. I believe that increasingly within the United Kingdom we may have to deal with that kind of situation in purely practical terms. It certainly has not prevented the Government from continuing in office.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The fundamental mistake made by the hon. Gentleman in his approach is seeing any coalition in the Scottish Assembly on too formal a basis. In many countries with proportional representational systems where Governments are formed by parties which are not majority parties, coalitions exist, but often in a very informal way. That imposes a discipline on the party forming the Government and on the other parties in an election when putting forward their programmes. They tend to put forward programmes which are likely to command the majority of moderate support within the electorate. I believe that much the same kind of thing will happen in Scotland.

I differ from the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), whose opposition to the idea of a PR system seemed to be on the basis that it would hinder the carrying into effect of some of the more ideological purposes that he felt he could achieve rather better by a first-past-the-post system. I believe in having a system which recognises the reality of what the voters in general wish to have.

Mr. Dalyell

Will the hon. Gentleman point to any coalition overseas in which one of the coalition parties has as its raison d'être the break-up of the State? That is the fundamental difference between the Lib-Lab pact, any overseas coalition and, on the other hand, the situation in a Scottish Assembly. There are Members on the third Bench below the Gangway whose main plank is the hiving off of the State. That does not exist anywhere overseas in a coalition, as far as I am aware.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The situation that the hon. Member envisages will arise whether or not we have devolution. We shall have within the House of Commons as we have had in previous years, a party that is dedicated to the break up of the United Kingdom. If that party commands so much support in the electorate that it is able to work towards that end, that situation will arise here and in the Assembly. I am convinced that the majority of the people of Scotland do not want separation and that we shall see a withering of that extreme view in the Assembly.

The proportional representation system would prevent the expression of some of these extreme views. Those advocating separatism would be subjected to greater discipline under the proportional representation system than they would be under the first-past-the-post system.

As other hon. Members have said, the Bill gives us an opportunity to discuss changes other than those to the structure of government. We should see whether we can find a better electoral system. I believe that we can and that such a system is on the lines proposed by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian. For that reason I welcome the debate and I intend to support the amendment

Mrs. Margaret Bain (Dunbartonshire, East)

It is rather obvious when we listen to the opponents of the principle of proportional representation that the spectre of the SNP haunts them day and night. It is disturbing that hon. Members are not looking carefully at the principles involved in the amendment.

The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) did not surprise anyone on this Bench when he said that the reason he opposed the amendment was that it transfers the power to review the system to the Assembly itself. We are no surprised that the Conservatives take that view because they do not want an Assembly in Scotland at all. According to his remarks in Scotland the other day, the right hon. Gentleman became a one-day expert on Scottish affairs. He wants to set up a tartan inquisition under which he can question decisions made by the Assembly.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that he did not like to draw comparisons with other constitutions and other countries where the traditions of authority were slightly different. The traditions of authority in Scotland are different from those that are operated by this House. In Scotland we regard the people as sovereign. We say that the people should take the decisions and that we should not regard Westminster decisions as being the touchstone or gauge of political correctitude. I do not see how the right hon. Member for Down, South can support an Assembly for Northern Ireland and oppose one for Scotland.

Mr. Leon Britton (Cleveland and Whitby)

It is a ringing political nonsense to say that the people are sovereign in this context. We would be assisted if the hon. Lady explained exactly what "sovereign" means in terms of the practice and operation of an electoral system.

Mrs. Bain

I am disappointed that the deputy Shadow spokesman for devolution does not understand Scottish constitutional law enough to know that the people are sovereign.

Members of my party have no hesitation in supporting proportional representation. The consistency of the SNP on this issue is an example to others in the House. After all, ours is the party which, with a 5 per cent. swing from the October 1974 election, could well become the majority party in Scotland.

Some people take small delight in the recent trends shown in the polls. But we know the reality of the situation because we are grass-root politicians and we do not live in ivory towers. We should like to fight a General Election as soon as possible.

When considering the amendment, the all-party group gave serious thought to the comments and criticisms that were made on the last occasion, during the February debate, on this principle. We realise that there are those who are particularly keen to see the contact between constituents and Members continued. That is why we opted for a system of alternative voting for 100 members of the Assembly. We recognise that an MP is of fundamental importance, since he is an identifiable person to whom people can go. Those of us who are involved in constituency work realise that the MP is becoming the person who can be approached. People are becoming confused by the plethora of bodies and organisations that now exist.

We also recognise that there is a general demand for proportional representation. As a democratic party we try to reflect that. I draw the attention of the House to the Opinion Research Centre survey carried out in February and March this year. That found that 74 per cent. of the electorate wish to see the principle of proportional representation brought into operation. Of that 74 per cent., the vast majority—55 per cent.—said that they would still favour PR even if it were to the disadvantage of their own party. We should bear that in mind.

Why does the public want proportional representation? It is because many people feel that they are disenfrancised because their party is not represented in a particular area or because it is underrepresented in the House of Commons, as it could be in the Scottish Assembly.

I was elected on a very small majority of 22. Under a PR system I have no doubt that my majority would be much larger. The people who did not vote for me feel that their parties are not adequately represented. Some of them do not contact me because I am a member of the SNP. But we wish to make contact with people who belong to other parties.

The 50 Members to be appointed under the topping-up system ensures that there is a balance—

Mr. Dalyell

It would give a false impression to say that people of other loyalties do not contact their Members of Parliament in Scotland. Many members of the hon. Lady's party come to me to discuss business which is unrelated to party politics, and they are welcome.

Mrs. Bain

Although only a small minority do not contact their constituency MP because of party loyalties, a considerably number do take that attitude. I share my area with three councillors. Letters are passed between us because people tend to write according to political loyalties. We sort this out at a local level. The situation cannot be ignored.

5.0 p.m.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. John Smith)

As I understood the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) it was that the added Members would not undertake constituency responsibilities and he predicted that Ministers would not answer letters from them. The hon. Lady seems to be suggesting that an SNP supporter, for example, would go to the added Member rather than to his Labour Member of Parliament We cannot have it both ways. Is she agreeing or disagreeing with the concept of the added-Member system put forward by my hon. Friend?

Mrs. Bain

Our view is that this is a first step towards the Assembly itself trying to evolve a system that would be more equitable. The rôle of the topped-up Member is a difficult one to define. But under the circumstances there is a possibility for negotiation between the constituency Members and the non-constituency Members of the Assembly to work out their own philosophy.

The topping-up system is referred to today in what is called Scotland's national newspaper, the Daily Record. Opposite a headline which says: "Crazy night in the House" there is another stating "Facing up to topping-up". There is an editorial which asks this House to consider carefully the proposition that has been put forward by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and his colleagues in all parties. That editorial states: Whether we like it or not, Britain will eventually have to fall into line with the rest of Europe … and face up to a new voting system. It seems rather strange that many hon. Members who will vote for direct elections to Europe on a PR basis will not be going into the Lobby tonight to support the concept of an Assembly being elected on a proportional basis. The Daily Record continues: the ASSEMBLY elections would be the ideal test bed. That is where new constitutional ideas will be discussed … and take place. It would make sense to start preparing for the great constitutional change here—in Scotland. One of the reasons we want to see PR coming with this constitutional change is that there are very genuine fears among people in Scotland about being dominated by what we in industrial Scotland call "the Labour Mafia". Some of my colleagues who represent rural constituencies have had these fears portrayed to them. Likewise, those of us who represent more industrial seats are concerned when people tell us, "Perhaps we may be dominated by fishing, farming and forestry Members." By having a PR system in the Assembly, we can ensure that all views in Scotland are represented and we can get away from the kind of ideological clashes which have held back so much work in this House.

I have listened with great interest to hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor)—who, again, is not present—and the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) talk about dictation by the minority. When I was on a radio programme with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart he referred again to this. It seems to me that those hon. Members are saying, "It is all right to impose our views on other people". That is the kind of despotism envisaged by such hon. Members, and it is not benevolent despotism. We want to get away from the situation whereby the minority can dictate, because that is what has held back decent legislation in this House for decades.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)

The hon. Lady has not understood the proposition put forward nor the argument against it. The proposition put forward is that the disfranchising of many people can be substituted for by having a party list. In other words, we would be institutionalising the party factor in our system. It exists now but we would be institutionalising it.

The problem is that people who go to Members of their own party vote for a party because they expect that party to pursue a particular policy. If we institutionalise and emphasise this party aspect and at the same time produce a system—[Hon. Members: "Too long."]—there have been longer interventions—whereby that party policy cannot permanently or ever be carried out because we have a permanently hung situation, then people will begin to ignore parties. When they begin to ignore parties they will seek policies in other directions which are outside this House.

Hon. Members

Sit down.

The Chairman


Mr. Buchan

On a point of order—

The Chairman

Order. If the hon. Gentleman catches the eye of the Chair he will have the opportunity of making his own speech. He must not attempt to do so by means of an intervention in the hon. Lady's speech.

Mrs. Bain

In response to that intervention I would say that if we were to institutionalise the party system through a system of PR then at least it would be supported by the majority of the people, and that does not happen at the moment. Secondly, it is not always the case that the first-past-the-post system produces a clear majority. In fact, in the first Assembly elections the governing party will have to take into account the views of minority parties. Under the first-past-the-post system many of the best men have not been elected or returned to the House, as the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West well knows. Six British Prime Ministers lost their seats under the first-past-the-post system and since 1918 the Liberals have four times lost their leader by electoral defeat.

If we look at the United Kingdom system, 49.2 per cent. of the people elected all 635 MPs and 50.8 per cent. elected none. But in Scotland the situation is even worse because only 43.9 per cent. of the people elected all 71 MPs while 56.1 per cent. elected none. Those were the figures for the October 1974 election.

These people do not feel able to approach some of their MPs because of different beliefs. But if we are to provide stable government we must say exactly what we mean. We should not talk about a situation where it means the ability of a government to steamroller their views through on an unwilling majority. We must have a situation where a government has the support of the majority of the people.

I know that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) regards it as a fate worse than death even to speak to an SNP Member in Scotland, but I rather doubt that he means that. However unpalatable the concept of coalition may seem, it will be the situation in the new Assembly. We must also look at the possibility of the Tories and the Labour Party combining. We know that they are both Unionist parties. But if we have a situation where in Germany there is a grand coalition of the CDU and the Social Democrats, why cannot the Scots have a coalition?

We do not accept the political party as being of supreme importance. That is what the hon. Member for West Lothian has consistently argued in terms of his opposition to PR.

There is also the question of what the 50 topped-up Members would do with their time in the Assembly. If we are all perfectly honest, we could all have plenty of work for 50 Members who are not laden down with constituency paperwork. It is one of my great misfortunes not to have been able to attend many of the all-party groups and, in order to get to know their problems, to listen to the private groups which come to this House. Those 50 Members could become experts in areas such as widows' taxation and one-parent families. They could be of great assistance to the constituency Member in terms of feeding information to him.

Those hon. Members who support the amendment tonight will be voting for a principle of supreme importance. Anyone who opposes the concept will be seen as rejecting a new principle in Scotland which would bring a real constitutional change and a real change of government to the people.

Mr. Dalyell

Before the hon. Lady sits down, may I say that it is not that I think talking to Scottish nationalists is a fate worse than death? It is that I do not want the SNP, via devolution, to string us along to a separate State on a road on which we do not want to go.

The Chairman

Order. The hon. Lady has resumed her seat.

Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

I continue to find it odd to hear so sincere and honest men who are deeply attached to our system of democracy hold so fast to the opinion that it is an essential ingredient of our democratic process that our elections should to some extent be rigged.

It is, of course, the maxim of any ruling class that elections should be managed in a way favourable to that class. In the past that was done by the nobility and by the monied classes. Now the great barons of the TUC exert themselves in the same way.

We should not approve. We very much disapprove of the voting in a dictatorship, yet for ourselves we insist on a system that is likely to distort the wishes of the electorate. I said "likely", but I should have said "virtually certain", because not since 1900 has a party Government in this country commanded a majority of the votes of the people.

What makes our devotion to an outworn system of voting so strange is that the objective of a managed election—one that turns out as one wants it to—is not attained. In fact, the results of the first-past-the-post elections are highly unpredictable. I am reminded of the compulsive gambler who every evening goes down to the tables convinced that he will win. The odds against him are sure in the end, and in the long term he is on a hiding to nothing.

In seeking a system of proportional representation for the Assembly in Scotland I bear in mind that with a two-party system, first-past-the-post is the most exactly proportional method that can be achieved. That is why proportional representation for Ulster should not cause the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) to attack proportional representation as such. As he said, it was brought in there for power sharing and not for proportionality. After all, everyone in Northern Ireland knows on which side of the fence he will come down in the end, so the system was immaterial to that. Anyway the right hon. Gentleman finished today by saying that he did not think it mattered much what the system of voting was, so I hope that in future he will not regard proportional representation with quite so frosty a glare.

Where there are more than two parties it is increasingly likely that a minority of votes will secure the majority of seats. This has several consequences. First, I believe that it weakens the authority of Government. Every time the Prime Minister of the day goes on television to exhort us to work harder or to strike less, or uses the various Dunkirkisms with which we have become familiar over the years, we should reflect that 60 per cent. of those watching him voted against him at the last General Election and that probably by the time they see him on television exhorting them to do better 80 per cent. of them wish that he would drop dead. That must somewhat reduce the power of his appeal.

As ideologies drift apart, we have violent changes in policy which are harmful and unsettling to the national life. In Scotland—which is, if I may say so, inhabited by a disputatious people—I believe that the situation will be even worse. Added to the ordinary conflict between Conservatives and Socialist there will be a conflict between each of those parties and the SNP. Under the present first-past-the-post system, we should probably see large swings in representation in the Assembly every four years, perhaps leading to vast changes with policies being wrenched back and forth over a period, resulting in the dismay and eventual disgust of the population. Nothing I have said is designed to deny a party which obtains over 50 per cent. of the vote the right to its majority. What I say is that a minority in the country should not have a majority in the Assembly.

5.15 p.m.

An additional reason for a proportional representation system in Scotland is the one mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind)—the absence of any proper constitutional safeguards in the Bill. In Scotland there will not even be the feeble protection of the House of Lords that we have here. One vote in the Assembly could bring it into conflict with Her Majesty's Government in Westminster, with no certainty or agreement about what the popular opinion is. It is noticeable that systems with no constitutional safeguards have a very correct and exact system of proportional representation. Examples are to be seen in Scandinavia and Israel.

Implicit in what I have said is that I believe that voters are averse to changes as violent as their elected representatives sometimes contrive to thrust upon them. Therefore, there is much support for proportional representation from those who wish to prevent an extremist faction blessed with unexpected electoral fortune from running away with the spoons.

Various criticisms are made of proportional representation schemes. The first to be voiced in the Committee was that PR was too complicated. It is extraordinary that that argument should still be advanced. How can anyone imagine that having to put two crosses, one for the person and one for the party, on a ballot paper should be too complicated for the voter in the United Kingdom, a country whose favourite sport is filling in football coupons every week? Local elections are more complicated than that, even for the parish. Every other country with PR manages perfectly well. That includes Ireland, with possibly the most complicated system of all. That the proposition that the system is complicated can seriously be advanced at this stage of the debate shows that hostility to proportional representation is all too often founded upon misapprehension and prejudice. It also explains why PR always wins the argument.

It is said that we shall have weak government, with no majority for one party, under a PR system. That depends what is meant by "weak government". If it means a Government whose men and measures are constantly changed, we have it now. We have had more changes of Ministers let alone of policies than any analogue country in Europe, with the possible exception of Italy. Today we are inured to four Budgets a year, leading to the confusion and disruption of our affairs.

It is also said that coalition Governments will be the norm. Some of my hon. Friends quote the only person that anybody in the Tory Party ever quotes—Disraeli—as saying that England does not love coalitions. We have one now, under our present system, and it is one that was not put fully and fairly before the electorate but was hastily cobbled together as a life raft by two old sailors—well, one old sailor and one rather young sailor—preparing to stab each other in the back if either should ever return to terra firma. In any event, coalitions are not inevitable. Sweden and Israel have had years of one-party government.

One point in favour of coalitions under a PR system is that it is much easier for Back Benchers to oppose their Government without the danger of provoking a General Election, with all the bizarre and unexpected results that the first-past-the-post system constantly brings. Even if one opposes one's Government and the consequence is a General Election, the result is far more predictable, because the system is much more sensible. Finally, if the consequence of PR is a constant coalition, but if the people constantly vote for that, why should we in this House or in the Assembly deny what they have voted for?

It is said that we should have a great proliferation of parties. We have it now under the present system. It can easily be prevented in PR systems by the 5 per cent. threshold that we have incorporated in the amendment.

It is very difficult to get an existing House such as ours to agree to reform itself. Many a colleague—I shall not reveal who—has told me "I believe that your system is better, but I might lose my seat", and so they do not vote for it. But the position in Scotland is different, because the Assembly there will start with a clean sheet, with an opportunity to do good without having to tread on people's toes.

The proposed system preserves the relationship between the Member of Parliament and his constituency. We have heard a number of hon. Members denigrate the list system today, but it has its merits. In the first place it provides experts. In the Conservative Party we lack, to some extent, mining experts; in the Labour Part there is a lack, to some extent, of anyone who knows anything about farming; in the SNP there is lack of experts. This is where we would be able to enlist men who would command some kind of respect because of their particular knowledge. In relation to the controversy mentioned by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) about who goes to which MP, I think that we could draw a distinction between personal cases going to the local MP and political cases going to the added Members, without any impropriety.

If we had PR for Scotland it is claimed that this would be the thin end of the wedge for Westminster. I do not see why. We have proportional representation in Northern Ireland and that is not the thin end of the wedge—in fact it has not made the slightest impression on Westminster so far.

The Government recognise that in this matter we should have horses for courses, and they are proposing for Europe the sort of proposals outlined in this amendment to the Scotland Bill. If it is found to be good after an experiment, we need not fear if we are bitten by that dog, just as long as it is not a mad one. Maybe it would make us get on with the job a bit better.

Mr. George Cunningham

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I do not want to embarrass you by moving the closure once again, but I wondered whether you had given any indication when the vote will or will not come. I stress the word "indication" as this is not very strong, and wonder whether there might be some indication of the time before which the vote might not come.

The Chairman

The hon. Member asks me a question in the form of a double negative. I can only reply that I have to use my own discretion and my discretion is exercised by the number of hon. Members who are still seeking to catch my eye. I have no knowledge, official or otherwise, of when we may come to the time for the vote.

Mr. George Cunningham

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I am not asking whether an indication has been given by others in the Chamber but whether an indication has been agreed to or given by the Chair, because I do not want to embarrass you by going against those indications, if you have given any.

The Chairman

I assure the hon. Member that I have given no indications whatever. As I said before, I have to use my own discretion in the light of the circumstances prevailing and the number of hon. Members desiring to speak.

Mr. George Cunningham rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put; but THE CHAIRMAN withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) made an excellent case for the use of proportional representation in the Scottish Assembly and, for that matter, in this House as well. I would be prepared to disagree with him, and agree instead with the view put forward by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) were it not that the right hon. Member has forgotten one thing. He takes great pride in our House of Commons, but whatever pride we take in this place, the electorate and the general public outside view the results produced by the House of Commons in recent years as by no stretch of the imagination meeting the desires or justifiable requirements of the people. Therefore, whatever the merits of the first-past-the-post system, I cannot go along with what the right hon. Gentleman said. If he does not believe that the electorate, at least in one part of the country, are dissatisfied with our system, all he has to do is to cast an eye on the Benches in front of him to see one practical demonstration of the dissatisfaction that exists.

I do not think that the electoral system can be divided from the original cause of this Bill. We have been told time and time again that the Scots are dissatisfied with London government and the decisions of this House, that we do not adequately reflect the views and opinions of Scotland and that government is inevitably remote.

On the other hand, government feels remote only because people in Scotland are dissatisfied with it. If government was more satisfactory and met the justifiable desires of the public, I doubt whether anyone but a few would be worrying about remoteness. Because of growing dissatisfaction, so the argument goes. Scotland must have its own Assembly and government up to a point, and then, to some extent, the feeling of remoteness will be removed.

However, the sense of dissatisfaction and disillusion will remain unless the new institution can govern more in accordance with the desires of the Scottish people. Perhaps the major ingredient in the cause of the feeling of remoteness and dissatisfaction in Scotland is the first-past-the-post system, since it is the parent of the Parliament about which the Scots have become so critical.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said, if we have a first-past-the-post system in Scotland all the consequences of it will remain. The hon. Member for Renfrew-shire, West (Mr. Buchan)—I am sorry he is not here—said yesterday that he wants the first-past-the-post system because he believes that it is the best vehicle by which we can change society, whereas proportional representation is merely a vehicle for managing it. I cannot see that that view has much relationship to the idea of government by the people. On the other hand, he may be right and it may be that the first-past-the-post system is a better vehicle for changing society.

I am not opposed to change, but change will not resolve the continuing dissatisfaction unless it is change that the majority want. Our arrival in this House by means of the first-past-the-post system emphasises the points that the hon. Member made. No one can claim from outside—let alone from inside this House—that we do not make changes and set about changing society. But it would be a brave man who claimed that we did so to the satisfaction of all but a few of the electorate. Because of this a great number of the changes that we make are no more than ephemeral. There is growing confusion among the electorate about the changes that we make. Because of the constant changes, our economy, more often than not, is in a muddle. There is a grave danger that if the first-past-the-post system is used for Scotland there will be no shortage of change, but it will not be change that the people want, and it will cause continuing dissatisfaction. What will happen then? Shall we have further devolution down to the regions or to district council level, or shall we have revolution?

On the other hand, I do not accept that PR is merely a vehicle for managing society. It is capable of promoting change provided that a clear majority has voted for one party, or if it has not, or if there is a coalition that can produce a consensus, that consensus should be a reasonable reflection of majority public opinion.

I believe that PR will produce an Assembly which is able much more accurately to reflect the views of the public, and to act accordingly. It will promote change which is generally supported, and will veto it when it is opposed. It will not promote change in society at the whim of a few and contrary to the desire of the many. This seems all the more important in Scotland where there are so many parties—and parties within parties. In that situation, regardless of what are considered to be the merits of first-past-the-post elsewhere, a much more refined electoral system is needed, and it can be provided only by PR.

5.30 p.m.

I wish to make two further points, one of them in response to the view expressed by some that the introduction of PR in Scotland would be the thin end of the wedge. Perhaps it would be the thin end of the wedge, and indeed it will be if PR proves to be a more effective system. Those who are against PR and who argue that it is without doubt the thin end of the wedge, to my mind show a considerable lack of faith in the ability of first past the post to prove itself the better when the two systems are compared in practice. If there were real confidence in the first-past-the-post system, I believe that those who are opposed to PR should welcome it in the belief that it would produce poor results, that soon there would be a demand that the first-past-the-post system should be introduced in Scotland and that the apparent merits of PR would quickly prove a sham. But the opponents of PR do not so argue, and thus demonstrate the weakness of their opposition.

Finally, I wish to refer to the view expressed that PR or any variety of it would be too complicated for the electorate to understand. I cannot accept the view that the British people, and the Scots in particular, have less ability to understand the electoral system than do the Irish, French or Germans or electorates in other parts of the world.

I hope that when the Committee has an opportunity in the not-too-distant future, it will decide to take its courage in its hands and to introduce a system of PR in Scotland as set out in the amendment, which I believe will be to the advantage of the Scots and will be a test case in relation to the theoretical benefits of first past the post or proportional representation.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

It is necessary to express a dislike of this Bill at the outset of discussion on this amendment because sometimes the argument is used against an amendment, or indeed for it, that it has a deleterious effect on something that somebody does not want in any case. I believe that the Bill was thought to be politically expedient based on a mis-analysis of the situation in Scotland, as my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) said.

Having said that, I follow the principles enunciated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) and the opening remarks of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). But I wish to question one of the right hon. Gentleman's subsequent remarks which somewhat biased his arguments thereafter. It concerned his definition of the name of our House. He made the point—and I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not there at the moment—that the name of the House of Commons arose from the representation of communes or communities rather than of the common people or commoners.

Historically, as always, the right hon. Gentleman was right in that in the thirteenth century the House of Lords and the knights represented communities or communes. This is harking back to the time before the separation of the House of Lords from the House of Commons, and it was not until after the so-called Model Parliament of 1295 that the Parliament included in its ranks even the lower clergy. Once the Houses had separated, the Commons from the Lords, it was the first stage towards the House of Commons becoming truly a representative and legislative assembly rather than an instrument for raising finance for the Executive.

Ever since then successive monarchs have tried to get round the House of Commons, and certainly the Cabinet Executive is seeking to do the same now by the use of the guillotine in this debate. Evolution has taken place and we are now discussing another step of evolution. That evolution is now not particularly attractive, but let us not stumble over an unattractive evolutionary step by making it even worse in practice, if it is passed into practice, than it needs to be.

Here we come to the question of what the practice in elections should be rather than, as the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said in his speech, a conjecture about the liaisons that might or might not arise following one sort of electoral system or another.

The hon. Gentleman added a rather personal analysis of what might happen by the first-past-the-post system. I thought it was an idiosyncratic analysis to say that, under the PR system, there could be misrepresentation of people's views and therefore an overwhelming SNP representation in the Scottish Assembly, whereas it is much more likely that there would be less representation and an overwhelming number of Scottish nationalists within the Scottish Assembly under a first-past-the-post system. The truth of the matter is that we do not choose an electoral system on any one person's conjecture on what the outcome may be. One does not choose the form of wedding service on the basis of the ugliness or attractiveness of bride and groom. I believe that this debate has often gone off the rails because of that factor.

We are debating the rules of the election. I wish to suggest two yardsticks that should be applied to the rules for election to the Scottish Assembly. Should the argument not centre on choosing the system that will most accurately reflect the political opinions of people in Scotland? That should be the first rule.

The second is that the system should be suitable to the multi-party system which we now have in this country nationally and equally in Scotland. The first-past-the-post system worked reasonably well although it did not work as well as some people liked to think it worked when we had two major parties We still had misrule or misrepresentation of majorities even when there were only two parties to choose from. In a multi party system, the first-past-the-post system is obviously lacking.

Another way in which the debate has gone off the rails is in having concentrated on the creation of an electoral system that would lead to the election of an Assembly in Scotland that would have sufficient power to get things done. I put forward the proposition that that would be contrary to the best operation of the Scottish Assembly. If we look for a parallel here at Westminster we see a Government who have ridden into power with a minority and thereafter have tended ruthlessly to ignore minority feelings—whether those of the major opposition party, the Conservatives, the minorities in the minor opposition parties or, indeed, even the smallest minority of all, which is made up of some of their own Back Benchers. The fact that the Government have been in a position where they can force through legislation has not helped one jot to solve our national problems. If a Scottish Assembly were given similar powers that would not do one jot to help Scottish problems either. It is no use demanding a strong Government unless there is reasonable agreement in Scotland about what should be done and the direction in which to go. One has only to listen to the arguments put forward by the Scottish National Party to understand that there is not now that cohesion of direction.

I had hoped that today theory would give way to reality, because that must happen. I regret that the Liberal Benches have been so empty and the Liberal contribution to the debate so mediocre—with the exception of that made by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston). Even though proportional representation is one of the major points or principle contained in the Lib-Lab pact, it is extraordinary that the Liberal Benches are so empty.

If the Government put through this ridiculous measure, then—whatever the eventual powers of the Assembly may be and whatever the advisability of giving it any powers at all—the Scottish people will have the right, and should have the power, to cast a democratic vote for those they want to represent them in the new Assembly and, through the Assembly, in the new Executive. Only by supporting the amendment can we be sure that a sensible Assembly may be elected in Scotland by a sensible majority of sensible Scottish people. That is the essence of democratic choice. Is it correct for the Mother of Parliaments to diverge from that principle? I therefore suggest to the House that the amendment should be supported.

Mr. George Cunningham

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put; but The CHAIRMAN withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)

I shall not attempt to comment in detail on the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) because time is rather short. Nor shall I attempt to embroider upon the excellent argument put by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) earlier. My purpose is solely to put to the House a simple and practical appeal that in this discussion we should spare a thought for our poor harrassed electors.

Let us now consider the prospect looming before the Scottish voter. If the Government get their way and the Bill proceeds through all its parliamentary stages, there will be a referendum in which the Scottish voter will be called out to record his opinion on whether the provisions of the Act—as it will then be—should take effect. If the Government and the Scottish National Party, in their alliance, succeed in persuading the Scottish voter that that should be so, then at some time next year he will be called out again to vote in elections to determine the Members of a Scottish Assembly.

5.45 p.m.

I also want to refer to other legislation that, I suggest, has a direct bearing on what we are now discussing. There are now before the House the Government's legislative proposals that we should, at some unspecified date, vote to elect directly representatives in a European Assembly. The target date of May or June of next year has been mentioned, although I doubt that many people now take that seriously. There is, nevertheless, the prospect of direct elections in the autumn of next year or the Spring of 1979. Therefore, at some stage, the Scottish elector will be invited to turn out to vote for the elections in the European Assembly.

There is also at least a reasonable likelihood that next autumn the elector will be invited to turn out in a General Election. I agree that that is not a certainty, but we have the Prime Minister's word that if there is not a General Election next year there will be one the year after. The Prime Minister has certainly given that pledge and I doubt that he will have any difficulty in keeping it. Therefore at some stage during the next two years the Scottish elector will be invited out to join in a General Election. We must also consider that within that period he will be invited along to the polling booths to cast his vote in local elections.

If there is any Scottish elector who does not now know by heart every step of the road between his home and the polling booth he will certainly do so by the time this great circus is finished. If, by any chance, on his periodic journeys the elector were to reel with giddiness, a knock-out blow would come if on his arrival at the booth he was invited on successive occasions to vote according to totally different electoral systems.

In the case of a General Election and local elections he would be invited to vote according to the system that is familiar to him and that has sustained democracy in this country and the United States of America for a great number of years. It is the system that embodies the principle that the candidate who succeeds in persuading the largest number of electors to vote for him is the one who wins. According to legislation that the Government have put before us—discussion of which we shall embark on tomorrow—there will be totally different electoral system in the elections for the European Assembly. The elector will be asked to vote on a regional list system for multi-Member constituencies on a variant of the proportional representation system. It is proposed that in a succession of elections there will be at least two totally different systems of election.

According to this amendment yet another system would face the Scottish elector upon his arrival at the polling booth to vote for representatives in a Scottish Assembly. The system would mean having local representatives topped up by others to ensure that party strengths were reflected with greater accuracy.

Mr. Charles Morrison

Is not my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) over-simplifying the present situation because, at least in local government, there are already multi-member constituencies and the electorate are perfectly capable of coping with that? It does so regularly. Why does my hon. Friend think that the electorate is so stupid that it could not cope with a slightly different system for Europe and another for Scotland?

Mr. Gardiner

As my hon. Friend will discover from my subsequent remarks, I am not alleging any stupidity on the part of the electorate, and I readily accept his point that a system of multi-member constituencies exists in local government elections in certain parts of the country. But here are proposed two totally different PR systems, variants of the PR argument, plus the system with which we have all become familiar over a great many years.

My hon. Friend alleged that I was suggesting that the electorate was somewhat stupid in finding this possibly all a little confusing. We heard earlier from the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) a comparison with the Federal Republic of Germany. He asked the question which is often asked by the advocates of PR in one context and another, which is that if the citizens of one country find it easy to cope with, why should the British not do the same? I am sure that the British could cope with it, but I must take the comparison further. The citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany are not being asked to vote on totally different systems in successive elections. This is one of the most unfortunate consequences that would arise if the Committee accepted the amendment before us.

I readily accept that many of those supporting this amendment argue perfectly sincerely for proportional representation for all kinds of different bodies, including this House. I can readily say that there would be great validity in having some kind of common system for election to all the institutions to which we have referred. But with this argument for PR a peculiar kind of case is presented. The tendency is to say that although they are in favour of a system of PR for all those institutions, it is nevertheless especially appropriate to the one we are discussing at the moment. So we hear the argument that the system of PR suggested in the amendment would be particularly appropriate to a totally new body such as the Scottish Assembly. No doubt tomorrow in the Second Reading debate on the European Assembly Elections Bill and in the Committee stage of that Bill we shall also hear the argument that the PR system proposed for it is again uniquely suitable for direct elections to the European Assembly.

I suggest that that argument would acquire greater credibility if its proponents could at least fasten on one system of PR which they might advocate universally for all these different bodies.

Mr. Rathbone

One of the reasons for choosing this form of PR for Scotland has been its absolute simplicity. Even those hon. Members who come from the other end of the kingdom might like to be reassured about the simplicity, because that is an argument that they have used when dealing with the difficulties and complications of it in articles they have written for newspapers and in speeches they have made elsewhere. The simplicity is that one puts one X against the candidate and one X against the party. I believe that the Scottish people could well manage that.

Mr. Gardiner

If this amendment should succeed, my hon. Friend will have to explain that to the voters in Scotland in the run-up to the elections there. If he gets his way in the context of direct elections to the European Assembly he will have to set about explaining different features in a totally different system applying to those elections as well. Thankfully, no one has to explain the simplicity of the system that we are all used to. The poor Scottish voter turning up at the polling booth on his regular visits will turn to the tellers at the door and say "What system are we on today?" It is the suggestion that we change the system from one election to another that I am opposing this afternoon.

If a democratic system is to work it must command popular understanding and support, and if we pass the amendment this afternoon we shall do that democracy to which we are accustomed in this country a gread deal of damage.

Mr. George Cunningham rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but The CHAIRMAN withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

There is one fundamental objection to all forms of proportional representation—an objection that destroys the arguments so far advanced in favour of it. Proportional representation means representation of parties, not of individuals. In Europe, the two oldest parliamentary democracies, Britain and France, still believe in representation of individuals, whereas most sophisticated forms of PR are devised and enjoyed by those countries which have had the least experience of parliamentary democracy. There is something fundamentally mistaken in the whole approach of the protagonists of this idea.

The question is: who is being represented in this House? For the purposes of some people it might be parties and institutions, and that means corporate groups. The parties are large corporate groups and no doubt they are a useful device for working the parliamentary system, but they are not inherently representative, and in any event they are, by their nature, coalitions striving, if they do their jobs properly, to represent as many people as possible across the whole range of political opinion. So if we grant to corporate groups the right of representation in this House, why should we stop simply at political opinion? Why should not we say that women are unrepresented in this House and then go on to devise a system under which they get a preference, so that there will be more women in the House?

What about Englishmen? They are certainly unrepresented in the House. There are far more Scotsmen, Welshmen and Irishmen representing English constituencies than there are Englishmen representing parts of the United Kingdom other than England. So in the end, if we adopt the system of proportional representation we shall get what amounts to a corporate State—a State that may be fair as between groups but unfair as between individuals. The parties themselves do not adequately represent the nation, and this is especially so when one considers that PR, or any form of it, including the one embodied in the amendment, gives extra weight to the votes of some individuals at the expense of others, that is to say, those individuals who vote for the lowest-placed candidates.

Is it right, fair and democratic that in any particular situation the votes of any of the electors should have more weight than the votes of others? That is how it would work out. If the PR system were utterly fair, the vote of every individual would have equal weight, and that would mean that the number of votes available to each elector would be according to the number of candidates. If one had to put candidates in order of preference, and if there were two candidates, one could allocate two votes for the first preference and one vote for the second.

6.0 p.m.

What is the position if there is a large number of candidates? If there are seven candidates, are there seven votes for the first candidate and six for the second? That system would be unfair, because most people do not place political parties in order of preference. An order of preference would not reflect the degree of satisfaction or dissatisfaction on the part of an individual elector with any particular party. However, that would be the logic of a proportional representation system if there were any fairness about it. If we had a system that allowed an individual to give so many of his votes to individual candidates to demonstrate relative preference between the individuals, ultimately electors would concentrate all their votes upon the one candidate of the one party whom they strongly and vehemently supported.

What would be the result of that concentration of votes? Ultimately we should be placing all our votes on one candidate and we should be back where we started, with the system that is the simplest and most effective method of parliamentary democracy that we have. I, for one, do not want to see it changed.

Mr. John Smith

For the second time in this calendar year—first on the Scotland and Wales Bill and now on the Scotland Bill—we have had a fairly extensive debate on proportional representation. The amendments seek to change the system that the Government propose for Scotland, whereas last Session the Government's proposals related to Scotland and Wales.

Naturally enough, the debate has centred on the concepts of proportional representation in general and on certain schemes in particular. I must make it clear to my hon. Friends that they will have a free vote on the method of election in the Division that will follow. As my hon. Friends will be aware, the Government have put forward a system of election that is the first-past-the-post method. I must pass one or two comments on the criticisms that have been made of it and the advocacy that has been directed towards proportional representation systems.

There are two general points worth noting. First, direct election systems, such as we now have at Westminster and in local government in all parts of Great Britain, do not necessarily produce a markedly non-proportional result; they merely offer in some circumstances a higher probability of that result than proportional representation systems.

Secondly, no workable proportional representation system gives perfect proportionality. Practical considerations always compel some abatement of ideal mathematical purity. We see that in the 5 per cent. provision, which is embodied in the amendment. In comparing electoral systems we never deal with black and white and compare fair versus unfair; we deal with degrees and trade-offs between arithmetical equity and valid considerations of every kind, the most important of which is the effect upon the political system of the change in the electoral arrangements.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire. South-West)

Will the Minister's brief be used by whoever speaks on operating proportional representation in direct elections?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman should understand that there is one important difference between the regional list system and the proposals that are put forward as amendments to the Bill on direct elections. When elections take place to the European Assembly we shall not be electing an Administration, but under the provisions of the Scottish Assembly we shall be electing an Administration. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is capable of understanding that distinction. He should be able to do so. I hope that he will manage to comprehend it.

A further general consideration is that no electoral system can safely be evaluated in isolation from the political context. The effect of a system in one country may be completely unlike the effect in another. It was interesting that my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) said, in justifying the party list element of his amendment, that it worked perfectly well in West Germany. My hon. Friend went on to ask why it should not work perfectly well in this country.

In the previous Session proportional representation amendments were tabled by a number of Members, including my hon. Friend. Among them was the party list system. We were referred to the Hansard Society report by Lord Blake, which states: We do not think that the West German system is suitable for adoption in Great Britain. It seems rather odd that it was unsuitable for adoption in Britain last year but is apparently suitable this year. The experience of West Germany was just as available last year as it is this year.

It is difficult to undertake constitutional transplant surgery. We must justify any change in terms of our traditions and our aspirations for the electoral system.

One practical difficulty that arises under proportional representation systems is that they are much more likely to produce coalition Governments. Of course, coalition Governments can stem from any system of direct representation, but under proportional representation systems they are much more likely. There is some evidence from Europe that such Governments are often weak, lacking authority, stability and consistency. That is a relevant consideration for us to take into account when we consider the implications for the Scottish Executive of a proportional representation system.

It is also a valid consideration that the Government that people get may be determined not by their choice but by backstage bargaining between different groups that come together to form a coalition Government. That may mean that the programme of the coalition will depart from promises that individual parties made to the electorate. In those circumstances democratic accountability may be obscured rather than illuminated.

There is the possibility that one partner in the coalition will blame another for the failure to implement something that was promised to the electorate in the manifestos upon which stood the Mem bers who were elected, or the parties. It might be difficult in such circumstances to adhere to the doctrines of collective responsibility, which is an important feature of democratic government.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Surely it is unfair for the Minister to make the possibility of the creation of coalitions a major criticism of the proportional representation system of elections, he having accepted that the first-past-the-post system also produces them, and when he is almost at the stage of operating one.

Mr. Smith

I was not aware of that. I was not aware of it last evening. As the hon. Gentleman knows full well, there is no coalition arrangement at present. I said—I was trying to put it fairly—that while direct systems do not mean that coalitions are impossible, I think that on balance it is more likely that coalitions will emerge from a complex system of voting that produces a larger number of parties. There is little doubt that even with the 5 per cent. qualification—I follow the logic of having it—there would be more political parties operating in Scotland after the passage of this legislation. Obvious difficulties are caused by such a situation. Some parties are put in a balancing position, and they may exert an influence upon the conduct of the Government much greater than the vote that they obtained from the electorate would justify.

There is one feature of the argument that leads me to agree thoroughly with the right hon. Members for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) and Down, South (Mr. Powell). Some have argued that we should adopt proportional representation so as to keep the Scottish National Party from power. I do not believe that the SNP will achieve a large number of votes in the first Assembly elections, but that is a matter of judgment.

I spend a great deal of time trying to persuade my electors, and electors elsewhere who reside in Scotland, of the folly of the policies followed by the SNP. Whether I am successful in that objective or whether I am not. I do not believe that it would be ethical or prudent to select an electoral system for the sake of near-term objectives of a partisan nature. We should consider what is the best system, taking into account all consideration of fairness and the maintenance of an effective Government. We should make our decision on that basis, rather than considering the partisan political consequences that may flow.

In the amendment of my hon Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian the system that is proposed recognises the value of the direct constituency link. I think that all Members will accept its value. However, my hon. Friend proposes to get the element of proportionality into the total result by adding certain other Members who think colloquially are called "topped-up Members" of the Assembly. We were told last year by the advocates of proportional representation—the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) and my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian seemed to be the leading figures in pushing forward the argument—that it was better to do it by a system based on the results of the elections rather than have a party list system. In the brief that they prepared for the debate during the Scotland and Wales Bill they advertised that feature of the scheme as being a good idea, because it avoided having a party list. Indeed, the phase used in the brief was: additional Members are not determined by the parties on a list system but by the voters through the ballot box. That was under the heading "Advantages of the amendment".

There has obviously been a change of policy now. I do not complain about that. People are entitled to change their minds. The proponents now come forward with the party list argument. If the amendment had been carried to the Scotland and Wales Bill, we should have been saddled with a system which on mature reflection they decided was not a wise one to advocate to Parliament and they are now advocating a different proposition.

Mr. Kershaw

It is rather hard for the Minister of State to criticise the proposals in this amendment by referring to proposals which are not in the amendment.

Mr. Smith

I am drawing attention to the difficulty of maintaining a consistent line of argument. A certain proposition was being advocated earlier in this calen dar year and in the last Session of Parliament not so many months ago and apparently a decision has been taken to abandon that feature.

Mr. Rifkind

Does not the Minister appreciate that there is no greater difficulty as regards consistency than the difficulty he himself has in defending changes in this Bill as compared with the Scotland and Wales Bill?

Mr. Smith

The changes that I propose to the Bill and which I hope that the Committee will accept are more sensible changes. I think that there are difficulties both with the system proposed for proportional representation last time and with the system that is proposed this year, but it is perfectly legitimate for me to point out that these differences exist.

I am also very puzzled about what would be the rôle of the Members on the party list system. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian drew attention to a feature of the amendment which says that the party lists would be democratically decided. I do not know whether that phrase conceals more than it reveals. It does not say how a party list is to be democratically decided. It is a matter of it being up to the parties and to their interpretation of what democracy would be.

Here we come up against a very clear distinction from what happens in West Germany where there is a complicated system of electoral law which governs a number of these things and which does not obtain in this country.

Let us assume, though, that the problem could be circumvented, although we should bear in mind that the selection of party lists would no doubt give a great deal more weight to the party machinery of political parties than to the Members and to the electors in individual constituencies. This is no doubt a point that hon. Members will wish to take into account before casting their votes tonight.

There seems to be total confusion about what these party list Members are to do. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian introduced an argument to the effect that it would bring in people whom he called politically qualified but who did not get involved in the ordinary political processes. I do not know how people acquire some notion of political qualification without going through the political processes.

Mr. Powell

By getting a degree.

Mr. Smith

They might be given a degree in the class which my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian conducts in the University of Edinburgh. I have no doubt that he would think that a very suitable political qualification.

Last night the right hon. Member for Orkney and Sheltand (Mr. Grimond) met this concept head-on and said that he had great suspicion of the notion of somehow virtuous people being drafted into the Assembly who had not been through the normal political processes. I have come across a cutting from the Scotsman which reports what appears to have been a Press conference given by those advocating this amendment in Edinburgh. There is this passage referring to the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian: It would, he agreed, be a way of slipping an upper house element into a single chamber legislature. I find the reference to "an upper house element" the most surprising of all the political concepts that have been advertised in the course of this debate. Presumably, on the argument that this is how the party list should be conducted, these are people who go on to the party list because they are above and beyond the grubby business of collecting votes and advertising themselves to the ordinary electors. On this basis I do not believe that it is an advance of democracy.

The other point that disturbed me was that the hon. Lady the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) said that one advantage of having such party list Members was that a person who disagreed with the politics of the Member who was representing him would go to someone of his own political persuasion who was in the Assembly as a result of a party list. To take a very direct example from the hon. Lady's constituency, presumably a Labour voter should go to see a Labour Member elected on a party list, thus avoiding the hon. Lady who might be in the Assembly as a Scottish National Party Member. I think that this is not only unsound but is a rather pernicious doctrine.

Members of Parliament—my own impression is that this is the rule followed by the vast majority of Members, if not by every Member—strive very hard to represent the views of every one of their constituents whatever the political views of those constituents are. It would be highly undesirable for there to be competition for the representation of people in the electorate.

6.15 p.m.

I know full well that it will be said that there will be two Members or three Members for the first period of the Assembly, but it is only for the first period and then for a very practical reason. We intend to make it single-Member constituencies as soon as the first period is over and we must look at this in the long term and not in the very short term. It is thoroughly bad that that idea should be encouraged.

Mrs. Bain

At no point did I suggest that any Member of Parliament neglected people because they had a different political philosophy from his own. What I said was that there is a small distinct minority of people in each constituency who do not like to approach a Member of Parliament because he has different political views from their own. I could show the Minister letters which prove that people are embarrassed about going to a Member who is of another party. The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) could also show the Minister letters from people in my constituency who have approached him. This is what happens in the normal process.

Mr. Smith

The way in which Members of Parliament react to letters they receive from constituents who are not their own is obviously a matter for their own taste. I follow the rule, as I think do the vast majority of Members, that Members make representations only on behalf of their own constituents, and that they would normally refer a letter from another Member's constituent to that Member.

The hon. Lady may be correct, although it has not been my experience, that there are people who refuse to contact a Member of Parliament because they do not like his politics. My view is that it is bad luck, he is the Member who represents them and other Members should not be encouraged to take up matters for them. After all, that Member is paid to represent them in the House of Commons, and I would say that the same principle applies to the Assembly.

One of the difficulties that would arise if there were two classes of Members is that there would be a desire, as evidently there is in the West German system, for Members to be directly elected and therefore to speak with a little more authenticity, in that they spoke for a particular neighbourhood and had been endorsed by a particular electorate.

There will be an opportunity for Members who are in the Assembly on the party list system to be campaigning against a Member of the Assembly who is directly elected, but not just in the normal course of being a candidate. A candidate might legitimately campaign all the time between elections, but such a person would be campaigning with the authority of an elected Member of the Assembly, although he had not been directly elected by any section of the electorate.

These are serious and weighty considerations. They have certainly weighed with the Government in influencing them to come down on the side of the well-tried and well-understood system in this country which we operate at Westminster and in local government and which we think we should operate in the Scottish Assembly.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

A few sentences ago the Minister skipped rather lightly over the fact that for the first elections we must have multi-Member seats using the existing system. Therefore, in that sense he must accept that it is not the well-tried Westminster system at all. The inbuilt distortions in such a system will be even greater in a three-Member seat where, given the sort of result that we had in Dunbartonshire, East at the last election, there would be one-third of the votes for each of three parties but one of them would scoop the pool and get all three seats. He must try to answer those criticisms which have been made in the debate.

Mr. Smith

With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I thought that I had made it clear I did not think that the three-Member system or two-Member system which will run for only the first period was satisfactory. It has been arrived at because it is not practically possible within the time scale to have the Boundary Commission report divide Scotland into single-Member constituencies. I do not think one should take as the normal situation for the Scottish Assembly that initial period of two Members or three Members, because we know that if the Bill is approved by Parliament we shall move to single-Member constituencies after a four-year period and, as that will be the normal situation, I am entitled to refer to that as the norm.

The point about the Westminster system being well tried arose because I was referring to the method by which people vote. The method we will use for voting on the first-past-the-post system for the Assembly is the same as that which we use for Westminster, save that at the first election they will have not just one vote but a minimum of two in each constituency.

The system is different, but it is not so different and I think that people will be able to understand it much better, though I do not make a great deal about the complicated nature of the proportional representation system. This is not one of the arguments I have chosen to adopt. I do not like saying that electors will not be able to understand any system. I think that politicians underestimate the electorate at their peril, and I think that they can understand a lot of these complicated systems very easily. I am not taking that argument at all. I think that there are many other arguments against the amendment that is proposed without my using one of the poorer ones.

Mr. Kershaw

By the same token, the Minister of State will have noticed that in these amendments it is provided that this arrangement shall last for only the first Assembly. If it is found unsatisfactory, in the way that he says the Government's idea would be unsatisfactory with more than one Member, it could be changed, could it not?

Mr. Smith

It is true that the amendment provides that the Assembly itself and Parliament, in a sort of overriding way, will decide what are the eventual processes. But in the Bill it has been made crystal clear that we shall stick to first-past-the-post principles and that after the first period is over we shall move to single-Member constituencies. In the amendment that the hon. Member put forward, there is some doubt about the eventual position, but in the Bill it is clear what the position would be, unless, of course, Parliament subsequently decided to amend it—but that could happen to any piece of legislation.

Speaking from the Dispatch Box and having explained why the Government have chosen the first-past-the-post system, I hope that the Committee will reject the amendments. I hope that my hon. Friends, who will be having a free vote, as has been explained already, will take

these matters legitimately into consideration, but on this occasion they must make up their own minds.

Mr. George Cunningham rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 107, Noes 290.

Division No. 15] AYES [6.21 p.m.
Adley, Robert Haselhurst, Alan Roper, John
Aitken, Jonathan Hayhoe, Barney Rose, Paul B.
Bain, Mrs. Margaret Henderson, Douglas Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Baker, Kenneth Hooson, Emlyn Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Beith, A. J. Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Sainsbury, Tim
Benyon, W. Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Sandelson, Neville
Blenkinsop, Arthur Hurd, Douglas Scott, Nicholas
Bottomley, Peter James, David Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Bradley, Tom Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Sillars, James
Brocklebank-Fowler, C Johnson, James (Hull West) Sinclair, Sir George
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Bulmer, Esmond Kershaw, Anthony Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)
Carlisle, Mark King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Spence, John
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Knox, David Stainton, Keith
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Lee, John Steel, Rt Hon David
Corbett, Robin Luce, Richard Stewart, Rt Hon Donald
Crawford, Douglas Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Crawshaw, Richard MacCormick, Iain Temple-Morris, Peter
Critchley, Julian Mayhew, Patrick Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Crouch, David Meyer, Sir Anthony Thompson, George
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Mitchell, Austin Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Dykes, Hugh Monro, Hector Townsend, Cyril D.
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Newton, Tony Watt, Hamish
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Oakes, Gordon Weatherill, Bernard
Fairgrieve, Russell Pardoe, John Welsh, Andrew
Faulds, Andrew Parker, John White, Frank R. (Bury)
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Penhaligon, David Wigley, Dafydd
Ford, Ben Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Freud, Clement Rathbone, Tim Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Ginsburg, David Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Rees-Davies, W. R. Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Reid, George
Gray, Hamish Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hall-Davis, A. G. F Rifkind, Malcolm Sir Nigel Fisher and
Hampson, Dr Keith Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Mr. Eric Ogden.
Alison, Michael Boscawen, Hon Robert Canavan, Dennis
Allaun, Frank Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Carmichael, Neil
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Carson, John
Armstrong, Ernest Bradford, Rev Robert Carter-Jones, Lewis
Arnold, Tom Braine, Sir Bernard Cartwright, John
Ashton, Joe Bray, Dr Jeremy Castle, Rt Hon Barbara
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Brotherton, Michael Channon, Paul
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Churchill, W. S.
Atkinson, Norman Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Clark, William (Croydon S)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Buchan, Norman Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Buchanan, Richard Clegg, Walter
Bell, Ronald Buck, Antony Clemitson, Ivor
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Budgen, Nick Cocks, Rt Kon Michael (Bristol S)
Berry, Hon Anthony Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Coleman, Donald
Bishop, Rt Hon Edward Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)
Boardman, H. Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Cope, John
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Campbell, Ian Costain, A. P.
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Percival, Ian
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Peyton, Rt Hon John
Cryer, Bob Jones, Barry (East Flint) Pink, R. Bonner
Cunningham, Dr J. (White[...]) Jopling, Michael Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Dalyell, Tam Joseph, Rt Hon. Sir Keith Price, David (Eastleigh)
Davidson, Arthur Kaberry, Sir Donald Price, William (Rugby)
Deakins, Eric Kelley, Richard Raison, Timothy
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Kerr, Russell Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Dempsey, James Kilfedder, James Rhodes James, R.
Doig, Peter Kilroy-Silk, Robert Richardson, Miss Jo
Dormand, J. D. King, Tom (Bridgwater) Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Knight, Mrs Jill Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Duffy, A. E. P. Lamborn, Harry Robinson, Geoffrey
Dunlop, John Lamond, James Roderick, Caerwyn
Dunn, James A. Lamont, Norman Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Dunnett, Jack Langford-Holt, Sir John Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
Durant, Tony Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Rooker, J. W.
Eadie, Alex Lawrence, Ivan Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Lawson, Nigel Ross, William (Londonderry)
Edge, Geoff Leadbitter, Ted Ryman, John
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Le Marchant, Spencer Sever, J.
Emery, Peter Lester, Jim (Beeston) Shelton, William (Streatham)
English, Michael Lipton, Marcus Shepherd, Colin
Ennals, Rt Hon David Litterick, Tom Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Loveridge, John Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Loyden, Eddie Silverman, Julius
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Luard, Evan Silvester, Fred
Fairbairn, Nicholas Lyon, Alexander (York) Skeet, T. H. H.
Fell, Anthony McCartney, Hugh Skinner, Dennis
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. McCusker, H. Small, William
Flannery, Martin McDonald, Dr Oonagh Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) McElhone, Frank Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Fookes, Miss Janet Macfarlane, Neil Snape, Peter
Foot, Rt Hon Michael MacKay, Andrew (Stechford) Spearing, Nigel
Forman, Nigel MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Forrester, John McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Spriggs, Leslie
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Marks, Kenneth Sproat, Iain
Fox, Marcus Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Stanbrook, Ivor
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stanley, John
Fry, Peter Marten, Neil Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Mather, Carol Stokes, John
George, Bruce Maude, Angus Stott, Roger
Glyn, Dr Alan Mawby, Ray Stradling Thomas, J.
Golding, John Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Gorst, John Maynard, Miss Joan Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Gourlay, Harry Meacher, Michael Tebbit, Norman
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Mendelson, John Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Grieve, Percy Mikardo, Ian Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Griffiths, Eldon Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Grist, Ian Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Grocott, Bruce Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Tierney, Sydney
Grylls, Michael Mills, Peter Tinn, James
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Moate, Roger Tomlinson, John
Hannam, John Molloy, William Torney, Tom
Harper, Joseph Molyneaux, James Urwin, T. W.
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Montgomery, Fergus Vaughan, Dr Gerald
Hart, Rt Hon Judith Moonman, Eric Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Hatton, Frank More, Jasper (Ludlow) Wakeham, John
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Morgan, Geraint Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Hayman, Mrs Helene Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Heffer, Eric S. Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Wall, Patrick
Higgins, Terrence L. Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Walters, Dennis
Hodgson, Robin Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Wells, John
Holland, Philip Moyle, Roland White, James (Po[...]k)
Hooley, Frank Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Whitehead, Phillip
Hordern, Peter Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Whitlock, William
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Neave, Airey Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Neubert, Michael Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Newens, Stanley Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Hunter, Adam Noble, Mike Winterton, Nicholas
Hutchison, Michael Clark Oppenheim, Mrs Sally Wise, Mrs Audrey
Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Woodall, Alec
Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Ovenden, John Woof, Robert
Janner, Greville Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Young, David (Bolton E)
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Park, George
Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanet'd&W'df'd) Parry, Robert TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Jessel, Toby Pattie, Geoffrey Mr. Alf Bates and
John, Brynmor Pavitt, Laurie Mr. James Hamilton.

Question accordingly negatived.

6.30 p.m.

The Chairman

The next amendment is No. 19.

With this we may take the following amendments.

No. 20, in page 1, line 16, leave out subsections (2), (3), (4) and (5) and insert— '(2) There shall be fifty-seven members. (3) The Boundary Commission for Scotland shall prepare a scheme dividing Scotland into fifty-seven constituencies.'

No. 152, in page 1, line 16, leave out subsections (2) and (3) and insert— '(2) The initial members of the Assembly shall be returned for those Assembly constituencies specified in the first column of Schedule (Initial Constituencies and Members) to this Act, and the number of members returned by each Assembly constituency shall be that specified for the constituency in the second column of that Schedule.'.

No. 22, in page 1, line 16, leave out 'initial'.

No. 24, in page 1, line 17, leave out from be ' to end of line 23 and insert 'constituted from one representative from each district and regional council in those parts of Scotland over which the Assembly is granted control'.

No. 25, in page 1, line 19, leave out from 'Scotland' to end of line 23 and insert 'and there shall be one Member for each such constituency'.

No. 161, in page 1, line 20, leave out from beginning to end of line 23 and insert '(a) two Members for each Parliamentary constituency'.

No. 162, in page 2, line 1, leave out subsection (3).

No. 30, in page 2, line 1, leave out 'initial'.

No. 33, in page 2, line 2, at end insert 'and one initial member for Ross and one for Cromarty and one initial member for Caithness and one for Sutherland'.

No. 34, in page 2, line 3, leave out subsections (4) and (5).

No. 153, in page 2, line 6, leave out from 'Act' to end of line 7.

No. 154, in page 2, line 8, leave out 'Part III of Schedule 1' and insert 'Schedule (Initial Constituencies and Members)'.

No. 155, in page 2, line 10, leave out 'that Schedule' and insert Schedule 1 to this Act'.

No. 156, in page 2, line 11, leave out from 'applies' to end of line 12.

No. 192, Schedule 1—Assembly Constituencies—page 40, leave out lines 1 to 29 and insert—

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