§ House again in Committee (according to Order).
§ [The EARL of KINTORE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 18:
§ Modification of method of voting in certain constituencies.
§ 18.—(1) If at an election for one member of Parliament there are more than two candidates, the election shall be according to the principle of the alternative vote as defined by this Act.
§ (2) At a contested election for a university constituency, where there are two or more members to be elected, any election of the full number of members shall be according to the principle of proportional representation, each elector having one transferable vote as defined by this Act.
§ (3) At a contested election for a university constituency in England or Ireland, the voting paper shall be signed by the voter in the presence of one witness who personally knows the voter and attests the fact of the voting paper having been signed by the voter in his presence at the place therein mentioned by signing his name thereto, and adding his designation and place of residence.
§ (4) His Majesty may by Order in Council frame regulations prescribing the method of voting, and transferring and counting votes, at any election, according to the principle of the transferable or of the alternative vote and for adapting the provisions of the Ballot Act, 1872, and any other Act relating to parliamentary elections thereto, and with respect to the duties of returning officers in connection therewith; and any such regulations shall have effect as if they were enacted in this Act.
§ (5) Nothing contained in this Act shall, except as expressly provided herein, affect the method of conducting parliamentary elections in force at the time of the passing of this Act.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE moved to insert, at the beginning of Clause 18, the following new subsection:—"(1) In a constituency returning not less than three nor more than five Members of Parliament any contested election of the full number of Members shall be according to the principle of proportional representation, each elector having one transferable vote as defined by this Act."
§ The noble Earl said: I must ask for your Lordships' patience. The case I have to make is an important one, and I cannot be brief. I have to explain what I am asking your Lordships to do, and why I ask you to do it; and I must endeavour to anticipate the objections which will be made. In the first place your Lordships may ask me, What is proportional representation? As regards the voter the answer is very simple. The voter is re- 825 quired, under that system, to put the figure "1" against the name of the candidate of his choice instead of a cross. If he does that, his vote is valid; but he would be wise if he does more and puts the figure "2" against the second candidate of his preference, and so on through the list of candidates which is before the electors. When you come to the counting of the votes by the returning officers the matter is more complicated. But it is enough for me to tell the House that this system has been tried, for one purpose or another, in at least a dozen countries some within the British Empire, others which are foreign countries but in none of them has the counting of the votes been found to be a matter of any difficulty.
§ The system requires large constituencies. As you will see from the terms of my Amendment, the area of a constituency must be three, four or five times greater than the area of a single-Member constituency. But the result achieved by this system, or the result which we who advocate it claim for it, is that, by the system, you do get true representation of national opinion instead of what I can prove to you to demonstration to be often a mere travesty of national opinion.
§ Now, the objections urged against this system are drawn, in some cases, as stated, from experience; others are what may be called practical objections; others are technical; and, lastly, there is the objection of principle. I will come first of all to the objection of experience. It is stated that because the three-Member constituencies in which two votes only were given to each elector, introduced under Mr. Disraeli's Reform Bill of 1867, were not continued in the Reform Bill of 1884, and because the cumulative vote which was at one time the method of election for the School Board because those two systems had been abandoned, therefore all attempts to give an adequate representation to minorities must be pronounced to be a failure. That is an argument; which is easily answered. The fact that these two wholly different propositions from the one I am making to your Lordships have been discontinued is no proof that my proposal is not a sound one, especially as some of those who will speak in this debate will be able to show how the system of proportional representation is working in those countries which have tried it.826
§ I come next to what I call the practical objections. The first of these is, I think, the most formidable—namely, that the geographical area is so great as to make the task of a candidate such as only a young man could undertake and, indeed, intolerably hard and difficult. Let us consider that for a moment; the proposal being that a constituency shah be formed of three, four, or five single county-Member seats. I think I am right in saying that all the counties were undivided counties before the great Reform Bill of 1832; and our forefathers had to deal, as candidates, with these counties when there was no means of locomotion except riding or driving. But let us go to the year 1885, the year in which I first entered Parliament. I think my case is fairly typical. I stood for a single-Member division of the county in which I lived. I had to speak in every village and hamlet, and those places numbered very nearly 100. Besides the journeys I was able to make by train, I rode and drove just over 1,000 miles. I say without the slightest fear of contradiction that it would be easier for me to-day to speak in the principal towns and villages of half my county with a motor car than it was thirty years ago to deal with that single-Member constituency by means of riding and driving. I admit, of course, that it would be still easier to deal with a single-Member constituency with a motor car. That is obvious. But I think that I have said enough to show that the practical difficulties, so far as geography is concerned, are not such, now that we have the use of motor cars, as to make that objection obviously fatal.
§ I pass to the question of expense. It is argued that the expense of a contest in one of these big constituencies would be prohibitive. The expense of a candidate will always be what Parliament chooses to make it. We all remember the days when the great Whig and Tory families vied with each other in county elections, and ruined their families in the process. Ever since those days Parliament has been consistently and continuously engaged in lessening the cost of Parliamentary contests; and in this Bill a further step is taken in that direction. If that step has not gone far enough, well, there are already Amendments on the Paper inviting you still further to reduce the expense of a Parliamentary contest.827
§ I come next to the question of the by-election. It is asked, How can you apply the principle of proportional representation to a by-election? You cannot apply it; and that is a perfectly valid and reasonable objection. We do not attempt to do it. We say that, in the case of a by-election, the big constituency must be treated as a single-Member constituency; but we are going to put Amendments on the Paper to endeavour to reduce as far as possible the number of by-elections. I think the time has come when it should be no longer necessary for a member of the House of Commons to seek re-election because he has been selected to become a Minister. This is a matter in which all parties are in the same, position. We know that it has happened again and again and again that the man most fitted to serve the King and to do good work for his country has not been appointed to an office because the Government of the day did not like to risk a by-election in his constituency. The reason for that by-election—jealousy of the Court influence—is a matter of past history entirely inapplicable to present conditions; and I hope that your Lordships will agree with the Amendment which proposes to deal with this matter.
§ I have already said that the technical difficulty of counting the votes is not one that can be seriously urged as an objection to my proposal. The list I am going to give is not exhaustive, but the system is in operation, for one purpose or another, in Tasmania, in Switzerland, in Norway, in Belgium, in Finland, and in Sweden. It has been adopted recently in Denmark; it has passed through the Lower House in Holland; and it has been adopted for New Zealand for the election of the Legislative Council. Last, and by no means least, it is in use at the present moment, for their own purposes in one of the great railway unions in this country. A union of 400,000 men find no difficulty in conducting their elections by means of proportional representation. If that is so, I think we may ask the opponents of this measure not to trouble any further with a dilation on the technical difficulties of counting the votes. But it is urged from the point of view of the Member of Parliament—I am taking now the arguments that were used in the House of Commons by the opponents of this system—that the position of the Member of Parliament would be impossible. One Member said that he would only be the fifth or the third of the 828 Member for the constituency. What a strange conception of the result of the system, that a Member should be one-fifth or one-third of the Member for the constituency. He would be nothing of the kind, my Lords. The constituency will have three or five Members, and each Member will be Member for the whole constituency. Therefore there is nothing in that point.
§ Then it was said, and said again and again, that all the happy personal touch between a Member and his constituents would be destroyed. It is quite true that the touch will be of rather a different kind. I personally should not think it a ess honour to be Member for Birmingham han for a division of Birmingham, or member for the county or half the, county if Hampshire, instead of being Member for one division of Hampshire. I do not deny that there are cases where the relations between a Member and his constituents may be quite accurately and without exaggeration described as one, of a happy personal touch, and I do not pretend that except in very exceptional cases exactly that same relationship could exist in a larger as it does in the smaller constituency. But, my Lords, is there not another side to that question? Is not the personal touch sometimes of rather a different description? Are there not cases where a wealthy candidate pours an uninterrupted stream of gold into the constituency, and where the touch may be more correctly described as corrupting than of a happy personal kind. Therefore, if there may be loss in one direction, which I admit, there will be at least equal gain in another.
§ Then it is said that a candidate cannot become known to a larger constituency. The electors can read, and we all know out of the existing electorate what proportion attend the meetings addressed by the candidate. It is only a minority who go to the meetings. The great majority of the electors ascertain the candidate's views only through the Press, or through the literature which his supporters leave at the voter's house. Therefore it would be just as easy for the candidate to place his views before the electors in the large as in the smaller constituency. I remember quite well reading that that was exactly one of the arguments that was used against the extension of the franchise last century, because there was a time, my Lords, when a candidate had to canvass all the electors 829 personally; and it was argued that it was a pity to destroy that perfect system of enabling the elector to know his candidate and understand his views. Therefore, in that argument we have only an old friend which has already been proved to be a fallacy.
§ It was also stated that the annual expenses of the candidate would be intolerable in a large constituency. They are quite intolerable in some of the smaller constituencies, and anything which we can do to make it less possible for a Member to be bled by an exacting constituency would be nothing but a public service. It is not so easy for a Member to pour out subscriptions in a large constituency as in a smaller one, and I hope that that intolerable system will be largely remedied by the adoption of proportional representation.
§ It is then said that you are going to increase the power of the Party machine. I am one of those who believe that you cannot work democracy without a Party machine, and I am not going to stake my reputation on any such statement as that the adoption of proportional representation would weaken the influence of the Party machine. I do not say that, but I do say this, that I think the Party machine would have to be more careful than it is now as to the kind of candidate which it chooses, and that instead of having a tendency which I see in both Party machines to prefer the rich man to the able man or the man of public service, I believe that tendency would be corrected by the larger electorate.
Now I come to a point to which I ask your Lordships to give special attention. It was said, I think, by my hon. and gallant friend Sir Herbert Jessel, who is a convinced opponent of this system—he was alluding to the Committee of your Lordships' House that has been actively engaged in promoting this matter ever since the Franchise Bill was introduced—
If noble Lords are so keen about proportional representation I hope that they will advocate that system for the new House of Lords, and leave members of the House of Commons to their own devices.
My Lords, I make a prophecy, and it is this, that proportional representation will quite certainly find a place in any recommendations that are made for the constitution of a new Second Chamber. I am going to say something more. I am going
to say that it is very probable that the success or completion of a scheme for a new Second Chamber will very largely depend upon whether or not proportional representation is introduced for the First Chamber.
§ I come to the case of London. There is no doubt that the opposition of the London Members is a very real, convinced, and formidable one, and I speak of it with great respect. I find that thirty-six London Members voted against proportional representation, nine voted for it, and fifteen did not vote. That does not show anything like a unanimous opinion, but it does show a preponderating opinion, to which I wish to attach all weight, against the application of the system to London.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
That was, I believe, in the first Division. I think you will find that the figures were different on the later Division.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I want to put the arguments before you which the London Members addressed to the House of Commons, because they are very important and require the whole of your Lordships' consideration. I have taken certain extracts which I think are typical and accurately describe the attitude of these London Members, foremost among whom are my very old political friends Mr. Hayes Fisher and Sir Herbert Jessel, but they are not alone. Mr. Burdett-Coutts is a strong opponent also. Now these are verbatim extracts—Proportional representation in London will absolutely destroy the whole of that solidarity of local life which is defined by the boundaries of administrative areas.Proportional representation would strike a deadly blow at tin; whole of the corporate life of London which has been built up with so much care and pain.Again—The Parliamentary area must be co-extensive with the local government area.I want your Lordships to understand what that means. A band of devoted Londoners, of whom I have mentioned some of the principal members—there are many others, of all Parties—have set themselves, to the great advantage; not only of London but of the nation, to fill London with an esprit de corps of its own, with a local metropolitan patriotism, to make the Londoner proud of London as a citizen of Birmingham is 831 proud of Birmingham, and they have had the most wonderful success. I think nobody knows better than my noble friend opposite who is in charge of the Bill what a true public spirit has been introduced in London, how fruitful that has been in the past, and what bright promise of further advantage it has for the future. Nobody knows it better than my noble friend Lord Crewe behind me.
Those gentlemen who take the view that I am describing believe that that has been possible because in London the constituencies for the county council cover exactly the same areas as the Parliamentary constituencies, the only difference between the two being that in most cases the constituency returns one, member for Parliament and two members for the county council. They are afraid that if these two areas cease to be universally and always coterminous the work in which they are engaged may be undone or even destroyed. I would ask your Lordships to consider whether that is really so. Is it really impossible to maintain the local patriotism of London, to increase it, to work up even to a greater height the civic enthusiasm of Londoners, if the boundaries of these two sets of constituencies cease to be invariably coterminous? I would remind you, my Lords, that in all the great provincial cities without exception the administrative area is sub-divided for Parliamentary purposes. In none of the great cities at the present moment are these two areas coterminous. Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester are each one area for municipal purposes, but they are five, six, seven, eight, or nine areas for Parliamentary purposes. Again, in the case of some of the smaller provincial towns the administrative areas of two or more are united for Parliamentary purposes. You have the boroughs of Warwick and Leamington, two wholly separated municipalities but united in one Parliamentary constituency. The same is true of Dewsbury and Batley; and in Wales and Scotland you have whole groups of boroughs. If some boroughs have to be combined in London to form one Parliamentary constituency, so also will some provincial boroughs and counties, but no one would make the contention I have mentioned in respect of a county.
There are other spheres of national activity, and local patriotism, and territorial patriotism beside the Parliamentary and municipal. Take the patriotism of 832 our county regiments. One of the most famous regiments in the British Army is the Bucks and Oxford Light Infantry. Does the fact that these two counties are united to form one regiment impair the patriotism of Bucks or of Oxfordshire? The fact is, my Lords, that this splendid work which Mr. Hayes Fisher, Sir Herbert Jessel, Mr. Burdett-Coutts and others of other Parties have done in London, this splendid work of building up that London patriotism—it is accomplished. It is going on, and nothing that we do in the way of making the two sets of constituencies vary occasionally can destroy it or impair it. I have the greatest possible sympathy with as well as admiration for the anxiety of my right hon. friends, but they do not realise what they have done. They do not realise the extraordinary effect of their efforts, because they have built up, they have accomplished, this London patriotism which has been their aim. They have not been trying to build up a Poplar patriotism, a Fulham patriotism, or a Finsbury patriotism. It has been London they have had before their eyes, and they have succeeded. They have most wonderfully succeeded, as I will show you. The British Army has a glorious history of more than two centuries behind it, and there has been, I think, throughout the whole of that period one regiment—the Royal Fusiliers—known as the City of London regiment. In all the wars that this country has ever waged before has the London regiment even been heard of which in this war has gained immortal glory? My Lords, there is no regiment throughout the whole of the British Army or throughout the Empire that has done more magnificent service in this war than the London Regiment—not, as I said before, the Fulham Regiment, nor the Finsbury Regiment, not the Battersea, nor the Paddington Regiment. If I might adapt Shakespeare I would say—For ever shall the names,Familiar in our months as household words,Londons and Bedfords, Hants and Worcesters,Be in our flowing cups freshly remembered.That has been the result of the work of this band of patriotic and public-spirited men who have for the last twenty years and more been trying to make London proud of itself and have a real London patriotism. There is no danger to that patriotism in the step which we advocate. I would remind you that Mr. Hayes Fisher, in one of his speeches told us that the average 833 number of changes in London constituencies every year of electors moving, not out of London, but from one part of London to another, is 33 per cent., which I think is proof positive that London is the unit and not Battersea or Paddington.
Lastly on this topic, let me refer once more to that note of sadness which appears in Mr. Hayes Fisher's speech about the destruction of the happy intimacy between the London Member of Parliament and his constituency. I have already touched upon that topic, and I fully admit that in the case of Mr. Hayes Fisher and others the relations are, I do not doubt, ideal. I have been behind the scenes—as my noble friend opposite, whom I am so delighted to see again in his place, reminded me in a previous debate on another subject in this House. I have been a Whip. My noble Friend Lord Harcourt—I do not know that he has ever been a Whip—had a great deal to do with the organisation of his Party. I say without fear of contradiction that there is nobody who has been behind the scenes who does not know that money bags have played much too great a part in London electioneering, and a tendency not to get the best man but the richest man as the candidate for a London constituency has been a horrible feature in Party politics and Party management. Therefore anything that will tend to counteract that, or to make it less easy, will be more than an offset against the diminution of intimacy. I would say, with all respect to the London Members, that their preference for the single-Member system cannot be allowed to stand in the way of proportional representation if it can be shown that proportional representation would be a great contribution to national stability and safety; and I think they would be the first to admit the justice of that observation.
This brings me to the point in my speech when I have to make my case, and I take as my text the objection in principle which is urged to the system by its opponents. Before I state that objection in principle, I would quote something from Sir Herbert Jessel and something from Mr. Austen Chamberlain. Sir Herbert Jessel said—The present system works out very well. After all, Birmingham balances Leeds.We will see presently whether that is so. Mr. Austen Chamberlain said—The interest of the country is that the majority for the time being shall be strong, so that the Government of the day shall be effective.834 There is nobody in this House or any other House who would not accede wholeheartedly to that statement of Mr. Chamberlain—"The interest of the country is that the majority for the time being shall be strong, so that the Government of the day shall be effective." If you alter two of those adjectives the case is very different. Is it the interest of the country that the majority for the time being shall be overwhelming, so that the Government of the day shall be tyrannous? Everybody will admit that that is wrong. The question which I am going to debate and try to make my case upon is whether the greater danger at the present moment is that of a weak majority with an ineffective Government or of an overwhelming majority with a tyrannous Government. That is the objection in principle which is made by Lord Eversley in that pamphlet which he has printed, and which is made again and again by the, opponents of proportional representation. They say that proportional representation will diminish the size of majorities and weaken the executive Government.
I will set myself, my Lords, to prove that both of these considerations are overwhelming arguments in favour of proportional representation in the circumstances of the British Empire to-day. I will prove that the real danger to democracy at the present moment is the extinction of minorities; not of small and insignificant minorities, but of great minorities representing permanent and great interests and great principles. The danger is the extinction, the elimination, in Parliament of those minorities, and also the excessive swing of the pendulum. The country has never been so fickle as has been supposed. The pendulum has never swung so much as it has appeared to swing, and I will prove it. My case is cumulative, and therefore I ask your Lordships' indulgence.
At the General Election of 1906 the Unionists of Wales polled 100,000 votes out of 318,000 and did not get one single seat out of thirty, not one. What have been the consequences of that? I do not say that if the Unionists of Wales had had one-third or nearly one-third of the seats the Church in Wales might nevertheless not have been disestablished and disendowed. But can anybody doubt that the Bill would not have been the same Bill? Can anybody doubt that, with one-third of the Members of Wales protesting 835 against the measure, the measure would not have been very different? What possible consolation is it to the Unionists in Wales to know that at the General Election of 1910, whereas the Liberals in Kent, Surrey, and Sussex polled 140,000 out of 353,000 votes, they in their turn did not get one single Member out of thirty? What consolation is that to the Unionists of Wales, or what consolation it is to the Liberals of the South-east of England, to know that the Unionists of Wales had no representation?
Take the case of Scotland. In the January Election of 1910, Liberals and Labour in Scotland, with 394,000 votes, got sixty-one seats. The Unionists, with 265,000 votes, got eleven seats, and two of those were University seats. In December, 1910, the same year, the Liberal and Labour votes fell to 372,000, whereas the Unionists votes rose to 277,000. That is to say, there was a transfer of votes of about 34,000, but there was no change in the representation, which was exactly the same—sixty-one Liberals and Labour, and eleven Unionists. What consolation—how absurd to talk of consolation!—was it to the Scottish Unionists to be told, "Oh! but no Liberals were returned for Birmingham." And look, my Lords, at the consequences. You have had a Land Bill passed for Scotland. I will say nothing about that Land Bill. It was of a very remarkable character. Who can doubt for a moment that the same Bill would not have been passed for Scotland if one-third of the Scottish Members has been Unionists; and that is about the number to which they are entitled.
But the evil is not confined to this country. I regret most deeply to say that when the Constitution of the Union of South Africa was framed proportional representation for the Assembly was not carried. And what has been the result? In the Orange Free State, which is the centre of all the disturbance and danger in South Africa, at the last General Election General Botha's Party polled 36 per cent. of the electors but did not get one single seat. I should like to read to your Lordships a comment on that of a great South African, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick. He wrote to the late Earl Grey only last year a letter, in which occurred this sentence—It was a bad day's work to drop proportional I representation from the Union Constitution. It has left us with an incomplete system, and I 836 really believe that we would not have had either riots or rebellion if we had had the whole thing.I would ask, with all the earnestness in my power, my friends in the House of Commons to exercise their imagination and think what may happen in Ireland under a system of single-Member constituencies. It is perfectly possible that Sinn Fein might get every single seat, outside Ulster, although not polling much more than 50 per cent. of the votes. That is the danger that the single-Member system is opening out before us. Exactly the same thing as has happened in the Orange Free State might happen in Ireland, and it is very significant that three resolutions have come from Dublin on this subject, from three bodies whom I should think never before in the whole history of their country had agreed upon any one subject. There is a resolution from the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, representing of course the business men of Dublin; a resolution from the Dublin United Trades Council, representing the trade unions; and a resolution from the Municipal Council of Dublin—all begging for proportional representation; so steeped are Irishmen with a sense of the dangers lying before them under the single-Member system.
But I have not exhausted my illustrations. I told you, my Lords, that my argument was cumulative, and I think your Lordships' House will pardon me for continuing. There has recently been a General Election in Canada. There is a minority in Quebec who are prepared to see Canada taking her part in this world-war. What has been the result of the elections in Quebec sixty-two members returned to support Sir Wilfred Laurier, and only three for the present Government. And that is because of the single-Member system. I ask you to turn to Petrograd. It is not a place one would usually go at this moment for lessons in politics. But when the Russian rebellion first occurred you will remember that Prince Lvoff was Prime Minister, and he induced the adoption of proportional representation as part of the Russian electoral system. The result was that in the Petrograd elections, instead of the Bolsheviks sweeping the whole power, as they would otherwise probably have done, they got six votes; the Constitutional Democrats, four: and the Social Revolutionaries, two. Whereas in Quebec the minority who wanted to see Canada taking her part in the world-war 837 were almost obliterated, in Russia proportional representation has enabled the moderates and the reasonable men to appear in the Duma—in the Constituent, Assembly—in such formidable numbers that the first thing the revolutionaries do is to close the Constituent Assembly. You could not wish for a more eloquent testimony to the force of the system of proportional representation against overwhelming majorities.
Now I ask you to turn back to the Empire again and to see how the single-Member system has worked in Australia. The mining districts of Western Australia are represented by ten miners, while those responsible for the successful management of the mining industry have no voice in Parliament at all. The citizens of Adelaide are represented in their Parliament by fifteen Labour Members. The citizens, forty per cent. of the whole, who are not attached to the Labour Party, have no representation. That might happen here in this country. Under the Bill we are discussing there are to be fifteen Members for Glasgow. The Labour Party have announced their intention to contest every one of these fifteen seats. What would the advocates of the single-seat system say if fifteen Labour Members were returned for Glasgow? And it is not inconceivable that the whole of the Liberal opinion of Glasgow, and the whole of the Unionist opinion of Glasgow—in fact, that every section of opinion except Labour in Glasgow—might be unrepresented. That is quite possible—it has actually happened in the Orange Free State, in Wales, and it has almost happened in Quebec. Therefore, I think you will admit that I have made out this part of my case—namely, that of the great dangers to democracy, one of the great dangers under the Present circumstances, is the elimination of great and important minorities.
I pass to the other great danger—namely, the excessive swing of the pendulum. I myself am responsible for the following figures—I worked them out myself, and I believe them to be absolutely accurate. They are for Great Britain only; I have not taken Ireland into account. On the votes cast in 1895 the Conservative and Liberal Unionist majority ought to have been 111; but it was 213. In 1900 the Conservative and Liberal Unionist majority ought to have been 125; but it was 195. I have no hesitation in saying that it would have been much better for this country, 838 and for the Party to which I belong, if our majorities had been much nearer the true opinion of the country than they were. Look at the nemesis which followed. Again, for Great Britain in 1906 the Liberal and Labour majority ought to have been eighty-nine; it was 289—a majority of eighty-nine turned into a majority of 289 by the mere whimsical action, the absurdly inaccurate action, of the single-member system of constituencies. The whole history of England to-day would have been different, the history of your Lordships' House would have been different, if that majority had been in Great Britain eighty-nine and not 289. I do not expect that argument but I am not quite sure about this—to weigh greatly with my noble friends behind me who belong to the Liberal Party, but I do expect it to weigh with the members of my own Party. I do expect them to think of what it means to England, to the constitution, to the Church, and to many other interests which are dear to us that by this extraordinary system of single Member constituencies, the opinion of the country, which was only to the extent of eighty-nine Members in favour of the Liberals and Labour, should have given them a majority of 289, and should have enabled them to exercise a power which my noble friends behind me will forgive me for calling tyrannical.
There is no virtue in a democracy that I can see if it is not a real expression of national opinion. The instances that I have given show that under the present system you may have an absolute travesty of national opinion put in the seats of power and able to work its will. I maintain therefore, that if you really want to get the opinion of this nation, and if you believe when you talk of Democracy in each section of the population having its just weight in the national council, it is very difficult for you to find a convincing argument against proportional representation.
I come back to the Bill and to the Amendment that I am going to propose. We are asked this question, "Why not accept the well-considered decision of the House of Commons?" There have been three Divisions in the House of Commons on this question, and the majorities against proportional representation were 8, 32, and 76—a very small majority to begin with, an important majority to end with. But that last majority was due much more to 839 the abstention of the friends of proportional representation than to any change of opinion. I find on analysis that in the three Divisions 246 different Members voted for proportional representation, and 290 against—a proportion of 47 per cent. for and 53 per cent. against. I think, therefore, that it is fair to say that although the opinion of the House of Commons seemed gradually to harden against proportional representation, the voice has not been very decisive, and that when the Division lists are analysed there is seen to be a considerable balancing of opinion.
The particular point which I want to make in this connection is this. The House of Commons have never had before them yet any scheme such as that which I am going to ask you to adopt. What I am going to ask you to adopt is something that may fairly be called a complete scheme of proportional representation for the whole country, and in that connection it is very interesting to note that speaker after speaker in the House of Commons, when opposing proportional representation, said that it would have been a different proposition altogether if the scheme had been made to apply to the whole country. I do not say that that indicated that they would have voted differently, but it is proved that the scheme which I am going to ask your Lordships to adopt is not one on which the House of Commons has ever yet pronounced. Moreover, it is a complete scheme that I am going to ask you to adopt if you accept the Amendment which will govern it. If you adopt my Amendment there will, of course, have to be a readjustment of the Schedule, and we hope to have the assistance of the Boundary Commissioners.
Let me say in this connection how thoroughly I agree with some words that fell from my noble friend the Leader of the House the other day in another connection. He said that what surprised him most about this Bill was that nobody had animadverted against the increase in the number of Members of the House of Commons. I entirely share what I understood to be his view, that that was a very regrettable feature of the Bill. If the matter of the Schedule has to go back to the Boundary Commissioners, at any rate it will afford them an opportunity of considering whether they cannot reduce the number of extra members which at present has been apportioned. But let me say a word 840 about the work of the Boundary Commission. I do not think that too great praise can be given to the skill with which they have done their work. The proposals that I am just about to make will involve the minimum interference with that work, and the minimum of delay. What I am going to propose is not any alteration of the boundaries of the constituencies which they have so ably delimitated, but a regrouping of those constituencies—a grouping of the constituencies as they exist in the Schedule. I do not deny that there may be some delay. We hope, as I will show presently from the encouraging language that my noble friend used some months ago, to have the assistance of the Boundary Commission, but it is certain that they will want in some cases to reopen their local inquiry. There must be some delay. There would be no difficulty about the matter at all if it were not that the Government want to wind up this session and start a new one. When, however, we are engaged in making a Franchise Bill, a system that for weal or woe is to govern the fate of this Empire for years to come, do not let us make the work incomplete for want of a little time. I would ask the Government to give the Commissioners all the time they can possibly spare, consistently with the exigencies of the completion of the session. I would urge that the matter need not be closed then. Supposing that the Commissioners have not been able to do all that they want to do by the time that the session has to close, and assuming that Parliament finally adopts proportional representation, there is surely no reason why the work of the Commissioners should not be completed, and Schedules laid on the Table of both Houses of Parliament, and be adopted and passed into law unless either House passes a Resolution against them. I only want here, without elaborating the point, to protest in advance, if anybody is proposing to put forward that argument, that delay ought not to be allowed to be an argument against making this Bill as perfect a Bill as we can make it and that, if the Government will help us, they can certainly find a way of doing what is required.
The unanimous recommendations of the Speaker's Conference were that proportional representation should be applied to London, the large boroughs, the contiguous boroughs, and the Universities. Now I am going to ask you to add the counties. The 841 reason why I ask you to do this is that there is an almost unanimous cry from the representatives of agriculture throughout the whole of Great Britain that proportional representation should be applied to the counties. Agriculture claims only its fair share of representation. It is not asking any privilege, but it is the absolute conviction of the great majority of those who care for agriculture and its position as a fundamental national industry that it is only by a system of proportional representation that agriculture can get its proper and fair share of representation. I am myself perfectly convinced of the fact that under the single-Member system we shall be in case after case obliterated, as the Unionists were obliterated in 1906 in Wales. I am told that this is a foolish proposal, because, although it may give agriculture an additional Member or two in the North, or in the Midlands, the Unionists will lose a corresponding number of seats to Liberals or Labour in the South-East of England. That argument does not affect me at all. I am not talking now of Unionism; I am talking of agriculture; and I say it has been to the great disadvantage of agriculture, in my opinion, that for the last fifty years it has been almost entirely identified with one political Party.
Take the analogy of the great cotton industry. The operatives and the employers have their differences and their conflicting interests, exactly the same as farmers and land-owners and agricultural labourers have their divergent and sometimes conflicting interests. But when it comes to the status of the cotton industry in the national economy it does not matter to cotton one bit whether the Member is Labour, Liberal, or Unionist. That is what I want to see in the case of agriculture. Agriculture has come to its own by this war. Agriculture will never again be the Cinderella of industry. And while there will be those differences of opinion which I have mentioned, and others, it will be pure gain for agriculture if it gets representation, be it Liberal or Unionist, in the Midlands, or in the North, or elsewhere—even although Liberals or Labour may be returned by the same system for seats in Kent or Surrey which are now held by Unionists. No greater mistake could be made in the interests of agriculture than to try and identify it with the Unionist Party.
Not only do I deny that it is the interest of agriculture to look only to one political 842 Party. I say it is far better for agriculture to have representatives spread over the whole kingdom than to have them concentrated in a few groups of constituencies. It would give it far greater strength to have representatives in all parts of the country than to have them only in the south or in the south-east. Therefore it is that we advocate proportional representation for the counties too; that is, we advocate the complete scheme on definite principles of general application, but subject to occasional exceptions on geographical or historical grounds of sufficient weight. The result of that will be that there will continue to remain a few single-Member or double-Member constituencies. For example, some of the Highland counties will certainly remain single-Member constituencies. The population is not large enough to make it possible to sub-divide Inverness-shire. The area is too large to add to any other county; therefore Inverness-shire will almost certainly remain a single-Member constituency. Other examples, not of geographical but of historical reasons, are, say, York City, the City of London, and the City of Westminster.
I say at once I am certainly not going to be alarmed by any argument drawn from the objection to a divergence from uniformity. That argument might weigh in any other country but our own. We are quite the last country to think it of any importance that because the general principle, is proportional representation there should be a few single-Member and double-Member constituencies. We accept the limitations recommended by the Speaker's Conference, that no constituency should return less than three or more than five Members to which the system of proportional representation is applied. But I would say at once that, if it appears in the course of discussion that there may be some special reason for an occasional six—for instance, Leeds, perhaps—I hope on Report discretion might be allowed to the Boundary Commissions.
The problems of boroughs and of counties returning three or more Members each present no difficulties. Nor does the problem of contiguous boroughs or contiguous counties returning less than three Members each. That is a mere question of grouping. But there are some very important questions in connection with the manner of grouping constituencies within the larger boroughs. For instance, 843 there are fifteen seats in Glasgow, and twelve, I think, in Liverpool. How are those single-Member seats going to be grouped so as to win the greatest approval in Glasgow and in Liverpool Obviously the Boundary Commissioners ought to get the guidance of local opinion again on that matter, if they can. There is also the question of uniting boroughs returning less than three Members and contiguous county divisions. Please understand the importance of that point. The question is, Ought in any case boroughs returning less than three Members to be united with contiguous county divisions? No difficulty arises about boroughs created for the first time in this Bill. It is obvious that in the case of a Middlesex borough which at the present moment is a Middlesex county division there is no reason why it should not be treated as a county division. But a very real question arises about the old boroughs for reasons of sentiment and of historical continuity
I would say here that I think the utmost caution should be used not to disturb the continuity of tradition and of sentiment where it is strong and where there is a very definite local feeling against the amalgamation of an old borough with the neighbouring county division. But, on the other hand, in Lancashire, in the West Riding, and in Scotland, it will be found very difficult in many instances to segregate the population in the borough and county constituencies with any real meaning for the purposes of Parliamentary representation. Those of your Lordships who are familiar with the conditions in the industrial parts of Lancashire and the West Riding will know what I mean; and I think it will be found that in these cases there is not the same objection to the union of the boroughs and the county divisions as there might be elsewhere.
My own opinion, for what it is worth, is that the more complete the scheme the more support and confidence it will obtain in the country. If the House accepts the Amendment, I assume that His Majesty's Government will give instructions to the Boundary Commissioners to prepare fresh Schedules by the grouping of constituencies. In this connection I want to remind the House of the promise made by the Leader, Lord Curzon, on July 17, 1917. Lord Curzon said—You will be entirely free to discuss and to re-introduce proportional representation in any form 844 that you please. I go further and say that if your Lordships, when the Bill comes up here, decide to act in that way, the Government will be glad to render you any assistance in their power, either in the drafting of the Bill or in framing those parts of the Schedules that may be affected by your action.We claim that gracious promise on the part of my noble friend, and we ask the Government to render the assistance which they promised in drafting the Bill and in framing the Schedules, if your Lordships are good enough to pass the Amendment which I am about to move. There are some of us who have been studying the matter closely, and we are prepared to put at the disposal of the Boundary Commissioners all the help in our power if that help will be accepted. But what I want most earnestly to press upon His Majesty's Government is this. If we want to make the best Schedules we can in the circumstances, we must have the assistance of the Boundary Commissioners; and I think, in view of the promise of my noble friend, that we have a right to ask it.
I am afraid that I have detained your Lordships for a very long time, but I felt that I could not make my case much shorter; and I am deeply seized with the real and permanent importance of the Amendment I am moving. It is not a fad of cranks. It is a device to save this country from the evident dangers of democracy under a single-seat system of Government. It is a statesmanlike way of enabling a nation to achieve its true representation, and an insurance against that kind of usurpation which is now the terror and the misery of Russia.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 14, line 15, at beginning insert as a new subsection:
(I) In a constituency returning not less than three nor more than live members of Parliament any contested election of the full number of members shall be according to the principle of proportional representation, each elector having one transferable vote as defined by this Act "—(The Earl of Selborne.)
§ VISCOUNT HARCOURT
I hope that very few of your Lordships will be tempted to lend your ears to the noble siren who has just addressed you, but that you will rather stop them with the wax of common sense, of experience, and of prudence, against a proposal which has been recently called by Mr. Austen Chamberlain "a hazardous, a mischievous, and an utterly unnecessary experiment."
845 I do not profess on this occasion to speak for all those friends with whom I am usually associated in public affairs. Though many of them agree with me, I believe that some of them hold other opinions. I will endeavour to speak with what brevity is possible on this subject; and in order to do that I will try to make the case against proportional representation as a policy, without being tempted into the details of the new and rather fanciful proposals put forward by the noble Earl behind me, which, I imagine, will receive short shrift in the other House. It is impossible to find anything new to say upon this subject. The whole scale of sanity and insanity has been fully chanted in the House of Commons. I will make no apology for borrowing from the arguments used in that House, though I find their accumulated wisdom a little confusing as well as convincing.
The old arguments against proportional representation are good enough for me; and I was interested, in listening to the noble Karl, to find that no new arguments had been discovered in its favour. Proportional representation is a project the intention and the possible result of which will be to return a number of representatives of small minorities men who by no other process could command a majority of the electors in any single constituency. It is going to be the apotheosis of the crank, the frondeur, and the mugwump. Under this plan I think there is a danger that too many minorities will be represented and not too few, and that you may make your future Parliament into something in the nature of a patchwork quilt. Speaking upon this subject many years ago, Mr. Gladstone said—What we want is to have the prevailing sense of the community. We do not want to have represented immature particular shades of opinion, but the sense of the majority which represents the whole community.When cognate proposals for minority representation were inserted in the Reform Bill of 1867—inserted by this House and not by the Government of the day—they were opposed by Mr. Disraeli. Some of your Lordships may think that he was not a progressive in these matters; but, at all events, he educated his Party with unex- 846 ampled rapidity on the subject of household suffrage. Mr. Disraeli said—If the principle is good, you must apply it to all constituencies; but, if bad, why to any?He spoke of the system as—alien to the manners and condition of the country; opposed to any sound principle; and the direct effect of which would be to create a stagnant representation which would bring about a feeble Executive. Schemes having for their object to represent minorities were admirable schemes to bring crochetty men into the House. They are the schemes of coteries not of politics of nations, and if adopted would end in discomfiture and confusion.Mr. Disraeli was right in his condemnation; and, after a trial of eighteen years, the policy and the method then adopted found no friends and was abandoned with enthusiastic unanimity.
Mr. Bright, speaking on the same subject said—Anything which enfeebles the representative powers and lessens the vitality of the electoral system, which puts power in the hands of the nominees of the little cliques here representing a majority and there a minority but having no real influence among the people; any system like that must ultimately destroy the powers and force of the Executive Government.Another attempt which was made in favour of minorities, and which has been mentioned by the noble Earl behind me, was the cumulative vote in the London school board elections, but that also failed, and it was abandoned by the Conservative Party.
§ VISCOUNT HARCOURT
Lord Eversley, whose views I share and whose absence I greatly deplore, said of the alternative vote that—It prevented a majority returning representatives in proportion to their true strength and gave an unfair advantage to cliques.To-day all specific interests are adequately represented in the House of Commons. I have never heard there any complaint of a deficiency of cranks or a desire for any more of them. It is true that there; are no cross-benches in the House of Commons, but there are plenty of cross-bench minds. By proportional representation it is hoped to secure the return of men standing for particular interests, with no political views or convictions to steady or to guide them. It would be sufficient in one of the huge constituencies now suggested for a man to 847 say, I stand here as a Jew, or a Catholic, a pacifist, or anti-vaccinationist, or a bimetallist, or a Bonar Levy-ist on capital, in order to secure his return by the minority vote. I have no doubt myself that the Socialists will secure in some, and perhaps in many, cases an undue preponderance under these provisions. The Royal Commission on Proportional Representation which was appointed in 1909 said in their Report that under the single-Member system every variety of Opinion obtained representation.
A principal part of the case of many of the advocates of this change—and it was part of the case of the noble Earl who preceded me—is that under our present electoral system a majority in the country is apt to secure an exaggeration of its true representation in the Commons. That is probably a fact, but in my opinion it is no disadvantage but a desirable result. Lord Courtney once tried to prove that in the Election of 1886, which was fought exclusively upon Home Rule, there ought to have been on the votes cast a small Liberal rather than a large Unionist majority returned, and if that had been the result of proportional representation I do not think it would have commended itself to many noble Lords in this House.
§ VISCOUNT HARCOURT
The figures offered by the advocates of proportional representation so frequently vary, and with such lightning rapidity, that it is difficult to keep pace with them.
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
The noble Viscount is confusing between the figures of contested elections in Great Britain and the whole electorate in the United Kingdom.
§ VISCOUNT HARCOURT
I understood that the noble Lord had taken hypothetical figures in cases where there was no election, and so arrived at his result; but it is really immaterial, and I will not pursue the point further. But when we have obtained the opinion of the country as to the policy and complexion of the Government which it desires, in my view it is essential that that Government should be strong, and strong out of all proportion to its numerical rights. 848 Mr. Bagehot wrote on this subject as long ago as 1859, and I think his words were quoted in another place, but I do not hesitate to requote them here. Mr. Bagehot said:—If every minority had exactly as much weight in Parliament as it has in the nation, there might be risk of indecision. We want a counteracting influence, and it will be no subject for regret if that influence is tolerably strong. It is therefore no disadvantage, but on the contrary, that a diffused minority in the country is in general rather inadequately represented. A strong conviction in the ruling power will give it strength of volition. The House of Commons should think as the nation thinks, but it should think so rather more strongly and with rather less of wavering.Lord Hugh Cecil says that under our present system majorities are always intensified and never diminished. That seems as good to me as it is bad to him. He regards proportional representation as "the only thing of important conservative influence in the Speaker's Conference as a check on extravagant revolutionary tendencies and the only substantial safeguard against revolution." If I believed that I should not oppose this Amendment, but I think he exaggerates the value from his own standpoint of small majorities. He wants, quite avowedly, something in the nature of a do-nothing future, and he says that a Government with a working majority of not more than forty could not possibly pass a Home Rule Bill, or a Welsh Disestablishment Bill, or a Parliament Bill. I believe he is wrong. I have a lively recollection of the Parliament of 1892–1895, with a Liberal Government, which had at its commencement a normal majority of no more than forty. By the year 1894 that majority had fallen to only fourteen. Well, it sufficed to carry the Death Duties Budget, and to carry it without a single application of the closure, although weak Governments are said to incline towards the guillotine. The late Lord Salisbury said of this that "Budgets come and Budgets go, and the errors of one Parliament will be corrected in the next." In 1895 Lord Salisbury's Party came into office and held office for ten years, but he never made any attempt to correct that error, if it was one. Narrow majorities do not hinder the advance of extreme proposals. What they do is to weaken the Government of the day in foreign relations and foreign policy, because the Chancelleries of Europe pay scant attention to a Ministry whose exiguous majority threatens its early fall.
Royal Commissions have stated the 849 arguments against narrow majorities with much force. They said:—The exaggeration of majorities is, as a rule, no evil; they are at least preferable to insufficient majorities. The object of representative government is not only to represent but to govern. The greatest evil that can befall a country is a weak Executive, and if a strong one can only be obtained at the cost of mathematical accuracy of representation, the price should be willingly paid.Do not let us be tempted towards proportional representation by any mistaken wish for the even balance; of Parties, and beware lest in trying to make the House of Commons a microcosm of the country you turn it into a bear garden.
Tasmania has been constantly quoted as a triumphant example of proportional representation. You could not wish to reproduce the Parliamentary condition of Tasmania here. Under proportional representation that State has enjoyed or suffered a succession of Parliaments in which the Government of the day has seldom had a majority of more than one or two. I believe in one case the Tasmanian Government did not dare to elect a Speaker from their own ranks lest they destroyed their majority. In another case a single independent Member held the balance between the two Parties. I think it was the Agent-General for Tasmania who said, as if it was a recommendation, that "proportional representation brings Parties to the House in almost equal numbers." In this country I am convinced that if it did so it would bring disaster with it. Imagine, my Lords, one independent Member in this country swaying the daily fate of the Government and the Opposition. Think of his distracted life, harassed by sycophants by day and by the telephone calls of wirepullers by night. Why, in less than six months he would become a lunatic, a convict, or a millionaire, or perhaps all three. I believe that if you were to have for a series of Elections weak Executives dependent on small majorities leading to frequent changes of Government, this country might be driven to the American system of a directly elected Executive independent of Parliament with a defined tenure of office—a result which I and I think many of your Lordships, would greatly deplore.
The experience of Tasmania has not yet induced the other states or the Commonwealth of Australia to adopt proportional 850 representation. They still prefer the system of single-Member constituencies. Nor has this whimsical—if I may borrow an adjective from the noble Earl—nor has this whimsical fad found any foundation in Canada or, as he said in South Africa, except for the indirect election for the Senate there. If our Dominions, which are not averse from electoral and other experiments, have hesitated to try this one, may there not be some reasons for pause here? Surely in any case so vast and so far-reaching a change is not well suited to experiment during this great war and in circumstances under which it has never been and cannot be submitted to or considered by the electors. Sir George Reid said in another place, with all his Australian experience—Let the British electorate decide in the future if it wishes for this change.I do not think, my Lords, that from the speech of the noble Earl you can realise the complexity of the system embodied in the innocent words of this Amendment. I hold in my hand the Tasmanian official handbook of the Hare-Clark system as used in that State. I believe it is the last word in proportional perfection. It sets out the method of the election of three Members from only six candidates and with only nine thousand votes polled—a very small problem in numbers as compared with those we should have to face here. Even to obtain these results I find that they had to make ten separate counts and to juggle with fractions and decimals and the rule of three. I once had the Tasmanian printed results of the machinery of the counting of an election there. It would have covered in small print more than the whole area of this Table. Equations and Algebraical formulae were scattered with a lavish hand over the machinery and instructions. You added two-900ths of some one's vote to some one else, and one-1,200th to a third, and with luck you arrived at a statement that as A was to B so was C to D, and in the end F was elected. If you were to adopt that system here you would have to recruit hordes of Senior Wranglers to do your counting and to obtain your transfer values. Its advocates assume for it a sweet simplicity to which it has no claim.
If you were to pass this apparently innocent Amendment, do you know with what ballast you would over-weight this Bill? His Majesty's Government have been so rash or so malicious as to present to Parlia- 851 ment Command Paper 8,768, of which there are copies on this Table, which sets out the necessary procedure under proportional representation. By careful compression it has been reduced to nineteen full pages of small print. It is called "Draft Rules for the Single, Transferable Vote." It contains seventeen clauses and fifty-eight subsections, and that is what you will have to add to the Bill if you adopt this Amendment. Of course, it is really the Schedule to Lord Courtney's Municipal Voting Bill of 1914, which was never accepted by the House of Commons.
§ VISCOUNT HARCOURT
They never would. In it is set out a series of examples of specimen elections. In one of them a man who obtained only 157 direct votes out of 6,000 electors is triumphantly returned as a Member for the constituency. That, my Lords, can hardly be a result which you would wish often to attain in this country. No wonder it was said in another place that this was a gerrymandering device for hamstringing the views of the majority and securing at the same time second-best opinions and negative results.
It is suggested by many of its advocates, though not by the noble Earl behind me, that Party rivalry and even the Party system might be diminished and destroyed by proportional representation. I do not believe that, and I should regret it if I did. If it leads to a No-Party system of groups and blocks the result would be thoroughly mischievous, and certainly no foreign experience would encourage us to desire or adopt these methods in our country. In proportion as you weaken the Party system you increase the tendency for votes to be given on less worthy issues. But its advocates do not believe that this will be the result. Lord Courtney, who has been called elsewhere, with no malice, the "chivalrous and indefatigable champion of lost causes," because we all remember to his honour that he resigned his office because proportional representation was not included in the Reform Bill of 1884—
§ VISCOUNT HARCOURT
Lord Courtney at least does not believe that his panacea 852 is going to create a new heaven and a new earth by the elimination of Parties, because he told the Royal Commission "the Two-Party system really exists in the fundamental condition of human nature and will survive all forms." That at least is a comfort to those of us who, like myself, believe that in the contest of Parties in times of peace lies the real germ of true political thought and progress. Then we are told by some people that this would kill or cripple the caucus—always, I imagine, a malignant spectre in your Lordships' House. Like many other good people, it has been misunderstood. It came to you under the œgis of Mr. Chamberlain in his first phase. Later on he parted from it or it from him, but the thing remains, and I beg you not to believe that you can lay its lively ghost with proportional representation.
§ VISCOUNT HARCOURT
No; the noble Earl did not. He knew better. The noble Earl has been near the machine, if not of it. He said of me, with perfect truth, that I have been an integral part of the machine. I knew every screw and wire of its construction. I could manipulate its mainstring and its escapement; and from intimate experience I can assure you that the revolution contained in this Amendment would be the charter of a future caucus more powerful and more elaborate than anything you have so far experienced. You have made in this House futile attempts at minority representation in the past, but they have been defeated always by organisation. In 1868 four Liberal Members were returned for the City of London. It must seem incredible to you to-day; that was done by caucus organisation, in spite of the system by which no voter could give more than three votes amongst the four candidates—a system under which you thought you could get a minority Member, but you failed. There was the same history at Birmingham, where Mr. Bright and Mr. Chamberlain retained the representation of the city in their own hands. But do not imagine that this was done only or mainly by the force of their great personality. It was in fact done by the assiduous ingenuity of Mr. Schnadhorst. The caucus was created in Birmingham in order to defeat minority representation, and it did 853 so with complete success. This proposal will only increase the machinations, the complexity, and the efficiency of the caucus, because the more complicated the issue the greater is its powers.
What chance, my Lords, do you really think the much-desired independent candidate is going to have against the forces and the, finances which will oppose him? You propose to create great constituencies. For the election of the elite, constituencies of five, or even seven, and up to nine Members are supposed to be desirable and even necessary. That did not appear in the plan of the noble Earl behind me, but the Royal Commission reported that "If the scheme is to work to the best advantage, constituencies of seven or nine Members, at least, are necessary. Adequate; results cannot be expected from constituencies of less than five." Let me say, in passing, that the idea of applying proportional representation to constituencies of four is almost ludicrous, and can result only in an even division of that area between the two Parties.
But, my Lords, in spite of the noble Earl's views, I believe that this great size of the constituencies will necessarily destroy any hope of the close personal association of Members and electors. That would remove a thins which in my opinion is of great value to-day—the intimate (I think Lord Selborne called it), the intimate, personal touch, the understanding and confidence, which in general exist between the Member and the voters. It will destroy the local interest of the Member in the constituency. Those of us who have experience know that when the contest is over and the candidate has become the Member, he becomes the Member for the whole population of the constituency, irrespective of their politics. In all local affairs and many public ones, too, except those of acute controversy, he represents the interest of all the voters. This these great new areas must inevitably destroy. Nor can a single individual ever be able, in a constituency of five members, to make his personalty and his policy adequately known to those to whom he is appealing. The personal interest of the elector in his Member will also be lessened if not destroyed. His representative will be to him no longer "my man" but "my mob."
The new five-Member constituency will cover a population of 300,000 souls and 854 embrace 123,000 electors, against the average; constituency to-day of 12,000 electors. The candidate's only vehicle of communication with his constituents will be the Press, and the power of the Press has increased, is increasing, and in the opinion of many ought to be diminished. Platform work on such a scale as is demanded by these new seats would be a physical impossibility to most men. One of the first results of these proposals would be the squeezing out of Parliament of business men, through lack of time to devote to these great areas, leaving the proportional representatives to be recruited from the class of professional politicians, whom I do not affect to despise, because I have always belonged to that class myself. In order, therefore, to cope with the new difficulties of area, of numbers, and expense it is evident that; candidates can only be successfully and economically run on a strict Party ticket of five. By such a combination the work and the cost of these contests may be kept within measurable bounds. But what is going to happen to your so-called Independent, the man whom you think you want to create and return. He will have to speak, circularise, and try to canvass the whole of the electors. It would cost him in cash alone, to say nothing of time and health, anything from £2,000 to £3,000 for 125,000 electors, according to whether you fix the scale of expenditure at 4d. or 5d. per elector. Under proportional representation the Independent candidate would have to be a combination of a millionaire and a Hercules.
The unsolved, or so far unsolved, difficulty of by-elections in three or five-Member constituencies remains. The absurdity of some of the solutions proves the insolubility of the problem. It is suggested by some people who are advocating proportional representation that there never should be by-elections; that if a Member dies the constituency should remain shorn of one or more of its Members until the next Dissolution. That hardly bears discussion, and it would not meet the case of a man who vacates his seat on acceptance of office unless you have; the courage of the noble Earl who sits behind me and propose to repeal the Statute of Anne. I do not know, in fact, whether he proposes to do that in one of the columns of the Schedule. I do not myself believe, from recent experience, that the House of Commons is prepared to repeal the Statute of Anne now 855 or in the near future. Then there are proposals that individual Members should be allocated to particular parts of the constituency, either by lot, or by selection, or by order of seniority at the poll; and it is only that part of the constituency which should be polled when a by-election takes place.
But what becomes of your minority Member? Ex hypothesi he can never obtain a majority in any part of the area. If he dies, or disappears, minority representation goes with him for that Parliament, and the Party of the majority become the residuary legatees of the seat. You hope, I suppose, to obtain men of rare and special ability as minority representatives, Members who are to be "too good for human nature's daily food," and you will presumably wish to include some of them in your Government. But without the repeal of the Statute of Anne they can never aspire to any post of greater elevation than that of an Under-Secretaryship, because not one of them can face their constitutents on vacating their seat. You are going to create a class apart, a non papabile caste, a class who can never meet the electors unless they are accompanied by a posse comitatus of other candidates in order to cover and shield their avowed unpopularity. These proposals, in the House of Commons, were only to be applied to a few large towns, although they covered 120 Members of the new Parliament. If the plan was sound and if the results were to be good, why were the House of Commons not prepared to try a larger experiment? If proportional representation is necessary to make your new Parliament truly representative, why did the House of Commons stop at a few urban constituencies, and not have the courage to go further? On what principle do you suppose they selected the corpus vile for their experiment? Why was London not included? I will tell you why. Because, as the noble Earl knows and as all the promoters of proportional representation know, London opinion was almost unanimously opposed to these proposals. That was tested in the House of Commons. The noble Earl took the earlier Division; I will take the later one. There are sixty-one Members for London in the House of Commons, and how many do you think after assiduous whipping and with a promise of exclusion, could be tempted into the proportional representation Lobby? On the last occasion only three! The 856 proposal to omit London is to me an example of the sort of huckstering spirit which I fear will be a product of proportional representation, and it shows that its promoters have no conviction that it is really right or they would wish to vindicate their opinion on a larger scale.
The same thing is true of many of the big towns to which this method was to be applied. Of the Sheffield Members, two were in its favour, and three against it; Manchester, one in favour, two against, and three absent from the Division; Liverpool, in spite of the eloquent advocacy of the Attorney-General, two only, including himself, were in its favour; five against, and two were absent. Speaking generally of the opinion in the House of Commons, I think it is true to say that it is only those who were not to be subjected to it themselves who were in favour of trying it on the dog. Why was it to be applied only to large towns by the House of Commons? If you require minority representation I agree with the noble Earl that you want it in such places as the home counties, where there are no Liberals, and in Wales where there are no Unionists. I suppose I shall be told that it was not to be applied to the counties by the House of Commons because it was only an experiment—like the unwanted baby, only "a little one." But in truth it is because there the system breaks down; it is not, in fact, applicable to great county areas. Imagine trying to constitute a proportional representation area in the North of Scotland, which the noble Earl has already shied at in anticipation. You would have to include the counties of Orkney and Shetland, Caithness, Sutherland shire, Inverness, Ross and Cromarty, the Hebrides, and Skye. Picture to yourself your independent candidate, working on his own in a winter Election—and the last three Elections have been in mid-winter—canvassing and speaking in that constituency. If I were a candidate standing for that seat I will tell you how I would run it. I would send one postcard to every voter and I would say, "I am the Crofter candidate, and I place their interests before all public questions and politics." I should be certain of election. I should be returned with no political ties or convictions: I should be the hostage and the advocate of a single interest; I should be the minority representative under proportional representation. Do you want artificially to attain this result? If so, you will vote for this Amendment.
857 Laboured calculations by the promoters of proportional representation have enabled them to assert, in figures which are far from those quoted by the noble Earl, that in the Elections of 1895 and 1900 there would have been, on a true poll, Conservative Governments with a majority of two. I would not have envied them their life if they had had the present Prime Minister on their flank or rear. Majorities of two, apart from their inherent instability, create a weak Executive and a weak House of Commons, and are a temptation to unreal alliances and coalitions. It is as true to-day as it was when Mr. Disraeli first said it that "England does not love a Coalition." I have tried it, and so have some noble Lords on the Government Bench; and we know.
But why are we asked to consider and to accept such a proposal as this now? It has been turned down by nearly all those on whom it was to be imposed. Out of 126 Members who voted for it, only ten would have been affected by it. It has been rejected by all previous Parliaments and by such authorities as Gladstone, Bright, and Chamberlain. It has never been discussed by or submitted to the country. The Prime Minister does not understand, and does not mean to try to understand, it during the war. The House of Commons evidently shares his view. And are we, my Lords, to set ourselves above the intelligence and the detachment of the Prime Minister? Let us rather eschew the higher mathematics in our polls and maintain a system which has been long tried, and which has not failed. I do not think it is fair to take advantage of the exceptional conditions of to-day in order to foist a doubtful and dangerous fad upon the country. It is an unfortunate moment to try an experiment when a vast number of new voters, male and female, are being enfranchised for the first time. It was said with truth by one of its opponents in the House of Commons that, "both the old and the new electors will believe there is some mysterious manipulation and calculation operating behind the old straightforward simple vote, and they will distrust and dislike the result."
The Royal Commission said in their Report, with much truth, that "the British elector loves an open and square fight between two men. To give him a list of twenty names will only result in confusion." In their Final Report in 1910 858 they definitely said, "we are unable to recommend proportional representation in existing circumstances for election to the House of Commons." That House, my Lords, during the present session has three times rejected this proposal, with increasing majorities which have been given to you by the noble Earl behind me. Surely they have a predominant right to decide the method of their own election, with the knowledge and past experience of their electoral machinery to guide them. I beg you not to impose upon the country a system which they do not want, and which they profoundly distrust.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble Viscount in his elaborate criticism of the merits of this proposal. This matter has been left open by the Government, and therefore upon the general merits and upon the political aspects of the question I propose to say very little. But I have certain things that I must say on practical questions. I must put forward several very serious considerations as to the effect which this Amendment, if carried, may have upon the general fortunes of the. Bill. The noble Earl, in his statement of the case, frankly admitted that his proposals had never been before the House of Commons. They go, as he stated, far beyond anything that was put before the House of Commons, and also far beyond the proposals of the Speaker's Conference. The proposal of the Speaker's Conference, as he knows, limited the new experiment to boroughs, but the noble Earl extends it to counties, to groups of counties, and even proposes to group boroughs with counties. The noble Earl dealt, I think very lightly, with the case or difficulty with which the new groupings could be effected. He said, "I do not propose to disturb the existing areas as they have been delimited by the Commissioners. I only propose to group them." He seemed to think that that was comparatively an easy matter. I have to suggest to your Lordships that, so far from being an easy matter, this grouping may take a considerable time, and cannot be done merely on paper, but must be done, if done at all, after careful local inquiries in the different constituencies.
May I take seriatim the proposals of the noble Earl with respect to the difficulties of grouping? Take, for instance, the first question—that of the boroughs having 859 three, four, or five Members. In those cases, of course, as will be easily seen, there will be no question of a local inquiry, because they can be easily thrown into one constituency of three, four, or five Members. But when you get to boroughs with more than five Members your difficulties will arise. In such places, for example, as Manchester, with, I think, its twelve Members, Glasgow with its fifteen, and other great towns, you must group those constituencies together in some particular order. Great difficulties will then arise, because it is quite obvious that very different results will issue electorally according to the way in which those different constituencies are grouped. The noble Lord, Lord Courtney, shakes his head. May I give him one instance I think a rather pertinent instance arising out of our difficulties, and that is the question of the second or business vote. If you group Manchester, with which as an old Member I have some familiarity, in one particular way you can put out altogether I can do it myself on paper—the great bulk of the second or business votes; while if you group it in another you do not do so. I think that it is very easy to see that this is a matter that may give rise to an immense amount of controversy, and that when the local government inquiries are held there will be great disputes between the Parties. That is only one rather small instance of the difficulties and impossibilities of settling these matters without local inquiries. As to London, perhaps I may pass over that lightly because the difficulties there are immense, and they have been partly touched upon by the noble Earl. As regards the counties, the same argument will apply to them; if they have three, four, or five Members, as applied to the boroughs, no difficulty will arise. But you will get very great difficulties, as your Lordships know very well, when you come to the grouping of counties. Moreover, when you come to group counties and boroughs, as suggested by the noble Earl, you will be thrown back upon the necessity of having these local inquiries.
May I take the different alternatives as to what may happen, assuming that this Amendment is carried, if this House were to keep this Bill until the whole of this machinery had been set in motion, and until the local inquiries had been finished. If a prefect Schedule based upon these local inquiries were to be placed in the Bill, obviously there would be an end of the 860 Bill, because long before that process had concluded, and before this Schedule had gone to another place, and been discussed there, as of course it will be discussed, the session must have ended, and the Bill would be dead. It is estimated that in order to complete the arrangements on the basis of the noble Earl's scheme something like three months would have to elapse; and it is quite evident that as you have to begin the new session very shortly by reason of the immense financial interest and obligation of the Government the time is very short. Therefore that obviously will kill the Bill. I know that your Lordships have no desire to kill the Bill, and that course, therefore, would be difficult. On the other hand, if you do not wait and if you send this Bill down to another place without this carefully-prepared Schedule on the basis of local inquiry, such an Amendment as that of the noble Earl would defeat its own object. There would be no meaning in it. The Amendment only says "where there are three, four, or five-Member constituencies," and there is no Schedule showing where those constituencies are to be.
I assume, again, if this Amendment passes, that the noble Earl will desire to put in a Schedule in order that an indication may be given to another place of what this grouping is to be, and what the noble Earl intends. If that is the intention of the noble Earl, then I assure him on the part of the Government that in carrying out the terms of his Amendment the Government will give him the assistance of the Government's draftsmen in framing the Schedule and putting it in the Bill according to his scheme. I have no official reason for saying so, but I understand that the noble Earl has a Schedule ready, and that that Schedule may very soon be put into shape if necessary and inserted in the Bill.
If such a Schedule is put in, and the Bill goes to another place, let me consider the alternative. If the Schedule is there rejected and proportional representation is again rejected—and we have heard what the majorities are in another place—then, unless your Lordships were to accept that action of another place and restore the old Schedule, the Bill would of course also be lost. Take the other case. Suppose the House of Commons accepts the Schedule put in by the noble Earl, or accepts it with certain modifications, and assuming that 861 those modifications were accepted by this House, then, if the Schedule were accepted in the full sense in which it is put in by the noble Earl, or if it were modified, the question is, What would happen? There would still not be time this session for the. Instructions to be sent to them for the Commissioners to do their work, and for these local inquiries to be held. And then it might be necessary to carry over the Bill till next session. But I wish to point out this serious consideration, that there must, of course, be a corresponding postponement of the new Register which, in any circumstances, probably could not come into operation till about the end of the year.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I have further to point out that a postponement such as that might, of course, have a very serious effect upon the fate of the Bill, if it was prolonged over to the coming session. Then as to the redistribution scheme in Ireland. I did not gather that the noble Earl intended to apply his proportional representation scheme to Ireland. At the present time the redistribution scheme for Ireland is being considered by a Committee of which the Speaker is chairman, and the arrangement was that the results of that Conference should be put into an agreed Bill which would become law at the same time as this Representation of the People Bill. Obviously, therefore, if the period was delayed within which this Bill was to become law, that arrangement for Ireland would also have to be carried over, and that again might create some difficulties for the Bill in the future.
I have tried to put before your Lordships some of the difficulties that may occur if this Amendment is carried and the action that might or might not have to be taken by the Government in those circumstances. It remains for me to point out one or two difficulties of the practical kind which might result from the Amendment proposed by the noble Earl. I have to point out, not of course in any political spirit, but rather from a neutral point of view, that the setting up of these larger constituencies under proportional representation runs right athwart the whole tendency of legislation during the last century. The whole movement during the last century has been from the double-Member constituency to the single-Member constituency—a movement which was largely established in the 862 Bills of 1884 and 1885, when, as your Lordships know, the Redistribution Bill was brought in and carried mainly on the basis of single-Member constituencies. Moreover, this will have the effect also, if carried, of further loosening the tics between the Member and his constituents. That has been pointed out by the noble Viscount opposite with great force, because this Bill so far as it goes, by establishing a more fluid constituency, owing to the greater facility of movement, does, to some extent, loosen the tie between the Member and his constituency. If it was loosened so far that no one Member represented a particular constituency, I do not know what would be the feelings of the ordinary elector when he found that he had no longer his own Member but only a share in a considerable number of Members.
The noble Earl referred to the size of constituencies, and I think he tried to establish that we could easily have these large county constituencies by referring to the well-known historical fact that a good many of our ancestors ruined themselves by standing for these very large constituencies, and he said, "If they could move about the constituency, then why cannot we do it now?" I should have thought you could hardly compare those constituencies, large in area, but with comparatively few electors, with the crowded masses with which you have to make yourself acquainted now. Moreover, the noble Earl was doing his best to show that the expenses of the candidates would be no matter, because he says that Parliament can always limit the amount that may be spent by a candidate on his election. It is true that Parliament can do that, and the amount has been limited by this Bill, but, of course, candidates can only be limited to a reasonable degree, and it is obvious that, however far you limit those expenses, they must be, if they are to meet the case at all, far larger in the case of these gigantic constituencies than they were in the more limited ones.
May I remind the noble Earl of this, that one of the Instructions given to the Commissioners was that where the constituencies were inconvenient in size or character they should have special advantages, and, as a result of that, something like either twelve or sixteen constituencies, according as you make the calculation, have been accorded to the agricultural portions of the 863 country in excess of what they would have on a strictly numerical basis. This was the case under the single-Member constituencies; and this was actually inserted by the House of Commons among the Instructions because Members felt—and, after all, they had had experience of the constituencies—that many of the single-Member constituencies would be far too large. What would be their feelings then when they found that, so far from these single Member constituencies being thought too large, they would be grouped together so that they would become much larger still?
I should like, if I may, to make one observation on my own account in reply to what the noble Earl said about London. As the noble Earl knows, I have had a long experience, at any rate, of municipal London, and have sat for three different constituencies in different parts of London, and I think I have some knowledge of local feeling in London. The noble Earl, I thought, to some extent misunderstood that feeling. He showed us that London was a unity, that many persons have been working for years to produce that unity of feeling, and he said, "If London is a unity, what does it matter how the different constituencies are grouped together within that large unity of London?" It is quite true that London is a unity, and I hope is growing more of a unity every day. But what is that unity largely based upon? It is based on the smaller local patriotism of the different portions of London. If you take Woolwich, a part of London with which I am very well acquainted, I can assure your Lordships that there is an intense local patriotism prevailing there; so much so, that when people go from there to another portion of London, they talk of going to London and coming back to Woolwich. In the same way the local feeling in Westminster is intense and strong; and on the other side of the water, in Kennington, which I now represent on the London County Council, there again it is almost impossible for me to express to your Lordships the depth and intensity of the local feeling which prevails. And the reason why, as a Londoner and connected for many years with the local life of London, I most strongly object to the application of this system to London is that you must, by any system of grouping the whole of London in these different constituencies, cut right athwart that local patriotism which many have been working at for years, and which takes so much to build up.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
There is only one more detailed matter with which I want to deal—namely, the question of by-elections. The noble Viscount has dealt with that question; but I want to point out this because I think that, if this scheme is to be a practical one, the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, will agree that it must be faced and dealt with. The noble Earl has suggested that, whenever there is a by-election, it will be impossible to limit that by-election to a particular portion of the constituency, but that you must take the vote over the whole area, whether it be a borough or a county. The first thing I have to point out is that this by-election will not be, therefore, any test of the change of feeling over that area. All it will mean will be that there is a surplus—if there are two Parties—of Conservative over Liberal votes. I think your Lordships will agree that the by-election plays a very important part indeed in our public life. It is one of the great tests by which a Government knows whether it is growing more or less unpopular; and if that by-election is not to be a real test—as it cannot be under this proposal—of the feeling of the constituency, compared with the display of feeling in that constituency at the General Election, you have lost a very useful way of testing the popular feeling.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Let me put it in this way. I think the noble Earl wanted to eliminate the number of by-elections, of which he felt the difficulty; and he thought that persons who sought re-election on appointment to office should be exempted from that necessity. But even if you exempt those, the number of by-elections would be very considerable. I think in the Parliament from 1900 to 1905—
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
That is twenty-six a year, a larger number than I was going to give. According to the noble Earl's calculation it would be something like 130; but call it 100. Think what that would mean. You are going very largely to reduce the number of constituencies. Supposing you had 500 single-Member con- 865 stituencies and turned them into 100 five-Member constituencies, obviously you would be bound to have a far larger number of by-elections than before. It becomes a far more serious question, not only as regards a test but as regards expense on the unfortunate candidate who has to stand alone for this gigantic constituency. You might easily have, on the figures I have given, one by-election in each of these large constituencies. That, of course, would not happen. But obviously you would have, on any doctrine of chances, more than one by-election in any one of these large constituencies. That is a matter which I should like to press from the point of view of practical convenience—and that is the only point on which I am speaking to-day every strongly on the advocates of proportional representation. They are putting this forward as a complete and practical scheme. This may be a detail, but it is a detail of great importance—of, I think I may say, far reaching importance and therefore I invite the advocates of this system, even more fully than could the noble Earl in his elaborate statement, to deal with that particular difficulty.
The last point I wish to make is on the question of the new systems of voting which have been introduced. I agree—as I think everybody must—that to put "1," "2," "3," or "4," against the different names is a matter of no great difficulty.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
The question of counting is a difficulty, but that may be got over by having trained counters. But you have to do much more than that. You have to make the ordinary elector understand how that counting has been carried out. You have to make him understand the quota; and you have to make him understand also a great number of curious results. For instance, he may want to know how it happens that while 1, 2, 3, and 4, are elected by the quota, number 5, who appears to be lowest on the poll, is elected by a larger number of votes on the quota; which may easily happen because it may be necessary in certain circumstances to do no further counting. There are a number of difficulties of that kind which would be set the ordinary elector. The noble Lord, Lord Courtney, nods his head at that.
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
No. I am sorry to say I did not hear the last observation. I made no comment on it.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
But consider what is this new system which is being introduced. You have all sorts of new methods of voting for the first time introduced into this Bill. You have the voting by post; the proxy voting; and other matters of that kind. In ordinary times if you were introducing a matter like proportional representation, there would be some opportunity of expounding all these difficulties to the constituencies and to the electors. But that cannot be done now. You have not only the great mass of new voters—with which Lord Harcourt has dealt—but you have millions of them away at the Front, and thinking of all sorts of different things; and you have no opportunity of trying to expound to those gentlemen the niceties and the difficulties of proportional representation. That surely is a very serious matter.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
One feels so far as these new voters are concerned, and so far as the voters who are across the seas are concerned, that possibly they would prefer, for the first occasion on which they exercise their votes, or exercise them in a new manner, that they should do so on the old system and not a new one, which, I will not say they would not understand if it were explained to them, but which so many millions of them have had no opportunity of thoroughly understanding or appreciating.
§ EARL GREY
If I neglected to say what I could in support of this Amendment, I should not only be running away from my own convictions, but I should be failing to discharge a duty which was laid upon me by one who sometimes addressed your Lordships from these Cross-Benches. I should like to say with what deep appreciation I listened to some of the very generous references which were made to him by some of his old colleagues in the course of the Second Reading debate—more particularly by my noble friend Lord Courtney.
I shall not attempt to reply now to some of the difficulties which have been sug- 867 gested to your Lordships if you persist in the course which the noble Lord suggests the House should take. But all the same I think that he made a good many points which will not prove quite so formidable in practice as he suggests to us. He talks of a large number of local inquiries. I think your Lordships will be surprised, when you come to look into the actual formation of a Schedule, to find in how many cases local inquiries will be able to be dispensed with. Again, when you come to deal with the great towns like Glasgow and Manchester, I do not think that in any case more than one day would be occupied in any one centre, and therefore the sum total of the delay will not really be very serious; especially when you come to a place like Glasgow and you find a natural division—a group of five constituencies south of the river, which is an obvious and geographical division. That is only typical of what you may find in a great many places.
The noble Viscount in charge of the Bill then referred to the difficulty of the grouping of counties, which was talked of by Lord Selborne. I think, as far as England is concerned, that would probably only arise in one single instance, where you get Cambridge, which is a single-county seat, and Huntingdon, which is a single-county seat, and the Isle of Ely—three small single-county seats all close together—and obviously it ought to be in the discretion of the Boundary Commissioners to group them into one constituency, if found desirable. The question does arise, however, when you come to deal with Scotland; but my own experience in discussing this question, as I have during the past weeks, with representatives of various parties in Scotland among other places, is that this is not a principle which would arouse serious local opposition. The question of grouping counties with boroughs has more sanction even than either of the others, in that the Commission on electoral systems distinctly mentions that "smaller boroughs returning one or two Members would have to be absorbed into the surrounding country, with which, as has been pointed out, their interests are really common." In that matter the Commission, which considered this question very carefully, did not feel any doubt as to the proper solution.
I would like to say a word about the arguments which came from the noble Viscount, Lord Harcourt. I confess I was 868 rather surprised that Lord Harcourt took such a very strong line against proportional representation, for no later than the last time that we met in Committee on this Bill the noble Viscount moved to strike out the plural vote, on Clause 8, on the ground that proportional representation was not included in the Bill and it was therefore going against the Speaker's Conference. Therefore, we all thought that as we insisted upon keeping the plural vote in the Bill, he would at least try to minimise that evil, if it be an evil, by asking for the inclusion of proportional representation, rather than moving to keep it out.
Then the noble Viscount went on to taunt the noble Earl with having brought up a lot of old arguments; but I am bound to say that I could not see that he had done any better, when it came to his own turn. In fact, anybody who has read Lord Eversley's Report would say that it was pretty obvious where the noble Viscount had got most of his facts. The noble Viscount also adduced the opinion of Mr. Austen Chamberlain, which was very strongly opposed to proportional representation. My Lords, it is really not worth while quoting one man rather than another, because if the noble Viscount is going to quote Mr. Austen Chamberlain, we could very easily retort with Mr. Asquith, and so go on playing battledore and shuttlecock for a long time.
The first real point which the noble Viscount made was that this system of proportional representation would lead to the growth of a large number of groups in Parliament, and he pictured the dreadful effect of faddists being returned in all parts of the country. But bearing in mind the large size of an electorate, it is hardly conceivable that a quota in any of these constituencies, whether single-Member or under proportional representation, would be less than 10,000; and, my Lords, if any man is capable of getting 10,000 men to support him, by what right should we say he is not entitled to get a seat in Parliament? In any case, the noble Viscount entirely misreads the real main desire of those of us who support proportional representation. We are not so anxious to support the return of the independent Member. What we are really anxious to secure is that large minorities shall be represented. Incidentally, no doubt, if small minorities get the representation to 869 which they are entitled, so much the better, but what we are really concerned about is that we find that large minorities and large sections of the country fail to get any representation, and that is the basis of our case.
The Royal Commission also reported on that question of the individual Member, and in paragraph 116 they say—We are inclined to think that the multiplication of small parties feared by opponents and the encouragement of the independent Member hoped for by advocates are alike exaggerated in the evidence given before us.The noble Viscount then went on to deal with the question of Tasmania. I will not follow him there, as we have noble Lords who have had actual experience in that part of the Empire, who will, I hope, address your Lordships at a later stage. I should, however, like to say this, that surely you cannot draw any real analogy between a Parliament which is composed of only thirty Members and one which is composed of 670 Members. A majority of one in one case corresponds with a majority of twenty-five in the other, and although you may draw a very harrowing picture of what happens with a majority of one, whatever system you have in this country it is not very likely to happen here. Going on with the Tasmanian question, the noble Viscount suggested that although they were in groups of three—in which I think he was misinformed; I think they had five groups of six—there were as many as ten counts, which required all sorts of juggling, and he talked of the necessity of employing Senior Wranglers to solve abstruse mathematical problems. I do not think that anything further advanced than the rule of three is necessary to achieve any problem that may be met with under this clause. On that point also the Royal Commission was very clear, because in paragraph 74 they said—It was at one time habitually asserted that the actual mechanism, the method of counting the votes, was so complicated as to be incapable of correct and expeditious application under the conditions of political elections. For this assertion we believe there is no foundation.The other rather similar question raised by the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill is the difficulty which the voter has to face in correctly writing the numbers of his choice. That was considered so small that it is the only question in connection with proportional representation which the Commissioners did not think it even worth 870 while to mention in the whole of their Report. I think that shows very clearly how they regarded the supposed difficulty. In the case of the National Union of Railwaymen in this country, mentioned by the noble Earl, they divide the whole country into a certain number of groups, and sometimes they have as many as thirty or forty candidates for two places, and they have had as many as 15,000 votes on a single count with only twenty-one papers which were incorrectly marked. It is really so easy, my Lords, that it is not worth while debating whether there is any difficulty in it or not.
Further, so far from increasing the opportunities of gerry-mandering, as the noble Viscount said was the experience in Tasmania, we have it on the evidence of Sir John McCall, the Agent-General for Tasmania, that proportional representation has killed gerry-mandering. Writing on November 22 last, Sir John McCall said—The Act of 1907 has been applied to four Elections. I have, watched the results, and if there are any sound arguments against proportional representation or the methods taken to secure it, they have not so far been found.Later on he said—The proportional system strengthens the hands of Ministers.The next point made by the noble Viscount, speaking with his intimate knowledge of the caucus, was that it would strengthen the caucus. I rather fail to see why that should particularly alarm the noble Viscount.
§ EARL GREY
After that, he dealt with the question of minority representation and the effort that was made for minority representation in 1867, and the growth of the Birmingham caucus in consequence. Well, those two arguments really can be answered at the same time, in that it was not the single transferable vote which led to that breakdown, but it was the giving of two votes to three-Member constituencies. No advocate of proportional representation defends that system for a minute. It is true these efforts aimed at securing minority representation, but the fact that they entirely failed to do it effectively in one way is no reason why we should give up trying to do it in another way. The noble Viscount then went on to picture the confusion that would arise in the Govern- 871 ment of this country in a four-Member constituency supposing you had two Members elected by each of the main Parties. That seems to me to be the real fallacy at the base of the whole case made against proportional representation, and more particularly it was in this connection that Lord Eversley's pamphlet so entirely missed the problems before the country to-day. At this time in our history, when we are about to double the electorate in the country, it is hardly conceivable that we should go on talking of "the two main Parties." It is true that the Labour Party to-day is not more than a group in the House of Commons, whereas it is a very strong Party in the country. Can anybody doubt that after the next Election it will be just as much a Party in the House of Commons as it is in the country? This Bill is to kill the two-party system. There will be three main Parties in this country, and you have to face the reorganisation which that entails. That same Commission, talking of the single-Member system in paragraph 28, says—The single-Member system claims at most to secure a rough indication of the relative strengths of Parties of comparable size, and to provide for small Parties, interests, and pursuits the widest possible range and the opportunity of obtaining a hearing in Parliament, but without some such provision as the alternative vote it breaks down if more than two large Parties are in the field.That was in 1910. Later on in their Report they admitted that a very large increase of the electorate does furnish a legitimate demand for minority representation. That is the submission which we put before your Lordships to-day.
We do not believe that it is possible to carry on exactly as we have been carrying on in this country. We shall be faced with an enormous number of questions of vital importance after the war, and I am perfectly sure we should not have any prospect of arriving at satisfactory solutions if we had one Party which could impose its will on all other Parties. The noble Earl the Leader of the House, in a very eloquent passage—I think he was speaking on the clause enfranchising women—said—I quite agree that from the ferment and the fret of this war a new social and moral order will, and ought to, emerge. What form it will take I no more than anybody else will dare to predict, but if it is to be anything substantial and successful, I personally hold the view that it is much more likely to succeed if it is not imposed from above, but if it springs from the volition of the people themselves below.872 My Lords, I believe that to be absolutely true. The whole tendency of the development of Government in this country of late years has surely been in the direction of co-operation. The Whitley Report was held to be the most valuable State document that has been produced for a long time. The Whitley Report does not suggest that great industrial questions can be solved by a majority. It suggests that the most promising way to solve great questions is that parties should meet together in equal strength; and I believe that in the next Parliament, which will have to settle tremendous issues (including probably the actual peace terms which this country is going to accept) it is important that every Party which is capable of representation in this country should have the representation it is entitled to, and should not have to trust to any other Party to voice its feelings.
The question of by-elections was then made very much of both by the noble Viscount and by the noble Lord in charge of the Bill. It is quite true that that is a difficulty. Supposing the candidate who had retired, or whatever reason was causing the by-election, had been a minority Member, the noble Lord said how very hard it would be if a majority candidate were elected instead. Perhaps it would be, but it would be very much better to have had a minority Member up to then than never to have had him at all. Again, the Commission on that point talks of this question of by-elections as the only really difficult question, but it says that it is of comparatively minor importance, and I should think that this is really putting it in its right perspective. If proportional representation is worthy of adoption in this country as a whole, the fact that it does entail certain difficulties in by-elections ought not to stand in its way. The noble Viscount also pictured the frightful cost of such elections, which he put at possibly £2,000 to £3,000. But later on he suggested that he knew quite well how he personally would deal with a very fanciful Highland constituency which he sketched for our alarm, but which no one else had ever thought of. He said he would send postcards to every elector, saying he was the Crofter candidate, and he would be returned. As he would get that postage free from the Government, he showed that it would not cost him one halfpenny.
We were taunted with the fact that the majority in the House of Commons for the 873 exclusion of London increased, and I think as the measure of proportional representation in the House of Commons was whittled down the majority against it was increased. That, my Lords, seems to me a very good argument for our putting forward a complete scheme. It shows that there is more sympathy for a complete scheme than for a partial scheme; and that certainly has been my experience in going about the country, in the West Hiding, in Lancashire, and in Scotland, between the Second Reading debate and now. Wherever I have discussed this question with local organisers I have found a very much greater preference for a complete scheme than for a partial scheme, and in many cases organisations which were opposing proportional representation as suggested in the House of Commons said they would take an entirely different view of the question if it was going to be applied to the whole country. Therefore, my Lords, I am convinced that we are wise in suggesting to apply it to the whole country.
We stand on a principle which can easily be justified. We wish to have the scheme as watertight as it is possible to be. We do not wish to except London because London wishes to be excepted. We do not believe you will gain any large measure of support by applying it to one part of the country and not to another. It is far better to apply it all round.
I apologise for occupying so much of your Lordships' time, but I am convinced there is only one question really we ought to turn our minds to here. It is not whether the scheme can be worked. There is no doubt it can be worked, and the Association of Under-Sheriffs informed the Royal Commission that they saw no difficulty in working the scheme. It can be worked. The real question we have to face is whether we wish to go on trying to apply rules which worked very well when we had two main Parties, but which will not work very well when we have three main Parties in this country. Without proportional representation I see nothing on earth to prevent the condition of things arising which the noble Earl sketched out—a solid block of industrial Members in the industrial parts of the country. It is the atrophy of political opinion in the minority Party in certain parts of the country which encourages the majority Party there to become more and more extreme in their views. I believe if it can be arranged for a trial to 874 be given to this measure we shall have the same experience in this country as in other countries, and that is that no country which has ever tried it has gone back upon proportional representation, or wishes to.
§ [The sitting was suspended at a quarter to eight and resumed at nine o'clock.]
§ LORD COLCHESTER (who was indistinctly heard)
I venture to address a few words to the Committee on this subject. I always felt that it was a most important constitutional question, and I think it is doubly important in view of the immense changes which are made in the basis of our representation by the present Bill. I go so far as to say that there should be no such change made unless it is accompanied by some such proposal as proportional representation. To my mind, it is not too much to say that a non-proportional representation is a sham representation. When we hear of one vote one value; how can one vote be of one value when three or five, as a majority, are equal to a thousand or more as a majority. The late Lord Beaconsfield said, "the unit was not the individual, but the community or the corporation." But when you come to the more modern system and base representation on population, then if we do it without proportional representation it will, I think, be altogether a tangle, and we will not get the opinion of the country.
Some allusion has been made to the system which prevailed in the elections to the School Board. I was connected with that system of election for three years on the London School Board, and I must say that the result was fair. The Westminster Division had five members, and those with whom I acted put up five members, and returned three on the first occasion, of whom I was not one. The second time we returned them all. I think it may be said for that system that there was no elector in the area who did not have some representative on the School Board with whom he was in sympathy. Some of the constituencies were large, and returned a very large number of members. That may have caused some inconvenience and may have been partly the reason why the authorities abandoned it; but that objection would not apply in the same way to the present proposal.
I believe that the enormous majorities which there have been of later years accom- 875 panied by a certain swing of the pendulum have been a misfortune to the Party in whose favour those majorities have been. Such majorities are often dangerous to a Party. Macaulay said that the essence of politics was compromise, and I think that we should do well not to push matters to extremes. The position is rendered more dangerous owing to the great change in representation which is being introduced. You are creating an enormous number of voters, who will be very largely drawn from one class, which will probably outnumber everybody else. And we must remember what the effect will be. We shall no longer have the old representation of property, and you are putting the power into the hands of people who may wish to throw the whole burden of taxation upon the landlords. Mr. Bonar Law pointed out the other day that 82 per cent. of the taxation is borne by the direct taxpayer, and 18 per cent. only by those who may have the government of the country in their hands if this Bill is passed. It is fair that they should bear their share.
This state of things was anticipated many years ago by Mr. Mill, who said—The majority in every locality would consist of manual labourers, and when there was any issue pending in which these classes were at issue with the rest no other class would succeed in getting represented anywhere.I do not say we shall go as far as that now, but it points to what might be a great danger, and it is only fair that those who are in the minority should be represented in proportion to their numbers, and their voices at least should be heard, so that, although they may not carry anything by their strength of voting they may be able to exercise such influence as they can in behalf of the reasonable cause which they represent.
For that reason, if for no other, we ought to be very careful not to pass this measure without some corrective of this kind. It is precisely the character of this Bill which makes this Amendment the more necessary. By this means you will secure the representation of all sections of the community, and you will bring in all the different variety of sentiment and opinion that exists in the country and reproduce in the House of Commons all the elements which make up the national life of England.
THE EARL OF LICHFIELD
I should like to say a few words on this very important question, more especially as, I am sorry to say, I differ from many friends with whom I am accustomed to work and on whose opinion I greatly rely. But on this occasion I cannot bring myself to think that the results which they anticipate will be realised. I will confine my attention to the question of how far this Amendment would benefit agriculture and the agricultural interest, because that is a matter in which I take the deepest interest. I know that my friends around me take the view that this Amendment will greatly benefit the agricultural representation.
The inevitable result of this Amendment will be that the constituencies will be enormously increased, and, I greatly fear, that, as a result, the caucus and the Party machine will have so much power that they will successfully counteract the views of the minority; consequently the caucus will prevail and the minority representation will not succeed. It is certain that the larger the constituency the greater the power of the Party organisation, whatever it may be. Nobody, I think, would question that. Then, again, it seems to me that moderate and independent candidates and Members will be greatly discouraged under this system if they try to represent the minority. They will have the whole of the caucus against them, and they will be in a very difficult position, through having to fight such enormous constituencies, in getting over the ground, in making their views known, and in trying to obtain support. I think that it is of the utmost importance for the cause of agriculture and for the rural population that we should have independent and moderate men who understand the conditions of rural life and who are able to advocate such measures as may be necessary for the interest of those classes.
I cannot think that, with the enormous constituencies that would be created if this Amendment were passed, such men would be likely to come forward in large numbers. On the contrary, I believe that they would be greatly discouraged; and the result would be that we should have a less desirable class of man coming forward to represent these large constituencies. Most of the agricultural societies have petitioned in favour of this Amendment. Why? Because they think that the hopes of those who advocate proportional representation 877 will be fully realised, and that they will get increased representation. Will they get it? Will they be able to get a solid agricultural vote? Have they the machinery ready? Will they get the agricultural labourers to vote with them? If not, is it not almost certain that the single-Member constituencies will be better for the agricultural interests than these enormous constituencies which would be created under this Amendment?
I have had very little experience of electioneering and of constituencies, either small or large. Therefore, I naturally turn for advice to those who have had that experience; and I see in the Press—as no doubt many of your Lordships have seen—letters from those experienced statesmen, Lord George Hamilton and Mr. Walter Long, both of whom have had experience of large constituencies, and have arrived at exactly the same conclusion as to the consequences which this Amendment would have with regard to minority representation. I cannot ignore those views. Such being the case, I feel that I must follow their counsel, and the opinion that they have formed that this Amendment will not in practice result as its promoters hope. Of course, I have just the same object in view as the promoters of the Amendment as regards agriculture. I want it to be adequately and properly represented in Parliament, and I should vote for any measure which I thought would give that representation; but, as I have said, it is a matter of opinion how this thing will work out. On paper it looks perfectly simple—the minority will get adequate representation—but from the experience of politicians who have worked these large constituencies before 1885, it would appear that they anticipate that these results will not be obtained. Therefore, under those circumstances I feel obliged to vote against this Amendment. In doing so I am quite content to follow Mr. Long's advice. I dare say your Lordships have read his letters. In one of them he said that he was in disagreement with some of his agricultural friends, but on the other hand he knew that he was voicing the view of a great many agriculturists. From the point of view of the agriculturist I go with him, and I support the view that on the whole agriculture will benefit more from the system under this Bill as it stands than it would do if the Amendment by Lord Selborne were carried into effect.
§ LORD BURNHAM
I think I ought to begin by apologising for rising again at this stage of the Bill to address your Lordships' House, but one is in some difficulty because no Minister seems to be responsible for anything but the intricate machinery and detail of the Bill, and as I proposed the compromise of the Speaker's Conference I feel bound to speak in support of the Amendment. Proportional representation was regarded by the Speaker's Conference as being essential to the scheme agreed upon, When the enormous change was made of introducing universal suffrage it was especially conditioned by proportional representation. I have not the least hesitation in saying that the Report, as it was presented to the House of Commons, as a composite whole, would have had no chance of being approved by a majority, still less unanimously, had it not contained the principle of proportional representation.
My noble friend Lord Peel took up a very peculiar position. He said the Government were neutral but I am bound to say that I interpreted his speech as being hostile to the Amendment; and he put forward some objections which would hardly pass currency in either House of Parliament. I believe he went as far as to say that this Amendment might kill the Bill, and he raised the official objection that if it were carried there would be great difficulty in bringing the session to a conclusion at its wonted time, and of making the financial arrangements for the year. I would ask him whether an Amendment which is to settle the future of popular Government in the whole Empire—it comes to that; in this country first, and then in the whole Empire—is to depend upon the temporary convenience of sessional arrangements. Apart from that, nobody knows better than the noble Viscount that there would be no difficulty in carrying this Bill, in part or in whole, over to next session. Even the Schedules can if necessary, be carried over by themselves, and the work of registration would not be delayed by a single day. I would have you observe that the registration provisions apply just as much to the single area constituencies and the limited areas as to the larger areas necessary for the purposes of this Bill, and therefore on that account nothing can be said. I should not have inferred that my noble friend (Lord Peel) was opposed to this Amendment had he not gone on to say that as a representative of London on the 879 London County Council, particularly as the representative of Kennington, he objected to this provision because it would interfere with local life and local patriotism. I think I have perhaps as much claim to speak for London as my noble friend, and I would point out to your Lordships that so far from destroying local life this is going to revive it. The local life of London as it exists in its various parts is the borough life, and at the present moment you arbitrarily divide the boroughs into single-Member constituencies. The greater part of the Schedule in this Bill will restore their unity and integrity to the London boroughs.
I quite agree that there is a local life in the boroughs. Perhaps I go further than my noble friend Lord Selborne in that respect, because although there may be a London regiment there is also a Kensington battalion or a Tower Hamlets battalion. The spirit which is incarnated in these bodies of men will be restored and not destroyed by the Bill. My noble friend went on to say that it would destroy the local life of Kennington. I am bound to say that, apart from "The Horns" and the Oval I do not know what particular local associations Kennington has, expecially as it is only one part of the borough of Lambeth. That is carrying the question of local life and local tradition a little far. I can hardly think that, in spite of the fact that my noble friend represents the borough in the London County Council, Kennington would make any such claim for itself. The truth is that if we want municipal spirit in London your Lordships can do nothing better than give back their integrity to the London boroughs which they have lost under the single-Member system.
Generally speaking, my Lords, I think this is the first Reform Bill in which proportional representation has had a chance. In the past it has been greatly prejudiced by the assumed pedantry of its antecedents. Its sesquipedalian title is against it, and may I say it has suffered from association with the figure of John Stuart Mill, who was always called a philosopher in politics, and anything he advocated was supposed to be incapable of understanding by the multitude. Well, now we get it explained clearly so that every voter in the country can understand it just as well as he can understand the half-dozen different systems of election now applied, because your Lord- 880 ships must not think that multiple elections are foreign to our system of local Government. Just the reverse is the fact. Then of course, it suffered from the exaggerated enthusiasm of its advocates. Proportional representation is no panacea. It is not going to change a wilderness into a garden. It is not going to stop all sighing and sorrow in the streets, but it will give you, for the first time, a system of representation which is a reality and not a sham, which is an actuality and not a phantasm.
I cannot for the life of me understand the flagrant and even impudent paradox which tells you that representative government can only succeed if it does not represent. Mill said that surely in really equal democracies every section will be represented not disproportionately but proportionately. A more recent political writer, whom we all remember, Mr. Lecky, who sat for so long in the other House, prophesied that representative institutions would probably perish by ceasing to be representative. If, as the noble Viscount Lord Harcourt believes it is only possible to run representative government successfully so long as it does not represent, then you get to the absurd conclusion that the less representative it is the more successful will it be. That is really the argument of Lord Eversley in the pamphlet which has been circulated to every member of your Lordships' House. He says, "It is impossible to have strong representative government unless the rule of majority be exaggerated." An American writer said, "A vote of one on God's side is a majority." But is the vote always going to be a vote of one on God's side? That is the rule of the bare majority, and the Royal Commission which has been spoken of so often, which reported in 1910, said, as the noble Viscount pointed out, that the only chance of good government was in the exaggeration of majorities. I cannot believe that there is any strength in government except stability, and I cannot believe that there is any test which you can properly apply except the truth with which it mirrors the opinion of the country and in which it is really a small scale map of the community. If that is not true, then representative government must be pronounced a failure; but I believe it is true, and I believe that nothing more than the history of recent years has shown the mischief of exaggerated majorities.
We had exaggerated majorities in the Elections of 1895, 1900, and 1906. Can 881 anybody say, looking back, that the size of these majorities was an advantage to the country? I will take only one case, and it is a very simple one—the case of your Lordships' House. If the Unionist majority during those ten years had been smaller, does any member of this House believe that nothing would have been done to bring its composition and constitution more into accord with what is sometimes called the spirit of the age, but which, at any rate, you can call the tendencies of the times? I always thought that this was a great act of omission, to which the Unionist Party must plead guilty at the bar of history. Then the converse is equally true of the majority of 1906. Can anybody believe that it was a good thing for the country that during those years nothing was done except to threaten your Lordships' House and to lay the foundations of the Parliament Act, which has upset the whole balance of our Constitution?
In both cases the real vice was in the exaggeration of the Party majority, and it would have been far better for our constitutional development, far better for the Empire history, if the majority in the other House had corresponded with the state of things outside. When the Royal Commission said, "Changes of feeling in the country are really on the occasion of Elections far larger than is shown by the counting of heads at the polls," they said what no figures can prove, and what I believe to be profoundly untrue. The noble Viscount who spoke second in this debate went so far as to say that the majority in Parliament ought to be out of all proportion to its numerical strength in the country. That is paradoxical. It is humorous, no doubt, but it cannot be seriously defended by anybody who genuinely believes in popular government. While I was listening to the noble Viscount I began to doubt whether he really did. I venture to say that the system which gives us stability, and which keeps the centre of gravity where it ought to be, is that which makes for good government and for the welfare of the State in the long run.
Then we come, of course, to the objection, raised continually, that the size of the constituencies under this system will prevent our Parliamentary institutions being properly worked. I gather from my noble friend who has just spoken that 882 that would apply to the case of agriculture. He gave a very unfortunate instance. He said he had been converted, or very largely persuaded, by the arguments of Mr. Walter Long. We all respect the name of Mr. Walter Long, but it is a strange thing that, instead of representing an agricultural constituency, he sits at this moment for the Strand. His personal popularity is as great, I think, as that of any man in this country, but is he unable to find an agricultural seat which is so clearly congruous to his record and to his opinions? If any proof were wanted of the failure to put the right man in the right place it is in the fact that Mr. Walter Long is not sitting for his native county—I dare say he might be—and though he speaks with a wide knowledge and experience he is not, according to our constitutional ideas at this moment, responsible to an agricultural constituency.
With regard to the question of the cost of the new constituencies as an argument against proportional representation, I would have your Lordships recollect that a great amount of the burden which falls on candidates is not in fighting an Election, but in nursing the constituency, and this has been cultivated, in the case of the single-Member areas, to a point of refinement and elaboration which is not good for the constituency and not good for the candidate. That is what the noble Viscount Lord Harcourt, calls "keeping touch" between the constituency and the candidate. It precedes the assumption of what was cynically described by the late Mr. Labouchere, "It is wonderful how tight that horny hand of labour closes on half a sovereign." That is a cynical remark, but it is really the basis for the nursing of small constituencies. In large areas under the Bill it would be impossible to canvass from door to door, as many of us have had to do—a process degrading to the candidate and not less degrading to the constituency; it would be impossible to go to every bazaar and to every small local function, and therefore we should revert to the old state of things when it was found to be sufficient for a Member to address meetings in the principal centres of his constituency and not go from village to village, or from street to street, trying to pick up here and there a single vote which may turn the Election. I once sat for a constituency sixty-five miles long, and I am perfectly certain that if any of your Lordships had had that experience you would know it is impossible for a Member who is in that position to do 883 his duty to the country and to the constituency. Every hamlet expects the Member to visit it as often as if it were a separate borough.
We are only asking that we should go back to the geographical distribution which obtained before the year 1885. Before that time each knight of the shire was proud to represent the whole of the county; prouder to represent the whole of the county than any division of the county; and if I am answered by being told that then he had to address only a small number of men who were in possession of the franchise before the Reform Act of 1885, my answer is that the means of locomotion have tremendously improved since then. Those who have had to drive about a rural constituency before the days of the motorcar realise what an immense change it has made to the personal convenience of the candidate. I venture to think that it is far easier, under present day conditions, to perambulate the largest constituency under the Bill than it was in the old days to drive along the chalk roads in a single-horse fly. Only those who had experience of the old conditions would appreciate how infinitely better it will be for any county candidate in the future.
I do not think that in taking a step which has been urged—which I have urged before, but will not do so again—as a protection to minorities, you need fear that it will be opposed by those Labour organisations who are to obtain for the first time such a preponderant influence. I hear, not with fear but with interest, the fact that 400 Labour candidates have been already announced to be run in different parts of the country. I am perfectly certain that, by the casual and haphazard system of a bare majority, whole districts will, if not at the first, at least at the second election after this Bill, have an exclusive Labour representation.
It happens, however, that organised Labour is on the side of proportional representation. At the conference that is about to be held by the Labour Party—I have had an opportunity of looking through the agenda sheet—there is resolution after resolution in the name of Trades Councils from various parts of the country in favour of proportional representation, and there is not a single one on the other side. In these circumstances, seeing that they at least believe in the representation of minorities by the single tranferable vote, 884 I think that your Lordships will be ill-advised to pledge yourselves once more to a system which does not pretend to secure fair or equal representation of opinion anywhere. I believe that in adopting this proposal you will render the future of popular government safe and secure. It is not only here that apprehension comes into all minds. It is a commonplace to say that there are those who fawn and flatter just as much in the corridor of trades congresses as in the antechambers of princes. We all know that. But there is not a country under Parliamentary government that is not debating and discussing this question now. There are, indeed, very few where it has not been already adopted, or where resolutions have not been passed asking that it should be put into force in the election of Members of the Lower Chamber or for both Chambers.
Lord Harcourt referred to the Dominions. I do not know whether he is aware that in Australia the leader of the Liberal Party, as in Canada, has declared in favour of proportional representation for the Lower House. I think that in most of the States a pledge has been given that it shall be introduced. I think that in New Zealand all Parties are agreed upon it. I ask your Lordships to adopt this Amendment and make the country and the Empire, to use the current phrase, safe for democracy. It is not safe without it. I believe that, as the late Earl Grey said, democracy can be faced without foreboding if you will only supply it with the means of expressing its own proportion of sentiment and opinion, and not cripple it by an outworn system that does not pretend to any other virtue than to exaggerate the power of the majority against the minority wherever it is in force.
§ LORD CHARNWOOD
I want to reinforce if I can in a few words—I hope, like your Lordships, that they really will be few—two of the points made by the noble Lord who has just sat down. By far the most important question about this Amendment seems to me to be whether you do or do not like the prospect of Governments supported by huge disproportionate majorities in the House of Commons. We have had examples of that in the case of Liberal and of Conservative Governments, and we are confronted with the prospect of a majority of the Labour Party similarly swollen. My noble friend who has just 885 sat down pointed to the rather unfortunate examples of the big Liberal majority of 1906, and the big Conservative majorities of the two previous Elections. I want to go back and take the opposite case of the Government which, I believe, of all Governments of recent years had the smallest majority behind it—the Liberal Government of 1892–1895. We are told that a Government with a small majority in the House of Commons is necessarily a weak Government. Many of your Lordships remember those times very well. That Government did not pass many of the great pieces of legislation which it wanted to accomplish; in that respect it did neither better nor worse than the Liberal Administration before it and the Liberal Administration which followed it ten years later; in that respect they were exactly on a par with one another.
But it is not for the purpose of carrying contentious legislative measures that we want a Government strong. The real purpose for which a Government is required to be strong is for carrying on the executive work of the country. I take that example, the only example that our lifetime affords, and that Government which, according to the argument of the noble Viscount (Lord Harcourt) should have been a very weak Government, was not a weak Government at all. It was confronted in its executive duties by many very serious problems. In its foreign policy it was confronted, as we all know now, by very great difficulties with France, and, I believe, so far as we are acquainted with the facts, that it faced them with great firmness and, on the whole, with success. It was confronted with some considerable difficulties in India. Two Indian Secretaries in succession, supported by that tiny majority, faced the crisis that they had to face with very considerable firmness. I believe that law and order was maintained in Ireland also with great firmness; and I am quite sure that very difficult questions of law and order arose here in England during the course of that Government, and that there was not the very smallest sign of less courage and strength on the part of the Executive Government in those days than on the part of Governments which have gone before them, or followed them. Those may be bold assertions. I am not going to take up your time by trying to make them good; but I make this challenge for the consideration of your Lordships—that, tested by this single experience, a Govern- 886 ment with a small majority behind it in the House of Commons is not in the least more likely to be feeble in the discharge of its executive duties than a Government with a huge and swollen majority.
There is one other point which appeals to me rather strongly. If I had at the last moment to reconsider my long prepossession in favour of proportional representation, one of the objections which would weigh with me a good deal is the argument that you do away with the close and intimate touch between a Member of Parliament and his constituents. We have heard a great deal of eloquence about that intimate association which it is desired should subsist in the future between a Member of Parliament and all the men, and now all the women, whom he is supposed to represent. That argument had some weight with me, for this reason. I confess that I look back with feelings of almost affectionate memory to the relations that I had with my constituents in a large county constituency, of which I was for a short while Member, and for which I was on several occasions the candidate. The effort to canvass that constituency brought one in touch with a great many of one's supporters, and with a good many of one's opponents, too, in an extraordinarily pleasant way which is a very useful experience to any man. But I am not sure that this supposed intimate knowledge after all, amounted to very much. It was very interesting; but I doubt whether a man does get, by the arduous experiences of electioneering in a large constituency, anything like that full and close knowledge of his constituents that he is supposed to get. But what I do know for certain is that the attempt to get it is an absolutely back-breaking task which may take up years of the life of a young and energetic man to the exclusion of any other kind of work. I believe that the attempt to get that kind of impossible acquaintance with the people of a large district tends, and will tend more and more, to give way to those far less valuable and estimable things upon which I do not wish to dwell to-night. It seems to me that a man in a county constituency aspiring to that sort of knowledge which we are told a Member should have, is attempting what is practically impossible, and that our political life will really be considerably more wholesome if we are forced frankly to recognise that it is impossible, and to give up that idea altogether.
There are, I suppose, opponents of proportional representation who will be found in the Division Lobby, but it is a matter of regret that we do not hear them in the course of the debate. I agree that this subject is rather a hackneyed one, and that it is difficult to say anything upon it which is new or fresh. I do not mean to go over the old arguments. I believe that many of the arguments in favour of it are admitted. The criticisms which we have heard have been rather criticisms of detail and practical applicability. But I think that the opposition in the House of Commons, as far as I can make it out, is not an opposition on account of the interests of the constituents and the welfare of the country, but an opposition which springs very largely from the personal convenience and comfort of Members. A Member of Parliament who has established what a tradesman would call "a connection" with a particular group of electors, does not want to have to launch out into a wide area with which he is not in touch. I think that our real object in forming a representative body is not the convenience or the happiness of the sitting Members, but the best way of getting at the opinion of the community. I do not think that is an unreasonable demand to make.
We are told how terrible will be the cost of these large constituencies. The cost, as has been pointed out, either of a large constituency or of a small one, very largely depends upon the length of the purse, and the eagerness to get in, of the candidate. We know that comparatively small constituencies may be freely sprinkled—sluiced, in fact—with money by a candidate who, nevertheless, does not come within the reach of the law. But I am quite sure of this, that it is quite possible for candidates to bring themselves to the knowledge of the constituents and appeal to them with a very moderate expenditure of money. I can only say from my own experience for many years on the School Board for London—I sat for the largest constituency in London. Marylebone, which was afterwards divided into nine or ten Parliamentary constituencies—that, of course, we candidates had not a large amount of money to expend—there was no Party purse behind us—and we used to fight that immense constituency and run four candidates oh our ticket for about £600. No doubt, if we had been rich and lavish we could have spent more, and I dare say we should have added to our poll; but, as a matter of fact, we used to fight 888 elections in these large constituencies with efficiency, and bring matters home to the minds of the constituents.
There is another very laborious and troublesome practice which used to prevail, and that was the personal canvass. Now we know that with large constituencies the personal canvass has disappeared. In reference to this, Mr. Long, I think, wrote a letter to the papers and stated how he had visited 200 villages, and made 200 speeches, and what a valuable thing it was, and that if you multiplied your constituency by three there would be 600 villages, and 600 speeches to be made in them. It is not in the least necessary. It is like advertising. When two tradesmen compete with one another and have plenty of money they go on advertising, but I am sure that a good deal of advertising is simply due to the rivalry of people who have plenty of money to spend. All the constituents can be made acquainted with the views of the candidates without speeches in every single little village of the place.
Another strong argument in favour of proportional representation which has not been mentioned in this debate is that you will have several candidates, and the electors will have the choice of returning a substantial number. I am sure of this, that every one will agree that under Parliamentary institutions it is very desirable that you should be able to secure continuity of sitting of the best men—the men who have made their mark and are of the best value. Privates in the game get shot down at a General Election and disappear, and it does not much matter, but it is important that there shall be continuity of sitting for men of some note. Where a constituency returns something like five Members there will be some drop out, but the leading man of the Party will be much more likely to retain his seat, and that is, I think, a great advantage. That is one of the reasons why I hope that if this is effected in the Bill, proportional representation will spread to municipal elections, where continuity is even more important, because in municipal affairs every man is an administrator as well as a legislator. Therefore I think it is of the greatest importance we should take this initial step. We do not in this Amendment establish universal proportional representation, but we introduce the principle, and I feel confident myself that as it works it 889 will recommend itself to the good sense and the approval of the masses of the electors and it will spread.
May I say a word about the Amendment as it stands? The noble Earl who brought it forward covered much wider ground in his speech then the Amendment strictly demands. I understand that further Amendments will be put on the Paper—a Schedule, and so forth—and the noble Earl has intimated that he intends this to apply not merely to those constituencies which now return from three to five Members, but it is to apply to those very much larger constituencies which return ten, fifteen, and I think in one case nineteen Members. He also proposes to group single-Member constituencies of counties and possibly counties and boroughs, so as to extend the system of three or five-Member constituencies very widely. Of course. I should be glad to see that. Having had notice of it, whether it comes up on the Schedule or Report, I am glad to learn that he will give it as wide an extension as this House is willing to join with him in applying. I would say this, however. Having regard to the speech of the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill, I should be very sorry to think that by spreading the net too wide and by including those constituencies which go beyond five Members—and where, therefore, it will be necessary to send the question back to Commissioners, and possibly to a local inquiry—such a delay were necessarily interposed as might endanger the Bill itself. I should be very sorry if an argument or an excuse were given to the opponents in the House of Commons. While really they object to proportional representation at all they would fall back on the necessity of saving the Bill.
I understand, at any rate, that we shall have plenty of time to consider this before it goes to the House of Commons. If this Amendment is carried now, a Schedule will be Tabled, I understand, before we give consideration to that Schedule, and we shall have time to consider it on Report. Therefore I do not think the criticism of the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill is very serious as yet. We shall see before it goes back to the House of Commons exactly what the position is, and whether we really are interposing such a serious obstacle of time as to prejudice the whole progress of the Bill. We all agree that we want this thing to go through at such a date as would 890 enable registration to be taken in hand and the other details to be carried out so that there might be an Election at any rate this autumn. Every one feels that it is high time the electors were consulted again. I say that by the way, because I think the noble Viscount's criticism may have to be considered at a later stage. I have noticed, however, that proposals will be put forward and an attempt trade to deal with the difficulty. The noble Viscount in charge of the Bill made some observations on the noble Earl's statement that he was not prepared to apply the scheme universally. A sketch was given of an imaginary group to include, I think, the Orkneys, the Shetlands, Caithness, Sutherland, Ross, Lewis, and I am not sure that the noble Lord did not go to Inverness. He took practically the whole of the North of Scotland and its islands. Then he gave us a gloomy picture of the candidate going on these stormy seas in the winter, and, having conjured up this phantom, he dispersed it at once by saying how he would deal with the situation, how at the expense of the postage stamp he would cover triumphantly so wide an area. I think we all agree there will be some districts which are not suitable for grouping, but this question will be considered when you come to the Schedule.
I do not really think that the criticisms of the noble Viscount who amused us with his discourse in opposition to the Bill were in substance at all serious. The noble Viscount in charge of the Bill disposed of some of the terrors. In fact, I said to the noble Viscount I thought he was rather like the Eat Boy in "Pickwick," and that he intended to make our flesh creep rather than to conjure up real terrors. The noble Viscount in charge of the Bill said the elector would have no trouble whatever in marking 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 on his paper, and that as to counting you could easily get people properly trained under town clerks and others who could grapple with that. Really, this difficulty is also fictitious. It is not as though the system had not been tried in many places. It has been tried and found to work perfectly smoothly, and, what is more, it has worked with satisfaction to the people who have adopted it.
I think perhaps the most interesting country where proportional representation has been adopted has been Belgium. We know how strong Party spirit was in Belgium, where you had a Catholic Party and a Liberal Party and the tension of 891 feeling was most violent. They adopted proportional representation. It is quite true it has diminished majorities, but I do not believe in fictitious majorities. I believe the majorities of the representatives ought to correspond with the numbers of those represented. Certainly I believe that one effect of proportional representation has been probably to increase discipline in the Party that has the majority; where the majority is smaller you have to have a little stricter discipline in the voting. But certainly I think in Belgium the bitterness of Parties, all the intense strain, has decreased, and you cannot have a keener strain than the strain between two Parties, one composed of the modern Radical, rather revolutionary, free-thinking sort of Continental democracy and the other composed of rather Ultramontane and reactionary Conservatives, supported and largely controlled by the clergy themselves. Nevertheless, in that country, I believe people who know Belgium will say that proportional representation has worked to great advantage. I am not supporting proportional representation merely because it will be a help to the agricultural interest. The bulk of the agricultural interest believe it will be, and in so far as the agricultural interest is composed of human beings, voters, they are entitled to express their views, and to have effective expression of them, by fair representation just as much as the cotton trade, or the coal miners, or the shippers, or any other people. I want each group in the country, whether it is a group of ideas or a group of interests, to have such a voice in Parliament as their numbers entitle them to; and I do not want to give more to the agriculturists than to any other group, or to give them less.
But I do think we are on the eve of tremendous changes, and I agree with the noble Earl who spoke from the cross-benches that we are not going to be faced in this new Parliament with the old, disciplined, traditional Parties of Radicals and Tories. Some people talk of Unionists, but I think that word has almost disappeared from suitable language, for all Parties are anxious to have some sort of Home Rule established, and are only praying that the Irish will patch up their quarrels and give us something they are agreed upon. The question of the future will, I think, be largely a question of organised Labour and those who do not belong to Labour; and as no doubt the Labour vote will be much the larger I 892 think, on the same principle as gives fair play to the agriculturists, I would urge that those who exist outside the ranks of manual labourers—employers, capitalists, and people living on hereditary wealth—will be wise if they are able to put in men who will represent them and give expression to their views, so as to leaven the opinions, some of which I do not doubt will be rather crude, of the other side, because you will have an immense mass coming in which will be new to the responsibility of power. In such a case it is all the more important that you should have some of the ablest, most responsible, and most respected of those the French call les couches supérieures, the upper layer of society, the layer that used to be at the top but which, when the soil is turned over, may find itself underneath. I think it is extremely important, therefore, that we should now try, in the interests of stability and of reasonable progress, to secure that every section of the community should be represented as far as and as equally as possible.
I will only add one other word in conclusion. The noble Lord put it quite rightly. He took the case of Wales, of Scotland, and the South-east counties of England. It is not desirable, I think, that any section of opinion should be represented by people who, more or less, share their opinion from a distance. There is a sort of flavour of the soil. The Scottish Conservative is not like the South-east Conservative. He is a Scotsman; he knows Scottish laws and traditions, and he can speak on Scottish questions from a Scottish point of view. It is the same of the Welsh Conservative or Welsh Churchman. He takes a different point of view—he takes the Welsh point of view. In my neighbouring county of Lancashire there is the most marked contrast between East and West Lancashire. Every one knows that the atmosphere of Liverpool, and that area which comes within its sphere of influence, is as different as possible from the atmosphere of Manchester. I think it is to be regretted that Liverpool is so predominently Conservative, and I think it would be a good thing if some of those who represent Liberal feeling in the West of Lancashire were better represented, and that those who represent Conservative feeling in East Lancashire, were also better represented. You do not get in the representative House of Commons the truest impression of the shades of political opinion, which vary from one part of the country to another. 893 It is a matter, not merely of getting the broad black and white of the painter, but of getting the shades by which one opinion passes into the other. For these reasons, and for others, I am strongly in support of the Amendment before the House.
§ LORD STUART OF WORTLEY
If no other advocate of "things as they are" is willing to attempt the duty of stemming the tide which seems to be setting in favour of the Amendment, I suppose it behoves me to point out some peculiarities which I have observed in the debate so far as it has gone. There are three usual methods of attacking a proposal, especially when it is a proposal which seeks to remedy a mischief. The first line is to say that there is no disease, no mischief; and in connection with that I dare say your Lordships will have observed that no speaker, up to the moment, has attempted to deny the injustice of the present system. The second line of attack is usually to say that the remedy will not drive out the disease. It has not yet been denied that proportional representation, if it can be applied and so far as it can be applied, will produce a much more accurate reflection of popular opinion than that which the present system secures. The third line of attack is to say that the proposed remedy, if it does remove the disease, will probably replace it by a worse; and it is under that head, and only under that head, that anything like opposition to this Amendment has been effectively developed. The objections have all been not "now"; or not "thus"; all machinery objections, illuminated either by the corruscations of wit of the noble Viscount who moved the rejection, or by the lurid colours in which the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill painted the difficulties and the horrors which await us in the path we seek to take.
There surely are injustices in the present system. There is the fact that Scottish Unionism gets little or no representation in the House of Commons; certainly not what it is entitled to in quality or quantity. There is the case of South-east and Southern England, in which Liberalism, Radicalism, and still more Labour have the same complaints to make. There is equally clamant the case of Wales, large numbers of citizens going unrepresented. There is the further fact that great changes of opinion in the electorate remain entirely unreflected in the representation in the House of Commons. In January, 1910, in Scotland about 400,000 894 Liberal votes were cast, and they carried sixty-one Liberal seats, and only eleven Conservative seats were held by that Party in that Parliament. At the next Election in the same year the Liberal votes had fallen from nearly 400,000 to a little over 370,000, nevertheless the number of Liberal seats was still sixty-one. The Conservative votes had gone up in like proportion, yet the Conservative seats remained at the low figure of eleven.
The objections to this proposal usually class themselves either on the side of machinery objections, or else of objections to the substance, and it is really objection to the substance, of which we have heard the least to-night that is really effective. I propose to address myself to these complaints—that proportional representation, if it leads to anything, will lead to group systems, and will militate against the existence of strong find stable Ministries; that it will lead to gerry-mandering devices, will operate to nullify the decisions—"hamstring" was the word, I think—of majorities, and will favour caucus manipulations in connection with which the awful example of the three-cornered constituencies is held up to our recollection.
I should like to have a word to say about these three-cornered constituencies. Your Lordships have doubtless read the pamphlet circulated by—we are all sorry he cannot be here—a veteran member of your Lordships' House (Lord Eversley) who comes from a time in which people thought a good deal of their own political opinions. It was rather the time of the political perfectibilities, but a good many opinions held at that time have received some rude shocks since. Altogether, the infallibilities of that period do not quite hold their ground with the same strength in consequence of some experiences which have been gained since. But even as regards the three-cornered constituencies which were in force and existed under the first three General Elections under household suffrage, I must entirely deny, from my own observation, either that the fearful things that were predicted of them were realised, or that they were dismissed with that enthusiasm which has been mentioned, and much less that the system which has been put in their place has been so conspicuous a success.
Let me remind your Lordships what happened, for instance, in the most characteristic of all the cases. Take the case of Leeds. Leeds in 1868, at the first 895 Election under household suffrage, returned two Liberals and one Conservative. In 1874 it returned two Conservatives and one Liberal. In 1880 it returned two Liberals and one Conservative. Is not that an indication that upon Imperial matters and national matters the opinion of Leeds was very closely balanced, and that its representation ought to be divided at Westminster just as its opinions were divided at home? Who can imagine for a moment that the interest of Leeds would suffer by its being thus divided at Westminster? Who cannot see that upon any question upon which Leeds was united, and in which the local interests of Leeds were engaged, Leeds would not lose but would gain by having advocates not upon one side only of the Speaker's Chair but upon both. In fact, it would have been a monstrous injustice really, if that small modicum of minority representation was not in that way secured. If you want to institute a comparison you have only to see what happens next under the perfect system which we are asked to perpetuate by rejecting this Amendment. Under the single-Member system in 1906 the Unionist Party secured—I am only able to take the contests that arose in four of the five Divisions of Leeds on that occasion, because the fifth was complicated by a third candidature, but in those four seats the argument is just as good—in respect of those four divisions the Unionist Party got two-fifths of the votes recorded and none of the seats. In 1910 the Unionist Party had more than three-eighths of the votes recorded, and again got none of the five seats. If any one thinks that that is not a disease, they must have a very jaundiced view of public affairs.
Another thing that is objected to in regard to the probabilities under proportional representation is that it will give a great power to caucus manipulation. What does that mean? In Birmingham in those early years of household suffrage there was a big Liberal majority, and they were in a position to get the whole of the three seats if they took the trouble—and they did take the trouble; and they were entitled to them. Our old friend. Captain Fred Burnaby, the hero of Khiva in Central Asia, who made a very plucky fight in Birmingham, was not able to get within 4,000 of the lowest Liberal poll and within 7,000 of the highest Liberal poll. But if a Party was able to organise itself strongly it deserved to have all the three seats for a place like 896 Birmingham. Caucus manipulation, however, is not limited to three-seat boroughs, because I myself was an instance of caucus manipulation. When I first entered the House of Commons I had to attack a double-Member borough against two Radical opponents, and if all my supporters had not been asked to plump for me I should not have had the honour of a seat in that House. So that you must expect caucus manipulation, in every case in which it seems suitable, for the attainment of political objects, to produce discipline among a particular set of the electors.
It is said of this proposal that it will produce all the dreadful results stated, but there is one thing the opponents of this Amendment never seem inclined to do; they shut their eyes to the injustices of the present system, but they leave out the fact that all their fears are nullified by the experience of proportional representation wherever it has been tried. It is true, we have had the awful example of Tasmania held out. Things may have been rather close in the small Legislature of that happy island, but no one has denied that proportional representation has given the true representation of political parties and of public feeling in that island State. And the representative of Tasmania in this country has shown us that all the time that this true representation has been given by proportional representation in the State Legislature, side by side with that you have had the single-Member system, giving you untrue representation, under which a minority of the electorate got a majority of the representation in the Commonwealth Parliament. And more, he has shown us that dissolutions and political upheavals, and whatever political inconveniences attend them, have been much more frequent in the Commonwealth Parliament than in Tasmania, and were entirely due to the public discontent and the result of the single-Member system which gave unfair Parliamentary majorities to electoral minorities. Then to what really does the Tasmanian case amount? The real source of the evils was not proportional representation but solely the mere fact that Parties in Tasmania happened to be rather closely balanced; and not the fact that the State had not chosen to set up another scheme to mask, to conceal, and to falsify that fundamental state of things in the island.
The agricultural case has been held up as a matter in respect of which the scheme 897 proposed by this Amendment is bound to fail. I am willing to admit for the purposes of argument (but for no other purpose) that it is very possible that you will not get an increase of Members with special qualification and knowledge of agriculture in the House of Commons under this Amendment; but what you will get, if you get an agricultural Member who gets a quota of agriculturists in a constituency in which agriculturists reside in any large numbers, is a Member who will have an independence in the House of Commons such as no other system can give him. He will not always be obliged to keep his eye on certain small or great urban constituencies whose vote will probably throw him when he has given a vote supposed to be entirely favourable to agriculture. He will be able to rely upon a determined and united community to maintain him in Parliament if he remains faithful to them.
I come lastly to the argument which is, perhaps, the most important of all. It rests upon a paradox, it is true; because, as Lord Burnham said, it practically amounts to saying that the representative system can never really be successful except when it most departs from being representative. It is said that you cannot have a stable Government, or a vigorous Executive, if you apply proportional representation. I think the revered and noble Lord, Lord Eversley, goes so far as to say that under it; no Ministry will ever be able to evolve a policy. I do not feel so sure, if Parties are evenly balanced in a State, that you want policies to be evolved. Some policies insist upon inflicting as many humiliations on as many people as you can find; of devastating as many homes as come in the way; and, as some distinguished statesman said, "of making people squeal as often as you can." Some politicians are not happy unless they are living in a fevered atmosphere of political brickbats or of rhetorical rotten eggs. I think there are cases of what Lord Everaley calls "inertia and stagnation" being desired by the nation, for a limited period at least. After all, what controversialists call "inertia and stagnation" are what other people call "the contentment of the people." That seems to me to be one of the chief and first, though one of the most often forgotten, objects of democratic government. If democratic government does not exist for the contentment of the people I do not know for what it exists.
I should say that proportional re- 898 presentation in the Tasmanian case did produce great independence in the Ministry. I mean independence in the sense that they were able to stick to their opinions and to defy the minority in the House, however large. In the Tasmania case that was particularly important, because, as I dare say your Lordships know, in communities like our Dominions there is a constant struggle going on to get Dominion subsidies—Commonwealth subsidies—and the like for State for provincial objects—it is just the same in the States where State subsidies are demanded for parochial objects—and there we are told that owing to the fact that the Ministry were able to say "Although we have a small majority in the Assembly we know we are firm and strong in the country," they were able to put up a stronger and more convinced resistance to any unjustifiable financial demands. I should say in the same way that in our own Legislature the presence of a strong minority will prevent nothing except extreme action by the Executive which in the conditions supposed is surely undesirable.
What was the result of the institution of the single-Member system in this country? The case of 1892 has been referred to. It must not be forgotten that the single-Member constituency in 1892 did give you a small majority and an unstable Government. I do not want to say things about the Parliament of 1892, because it might lead to controversy, but there were those who believed that the Government of that day thought they would produce an appearance of strength by proceeding to violent measures. But their weakness was that they were not in a position to say "Although we have a small majority in the elective House we have a great majority in the country outside." On the contrary, their opponents were able to say "You have no majority in the country outside."; and through the action of this House we were able to put the matter to the test. It was proved that they had not got a majority, although there were not wanting those who suggested that probably the single-Member system gave a wrong construction to the Election of 1895. Let us bear in mind also that it was that system which had the effect practically of returning Mr. Gladstone to power in 1885 with no majority unless he proceeded to conciliate the Irish Nationalists.
I support this Amendment because I believe that all these fears about unstable 899 Governments and Legislative Houses with no minds of their own are pure chimeras and delusions. I believe in imposing moderation upon the Executive when necessary, and I do not believe that the purpose of democratic government is to do anything more than to replace tyranny by something better. It is not to replace the tyranny of one or of a few, for the one can be, if you like, decapitated and the few otherwise displaced. If that is the object, you do not want to replace these people by the tyranny of many, who cannot be reasoned with or made responsible by anything short of forcible resistance. The object of democratic government, as I said when I rose, is the contentment of the people—if not of the whole people, then of the greatest number of the people—and let us not forget that where minorities are large, your strict majority rule means the larger number of discontented persons.
§ LORD MUIR MACKENZIE
I am most extremely reluctant to rise at this hour and to speak, when what I have to say is only what has been said over and over again. It appears to me as if any opposition to the Amendment had entirely dropped. I should have thought it was a much better plan for the House to adjourn, so that we can hear something that has to be said against the Amendment. I am quite prepared, if the House wishes, to go on and state what my reasons are for the vote I shall give for the Amendment, but it is only going over ground already covered.
Everybody must admit that really everything has been said that requires to be said on the subject. For some time we have not heard a single word on the other side. Therefore, I should only propose to go on if it should be the wish of your Lordships that any further statement should be made on the subject. The only justification there can be for any observations from me is that there is some value in a debate of this kind—where no doubt there is to be a vote in the Division Lobby—that there should be some indication from what I will modestly call the obscurer portions of the House as to the direction of their votes. As it appears to be the wish of the House, I may offer a few further remarks.
I am not able to make such a convincing speech as I have heard from most of those who have spoken in the sense in which I should wish to speak, as well as the other 900 side. In the first place I am not an expert in the figures which are the stock-in-trade of this business, or in the history of the controversy. I will only say about the history that I think the position of this Question is very different now from what it used to be. The fact of the matter here, as in many other cases, is that the crank of yesterday is the high priest of to-day. There is a second reason why I feel I cannot make a convincing speech on this subject. It is really one of those causes to which the noble Earl opposite, Lord Selborne, referred with great frankness the other day, when he said that one does not expect that anything one says will influence anybody else, nor perhaps does one care very much what is said upon the other side.
I think, my Lords, I should try to state why it is such an one as I, who may be said to be a Lord-in-the-street, should range himself with the proportionalists. There are two main reasons. One is that he thinks it a good thing in itself, and the other is that it was a definite recommendation of the Speaker's Conference. Now—if I speak about the Conference first—as to the Speaker's Conference, I cannot say that I am an admirer of dealing with great constitutional questions in Conferences or Committees, but in this case there certainly was a sort of general agreement—perhaps rather a flabby agreement, but still, I think, a general agreement—that the problem of electioneering questions should be referred to this particular Conference. Now, proportional representation was definitely recommended there. It was not recommended in wholesale terms such as really, myself, I should have been glad to see. It was recommended in limited terms. I was rather sorry that the debate on the Instruction which was moved by the noble Lord (Lord Weardale) the other night was so curtailed as it was, because although I personally did not agree with the sort of form of selection out of the Conference which he proposed, still, on the other hand, I did think it would have been of some advantage to the debates in this House if we had been able to arrive at some sort of agreement as to the amount of weight which should be attached to the recommendations of the Conference.
I think the subject of proportional representation was really one which was very well suited to the Conference, if there was to be a Conference at all. It was one of 901 those subjects which might reasonably and practically have been dealt with by them—though, as I said before, I wish it had been a recommendation all round and not merely limited and experimental as it was. But I should have thought your Lordships might very well, if you did not feel disposed to go the whole length of proportional representation all round, still agree upon a moderate proposal such as was recommended and such as appeared, I believe, in the Bill as it was originally introduced in the House of Commons.
I should like now to go to the question of the ground on which I shall vote for this as a good thing in itself. I believe the principle upon which our House of Commons is supposed to exist is the principle that it really does represent she country, that it is a minor of the country, and that it is a microcosm in itself. I have never been able to understand how anybody could doubt that if proportional representation was fairly brought about it must produce a better representation, a better mirror of the people, than the present system. Our present system unquestionably does result in the House of Commons showing at the beginning of the Parliament an exaggerated view of what the opinion of the country is supposed to be at the time. It has, as has been said again and again to-night, a much larger majority of a particular complexion than represents what is really the state of opinion in the country, and it has again and again resulted that at the end of the Parliament the whole of the thing has really been out of gear, and very serious conditions have frequently arisen in those circumstances.
I think also one must remember that you would never constitute any other body on that kind of principle. If you take the Speaker's Conference itself, I do not suppose any authority would attach to it if it were supposed that the selection had been made of people who were largely and overwhelmingly representative of one set of opinion. There is another thing to be remembered, and it is that many of the Governments and Administrations in this country which have been most successful, the most stable and strong, have been Governments where the majority in the House of Commons has not been a very large one. That, I believe, is, historically, the, case. This point of view is of more importance now than it used to be. Take the case of the Labour Party, with its undoubted growth and its 902 separate significance. I believe it is vital to the safety of the Commonwealth that its true strength should be ascertained, and that it should be truly represented in the House of Commons. There is no doubt also that the agricultural interest, which has been referred to in the debate, has a very strong and individual importance in the country. It is no longer associated, as it used to be, with only one political Party, and it now reflects the needs of all classes, may I not say of the masses, of the people of this country.
One of the main attractions to people about the system of proportional representation is that it is supposed it would do something to extinguish the evils of our Party system. Probably too much is made of that, because proportional representation pre-supposes Party—the proportional representation of Party; but, when you talk about Party very often you are talking about the caucus. It is the evil of the caucus which people are tilting at; and although there seems to be a good deal of difference of opinion as to whether the influence of the caucus will be greater or not under a system of proportional representation, my own opinion, and my own individual hope and expectation is that a better state of things will exist under that system if we do adopt it. We have already heard the argument of the strong Government—the idea that you cannot have a strong Government unless you have a great majority. I do not in the least believe in that myself. I believe that Government is strong which really gauges the temper of the country, and in which the true majority of the country have confidence. Some of the very best Administrations have been in cases where, there has not been a very strong majority.
I do not wish to detain your Lordships any further, except to refer to two of the difficulties which have been already mentioned in connection with this matter. One is the practical difficulty of altering the distribution under the scheme that is in the Schedule of the Bill. I think it has already been pointed out, although I was not in the House at the time, that those who have been interesting themselves in this matter have prepared schemes which they are ready to put forward, and which show how such redistribution as would be required can be carried out, and that the difficulties are not really very serious. The Commissioners, who have 903 already sat and dealt with this subject, may be safely left to carry that out.
The other matter—and it is the last matter that I shall venture to mention to your Lordships—is the question of the by-elections. I know that this has been referred to, and the only reason that I am speaking of it now is in order to give expression to a feeling in different parts of the House. It is an objection and a difficulty, but I believe that the only important class of cases that come under it are those with respect to the by-elections of people who have been appointed to paid posts under the Crown. I am sure that we must be all agreed by this time that this is a thing that ought to be got rid of. There have been since the war innumerable offices created. Bills come here creating new Ministries. I believe that I am right in saying that in every one of them it is stated that the Minister is not to be subjected to one of these elections. Why not take advantage of this opportunity to get rid of them? I should like to put down an Amendment for that purpose myself, but 904 my traditional sense of the decencies of order in this House makes me shrink from doing so. Yet what in the world connected with the subject of electioneering is excluded from this Bill? The Bill is bristling with all kinds of things that, on any conceivable previous occasion, would have been supposed to have been out of order. I really do not think that you can make very much out of that, and I should be glad to sec the Government either consent to put an Amendment in this Bill, or give some prospect that in some early legislation they will put an end to what is nothing but an ancient nuisance.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I beg to move the adjournment of the debate. I hope that the Government will accept this Motion now, as it is very near eleven o'clock, and we have had most of the speeches from one side.
§ House resumed; and to be again in Committee to-morrow.
§ House adjourned at five minutes before eleven o'clock.