HL Deb 29 March 1927 vol 66 cc812-34

VISCOUNT BURNHAMhad given Notice to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will introduce such legislation as will provide for a second election by ballot for membership of the House of Commons where no candidate at the first election has received a majority of the votes recorded or, alternatively, where no candidate has received a majority of the votes of registered electors. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, a year ago I asked His Majesty's Government to agree to set up a Committee of Inquiry into the subject of compulsory voting as it obtains in the Commonwealth of Australia, and I suggested that at the same time there might be referred to it the expediency of second elections, which take place in most countries under Parliamentary government. I am glad to say that I had the enthusiastic support on that occasion of the noble Earl who leads what I suppose I must still call the junior Opposition. But to-day I am not asking for any Committee of Inquiry. I am expressing the hope that the Government may brace itself up to legislative action on the question of the second ballot within the term of the present Parliament.

Obviously I am doing it because I fear that otherwise we shall surely drift on to the rocks and shoals of minority government, and I cannot think of any state of things that would be worse for this realm or this Empire. Parliamentary government is no longer the golden fetish that it used to be in Victorian days. It has been cast aside by three of the great States of Europe and I do not know that it is proving itself a great success in China. There is a distinguished writer, who was, or is, the literary prophet of the Party opposite, who was discussing it the other day in a lecture at the Sorbonne—Mr. H. G. Wells—and he gave it as his opinion that there would be a revision of democracy in which Parliaments and Parliamentary bodies and political life as we know it to-day are destined to disappear. I do not know whether he was speaking for his Party on that occasion. To-day I want to see that at least there may be, even from so insignificant a person as myself, some warning given as to the grave perils that lie ahead of us.

I do not want the matter to be mixed up this afternoon with any form of Proportional Representation, whether by the transferable vote or the alternative vote. I am afraid that the faultless form of Proportional Representation must rest upon its bed of roses until we get a juster and a better world than we have now, when all the nations seem to be striving, not for justice but for power. I am suggesting the second ballot because, in all the Parliamentary constitutions that were drawn up in imitation of our own, going back as far as that of Belgium, there was always provision for a second ballot. In fact it was deemed almost impossible that it should not take place where only a minority of the votes polled had been obtained by the candidate whose name was at the top of the list. It is true that there are a good many countries where the second ballot obtains no longer. Some have done away with Parliamentary government and others have adopted Proportional Representation, to which it is obviously inapplicable. But they all adopted it where they had a system of single-member constituencies, because in their case they always had to deal with groups, and the multiplicity of Parties made it necessary for them to take such action. There was a Royal Commission that enquired into the electoral systems and reported in 1910, under the Chairmanship of Lord Richard Cavendish, and they stated that the expedient of a second ballot was a common feature of all the Parliamentary constitutions that they had to consider.

The real reason why the question is brought up now is that in this country at the present moment the political conditions are without precedent and without parallel. Our electoral arrangements were meant for a two-Party system. It is true that in Parliament itself there have over and over again been three Parties, but they were within the walls of Parliament rather than outside—the Peelites, the Liberal-Unionists and many other smaller Parties of men acting separately in the House of Commons and in this House. The Irish Party was always geographical in its character, and accordingly did not affect the argument that I am addressing to your Lordships so far as British constituencies were concerned. Now we have three Parties contesting every Parliamentary seat in the country. Two of them are divided merely by what I venture to think, to use an old Parliamentary term, are but circumstantial differences. I am quite aware that, as between the Conservative and Liberal Parties, there is great bitterness about personalities, perhaps all the greater because many of the leaders have sat together in the same Governments. On the other hand, if we seek to find what the real differences are between them, they surely are not wide, and never was that more conclusively demonstrated than in the elections that have just taken place. Perhaps the only difference that I know of, at any rate at the present moment, is the somewhat stale controversy about Mr. McKenna and his Duties, which still goes on but which does not, I think, bulk very largely in public opinion.

But, as between both those Parties and the Socialist Party, there are fundamental differences, as I am sure my noble and learned friend opposite would be the first to admit. Every time the committee that instructs their leaders meets it reaffirms the necessity of nationalising the means of production, distribution and exchange. The differences are not accidental, nor are they small. Sometimes, when I hear noble Lords opposite cooing as softly as any sucking dove at that Table, I think of the very different language that is used at the street corners by those brazen throats which expound the Socialist doctrine to the electorate. There is no doubt that they represent an entirely antagonistic set of opinions to those which are held by the other two Parties, and yet we know that elections are being fought without any recognition in Parliament of the critical differences between us. It is only when you have the lurid light of such a crisis as that which exists now in China that you can probe the extent of the great contrast in outlook that exists between us and them.

We have now to face another fact. Sir Herbert Samuel, who is one of the most capable officials that any Party could find to do its work, has announced that five hundred candidates for five-sixths of the Parliamentary seats in Great Britain are to be run at the next General Election by the Liberal Party. There is no doubt that they have ample means with which to make good that prophecy. I say it without offence, but I do not suppose that any Party was ever possessed of such munitions of war as they have now at their command. That means that everywhere there will be a three-cornered fight, and one of the leaders of the Socialist Party in another place said, when he read Sir Herbert Samuel's announcement: "That means a hundred seats to the Labour Party." I do not know whether he is right or wrong, but this at least reflects his opinion and I shall not be surprised to find that noble Lords speaking from the Front Bench opposite will resolutely oppose any legislative change of this kind.

The only real objection that I have heard to the proposal to get down to a real foundation of fact in our political arrangements is made by those who say that it would give occasion for an orgy of political intrigue and "logrolling" between the dates of the first and the second elections. No doubt there might be a certain amount of it, but we have it now. At the present time, the relations of Parties being what they are, every election that I know of is the occasion of a great deal more intrigue than noble Lords sitting serenely in this House are probably aware of. In the election which took place yesterday the Liberal member made no secret of the fact that the real fight was between him and the Socialist candidate. He took means, very properly, of passing on that information to all those places where he thought some influence might be exercised in his favour. He was quite right. I do not hesitate to say that, looking at the reality of things and not merely on outside appearance, had I had a vote in Southwark yesterday I should have recorded it for Mr. Strauss. I should have done so because he was as much opposed to the Chinese policy of the Labour Party as was Dr. Guest. That was the crisis which we had to face and I dare say that those who have read this morning's newspapers will see that he says his return was a triumph for common sense over the rabid schemes of the Socialist Party.

I wish to look beyond—I do not like to call them the shams, but the pretences of our political life, and I cannot say that in that case the Conservatives who voted for him in Southwark were far wrong. It has been proved more or less everywhere that Liberals who for a time gave their votes to the Conservative Party are now in all probability returning to their own fold. That means that everywhere votes will be more equally divided in future, or at any rate, at the next General Election, than they were at the last Election. The question is whether, in those circumstances, in the opinion of this House and in the opinion of the country it is not necessary to find out where public opinion really lies, and to make sure that under the Parliamentary government which we hope will long endure here the voice of the majority of the electorate shall prevail. I do not think there can be anything more hazardous to the fortunes of Great Britain than that we should have a minority Government, not dependent in the House of Commons upon a minority but having a majority there which would give it power as well as office, and enable it to bring in and carry into law, as is easy enough under our present constitutional arrangements, any measure and any policy which is forced upon it by those who dictate to it from outside. I confess that I think that if that be so it may well shake the foundations of our State, however secure we may imagine them to be.

Supposing His Majesty's Government are unable to do what I propose and are prepared to let things slide, trusting perhaps to the luck of their Party to pull them through, I only venture to say it will not be the first time the discovery has been made that consequences are unpitying. If they do not take advantage of the opportunity which they now have of making it reasonably probable we shall have majority Government in the country, they will only regret it once, and that will be for all their future. It is for those reasons, and because I believe that we run a risk in refusing to accept what is recognised as being a safe condition of Parliamentary government everywhere, now that we have entered into the same state as those foreign Governments where groups have always had to coalesce in order to secure administration, that I put this question to the noble Marquess who sits in front of me. I only hope he will be able to give some assurance that in this case, unlike some others relating to our constitutional position which are in our minds, he may be able, or at least the noble Lord who will reply for the Government may be able, to give me an affirmative reply.


My Lords, I think the noble Viscount has done excellent service in bringing forward this question to-day. When the Royal Commission sat, I think in 1909, it went, I know, very deeply into the questions of Proportional Representation, the alternative vote, and the second ballot, and it came to the conclusion that in the circumstances in which we are now placed very much more seriously than we were then, it was desirable that the alternative vote should be enacted. A noble Earl not long ago brought in a measure in this House to enact the alternative vote as part of our legislative machinery, but it got no further.

There is a very great difference between the second ballot and the alternative vote. Neither is perfect. I do not think any electoral system ever can be perfect, but there is this difference between the two, that under the second ballot, when as a matter of ordinary practice the two names at the top of the poll are submitted to the electorate a second time, there is not that opportunity for gerrymandering and bargaining that there would be under the alternative vote, where the chance vote could possibly enable two of the Parties, before an election, to make what I should call a rather corrupt bargain in the way of smashing the third Party. I therefore fought very hardly in the Commons against the alternative vote when it was submitted to that Assembly, and although I think we lost in Committee, we were successful on the Report stage, and it was not embraced in the last Franchise Bill. The situation, however, has developed so very greatly since that period that very large numbers of members of the other place sit as minority members. Only in Southwark yesterday you had this result, and you will have it repeatedly, I fear, at the next General Election.

There are objections, of course, to both these systems. There is no sort of certainty that the people who vote at the first election, when you have a second ballot, will take the trouble to turn out for the second election. That is a very grave objection to the second ballot. People's enthusiasm gets exhausted, they get tired of the election and do not, perhaps, turn out to vote. There is equally this difficulty about the alternative vote, that there are very large numbers of electors who would never exercise their second preference; they would hate to put "2" against any man whose policy they disliked. Therefore you would have a most unsatisfactory result, even with the alternative vote, owing to that fact: so that if, in the one case, you would have apathy which would affect to some extent the second ballot, you would have dislike, or whatever other feeling it might be, which would make the alternative vote equally unsatisfactory as a means of giving a proper and final result in the election.

I think the Government are bound to take this question into their serious consideration. It is impossible to go on as we are going now with any satisfaction to anybody. No one can tell what the result would be of second ballots, and no one can foresee whether they would be good or bad till the system is tried; but I am convinced that, as we are situated now, with three Parties and almost always a three-cornered fight, the position has to be cleared up in some way or other For my part I certainly very much prefer the second ballot, because the bargaining, if there is any bargaining at all, must take place in the very short period between the first and the second elections; and with the alternative vote the gerrymandering can be very efficiently done before the election. I do not think the alternative mentioned in my noble friend's Question—namely, a majority of the registered voters—is a thing you would ever get; but with the first part of it I most cordially agree, and I very strongly impress on the Government the necessity of their considering this matter and, if possible, of dealing with it.


My Lords, I am sure the House is very grateful to my noble friend Lord Burnham for the continuous care and interest which he takes in the all-important question of the reform of the electoral system, and this is not the first time I have had to thank him on behalf of the Government for his efforts in that direction. I hope he will not be disappointed with the result. I have not gathered from either of the two speakers to whom we have listened that they consider that a second ballot is an absolute cure for all the evils of democratic Government which have been referred to, and I hope, therefore, they will allow me to point out certain objections to the system which they advocate, which to me appear to be rather cogent.

In the first place it is true, as my noble friend has stated, that this system was once common to a very large number of the countries of Europe. I do not know whether my noble friend is aware that a White Paper was issued which shows the regulations and methods which guide the application of the second ballot at elections in foreign countries. This White Paper states quite clearly that in fifteen out of the twenty countries whose systems are there detailed the method of the second ballot prevailed at that time, but it is a remarkable fact that not one, I think, of those countries, with the possible exception of France, has adhered to the system for the election of the representatives to the Second Chamber. France has a system which is not the same as ours, and I understand that at the last General Election in France in the year 1924 there was only one second ballot, which was, I think, in the town of Belfort. There is a great deal of doubt as to whether a second ballot would be acceptable to this country. The alternative, which has already been touched upon, is that of the transferable or alternative vote. There is certainly one argument in favour of the second ballot, and that is that the electors would not have to learn a new system, but would go on placing their cross, as usual, opposite the name of the candidate whom they most fancied.

Now, there are a few practical objections upon which I should like to touch.

I understand that at the last General Election, out of 224 three-cornered contests, there were 121 where the elected candidate did not receive a majority over the combined votes of his opponents; therefore in 121 cases, if this method were adopted, there would have had to be a second election. This election would take place either a week or a fortnight after the first election. But at the next General Election there will probably be a great many more than 224 three-cornered fights, and it is calculated that the chances are that there will be a good many more than 200 constituencies in which, under this proposal, there would have to be a second ballot. That means that the turmoil and disturbance which are inseparable from General Elections would go on for another week or another fortnight. That is rather against the object of the Act of 1918, which settled that all elections were to be held on the same day in order to avoid such disturbance, Then there is the question, which has already been touched upon by my noble friend (Lord Younger), whether the electors would be very ready to vote a second time. My noble friend Lord Burnham advocated a compulsory measure to make them vote the first time.


I only asked for an inquiry.


He advocated an inquiry the object of which was a system of compulsory voting. But if electors would not vote the first time, it seems to me there might very possibly, and even probably, be a great diminution in the number of votes given on the second occasion. And there is the point, which has already been mentioned by both my noble friends, that in the intervening week or fortnight the Parties which had not been successful would very likely combine against the Party which was at the head of the poll, and there would be an enormous amount of logrolling—infinitely more, I venture to think, at the second ballot than at the first. There is the further point, which is important at the present time, of the increased cost of elections. I understand that these elections cost something like £540 each to the returning officer. Suppose the second election cost not more than £400; the cost to the country, if there was anything like the number of second ballots that we apprehend, would be at least £100,000. Of course, if that resulted in pure representation it would be well worth it.

I have already stated that there was at one time a wide vogue for second ballots in Europe, but that that does not obtain at the present time. Both New Zealand and New South Wales also had the second ballot at one time, but have given it up. France was about the only case which remained, and I believe that in 1919 a new law was introduced in France which practically abrogated the second ballot. The objection felt in France was that the effect of the second ballot was not really to secure as good a representation of the opinion of the people as in the case of the first, owing to the combination of various Parties against the leading candidate. In fact, a very distinguished French statesman said that the system produced members who were simply the slaves of minorities. I have mentioned a few of these objections, but there is perhaps even a more valid objection, which would make it quite impossible for me to make any promise on this occasion. That is the fact that the Prime Minister has already, in another place, made a statement on behalf of the Government when, being asked on March 10 whether the Government were considering the question of reform of the electoral system, he stated:— The answer is in the negative, unless the hon. Member has in mind certain minor or consequential amendments of the electoral machinery. So it is obvious that it would be perfectly impossible for me now, on behalf of His Majesty's Government—whatever they may do in the future—to give a very hopeful reply to my noble friend. I am afraid I must leave the matter in the words which have been already used by the Prime Minister in another place.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken for the Government has made a very careful and cautious speech, but he has given us a good deal of information. We know definitely that the Government are approaching this question with a good deal of care, that in fact their attitude towards it is that of an approach which is a very gingerly one. The noble Lord has truly said that there are a large number of considerations which have to be taken into account before you answer the question whether the change which is asked for in this Question is a desirable one. First of all, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the proposition which underlies my noble friend's Question. There are, in fact, two very different propositions.


I do not press the second one, because as a rule where it has been adopted a quarter is the number and not a half of the voters registered.


Then we may put the second one out of account. That brings us at once to the question of what is the proper test in these matters. Where there are three Parties—and I do not for a moment suppose that the Liberal Party is contemplating permanent alliance or merger in the Conservative Party—what ought to be the principle? Why, obviously the principle is that the candidate must be elected who gets the most votes in the contest among the three Parties. It may happen, and very likely will happen, that he does not get a majority of the votes that have been cast. Where there are three Parties that is always likely to be so, but your remedy for any difficulty at the present time is to get rid of the system of three Parties and not to introduce a change which will deprive each Party of the fair chance of returning its own representatives.

Like so many other things, this proposition put down on paper cuts into the very traditions to which we are most accustomed. The electors are accustomed to go to the poll and vote according to their Party and for the candidates they like. You get a rough selection. I have never been one of those who attach great importance to a large percentage of the voters polling, except in so far as it shows some excitement and interest. As a rule, the elections which show a large poll are no better than the elections where there is a small poll. It is not by counting noses that you determine matters in this or in anything else. The noble Lord who spoke for the Government said very truly that, apart from the kind of difficulties which I have been indicating, if you take this course you add a great deal, not merely to the worry and trouble, but to the expense of elections. Those of us who have fought elections know what a tremendous business it is to bring voters up to the poll. With a poor Party it is almost impossible to get adequate means of conveyance. It is difficult enough even for the Conservative Party, putting in all their strength, to bring up all their voters. If you have to do that twice in a fortnight, you will get a great deal of coolness in the constituency and, more than that, you will not be able to get your voters up to the poll. Above all, the second burden will press most heavily upon the Party that is poorest. This business of conveying voters to the poll, of arranging for further meetings and of finding the expenses of returning officers, assumes very formidable dimensions in this matter.

I am not surprised that it turns out that in the countries of Europe, of which a large number had this system of second ballot at the end of last century, there is hardly one in which it remains. In France it remains only partially, for the Senate and not for the Chamber. The others have all found that the thing does not work and that the simple course is to let the Parties run their candidates and to accept those who are returned. Those for whom I speak have no fear of an open contest. If it comes to numbers we will take our chance just as readily as anybody else. We want to have some definite principle on which we have to proceed, and the definite principle on which we go is that each Party must elect its own representatives. It is all very well to say that thereby you may get a minority returning candidates whom it would not otherwise return. That is so under any system. You are not worse off when you have got three Parties. I do not know why there is this dislike of the alternative vote and of the transferable vote and of the other alternatives that there are to the present system. I am not suggesting that these are desirable alternatives; it requires a great deal of consideration before you proceed to them; but I do say that the plan foreshadowed in the Question embarks us on unlimited difficulties, the varieties of which you cannot estimate. I am not surprised that the Prime Minister cannot entertain it.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will bear with me if for a few moments I give some examples of the way in which the present system is working. I think your Lordships generally are agreed as to the difficulty of making a three-Party system in the country fit an electoral machinery which is designed for a two-Party system. Of course, there have been great anomalies in the past which have affected, not one Party in the State but all three Parties. With your Lordships' permission I should like to give as shortly as I can a few examples of the anomalies which have existed. It is true that I have in mind the fact that it is not an unusual thing, between one General Election and another, that there should be a considerable swing of the pendulum. I hope, therefore, His Majesty's Government may ask themselves how they would be affected if there was a similar swing of the pendulum at the next General Election and they were to find themselves in the position in which some of the other Parties have found themselves in the past.

There have been fourteen by-elections since the last General Election, in urban and industrial constituencies which were contested by all three political Parties. I exclude elections where there was not a three-cornered fight and only take urban and industrial constituencies. In 1924 with 191,000 votes in those fourteen constituencies the present Government won eight seats. At the by-elections since then their votes have sunk to 152,000 and they have only got three seats instead of eight. The Labour Party, which had 159,000 votes in 1924, got five seats. They have now got ten seats with 188,000 votes. The Liberal Party, which had 57,000 votes in 1924, got one seat; now, with 77,000 votes, they still have one seat. It may be clearer if I put it this way. The Conservative vote in these fourteen by-elections has dropped by 39,000 and they have lost five seats. The Labour Party's vote has risen by 27,000 and they have won five seats, while the Liberal Party, whose vote has risen by 20,000, retain one seat to which I have already referred.

This sort of thing happens to all Parties. I should like to give your Lordships the figures as they affect Manchester. In 1923 the Conservative Party had 104,000 votes, for which they got one seat; the Labour Party had 79,000 votes, for which they got four seats; and the Liberal Party had 71,000 votes, for which they got five seats. The curious anomaly was that the Party which had the fewest votes got many more seats than the other two Parties. I am prepared to admit, although it was my own friends who gained by it, that the anomaly was not fair to the large Conservative and Labour vote in Manchester. It was not fair that those Parties should be so poorly represented when we with the smallest vote, got the largest number of seats. In 1924 the situation was considerably better for His Majesty's Government. On that occasion the Liberal Party, with 50,000 votes, got no seats at all, although at the previous election the year before with 71,000 votes they had five seats. I think it is impossible to say that that is really a satisfactory state of affairs.

In 1924, at the last General Election, there were 85 contested seats from the mouth of the Thames to the mouth of the Severn and out of those the Conservative Party, with 1,456,000 votes, got 84 seats. The Labour Party, with 483,000 votes, got no seats at all and the Liberal Party, with 445,000 votes, got one seat. It is evident, I think, that it really is not fair that nearly 1,500,000 Conservative votes should get 84 seats and nearly 1,000,000 Liberal and Labour votes put together should get but one seat. The result was that there were no less than approximately 500,000 Labour voters who were not represented at all. I do not think that that, as a permanent feature of our electoral system, can possibly be regarded as satisfactory. It may do for one Election, but it must give rise to a good deal of bitterness if, in the future, the constant repetition of votes produces no result at all in Parliament. There are a number of other figures which I could give your Lordships. There were 40 contested English counties in 1924. The Conservatives got 178 seats, with 17,000 votes per seat. The Labour Party got 36 seats, with 45,000 votes per seat. The Liberal Party got two seats, with no fewer than 634,000 votes per seat. That was the luck of the ballot box.

With reference to the second ballot, which was mentioned, I am bound to say that I agree with the criticisms made by the noble Viscount who has just spoken and also with the noble Lord who spoke for His Majesty's Government My information is that it is now only used in certain circumstances in the French Senate—namely, when less than 50 per cent. of the people vote. Otherwise it has been completely abandoned, not only in France but in the other countries where it had been adopted. For my own part I confess I had rather hoped that we might have heard something more about the Speaker's Conference to which reference has been made in the past and which was adumbrated once in a speech of the present Home Secretary. I should like to have heard that not only the question of women's votes but also the question of Proportional Representation or the alternative vote or the second ballot was also going to be referred to the Speaker's Conference.

I should also have liked to hear that another matter which seems to me of the very highest importance after my last week's experience—the question of the maintenance of free speech—was also to be referred to the same Speaker's Conference. I had the fortune to be present at more than one meeting last week in Southwark at which there was organised obstruction which evidently was part of a very large movement that continued almost throughout the whole by-election. It was quite evidently an attempt to prevent the Parties with which the opposition did not agree from being listened to by the constituency. It was done by friends of the Party of noble Lords beside me. There is another aspect which I should like to have had referred to the same Speaker's Conference. I do not know whether the word "Bosworth" has reached the ears of noble Lords sitting with Olympian serenity upon the Front Bench opposite. I think that it is another possible weakness in our electoral system that a constituency is left unrepresented entirely for the space of nearly twelve months, and I should like to know whether something could not be done in order to secure the enfranchisement of electors in constituencies of that kind.

Reference has been made to the fact that my right hon. friend Sir Herbert Samuel has announced his intention to put up 500 candidates at the next General Election, a statement which I think has been criticised by more than one member of His Majesty's Government. I think it was criticised by the noble Viscount, Lord Peel, in a speech which he made the other day at Yarmouth. Certainly some members of His Majesty's Government deprecate the idea and say that by putting up these 500 candidates the result would be that the Labour Party would gain a majority on a minority vote. I have no wish to criticise what they say on that point. All I would say is that if that is the point of view of His Majesty's Government I do not understand why they put up Conservative candidates at the last two by-elections. Their own candidates had always been at the bottom of the poll, both at Leith and Southwark, and the only result of putting up Conservative candidates on those occasions must have been to give the Labour Party a still better chance of emerging at the head of the poll.


There was no Conservative candidate put up for Southwark. He was a Constitutionalist and proclaimed himself as such.


The noble and learned Earl will have an opportunity of speaking.


It was not very rude to say what I did.


As the noble Earl has interrupted, I would say that that candidate received every possible support from the local Conservative Association and it certainly cannot be thought that that was without the consent of Conservative headquarters. I admit my surprise at the fact that he did so stand, having in view his attitude in regard to the General Strike less than twelve months ago. That he should call himself a Constitutionalist in such circumstances did surprise me very much indeed. I confess I am unable to share the opinion of the noble Viscount who introduced this subject that intrigue is more likely to take place on the alternative vote than if there was a second ballot. I should have thought, on the other hand, that intrigue was far more likely between the first ballot and the second ballot and that there is not, as a matter of fact, in spite of the opportunities which occur, a great deal of intrigue for managing votes. I confess that for that reason I prefer on the whole Proportional Representation. Proportional Representation does not mean voting in order to keep other people out. It means an association of people who do agree and who combine to get as many common representatives as they possibly can returned to Parliament. That I think is the ideal method. Though we are not able to secure that from the Government, I cannot pretend that I shall be satisfied with less, and I am not convinced by the argument used by the noble Viscount in favour of the second ballot.


My Lords, I am sorry I was not able to be present in the earlier stages of the debate, but I was engaged in some duties of a public character. I rise now, not for the purpose of supplementing the very full reply which my noble friend Lord Desborough made upon the merits of the proposal brought forward by Viscount Burnham, but rather to speak upon one or two topics which have been suggested by the speech made by Earl Beauchamp. In the first place let me deal with the topic upon which I find myself in complete agreement with him—that is, the growing disorderliness of public meetings in this country. If you take the by-election in which Mr. Mosley, that typical Socialist, was successful, or if you take the recent by-election in which the Liberal candidate has proved successful, it is true of both to say that there was hardly one meeting held by an anti-Socialist candidate in which freedom of speech was not totally denied. No opportunity was ever given either to Liberal or Conservative spokesmen to develop any argument.

It is a matter of grave public anxiety that there should be uncontrolled and controllable elements—I do not blame the Leaders of the Labour Party in this matter—which are determined to deny in the industrial centres freedom of speech to those who put forward the views of their opponents. I observe that Mr. Lloyd George made two observations upon this subject recently. He said in the first place that it was a matter in which society would assuredly be found capable of protecting itself. With that observation I associate myself. Does anybody imagine that any great political Party will indefinitely consent to be violently silenced and hounded down? We are not so constituted, neither is it possible that such a state of affairs should be indefinitely tolerated. I do not, however, agree with the more specific suggestion made by Mr. Lloyd George that this rowdiness should be made one of the means of voiding an election, because with some experience of election petitions I do not believe that this is a feasible method of dealing with the difficulty which we are all of us examining. I am sure that your Lordships will find that we are only at the beginning of this controversy. To expect, when grave issues are exciting public anxiety and interest, that the right of presenting them to the people of this country shall be denied to great historic Parties is to put forward a view which never has received support in the character or history of the people of this country and is very unlikely, in my judgment, to meet it in the future.

On the matter, relatively less important, to which the noble Earl who has just spoken addressed a fugitive observation—namely, the last two by-elections—I do not think I was very impolite in the interruption which I ventured to make and which seemed to annoy him. I am not annoyed when anybody interrupts me in this House. I wished rather to assist than to inconvenience the argument which the noble Earl was endeavouring to make. The noble Earl was criticising, as I understand it, the managers of the Conservative Party for having run candidates at all. Take the Southwark by-election. Mr. Guest was, or believed himself to be, a Socialist. He could not, however, stand the attitude of the Labour Party in relation to Shanghai. In other words, when Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, influenced by later conversations and discussions than those under the stress of which he wrote his newspaper articles only ten days before, when he said "Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate," Mr. Guest did not think there was much good in negotiating with the kind of people who recently wrecked in one afternoon the Japanese, the American and the English Consulates. While, no doubt, therefore, in abstracto as strong a believer in negotiation as any member of the Socialist Party, he judged that the moment had arrived in which it was little likely to be dependable as an exclusive resource. Therefore he left his Socialist friends upon this quarrel. But as far as I am aware he did not cease to be a Socialist. He never, at any moment, said: "I quarrel upon the domestic policy with my former colleagues." He certainly never consulted any manager of the Conservative Party as to whether or not he should stand in this constituency. I think it extremely unlikely that he would have paid the slightest attention to any Conservative who advised him not to run as a candidate. Therefore I think the noble Earl's strictures would be difficult to justify.

As to the Leith by-election, I agree that the result of the Conservative candidature was not one upon which we could found any extravagantly sanguine expectations as to the future of the Party in that constituency. But when the noble Earl criticises us for some supposed support we have given I may say that I am informed—I have no special knowledge—that the resolute adventurer who upheld the Conservative cause in that constituency did it with his own unassisted resources, directed thereto by his own individual determination. So, I think, no reflection on that point can legitimately be made upon those who are responsible for the management of the Conservative Party. But when you come to the larger question it is undoubtedly true that the present system does not provide us, has not for many years provided us, with a Parliament that is precisely representative of the competitive Party strength in the country. The noble Earl has given some illustrations, all very striking and all, I believe, indisputable. The illustration from Manchester, with the conditions of which I was familiar because at that time I was concerned in Lancashire politics, is one which I have always thought, if you consider the matter as an abstract question, quite indefensible. You can multiply similar cases.

What, then, is the problem? To my mind, though I am not prepared to give a clear answer, it is at least a simple and intelligible problem. We are to-day confronted with a system that does not give us a representative Chamber precisely or even fairly correspondent with the votes of the electors, if you analyse all those votes. Naturally, therefore, no one could, on the merits of the matter, justify the existing system if it were possible to suggest a better one. If, in other words, a machine is devisable which will make the House of Commons more closely correspondent with the views of the nation, obviously it would be not only wise but reasonable to adopt such an alternative system. The broad consideration upon which I found that conclusion is that the more precisely correspondent you make the representative Chamber with the opinion of the country, the less likely is it that more indirect, more subterranean and more dangerous methods of expressing public opinion will be adopted, and therefore a priori we must assent to it.

Is there, then, a method, has one been disclosed in this debate, which, without producing greater mischiefs, will abolish some of the inequalities that have been so clearly exposed? At one time, I confess, I was greatly attracted by the conception of Proportional Representation, nor am I yet convinced that upon those lines progress is impossible. The abstract arguments upon which Proportional Representation depends seem to me to be alike logical and unanswerable, but I am bound to take notice of the fact that during the fifteen years in which I have advocated that proposal, while it has been tried in many different countries and in many different circumstances, it has not invariably recommended itself as the result of experience to those who have tried it. I pronounce here no final or considered opinion, but I must confess that, if I were forced to choose in order to obtain a remedy between the alternative methods of Proportional Representation and the second ballot, I at this moment incline to the view that I should adhere to the preference that I formed many years ago for Proportional Representation, though I should recommend it—I admit this freely—with less enthusiasm and with less dogmatism than I employed at an earlier period.

As to the second ballot, which is the subject matter of this proposal, I must confess that I feel a great deal of anxiety. Logically it has everything to recommend it. It seems entirely reasonable to say that, if there are three candidates in a constituency and the voters in the first place, as between those three, register a preference, and then discover that the result of their vote has been to place in power the man whom they, as the result of their own preference, would have put second if they had not wished to recommend their own special candidate, the thing seems unreasonable. But all great political changes must be examined with the aid of a most careful prognosis of the method in which, if attempted to be applied, they would work out. Let us, so far as we can, and for a very few moments, see how this second ballot would in practice be found to work out. You have your Election; and naturally one must test it, not in relation to a by-election, where the matter is simple and complications do not arise, but in reference to a General Election. I should imagine that after a General Election has taken place there would be a very large number of constituencies, with the perverse heat and irritation of disappointed hopes that prevail at such a moment, in which a second ballot would be challenged. Let us work out the consequences. You would have, I suppose, about a fortnight—


Less than a week.


Less than a week? What does that matter? I thought the noble Viscount was going to suggest something important.


You have less time for bargaining.


It does not matter whether it is five days or a fortnight. It makes it worse if the complication and the renewal come so soon. In a week, then, we are to be confronted with the necessity of what cannot even be dismissed as a miniature General Election. It really would be hardly distinguishable, in the excitement, the animosity and the protracted controversy, from a second General Election. My experience of General Elections, which now goes back for nearly thirty years, has been that the moment an Election is really concluded there is nobody in the country who does not give thanks that an experience at once so disagreeable, so costly and so fatiguing is over. And then we are to begin, not even after a fortnight's refreshment but, as the noble Viscount reminds me, at the end of a week or even five days, to plunge again into the horrible and regrettable business.

One consequence is obvious: there will be extreme apathy among the electors. You can get them to the poll once, if you are forced to do so, but you are then to invite them to go again, and without the assistance of the high enthusiasm of the first Election, that has perhaps come five years after the last, so that young men can approach it with the excitement which always belongs to a new war. After live years everybody gets excited about an Election and everybody is ready to fling himself into it with some ludicrous expectation that, somehow or other, he may derive some pleasure or profit from it. Nobody in the world would be so foolish as to entertain such a hope a week or five days after the Election. After they have finished their exertions, after they have returned their borrowed motor cars, after they have paid their agents and other people, the candidates are to be offered the delightful prospect of flinging themselves into all this again. I do not believe that the noble Viscount will find as much enthusiasm as he expects, even amongst the candidates. I think the candidates would be the most exhausted of all and the most unwilling to engage once again in these anxieties and labours.

As for the voters, I think that the noble Viscount who introduced this proposal knows as well as I do, perhaps better, how difficult it is to get voters to the poll. The noble Viscount, indeed, was rather dexterous in such matters, because he had it worked out to such a nicety that, if my recollection serves me aright, he used just to have the four (which was his ordinary majority) nicely collected at the last moment and decanted into the polling booth to the consternation of his opponents. That must have required a very fine degree of organisation, a nicety of calculation only to be found in a great newspaper proprietor. What would those four think if a fortnight or five days later, having played this heroic part, they found that they were to be galloped over the course again? I do not know by what inducements the noble Viscount was always able to assemble these small cohorts in his constituencies, but I venture to think that he would find the stakes had risen a week later. It is a very remarkable circumstance, in a matter of this kind, to discover, unless I am misinformed, that every nation in the world—I believe every civilised nation in the world—which has ever tried the second ballot has given it up.


France has not.


France has not, but they complain bitterly, and I think the noble Viscount will find when next this debate is resumed, that he has been deprived of his solitary ally in this matter. I understand the noble Viscount says that those who have given up the second ballot have abandoned it in favour of Proportional Representation.


They have either adopted Proportional Representation or have repudiated Parliamentary government.


Is that the noble Viscount's preference? I gather not. Of course, if the noble Viscount comes to us and recommends the adoption of the processes of political development which have proved so effective in Italy—but I do not understand that to be so. So far as the noble Viscount is concerned he is really asking your Lordships to accept the second ballot in preference to Proportional Representation, to which he admits all those who have tried the second ballot have flown for refuge. I hope the noble Viscount will not think that I have been throwing cold water on his proposal. If my speech is carefully studied I think it will be found that I have really been assisting him. I think nothing but good has come of the discussion which his Question has elicited, but I am inclined, on the whole, to suspect that the matter requires, and deserves, fuller examination than it has hitherto received, and that it also requires and deserves a very considerable effort to project ourselves into the future, to see how the matter, if adopted, is likely to work out.