HL Deb 09 June 1920 vol 40 cc569-72

LORD PARMOOR rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether the Local Elections (Proportional Representation) Bill sent to the Commons has been starred with a view to its further progress. The noble and learned Lord said: The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, will recollect that when the Bill passed through your Lordships' House he said that the Department to which he belonged was in favour of the further progress of the Bill, and that, so far as he was concerned, he would do what he could in order to promote its further progress in another place. Of course, the practical way of dealing with that in the first instance would be to star the Bill. I do not know whether it has now been starred, but the last time I inquired I found that it bad not been starred. Until it has been, under the conditions which prevail, no further progress can be made.

As noble Lords are aware, there are certain self-governing communities of an important kind who are extremely anxious that this Bill should be passed, in order that they may put its principle into operation in regard to their local elections. It is an optional Bill, and therefore cannot affect those communities who oppose it. Amongst the governing bodies of this important kind who have declared in its favour are the London County Council, and, as regards provincial bodies, I want to call attention to a letter written from Leeds. The noble Lord will he aware that in Leeds they desire the Bill to pass, in order that Proportional Representation may be put into force at their coming November elections. The letter is written by Alderman Farr, who deals with these matters in Leeds with great authority. He says:— We in Leeds are making an application to enlarge the city, and in arranging the new wards all parties have in mind the application of Proportional Representation to local elections and we hope to arrange for triennial elections With five members for each ward. The Committee that has this work in hand, of which I am a member, is working on these lines, and we are calculating on the Bill being passed this session so that we can avail ourselves of its machinery next year. If it is not on the Statute Book we shall have to recast our plans altogether and the chance of adopting it in Leeds may be lost. I am therefore very anxious that no chance should hr missed of getting Lord Parmoor's Bill through the Commons this session. I think that letter has been brought to the notice of the noble Lord and his Department, and it certainly seems reasonable that these great local self-governing communities, who desire to adopt a principle of this kind, should be entitled to do so. The opponents of the principle would not be affected, because the Bill can only be adopted by a three-fifths majority in any case.

Perhaps also I might quote an extract from a letter from the Lord Chancellor, who, as we know, has expressed views in favour of proportional representation. He says:— Experience, where the system has been put into operation, has consistently and convincingly refuted the criticisms which have been directed against it. and for one, feel unshaken confidence that within no distant period its acceptance as a theory will be universal, and that it will be put into practical application wherever in the civilised world representative institutions prevail. I hope and believe that this forecast is a true forecast of the general adoption of the principle, but in the meantime why should local authorities in this country, who desire to adopt this system in their local elections, not be empowered to do so? I therefore beg to ask the noble Viscount the Question which I have put upon the Paper. I might perhaps also ask him to state at the same time what are the chances of the Bill's further progress.


We are not now discussing the principle of the Bill or the attitude of the Department with which I am associated. My right hon. friend the Minister and I are, individually, in favour of the principle, just as certain of the large and important self-governing communities are so much in favour of the principle. There was a similar question to this asked in the House of Commons to-day, and I understand that the Leader of the House replied that it was impossible, at this stage of the session, to say whether or not time would be available. To star the Bill would give the impression that the Government were undertaking to find time. In fact, the noble Lord, in his Question, asks whether the Bill "has been starred with a view to its further progress." Unfortunately —I say unfortunately as a supporter of this particular Bill—it has been opposed in another place. I do not say that the opposition is very numerous, but even a limited number of Members can retard and hold up measures, even where they are of considerable importance. To star the Bill might be misleading because it might seem to imply that the Government were undertaking to find time for it this Session. At the moment it looks as if the Government would find it difficult to meet their present commitments, and personally, I and the Minister for Health regret that nothing can be done at the moment to expedite the progress of this Bill.


I regret to hear what the noble Viscount has said. Perhaps he will remember that a similar Bill was sent down last year from this House, and that it was starred, although, as a matter of fact, no time was found for its further progress; but I will take his answer that he will do what he can, at any rate, and that his Department are sympathetic.