§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Passfield.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [Lord STANMOKE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1:
§ Voting at Parliamentary elections to be by method of alternative vote.
§ 1.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, an election for a member of Parliament held subsequent to the dissolution of the present Parliament shall, if there are more than two candidates, be according to the principle of the alternative vote and shall be conducted in accordance with the rules set out in the First Schedule to this Act.
§ (2) Subject to the provisions of the said rules, His Majesty may by Order in Council under the Representation of the People Acts make regulations for carrying this section into effect and for adapting, to meet the alteration of law effected by this section, the provisions of the Ballot Act, 1872, and any other Act relating to Parliamentary elections, and the provisions of any Act relating to the duties of returning officers.566
§ (3) 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.
§ (4) This section shall not apply to the City of London or to any University constituency.
§ LORD BAYFORD moved, in subsection (1), to leave out "for a member of Parliament held subsequent to the dissolution of the present Parliament shall, if there are more than two candidates," and to insert "of the full number of Members of Parliament held in a constituency fixed under the provisions hereinafter set out shall." The noble Lord said: The object of this Amendment, in conjunction with subsequent Amendments standing in my name, is to substitute in this Bill to a limited extent the principle of proportional representation for the principle of the alternative vote. I venture to bring it forward as one who sat for many months on the Committee presided over by my noble friend Viscount Ullswater. He told you on the Second Reading that a majority of that Committee recommended that if any change was to take place in our electoral system it should be a change in the direction of proportional representation. Perhaps I may be allowed to add to what he said on Second Reading that every member of the House of Commons—and there were only three Peers—who were sitting on that Committee, belonging to two great Parties of the State, voted in favour of the recommendation which I have mentioned. It was the deliberate opinion of those members of two Parties, members of the House of Commons, who were sitting on that Committee that if any change was made in the present system that change should be in the direction of proportional representation.
§ When it is stated—and it may be stated in this debate—that one of the great objections to the adoption of that system is that it causes so much inconvenience to the candidates for the House of Commons, then I think it should be remembered that it was those who were going to be candidates themselves, and who have been candidates themselves in the past, who said that if any change was to be made that was the change which they would prefer. In the face of that expression of opinion we have the present Bill 567 brought before us. I hope I may be allowed most respectfully to enter one word of protest as to the way in which the present Government pass over almost with scorn the recommendations, not only of those who sit on Committees but sometimes of those who sit on Royal Commissions as well. I think this House should at least have the opportunity of considering the recommendation on this matter that was made by a majority on that Committee.
§ I was struck during the debate on Second Reading by the way in which all speakers disclaimed the wish to benefit any particular Party and by the wish expressed on all sides to adopt the system that should be fairest for ail. I will try to follow those lines in the few remarks I have to make. It is often said that the present system is a faulty and an anomalous one. What are the objections that are raised to it? If I remember rightly, in the debate on Second Reading in this House the point was brought out that on many occasions a Party had a majority in the House of Commons when it had no corresponding majority in the country. That is quite true. It is a matter of historical fact. But the proposal in this Bill, the proposal of the alternative vote, would not cure that anomaly. It is a fact that in 1924 even if every seat in which the Conservatives had not a clear majority was reckoned to go to one of the other Parties, still the Conservative Party would have had a clear majority of over 50 in the House of Commons, although they had not a majority in the country.
§ Then a word as to the fairness of representation. I want, as I said before, to address myself to the subject entirely without prejudice and without Party feeling. I think it may be stated that the object of representative government is that the representatives should represent the opinion of the represented. It does not effect that object if in certain districts large bodies of the voters are entirely unrepresented, nor does it do so if any particular Party's strength in the elected Chamber is lower in proportion than its strength in the country. Now the alternative vote, the proposal of this Bill, does not remove either of those defects in our present system.568
§ To take one or two well-known instances, Sussex returns nobody but Conservatives, Durham returns nobody but members of the Labour Party and Cornwall returns nobody but Liberals. That means that in those counties members of any other Party are without representation. That is not only a theoretical, it is a practical grievance, because it means that a member of one of the unrepresented Parties has no Member of Parliament in the county to whom he can go if he wants any of those minor things done in the House of Commons which every member of the House of Commons knows are cropping up quite constantly and are the subjects of continual correspondence between Members of Parliament and their constituents. There is an undoubted grievance if a Party which has a large number of members in any particular constituency or in any particular county has no member to represent it. But the alternative vote would not remedy that grievance. If you take the three counties I have mentioned I do not believe the exercise of the alternative vote would alter the representation of a single seat. It certainly would not in Sussex. I do not think it would in Durham Cornwall, perhaps, may be a little more doubtful. It is always rather difficult to predict which way any election in Cornwall is likely to go. But taking it as a whole the alternative vote does not remove this grievance, or alleged grievance.
§ Now as to the point of the strength of a Party in the country being greater in all proportion than its strength in the House of Commons. That, of course, is the grievance of the Liberal Party at the present time. I do not think it is too much to say that without that grievance this Bill was never likely to have been heard of. Will the alternative vote remedy it? I confess I am very doubtful. At the present moment the Liberal Party themselves hold two-thirds of their seats on a split vote. That is a larger proportion than any of the other Parties in the country. In some 90 cases they were second on a split vote, and those are the only cases in which it would be possible that any gain could come their way. Supposing they had in the House of Commons the number of seats proportionate to their strength in 569 the country the total would be somewhere about 150. If you add the members they have got in the House of Commons and the number of constituencies in which they were second on a split vote that gives you just under the 150 that they would desire. But they could not get that unless they not only held every seat they have now—two-thirds of them on a split vote—but also won every other one of those seats in which they were second at the last Election. I wonder if they really think they have got any chance of doing anything of the sort? In the present state of opinion in the country I should very much doubt it. In any case it is a pretty rash gamble to go in for.
The fact is, that if you want to get a representation in the House of Commons proportionate to numbers in the country, there is one way and one way only by which you can do it, and that is by what is known as proportional representation. I do not want to go over the various arguments that have been adduced, not only in the country but in this House and in another place, in favour of that system of election. I will content myself by quoting from one authority that must command respect here—that is, from the Leader of the House. Speaking here in 1917 he said:
I think there is no doubt whatever that what we want is that the House of Commons should be the reflex or mirror of national life, arid you can only ensure this by allowing the electorate not only to be enfranchised but to have the chance of giving a collective vote. This you cannot do without the introduction of the principle of proportional representation.
And later on he said:
I claim that those objections have in substance no weight at all. I claim for the system of proportional representation that it brings in a doctrine of one vote one value; that it enfranchises the electorate which you intend to enfranchise; that it keeps away what is the real evil of single-member constituencies—namely, giving a vote on paper and knowing that in reality it is a sham. As a basis of an Electoral Reform Bill, that evil ought never to be allowed.
I do not want to attempt to improve on the noble and learned Lord's statement of the case.
§ Perhaps I may be allowed to say a word about the objections that have been raised to that system. It is said that it is too difficult. I do not know if many 570 of your Lordships have read the First Schedule of this Bill. I should be rather glad if there were any member of the House who has studied it and who could explain it to me, because I have been talking lately with two or three noble Lords who are fairly versed in this sort of matter and none of them are quite clear as to what would actually happen at a General Election if the provisions of this Schedule were to be enforced. I say that it is not a fair argument, or an argument coming well from the authors of that Schedule, to say that any other system is too difficult to understand. After all, this difficulty of proportional representation exists rather in imagination than in substance. It has been enforced in Ireland for some time past, and I am informed that no difficulty has been found there, and there has been nothing more than the usual proportion of spoilt papers. My noble friend beside me reminds me—and I was just going to say—that it has been dropped in Northern Ireland, "but the difficulty of working it was not the reason. There were other reasons that applied to Northern Ireland with which I need not deal. But the Irishmen found no difficulty in working it, as I am assured by those who have actually experienced its working over there, and I think that if Irishmen can work it Englishmen ought to be able to work it equally well. There is really nothing in that objection.
§ The other, and perhaps the more serious question, is that of by-elections. It is not an insuperable objection. There are three ways of dealing with it, the most simple of which is to make no provision in the Bill and, in the case of a by-election, let the candidate stand for the whole big constituency. If that provision for by-elections is not approved, there are other ways of dealing with the matter and they could perfectly well be moved as Amendments. None of them are perfect, but they are all workable. And so it is with proportional representation. I do not suggest that it is a perfect system, but I do say that it is the best alternative that is known to our present system. It is more nearly than any other a system which makes the House of Commons representative of the nation, and it does avoid what I think are the drawbacks of our present system—the very violent fluctuation that takes place after every Election. I think it would 571 be a good thing if the House of Commons were a more stable body than it is at present. I would again remind your Lordships that this is the change, if any change is to be made, that was recommended by the majority of Lord Ullswater's Committee, and was specially recommended by those members who were members of the House of Commons and who had therefore most experience on the subject.
§ It is quite true that I propose only an instalment, and the instalment is founded on lines similar to those of the measure of 1918. It is quite true that the House of Commons eventually rejected those proposals, but the situation then was entirely different from the situation now. Then the choice before the House of Commons was whether they should have proportional representation or whether they should stick to the existing system. The choice before them now would not be that. The choice before them now would be whether they should have proportional representation or the alternative vote. I think it is quite possible, though they might regard them equally, that they would prefer the introduction of proportional representation to that of the alternative vote. As an entirely different question would be put before them, I submit that this is a question on which Parliament ought to have the opportunity of pronouncing its opinion. It was the recommendation, as I have said, of the majority of that Committee, and it is as one who sat for many arduous months on that Committee that I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name.
Page 1, line 7, leave out from ("election") to ("be") in line 9, and insert ("of the full number of Members of Parliament held in a constituency fixed under the provisions hereinafter set out shall").—(Lord Bayford.)
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, may I rise to a point of order? The Title of the Bill is:An Act to amend the law relating to Parliamentary Elections and electors by requiring such Elections to be on the principle of the alternative vote and in that connection making provision with respect to the division of two-member constituencies, abolishing the business premises qualification "—572 and certain other things—and for other purposes consequential on the matters aforesaid.I do not know what are the rules in your Lordships' House, but in the House of Commons, my recollection is, you cannot in Committee insert an Amendment which is outside the scope of the Title of the Bill as it has been passed on the Second Reading. My recollection is that I was successful in getting the Women's Franchise Bill rejected on that ground. I think my noble friend Lord Ullswater was then in the Chair, and he will probably remember that. If that is the case, may I ask your Lordships, even if the Amendment is in order here, what is the use of sending it back to the House of Commons, who are absolutely certain to reject it, because we cannot alter the rules of order in the House of Commons, and if this is out of order in the House of Commons we should be sending them back a perfectly new Bill.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
I am not accustomed to the procedure in this House, but I desire to treat the Amendment of Lord Bayford with all the courtesy which his speech deserves, and I crave the opportunity of stating the attitude which the Government will have to take up towards this Amendment, if carried, and also, if I am allowed, to deal substantially with the proposal. I would like to say in the first instance that the noble Lord said that he would try to avoid dealing with this question from any consideration of Party interests. I am not making any reproach, but it is a real matter of criticism that the whole of his speech really dealt with the effect upon Party representation—not representation of the communities but representation of Parties in the communities. That is, I think, the difference between us.
To go more definitely to the point, this is not a Bill to cure all the drawbacks and disadvantages of our electoral system. It is a Bill to deal with certain patent evils, if that is not too large a word, and injustices. In this clause we attempt to deal with what has been described as a calamity, and that is that half of the members of the House of Commons are returned without having the support of the majority in the constituencies by which they are returned—that half the House of Commons sit as 573 minority members, and that sometimes a large majority of the voters in their constituencies object to their being representatives of those particular constituencies. That is an evil, I think I am right in saying, not merely because it is a misrepresentation of the constituencies but also because, as I shall try to show, it really affects injuriously the whole basis of the position of the House of Commons in the Constitution of the country.
The difference between the alternative vote and proportional representation is fundamental. Proportional representation seeks to secure the due representation of minorities. The alternative vote seeks to secure the due representation of majorities. There is a fundamental difference. I am not now arguing whether one might not be better than the other, but in this Bill we set out to try to secure that no person shall be elected if a majority of that constituency objects to his being elected, and that is what the alternative vote secures. It is true it does not secure duo representation of minorities, which I should have thought would have been out of order in this Bill; but anyway I feel bound to say on this point that the Government would not be able to accept a proposal to insert proportional representation in this Bill and to cut out the alternative vote. The House of Commons in 1918 very decidedly rejected an exactly similar proposal, and so far from the situation having changed, I am confident that the House of Commons as now formed would certainly repeat that vote against proportional representation. That is, at any rate, the view which the Government take.
I should like to point out, with reference to the noble Lord's statement that his proposal had the support of a majority of the Committee presided over by Lord Ullswater, that that is not the case. I believe it may be said that the majority of that Committee did not report in favour of any change whatever, but it is true that a number of them, perhaps a majority, said that if there was to be any change from single-member constituencies, they would prefer proportional representation. It was half-hearted sympathy. The noble Lord will notice that he is not proposing such a change now. He is proposing a piebald House, to be formed of a hundred constituencies to be elected by propor- 574 tional representation, and the remainder to continue to be elected as at present. I do not know whether that was what a majority of Lord Ullswater's Committee meant when they said they would prefer that a change should be dealt with by proportional representation. I cannot believe that they meant to propose a piebald House of Commons of that character. The inevitable result of such a proposal would be that the members of the House of Commons would object either to their constituencies being put among the hundred, or left out of the hundred, and I think that to bring forward a proposal of that kind is really to foredoom it to failure, even if there is something more to be said for a complete change in the House of Commons.
I would like to point out to those who argue for proportional representation—I happen to have been familiar for the last forty years with these arguments, though I have never been convinced by them—no quotation from my speeches can be brought up against me—that what was always proposed was that the whole kingdom should vote in these multiple constituencies, and of course it was only in that way you could have the admirable arithmetical results proposed by proportional representation; but Lord Bayford's proposal is not that at all. It is that a hundred constituencies should be formed and should bear the brunt of the experiment, and that for an indefinite number of years Parliament should be elected half in one way and half in another. I have seen a great many constitutions for the House of Commons in my time, and have taken part in making them, but I have never seen a piebald constitution proposed before, and while not going into the question of how or when it was rejected in 1918, I feel perfectly sure that this proposal would now be rejected again by the House of Commons.
Let us deal with it a little more seriously than that. Those are only what I would call considerations of momentary tactics. I object to the whole system of proportional representation on very fundamental grounds. In my view the primary object of a General Election is to enable the King's Government to be carried on, to give His Majesty the support of a representative body, which will enable him to choose his Ministers. 575 The outgoing Government submitted itself to the people, and the people voted, and the primary object of their vote is not to return a House of Commons which is an exact reflex of the opinions of all the 40,000,000 people. That might be the primary object if the House of Commons were a debating society. It is necessary that the House of Commons should be a debating society; but its primary object is to make a Government, and support a Government, and criticise a Government. And it is by that test, I submit, that any electoral law should be primarily tested. I do not mean to say that there is no purpose in getting the exact opinion of the elector, but in all these matters, in all these principles, in all these laws there is, I venture to say—even if it is not true of economic laws it is true of other things—a law of diminishing returns.
Whereas it is quite desirable that you should provide primarily for the election of a House of Commons which will enable the King to have a Government, you must not even pursue that exclusively, you must have regard to the House of Commons representing the opinions of the people. But it does not follow that in pursuing the one you are going to give up the other; and my criticism of all schemes of proportional representation is that their advocates are too set on trying to represent as many as possible of all the different shades of opinion. I do not want to put it too paradoxically. I do not say they want to represent every minority; but they want to give representation in the House of Commons to as many minorities as they possibly can. That is a good thing, but it is forgetting what the primary object of an Election is. The primary object of an Election is to enable the King to have a Government, and to support a Government. And for that reason the primary necessity is that your electoral system should so work that you get a House of Commons which sits there by the will of the electorate, and not in the teeth of their votes.
At the present time 308 members—actually a half of the House of Commons—sit there in defiance of the electorate. After the electors have voted against them, and said, "These are not the men we want to have," they come there and make a Government—make this Government 576 which is in existence—and practically tell His Majesty, "This is the Government which you ought to put into office," although the majority of the electors in half the constituencies have said that is not the Government that they want. The result of that is that the Government, though it purports to represent a majority of the electors, or at any rate a majority of the constituencies, does not do so. And consequently the very object of the General Election has been falsified.
It is quite true that we do not want minorities to be unrepresented, but it is no use trying to prove that they are unrepresented by saying that there is no Labour member sitting for Sussex, and no Conservative member sitting for the County of Durham. Labour is represented in the House of Commons, Conservatism is represented in the House of Commons—some people say in both cases more than adequately—and I am not moved by the woe of the Conservative elector in Durham or the Labour elector in Sussex that he cannot obtain the representation of his views within that artificial boundary. Because, after all, King Alfred is dead, and there is no reason, except historical piety, why we should have any regard for the lines that were drawn by King Alfred—if they were drawn by King Alfred.
That is not a mere trivial gibe of mine because another thing I want to consider is this. I think it is most desirable that we should have members, not for sections of a community, parties in a community, but members for the community, for our community. We cannot nowadays, with this vast electorate, take the community of London, or even the community of the West Riding, or the community of Durham, and represent those communities, and the decision of the House of Commons has been that we must come to single-member constituencies. But, if you come to single-member constituencies, for goodness sake do not let us attempt to have a member for a section of that constituency. Do not let us lay stress on the fact that a man is a member for a Party. I hope we shall not carry our worship of mere numbers to that extent. I am surprised that in this House that should be put in that way. We want members who shall not be delegates of the Parties in their several constituencies, but members 577 who, when they are elected, will feel that they are members for the whole of the constituency.
I only had seven years' experience in the House of Commons, but each time I was elected I said—I think I may say conscientiously—that I intended to be member for the whole of the constituency and to make no difference whatever between people who came to me and asked me to put their views forward in a particular case. And I am glad to say that I did have the support of the whole constituency in that way. Do noble Lords suppose that the average Member of Parliament, when he gets a letter asking him to take up a pension case, stops to think whether that man voted for him or not? On the contrary, human nature being what it is, he is probably even more anxious to oblige a man who is an opponent than he is to oblige a friend.
However, surely I may say that it is part of the British Constitution, first of all, that, the primary object of a General Election is to enable the King to form a Government, and secondly, that the primary duty of a Member of Parliament is, to be the member for his constituency, and not merely the member for the section of the constituency which happens to vote for him. He has not to voice the opinion of his constituents, he has to voice his own opinion—he is returned to Parliament, for that purpose—and I do not need to remind your Lordships that there is a saying of Burke on that. It is because we do not want members for Parties but we want members for the whole constituency that we cling to the single-member constituency. At the same time I have said we must not pursue any principle too far; there is a law of diminishing returns. And, therefore, you have got to ask whether in addition to fulfilling the primary purpose of a General Election enabling the King to form a Government, you are altogether ignoring the secondary purpose of an Election—namely, that the opinions of the electorate should find an expression in the House of Commons. That is an important thing. I think the opinions of the electorate do find expression in the House of Commons, even with all its imperfections; and I ask noble Lords not to sacrifice the primary object of an Election in order to improve the House of Commons as a debating assembly. As a 578 debating assembly it ought to find voice for all opinions.
I will come now to one or two more trivial, but nevertheless practical, considerations. Do noble Lords who advocate proportional representation desire to put off the General Election so long as all that? It will take a long time to sort out these 100 constituences. It will have to be done over again. You cannot take the 100 which were selected in 1918. In fact, the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bayford actually proposes the same machinery of local inquiries and decision by the Commissioners and report to the two Houses. It will take a long time. I can foresee that if this Amendment were carried Ministerial salaries at any rate would be secure for some time—a little bit longer than1 noble Lords are apt to think is desirable. That is a small thing, of course; still, it counts for something.
I do not think it is desirable—again, I want to appeal to my constitutional principles—that it should be out of the power of His Majesty practically to dissolve Parliament and have a General Election. Emphatically it is most desirable that almost at any moment it should be possible to have a General Election. That is a constitutional matter. Consequently, I would suggest at this particular moment, at any rate, that it is not desirable to tie up the constituencies in such a way as to make it difficult, if not impossible, to have a General Election for a pretty considerable time. The alternative vote does not involve any alteration in the constituencies except for these eleven two-member constituencies, and those two-member constituencies can all be untied quite quickly, and enable noble Lords opposite to satisfy their desires to have a General Election and a new Government. That is a practical consideration of some value.
I am a little surprised that noble Lords on the other side lend so much support to a measure which is going to represent minorities and to represent them more sharply than at present. It is going to represent more extreme minorities than at present. If you have a system of proportional representation with seven-member constituencies so that one-seventh or one-eighth plus one of the voting electorate will be able to return a mem- 579 ber to Parliament, I wonder how many members of the Communist Party your Lordships would have in the House. Certainly some. If you got the Communist Party in another place where will all the anxiety to prevent the propaganda of the Soviet Government be? You will be opening the door to Soviet propaganda in such a way that you will not be able to shut it up. I do not know whether I am going to be the first to object to that; still, it is a consideration which I think noble Lords might bear in mind.
I am a little astonished at this desire to go baldheaded in pursuit of the dominance of mere numbers in the way that is suggested and yet to stop short at having merely one hundred of these specially-favoured constituencies. If you are going to do that I suggest to noble Lords that such an Amendment is absolutely hopeless of acceptance in another place, if only on the technical ground which the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, quite rightly pointed out. That being so, I humbly suggest this to your Lordships—let us take this measure as it is as an attempted euro for certain practical disadvantages and drawbacks of the existing system, and postpone the ideal, perfect voting system (which would not be proportional representation, in my opinion) until a more apposite opportunity.
§ VISCOUNT ULLSWATER
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, raised a question on a point of order which I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Pass-field, passed over. Of course, I am not entitled to pronounce any opinion, I do not think there is anybody in your Lordships' House who is entitled to pronounce an opinion on points of order. I presume that the reason why the Title of the Bill is postponed until after the consideration of the Bill is that the Title may be brought into conformity with what the decision of the House may be in dealing with the clauses of the Bill. On the assumption that your Lordships' House inserts proportional representation it will be necessary to alter the Title so as to include proportional representation amongst the changes which are to be proposed in our electoral system. The Bill would then return to another place with the Title amended, and there would be nothing, I take it, to prevent that 580 House accepting the Title if they so please. They would not necessarily object to an alteration of the Title. If the Title were not altered clauses dealing with proportional representation would not be in order. That, of course, is only a minor point.
It has been my fate to have a good deal to do with these two questions. In the year 1917 I reported, on behalf of the Speaker's Conference, in favour of both proportional representation and the alternative Vote. Many of your Lordships will remember the long controversy that took place between the House of Commons and your Lordships' House about this question. The House of Commons were in favour of the alternative vote. Your Lordships' House was always in favour of proportional representation, and on more than one occasion, I think on more than two occasions, you sent the Representation of the People Bill back to the other House with clauses in it dealing with proportional representation. Eventually a compromise was arrived at, or rather, I might say, another place yielded its point and accepted a provision which was actually inserted in the Act of 1918 and now stands there as Section 20 establishing the principle of proportional representation. That Act was passed and received the Royal Assent, but it was subject to the list of constituencies to which proportional representation was to be applied being approved. I had a considerable hand in preparing the list of the one hundred constituencies. That list was submitted to the other House. It did not find favour and, therefore, that particular Part dropped out.
Then we come to the last Committee which sat last year. A question arose as to what actually took place. What took place was this, in my recollection. The Conservative Party did not wish to have any alteration at all. They were satisfied with the present system; but they said: "If you, the Liberal Party, press for the establishment of proportional representation on the ground that your numbers in the country are not properly represented in the House of Commons, we are prepared to go so far as to accept the proposal which you make." The proposal which was made was not that pro- 581 portional representation should be applied universally but that proportional representation should form part of any alteration which was to be made in the electoral system.
That, I gather, is exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Bayford, is proposing. I personally have never been in favour of applying proportional representation to the whole country. I do not think it is possible, because, in order that proportional representation should work satisfactorily, it would require the conjunction of a great number of constituencies—three, four or five at least. If you extend that, we will say, to Wales or the North of Scotland, you get such enormous areas as to make proportional representation practically impossible. But there are both borough and county areas to which proportional representation can very easily, and as I think very properly, be applied. Where there are, for instance, as in the County of Durham, not very large areas but a considerable population, you will be able to apply proportional representation without any difficulty. So also to some of the big boroughs which now return three, four, five or six members. They could very easily be joined into one constituency, and a candidate standing for one of those boroughs can bring his views, either through the wireless or by means of the Press, before all the constituents, of that combined borough. I therefore see no difficulty in the way of applying proportional representation to certain parts of the country which are suitable for its application. The noble Lord, Lord Passfield, describes that as a piebald system. It is no more piebald than our present system, where we have single-member constituencies over the greater part of the country, and have double-member constituencies in others. That might equally be called a piebald system, but nobody has thought of calling it a piebald system until this afternoon.
I will show what I think is even worse than a piebald system. Take the alternative vote. You have three Parties submitting their three candidates. The first candidate who comes out at the top of the poll does not obtain a complete majority. In order to arrive at a result, you take the second preferences of the last candidate, then you add them to the 582 first preferences of the others, and you get a member returned by the first preferences of his own people and the second preferences of some others, who may differ in principle absolutely from the principles which the successful candidate represents. You get, therefore, a sort of half-bred member; you might even call him a quarter-bred member; anyhow a mongrel member who does not really know whom he represents. He represents the first preferences of one principle and the second preferences of a totally different principle. Therefore he must be divided not into two equal parts, but he must be divided in his allegiance to two different Parties, possibly even to three different Parties.
The noble Lord, Lord Passfield, said the primary object of an Election under our Constitution is to make a Government. Well you can only make a Government out of a homogeneous majority. Under such a system you do not get a homogeneous majority, you get a mongrel majority; and therefore I maintain that if you are going to have a Government which is to be formed of two Parties it is far better that those two Parties should unite in the House of Commons and there make their arrangements rather than that those arrangements should be made secretly at the ballot box. I personally have no particular fondness for either proportional representation or the alternative vote. I am in favour of the old first-past-the-post system, and I feel pretty confident that if your Lordships were quite free to vote according to your consciences and to your views on this Bill, you would not have it at all, but would stick to the old first-past-the-post system. It is true the first-past-the-post system brings about certain anomalies. Yes, but every system that we have will produce some anomalies.
This very system, which the noble Lord introduces and tells us in his first speech is a purely miscroscopical matter and that he himself does not in the least know what the result is likely to be, will produce great anomalies. We shall probably have minorities wiped out in many counties, not appearing at all; the majorities will be inflated; there will be huge majorities in many cases, and the minorities will, I suppose, as usual, have 583 to suffer. That is an anomaly, and I think it is one which will be very much resented by a large section of the electorate especially when they find that although they have voted for their representative and put him in at the top of the poll, yet by some combination of first preferences and second preferences he is displaced and they are not represented at all in the House of Commons. You cannot be perfectly certain of anything in this world, least of all in politics, but I should not be at all surprised, if such a system is applied and obtains generally, to sec it arouse a great deal of resentment, leading before long to its repeal.
I do not know what is likely to happen to this Amendment. Personally, I shall support it, on the grounds which I have laid before your Lordships. I think that on the whole it produces fewer anomalies and will work less injustice than any other system. I will also venture to remind your Lordships how this Bill came to be introduced. I do not, of course, know the reasons which led the Prime Minister and the Government to introduce it, but the subject was first brought on the tapis because of the complaints that were made by Mr. Lloyd George that his Party was insufficiently represented in the House of Commons. On the very earliest debate that took place on the Address after His Majesty's Government came into office, Mr. Lloyd George made a speech in which he pointed out that, although the Liberals had polled no fewer than 5,000,000 votes, yet his Party was only represented by a paltry fifty-five or fifty-six members, and he claimed to have 140, or some number in the neighbourhood of 140. That was the reason that induced the setting up of the Committee over which the Prime Minister asked me to preside.
I always understood all through the Committee that the point which we were really endeavouring to meet was the grievance which the Liberal Party felt at their own representation in the Commons. This Bill will not help them one iota. On the contrary, this Bill will probably, so far as can be forecast, result in severe losses to them. I am anxious to see all Parties properly represented in the House. I am not afraid of the Communists. The noble Lord, Lord Passfield, seemed to be dreadfully afraid that the 584 Communists might be represented in the House of Commons. Well, if there are enough Communists in this country to return members to the House of Commons, I say they ought to be there. We have had all sorts of faddists there before now. It would not be anything new. I have seen a good many there myself, and I should not be afraid of seeing them. On the contrary, if they came there and propounded their doctrines, it is the very thing that you want. You want to be able to meet them on the common platform, and show them how wrong they are, and to show the people of this country how utterly mistaken their principles are. You can do that better, I maintain, in the House of Commons than you can in Hyde Park.
§ EARL PEEL
My Lords, I was waiting because I was very anxious to know, among other things, what was the attitude that was to be taken up by the representatives of the Liberal Party on this important question. I think we were told that the whole origin, or the main origin, of this Bill was the complaint—a very natural complaint perhaps—of the Liberal Party that their large number of voters was insufficiently represented in the House of Commons. I was very much interested to know what their views were and was rather surprised that they did not explain those views, because so far we have had nothing but an expression of opinion on Second Reading by the noble and learned Marquess, Lord Reading. I think he said on that occasion—if I am not mis-stating it—that they thought that proportional representation was the best, but that if they could not get it they were content with the second best. In fact, it was their second preference. It is rather difficult, therefore, if there is complete silence among the Liberal ranks on this matter, to know exactly how to determine one's course, because I am really full of sympathy for the grievances of the Liberal Party, and I think the Party to which I belong has always been very open-minded towards grievances from whatever Party they spring. We always want to help the down-trodden minority as far as we can do it. It is rather unfortunate that on this subject we get only silent guidance, if I may so express it, a sort of negative guidance from the Liberal Party.
585 I can express very briefly what I feel upon it. Let me say first that I think we are very much indebted to my noble friend Lord Bayford for having brought this subject before us this afternoon in a very clear and luminous speech, because, whatever may be our views as to the alternative vote, or the present system, or proportional representation, I think it would have been astounding if, at a time when we are trying to the best of our ability to decide the method by winch members should be elected to the House of Commons, nothing should be said about proportional representation, on which many people have strong views and in which they take a great interest, and which to my recollection was so fully discussed twelve years ago when the previous Bill was before your Lordships' House.
If I may, I should just like to notice for a moment a very important point brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Passfield. Lord Passfield said he was afraid that if this measure were adopted there might be some, delay in a General Election, which he seemed rather to deplore. I think I can assure the noble Lord of this: that if he means the idea of a General Election to be really a firm offer upon his part it is quite possible that my noble friend behind me, who is at once as patriotic as he is able, would be ready to withdraw his Amendment.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
If the noble Earl appeals to me I would just point out that he has confirmed my impression that the effect of the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bayford, would be to make an Election extremely difficult for a long time.
§ EARL PEEL
I have put it to the noble Lord, and alter conferring with his colleagues he may possibly be able to give us an answer later in the day. I did not rise really to discuss the comparative methods of proportional representation and the alternative vote. The alternative vote has suffered somewhat severe handling at the hands of my noble friend Viscount Ullswater, and no one, if I may say so, is more competent to speak on that subject. If I were asked to say what my preference is between the alternative vote and proportional representation, I am bound to 586 say I should find it extremely difficult to give an answer and to record my preference. To be quite frank, I rather share the views of the noble Lord opposite and I prefer really, with all its difficulties and certain anomalies, the present system. But that really is not the point before us. The point is whether we should be justified, and whether it would be wise for us, to give another place the opportunity of weighing together as it were these two systems by which members may be elected to Parliament. They have not had that opportunity yet. All that they have had before them is the question of the alternative vote in single-member constituencies, and, although I do not think we ought to be tied entirely by precedent, yet I agree that the situation, different as it is from that of thirteen years ago, is alike to this extent, that when these methods are being discussed here and in another place it seems to me to be essential that both this House and the House, of Commons should have the opportunity of comparing them together and deciding which is the better.
There is one more point which I would like to mention, although it has been already dealt with so effectively by my noble friend Viscount Ullswater. The objection of the noble Lord opposite to the Amendment is that it docs not apply to the whole country. I think it is a very delicate and difficult thing at this stage of our representative system to introduce this new method of election, and I should have thought that instead of applying a new system at one moment to the whole country it would be far better to apply it to a portion of the country, to make an experiment if you like. I do not quite see why an old country should not make an experiment like a young country, even though it might be said to be a little hard on those constituencies which would be selected for the experiment. As the matter has been so very little discussed in the last few years in the country and the country has had very little opportunity of expressing itself as to whether it would have a change, or what change it would have, I think it would be far better that the system should be tried to a limited extent as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bayford, rather than apply a cast-iron system at once to the whole country. 587 As the noble Lord has stated—and I have here the report of that Conference on Electoral Reform over which he presided—it is remarkable that most of the Conservatives decided that a change of some character should be made subject to that condition, and that the Liberals, at that time fortunately united with us, voted unanimously in favour of proportional representation. Therefore, if your Lordships feel disposed to send this Amendment to another place, I think, without prejudging in favour of one system or another, you would at least give another place the opportunity of weighing both systems together and deciding after careful deliberation which of those two system they think is better for the country.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, I should be very sorry not to respond to an invitation presented by the noble Earl who has just spoken. It has been very interesting to those with whom I am associated to listen to the debate which has taken place on this subject, and so far as the Liberal Party is concerned we see no reason to be dissatisfied with the views expressed either on the one side or the other. There is to be a change in the system at present existing, either in this form or in another, either by the alternative vote or by proportional representation, or, it may be, by a combination of the two, or possibly even by the introduction of a third element which has not been discussed. At least we shall get the satisfaction of having both from the Government and from leaders of the Conservative Party support, and emphatic support apparently, for a change in the method of election. I see no reason whatever to modify in any way what I said when we had the debate on Second Reading and I did not intervene in the debate today because I thought I had expressed my views clearly. The noble Earl quoted from memory, but he quoted quite correctly what I said before. I adhere to that view, as I understand it, of the Party. Certainly my own preference is for a system of proportional representation. It was rather unfortunate that we were not able to convince the Government or that the Government were not themselves convinced, and the consequence was that all they would introduce 588 was the change to the alternative vote.
I do not propose at this moment to discuss the alternative vote or proportional representation, though at the proper moment later on I may have some observations to address in answer to what fell from the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, who is so experienced an exponent of this subject and, of course, speaks with great authority. Whether or not the alternative vote would have any successful result for those with whom I am associated, I think, as I said on Second Reading, it is very difficult to foretell. I do not attempt to forecast it, and forgive my saying that I doubt very much whether the noble Viscount speaks with any greater authority than I on this subject when he says that he does not think it would be any advantage whatever. There are some who profess to be experts at forecasting results. I have always distrusted those attempts. I do not know how they are arrived at or on what material. They choose to adopt that view, but, whatever may be the consequences, I do not think it is desirable to discuss it, and I feel quite unable to make any prophecy as to what will happen.
On this particular Amendment I tell your Lordships quite frankly the position that I take. If there were a Bill introduced by a Conservative Government to give proportional representation, and there were Amendments on the part of the Labour Party for the alternative vote, I should give my support undoubtedly to the Conservative Government. If I am able, from what has happened to-day, to form the opinion that when a Conservative Government comes into power—nobody can foretell that—we are likely to have a proposal of this kind, all I can say is that when they do propose proportional representation they will certainly get support from me (that is immaterial), and I think I may also say, from the Liberal Party.
But will they do it? They were in power for five years with a majority over the rest of the House. We had the grievance then which we have now. The complaint was made then which we make now. After the Election representations were made, as they were made quite re- 589 cently when the now Government came into power, but I regret to say that we found them passive if not obdurate. I am glad to see that there is some change. If I am not entitled, as indeed I do not think I am on the ground of what has been actually stated to-day, to assume that there is any intention that the Conservative Party will take such a course when it comes into power, at least I think I am justified in saying that there are a number of Conservative members who are in favour of such a proposal. I am very comforted by it, and I hope the views that may be expressed in the Division that will take place to-day will at least give us some indication of the strength of the Conservative Party in favour of proportional representation.
That is really the view that I take, but I am still in a difficulty. I said I would be frank and I will. I am still in a difficulty about voting. If we support the Conservative Party, I am not quite sure what the result will be. We are perfectly free to do it, and the only reason I hesitate is that I am not at all sure what the effects of a majority in favour of this Amendment, particularly assisted by the Liberal Party, would be when the matter comes to another place. Of course I must not ask questions. Far be it from me to put them, but I may hazard my view. Is it entirely out of the thoughts of those who are responsible for placing this Amendment on the Paper that the effect of carrying it and sending it to the other House might be that the Bill will be lost? Is it entirely out of the minds of noble Lords who are inclined to support it that, if they vote for proportional representation, the effect will be to defeat the Bill providing for the alternative vote? Is it entirely out of the consideration also of some of them that the Government were willing only to introduce the alternative vote, and probably the Labour Party would not like proportional representation, so that if proportional representation is introduced the Bill will be dead, and it will fail to become a Statute in any form?
What I am anxious about, as are those with whom I am associated, is that the change shall be made. Again pursuing the frankness that I said I would pursue, I know that the Government now in power have introduced this Bill, have adopted it and put it forward, and 590 pledged themselves in the King's Speech to introduce a Bill to reform the Representation of the People Act. They have introduced this Bill, giving us at least some advantage as compared with what we had before. Although I would very much like to support this Amendment and vote for proportional representation, I am not going to do it, for the reason that I have given to your Lordships. I would say this at once. If one Leader of the Conservative Party, if the Leader of the Opposition at the present moment, were to tell me that I may take this Amendment for proportional representation as now proposed as an indication of the view of the Conservative Party, and if it can now be said that the Conservative Party, when it comes into power, would make this change, that would be a different thing, but so far I have heard no such statement. If it were made, I confess that it would make a change in the view that I should take, but all that has been said hitherto is that the Conservative Party, in the views expressed at the Conference over which Lord Ullswater presided, were in favour of proportional representation, as the noble Viscount told us, but only subject to the condition that they should be satisfied that it was necessary to make-the change.
Let me ask noble Lords who are anxious to understand what our position is if they have any doubt about that. Is not the matter quite clear? We are perfectly free, and I am perfectly ready to support them if I can understand that it really means that the Conservative Party pledged itself to proportional representation—that is, to change the voting system. I cannot press noble Lords, but that has not been said and, so far as we know at present, the indications are that it is not so at all. I hope I have answered all the questions put to me.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Peel, made an unusual request. He asked that the clouded minds of the noble Lords who sit behind him might be illuminated by speeches from our humble Bench here, and I hope that the speech to which he has just listened has afforded him that illumination. I admit, and I hope the noble Marquess will forgive me for saying, that I 591 do not feel that my own convictions are very much strengthened by what I have heard, because so far as I can understand the noble Marquess is strongly in favour of proportional representation and is going to vote against it.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Then I still do not know how the noble Marquess is going to vote and must wait for the Division Lobby to reveal it to us. It is often said that democracy is upon its trial. The statement is so stale that its repetition becomes wearisome. But at least it is true, and the first thing that must be of importance to us all is to secure that the trial is a fair one. Does the present system of voting give fair results? That is the first question it seems to me that it is essential to answer. I cannot think that it does. It seems to me that when you have five millions of voters represented by 57 members, it is obvious there is something wrong with the electoral arrangements. It is perfectly true that by an effort of imagination you can conceive a country so represented that the minority was not represented at all; and yet upon the whole you can work out a reasonably fair system.
But the real question, if you are satisfied that the present system is unfair, is what are you going to substitute for it? Lord Ullswater suggested that to substitute this system of the alternative vote would be to destroy the authority of the man returned, but I cannot see that. In many cases he would probably be the man returned now, and the only result would be that in addition to the votes of his own supporters he would be strengthened by the votes of other people who, as their second choice, wanted him returned. I cannot see that a man has his opinions rejected because it is his second view that is accepted after his first has become impossible of acceptance. His alternative vote is given upon the exact hypothesis that if his first man does not get in, the other is his second choice. I therefore cannot see that any man's views are in any way misrepresented by this process.
As to proportional representation, to argue it upon its merits has taken this country something like fifty years. At all events, it has been going on interminably 592 since 1884, and I very much doubt whether people are any nearer a conclusion now than they were then. As individual opinions appear to be things which are being expressed now, I am strongly opposed to it, and for this reason. I object to the representation of fads. I do not think that any fads ought to be represented except my own, and those I venture to state are not fads but eternal principles. I do not want other people's fads—they get in my way—and the consequence is I strongly object to the idea that anti-vaccination, anti-drink and anti-everything is to have representation in the House of Commons and impede what should be the steady solid march of a Government having a majority of the people behind them.
Lord Peel made a most astonishing suggestion. Indeed, the speech of the noble Earl caused me sometimes amazement and sometimes amusement. He ended by saying that it was up to us to give the House of Commons an opportunity of saying whether they would not like this scheme instead of the other scheme. Have not the House of Commons had an opportunity? Have not they had this Bill before them? Do you really think it rests with us to give them a chance of considering proportional representation, which has been discussed and argued until many people are tired of its very name? At any rate, I do not think that your Lordships, whatever reasons are moving you in going into the Division Lobby, are likely to be moved by the thought that you are generously offering the other House this chance for the first time. I intend to support the Bill, and I do so because I regard it as a simple and genuine effort to remedy what I believe to be an indisputable grievance. That there may be other and better remedies I do not deny, but what I do deny is that proportional representation is one.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
My Lords, the position is so peculiar that I desire to say one word before we go to a Division. The noble Lord who spoke last made quite clear what was his view, but I am not sure that I can say the same thing of noble friends in front of me. There is a large body of opinion in this House entirely opposed to proportional repre- 593 sentation, and I think that we could not put ourselves in a worse position than by first of all going into the Lobby for the purpose of giving the House of Commons another chance of considering proportional representation, and then, if they should consider it and send it back to us as the substratum of a Bill, throw it out because our opinions have been against it all along.
I have only one fact which I propose to mention and I do so because Lord Bayford based himself to a large extent upon it. He said that proportional representation had been tried in Ireland and that people had found no difficulty about it there. I hope my noble friend will pardon me if I correct him 'and say that I differ from him in toto. The North of Ireland tried it, and rejected it, and determined to have it no more. What has happened in the South of Ireland? Lord Passfield spoke of this plan of proportional representation as being a plan to represent minorities. He never said a truer word. There are so many people in the South of Ireland who, having a chance to vote for one, two or three candidates, by proportional representation, have thought it their duty to vote for all three. Thus, having voted for Mr. Cosgrave, so to speak, first, they then vote for Mr. De Valera second, and for another candidate third. The result is that it is common knowledge that while the number of those who support the lie-publican view is infinitely smaller than the number of those who support the Government now existing, by this action the two leaders are, almost equally supported in the Dail. I should protest against our associating ourselves with proportional representation with any idea that it has been successful in either the North or the South of Ireland. All I can say is that I hope we shall hear from my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham, as Leader of this Party, what his view is, because I for one could not possibly go into the Lobby to support a principle to which I am wholly opposed, on the score of sending it back for consideration by the House of Commons.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM.
Two of the previous speakers have been good enough to address to me a direct question, and it is because that question has been addressed that I rise for a few moments 594 to endeavour to answer it. The noble and learned Marquess, Lord Reading, was anxious to assure us that he was making his attitude and that of his Party perfectly clear, and that he was being, as I am sure he always is, entirely frank with your Lordships. After having listened to him, I thought I understood, as my noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster understood, that he meant to say that his Party proposed to vote against this Amendment unless they had a promise that the next Conservative Government would introduce a Bill to give effect to proportional representation. I do not know whether I rightly understood him because when Lord Buck-master expressed that impression. I thought I noticed the noble and learned Marquess give signs of dissent.
§ THE MARQUESS OR READING
I most emphatically said "No" to the suggestion which he made. I thought I had made it clear that, at any rate, I was in favour of proportional representation, but that I was in a difficulty in supporting this Amendment, and could not do so unless I had some assurance as to the future. But. I would not vote against it, because I am in favour of the principle.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I gathered that the Liberal Party, or the noble and learned Marquess at any rate, would not vote at all. Well, that is not an uncharacteristic attitude of the Liberal Party. My noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster said that he bad listened to some parts of a speech with amazement and to other parts with amusement. I share the amusement, but I am past being surprised at anything which I hear from that quarter of the House. My noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster rather ridiculed the suggestion which my noble friend Lord Peel made. As I understood my noble friend, what he said was that there might be a case for giving to the House of Commons an opportunity of weighing up the comparative merits of proportional representation and of the alternative vote. That is a suggestion that under the rules of procedure in the House of Commons, under the Title of the Bill as drawn, it was not possible for them to discuss or consider proportional representation, but that an Amendment should be made in this House, which is not so 595 limited, which would give them the opportunity, not of thinking for the first time, but of expressing their thoughts for the first time, on this particular subject. I am speaking here in the presence of one at least who can speak with very high authority of the rules of procedure in another place, and I have no doubt in saying that an Amendment to introduce proportional representation into this Bill as introduced in another place, would have been ruled out of order by the Speaker in that place. And, indeed, I may go a little further and say that I am quite sure that the reason why the Title was so framed was to prevent proportional representation being considered in another place.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Do I understand that there is no power in the House of Commons at any stage to amend the Title of a Bill?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
There is, I think, no power in the House of Commons after the Second Reading to amend by enlarging the Title of a Bill so as to introduce matters which are not within its scope. And, indeed, there is no secret about it. This Bill is headed Representation of the People (No. 2) Bill. The reason why the first Bill was withdrawn and the second Bill introduced was that the Government discovered that the Title of the first Bill was wide enough to cover proportional representation, and, in order to avoid that very awkward contingency, they dropped the first Bill altogether and introduced another one in its place with a Title more skilfully drawn. Therefore, there is a very great deal of force in what my noble friend Lord Peel said.
But I think we have had in advance, in the debate that has taken place here, the answer as to what would happen in another place if this opportunity were afforded. We all know that proportional representation could not possibly be carried in another place except by the united support of the Liberal Party. We have seen very plainly that, even in this place, the Liberal Party is disunited. One member is vigorously and violently opposed to the principle, and the other supports the principle, but will not support it so far as to vote for it. That being so, I do suggest to my noble friends who have introduced a most 596 interesting debate that really there would be no very useful purpose served in pressing the matter to a Division, because we have had from the noble and learned Marquess the answer to the question which my noble friend asked. The noble and learned Marquess asked me whether I could give a pledge or an undertaking that any future Conservative Government—
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
I did not ask the noble and learned Viscount to speak for a future Conservative Government, but for his Party.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
The noble and learned Marquess asks me that I should on behalf of the Conservative Party give a pledge that, so far as the Party could do so, proportional representation should be introduced if they came into power. I can give no such pledge. So far as I personally am concerned, I dislike proportional representation. And, further than that, the noble and learned Marquess is quite mistaken if he thinks that there has been, either in the debate or, as far as I know, in the minds of many people in this House, a general support of the need of a change of some kind. I think, on the contrary, that a great many would share the view which I understood my noble, friend Lord Ullswater to express, that the system under which we at present carry on our Elections is better than either of the alternatives proposed. And indeed the noble Lord, Lord Passfield, when he made his very interesting and most Conservative speech, indicated, I think, that if only he were free to follow his own wishes he would preserve a system which, whatever else it does, is better calculated to ensure that a majority of some kind shall be returned to the House of Commons than an alteration which is deliberately designed in order to prevent that result. On these grounds, although I think the debate has been very well worth while, and has been a very interesting one, I would suggest to my noble friend behind me that possibly in the circumstances it might not be necessary to press the Amendment to a Division.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.597
§ THE EARL OF M1DLETON moved, in subsection (1), after the first "shall," to insert "in boroughs in London (other than the City of London) and in boroughs elsewhere having a population according to the published returns of the last census for the time being exceeding two hundred thousand." The noble Earl said: After the discussion which has taken place, I will endeavour to put the point to which I desire to call attention with as much brevity as is possible. The question of accepting the alternative vote in toto and for every constituency is one of the most difficult with which this House has ever had to deal. We have had no guidance whatever from another place or from the Elections. The noble and learned Marquess, who is not at the moment in his place, based himself regarding this measure on the assumption that there was a considerable demand for it in the country. He thought, in addition, that the Party to which he belonged had advocated such a change for many years. It is the most extraordinary fact that the whole question of electoral reform was dealt with hardly at all at the last General Election. I have had an examination made of the election addresses of the Liberals who were returned and are now suffering so much from the present condition of affairs. I find that out of sixty-five who were returned to Parliament only five mentioned the question of electoral reform at all.
§ Nobody has been so vehement, I might even say combative, in this matter as the Leader of the Liberal Party, Mr. Lloyd George. I hold in my hand the Election Address he issued in 1929. It states almost everything that can possibly be put into a programme. I will not read it to your Lordships, but in the fifteen items including unemployment, industry, trade, national development, Imperial unity and the like, there is no reference at all to the question of electoral reform. I have not heard, and I have not been able to read, in any of the discussions in another place any enthusiasm whatever for this measure. There have been two speeches delivered from the Liberal Benches tonight and nobody could mistake either of them as voicing a whole-hearted acceptance of the principle of the alternative vote. It is simply something in which the Party has found refuge. It has not the 598 country at the back of it, nor has it the convictions of the Party who are supporting it, who would prefer the principle of proportional representation which we have just been discussing.
§ In those circumstances I would remind your Lordships that whenever there has been a question of change in the electoral system of this country it has been started in almost every case by a tentative measure. The noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, contemplated, I think, in his prolonged inquiry that proportional representation would be tried first in a certain number of constituencies. I propose to give your Lordships the strongest reasons I can for this limitation. In the first place, I would ask you to consider what is the obvious disadvantage of this plan. I am speaking of no Party question at all. There is no Party interest in it. Most people appear to believe that the majority of the candidates returned by a minority of the electors are sitting on this side of the House and are all Conservatives. It is nothing of the kind, and I will give your Lordships the figures, In the whole country there are 615 seats. Three hundred and six of those, very nearly half, are held by members who represent a minority of the votes polled. Of those 306, 150 are Conservatives, 115 are Labour and 41 are Liberals. Therefore, 156 members of the two Parties who are not Conservative and 150 who are Conservative are returned by minorities.
§ There is this difference between the alternative vote and proportional representation, which, so far, has not been stated in your Lordships' House. I said a moment ago that I dislike and altogether decry the principle of proportional representation, but it has the effect that all voters have the same chance. When you cast up the numbers those voters who voted for the man who has received the largest number have an equal chance with those who vote for the man receiving the smallest number. That is not the case with the alternative vote. If there are five candidates standing, No. 1 polls a large number of the electors voting and so does No. 2. Their second votes are never counted at all. No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5, who have the worst of the election, are entitled to have a second vote. No. 5, who may be a freak candidate altogether, may have a second vote given to him and counted, 599 and as the Bill now stands No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 may receive votes which turn the election. I deprecate a system which gives to voters who have the least right to be in a majority the absolute power by their second, third and fourth votes to turn a minority in which they stand into a majority for someone else. That is the first point.
§ The second point about which I feel intensely is that this system of voting must lead to a gerrymandering of opinion in order to catch the second votes of particular bodies. Many of your Lordships have fought contested elections and you are all aware how people come to you and say: "If you can give such and such a pledge it will carry a large number of electors." Conceive how that will increase if a candidate is told that a certain body of electors who are supporting a particular candidate who knows he has not got a chance will give him their second vote if he gives them some pledge entirely at variance, perhaps, with his own opinion. I think it unfair and unwise to condemn candidates to that particular injury.
§ Why do I propose that this experiment should first be tried in the large boroughs? Again I would assure the Government that there is not the slightest intention of doing that in order to pick out a favourable ground of combat for any Party. I told your Lordships just now that, taking the whole country, the Conservatives were not the tenants of as many minority seats as their opponents. The proportion in London and the large provincial towns is almost precisely the same as over the whole country. In London there are sixty-two seats; thirty-three are held by minority members, eleven of these are Conservatives, twenty are Labour, two are Liberal. In the large provincial towns there are 112 seats. The minority members are forty-nine. Of these twenty are Conservative, twenty-four Labour, and five Liberal. In other words, 174 seats would be contested under this Amendment. The minority members are nearly half—eighty-two—and of those less than half are Conservative. Why do I take the big towns? Anybody who has fought a contested election knows that the electors in a big borough constituency have a far greater facility for knowing the candidates they are going to vote for. If you are going to ask 600 them to vote for anybody besides the first candidate, you are putting a considerable strain upon the voters' imagination. It is difficult enough for many voters, with all the hurly-burly of politics, to know on which side to throw themselves, but it becomes more difficult when you say to a man or a woman, "You have not only to make up your mind about No. 1, but you must also consider, if your own candidate does not get in, which of the other candidates most approximates to your opinion."
§ Have your Lordships ever considered what the difficulty is at the moment for candidates to make themselves known in country districts? I sat for a country constituency for a quarter of a century. In those days one had a constituency of 15,000 or 18,000 electors. There are now in the same constituency 72,000 voters. By no possible process can a candidate, during the three or four weeks, which is the longest time that he is before the constituency, even if he speaks three times a day, be heard or seen by more probably than a quarter of those he asks to vote for him. In a large town it is different. You will have the 70,000 electors confined within a comparatively narrow radius, and the candidate may go to four or five different meetings in one day and may be seen by all. What is to happen is this. A large majority of the electors in the counties will give their second vote absolutely blindly to candidates they have never seen, whose words they have never read, and of whose opinions they have the vaguest idea. It is a very serious thing to plant a system of that kind all over the country without any trial. The House of Commons, as we have been told by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, had not even the opportunity of discussing alternative plans.
§ May I urge that your Lordships will not reject this proposal for limitation without serious consideration? We are asked to plunge into a new, rather intricate and, to some of us, fantastic proposal, which is to be tried in the widest-spread constituencies at the same time. If it came to us with any imprimatur from the country it would be a different matter, but it has not behind it any section in this country. It does not come to us as an object for which any Party has worked for five, or still more, for ten years. It is a haphazard expedient. 601 The machinery for this clause was, I understand, adopted after three hours' discussion in the House of Commons. The machinery of other clauses—the county machinery—was ruled out. I cannot but think that we ought to follow the recommendation of every Commission which has suggested a change, and that is to give this a fair trial, but not to commit ourselves to applying it over the whole country. May I once more remind your Lordships that the only place where this has been tried, except in the Free State, was in Northern Ireland. It was well tried, and it was abandoned. How can we adopt it for the whole of this country? If we do, how can we retrace steps which may be found to have been entirely false and mistaken?
§ I know there are some people who think that questions of electoral reform are for the House of Commons alone. All I can say in answer to them is that there are still members of this House who recollect that, after a whole Session had been given to the Reform Bill of 1884, the House of Lords intervened and insisted that that measure should not come into operation unless there was a redistribution of seats, a thing which had by no means been accepted by the other House, but which was accepted by the whole country, and has remained in operation practically intact to this day. In those circumstances, I think that my Amendment is a moderate one, to secure a trial for this new and untried system on perfectly fair ground. I beg to move.
Page 1, line 8, after ("shall") insert ("in boroughs in London (other than the City of London) and in boroughs elsewhere having a population according to the published returns of the last census for the time being exceeding two hundred thousand").—(The. Earl of Midleton.)
§ LOUD PASSFIELD
I quite appreciate the motive which has induced the noble Earl to bring forward this Amendment for a limited trial in a few constituencies of the proposals in the Bill, but I am hound to point out to your Lordships that if it were possible to have a limited trial in a few constituencies the proposal of the noble Earl is very awkward indeed. There is no single constituency in a Parliamentary borough with a population of more than 200,000. Then the noble Earl talks about boroughs—boroughs in London and boroughs else- 602 where. He cannot mean Parliamentary boroughs, because there is no such Parliamentary borough.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
I was going on to explain that it must mean the municipalities. But the municipality is made up of several Parliamentary constituencies in these cases, and I do not quite see how you can put the word boroughs in that way into a Bill. We should have to turn it into Parliamentary boroughs. If you are going to reform the old boroughs for Parliamentary purposes and give them a different electioneering system from that which prevails, creating a totally different boundary, surely that is an arbitrary provision. Take London, for instance. London is a place where, one would think, all the voting should be on the same system. There are existing Parliamentary boroughs in London—Parliamentary constituencies are small relatively—and there, are municipal boroughs—the Boroughs of Islington, St. Pancras and so on—but they are not all over 200,000 in population; and interspersed between these larger Metropolitan Boroughs, there are smaller Metropolitan Boroughs—the Borough of Stoke Newington and so on, the City of Westminster even. Surely the noble Earl would not ask the House to take the view that there should be different arrangements in each part of London and that one should vote under one system and another under another system.
Then, consider another thing. A man has a qualification in more than one constituency. Assume he can only vote once—if he is going to vote twice it is still worse—is he to choose to vote in one place under the system of the alternative vote, or in another place for a single member? I think it would cause absolute confusion. If there is anything to be said in favour of the criterion of population surely it must have relation to the constituencies and not to something outside the constituencies. I cannot see any reason why the noble Earl should think the alternative vote would be more difficult to candidates in rural districts or widely spread districts than others. If you are asking an elector to 603 exercise his preference as between a whole string of candidates the noble Earl, if he were one of the candidates, would not be at any disadvantage. The whole string of candidates would appear before the electors and his difficulties would not be in any way increased. The elector, if he has to exercise five preferences, will have five candidates competing for his allegiance, and the number of meetings would be multiplied by five, if the other candidates were all as energetic as the noble Earl. There is really no more difficulty in working this system from the candidates' point of view or from the electors' point of view in a sparsely populated area than there is in a densely populated area.
Certainly the Government could not consent to a system which would mean that something like half or two-thirds of London boroughs and Something like a dozen of the big towns would vote under one system and all the rest of the constituencies under another system. If your Lordships persist in carrying this Amendment, the Government cannot accept it because they believe it would make chaos of the whole Election, and if the Government cannot accept it they would not be able to ask another place to accept it. I can only suggest that it is not really an Amendment which ought to be put into the Bill if you are going to turn out a workmanlike Act of Parliament which can be put into force.
§ THB EARL OF MIDLETON
I will not go into the arguments again, but on the technical point may I say that the difficulties raised by the noble Lord are of no effect whatever? It would be perfectly right to put into the Amendment before the words "boroughs in London" the word "Parliamentary" and then before the second word "boroughs" the word "municipal." It would read "municipal boroughs elsewhere having a population" over 200,000. That would make it perfectly clear and I should ask leave to amend the Amendment to that extent.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
I apologise if I suggested that the Amendment could not be made clear. Of course it can, but the point is that the Bill could not be made workable. Does the noble Earl really intend that an elector who lives on one side 604 of a street in London should vote under one system and an elector on the other side of the street vote under another system, because all Parliamentary boroughs in London have not a population in excess of 200,000?
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
With great respect, there is no question of a population of 200,000 in boroughs in London. That applies to boroughs elsewhere. The Amendment would apply to all Parliamentary boroughs in London.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
I think the words could be read either way at present, but it could be made clear in the Amendment. That, however, does not alter the fact that people in one street would vote, some one way and some another. There is, for instance, the case of Wandsworth which is a Parliamentary borough and, I dare say, has a population over 200,000. That is co-terminus with Wimbledon, which has a population under 200,000. You cannot tell as you walk from one to another whether you are in Wandsworth or Wimbledon. So it is all round London. You cannot tell as you walk from one to another whether you are in Islington or Highgate. I suggest that the Amendment would make the position quite impracticable to voters and to candidates and to the Parties working the Election. At any rate, that is the view which I am advised is taken by the Department responsible for these things, and the Government at any rate must resist the Amendment.
§ EARL PEEL
I think that the noble Lord has perhaps been paying too much attention to the minutiae of this matter and has made the problem seem a little more difficult than it really is. I certainly understood the Amendment of my noble friend, exactly as he stated it—that is to say, it was to apply to all boroughs in London irrespective of their population.
§ EARL PEEL
Yes, we both know extremely well the Administrative County of London. In other parts of the country it would apply to boroughs of a certain size. It is perfectly easy to criticise on the ground that there are certain boundaries and you do not know whether you are in the administrative county or 605 just outside. Of course that is so, and I have used the same argument over and over again on the London County Council when we were arguing whether they should be included in London. But that is a detail which need not trouble us for long. If there is any little difficulty about the wording that can be easily altered, and I am sure the noble Earl would alter it. But it is a larger matter than that. We are asked to introduce into this country a totally different method of electing members of Parliament and the question is whether you should apply it at one sweep to the whole country or apply it as an experiment with certain limitations.
I think that by general consent of the Committee your Lordships thought that it was better that a system of proportional representation at any rate at this stage should not be sent to another place in order that they may compare its merits with those of this particular system. I have great sympathy with this Amendment as it stands, simply because I share all those points of criticism that have been made by many noble Lords, notably, the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, against the alternative vote itself; and I am bound to say that on listening to the speeches of the noble Lord, now and on Second Reading, I could not detect that note of enthusiasm which I had heard on other matters in which he is engaged. We know perfectly well that this new method has not really been canvassed. It may have been mentioned in some election addresses, or embodied in that enormous document "Labour and the Nation," which I think contained some 500 or 600 different items. But nobody can pretend that this matter was in any real sense explained or put before the voters in this country at the last Election, or that they have any passionate desire or expectation that at the next Election they are to have the enormous privilege of placing their first, second and fourth preferences on the voting paper.
I do not know whether I might at this stage ask the noble Lord a question, because in dealing with this matter of the application of the alternative vote I think we ought to understand precisely what it means. Perhaps he would find 606 it convenient at this stage to explain to us exactly what is intended to be applied in the Schedules in this Bill. If there are only three candidates then I understand the system is comparatively simple. You sacrifice the man who has got the smallest number of first preferences and then you divide his second preferences among the other two candidates. But the matter seems a little more complicated when there are four or five candidates, which may often happen, especially nowadays. Then you count not only the second but subsequent choices. What happens, I understand, is this. The candidate at the bottom is executed as it were. Then the second preferences for that candidate are divided among the other four candidates. But if under that system there is nobody who has an absolute majority of votes, then Number 4 goes to the executioner. When Number 4 goes I am not quite sure what does happen.
You deal, in the Schedule, not only with first preferences but also with subsequent choices. How is that managed when you come to Number 4? Do you distribute among the other candidates the third and fourth preferences, as it may be, and then are those later preferences to count at exactly the same value as the earlier preferences? Or do you take all the second preferences of everybody and distribute them? Indeed, when you are distributing subsequent preferences for Number 4, who has recently been executed, do you go back to Number 5 and do you take in the third and fourth preferences of Number 5 and count them in the general distribution? Perhaps the noble Lord will be good enough to answer that question when he replies, and to make it perfectly clear. I do not think it is clear in the terms of the Bill.
If I may come back for one moment—I only wanted to understand that point—I submit to your Lordships that in a new and untried system it might be well worth while for the Government to reconsider their decision to apply it in toto to the whole country. The noble Lord said that the Government could not advise the limitation of the general application of it, but at any rate the noble Lord might give consideration to the question. I think it is well recognised that generally there is a difference between the system in town and country, 607 and it is much more difficult in the country for the voters to acquaint themselves with all the different characteristics of all the different candidates and to adjust themselves to that nice apportionment of votes, to the mental process of selecting, weighing, comparing and grading each for himself before they apply the second, third and fourth preferences.
I must say that I am to some extent influenced by the fact that I do not think this system will be at all popular. One might say, if one were cynically inclined, let it go before the whole country so that it will be shown to be so generally disliked that it will be very easy to repeal it at a later stage. I do not wish to apply any cynical consideration of that kind to so grave a matter as the method of election of Parliamentary candidates, but I believe it is unpopular and that the decision of the first man past the post, as the noble Viscount expressed it, is far more desirable than this more intricate system. I urge the noble Lord strongly to take a little time to consider it and see if there could not be a limited application of this system. I do not think he is very anxious about the system itself. At any rate, it might be possible to judge the method by which it worked before it is applied to the whole country. I have great sympathy with the Amendment moved by the noble Earl, not only for those reasons but because, quite frankly, I do not like the system, and I should be very glad to see some limitation placed upon it.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
If it is convenient that I should reply now to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, I would say that he almost gave himself away in the last sentence. He does not like the system at all.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
It is always good to be frank. Therefore he has great sympathy with the noble Earl's Amendment. That is obviously not a consideration which finds any response in myself. The noble Earl was good enough to allude to what he thought he detected in me—a lack of warmth of desire for the reform that I am advocating. Let me assure the noble Earl that he is mistaken. What we are doing—and this is quite relevant to the present consideration—is quite definitely to put a stop to what we consider the very serious evil of the present system, 608 and the very serious drawback to the constitutional position of the House of Commons. Actually at the present time a majority of the House of Commons are not the choice of the majority of the electors, and in fact the majority of the people who voted for them did not want the candidates to be elected. Yet, under the present system, those candidates come to the House of Commons.
That vitiates the authority of the House of Commons in its primary object of enabling the King to know what Ministers to appoint, and it is because of that evil that we are proposing this particular reform. It is not quite right to say that I do not think it is important. On the contrary, I venture to think that I have more concern about the present evil than noble Lords have manifested up to this time, because they have not taken into consideration the full meaning of the constitutional point. I am a Parliament man, and I believe very strongly in the primary duty of the General Election to return such people to the House of Commons that the King may know whom to appoint as his Ministers. The present system does not do that.
Now I come to the noble Earl's Amendment. He proposes to leave over something like two-thirds—I have rapidly made a rough estimate—of the electorate with the present system in operation. That is to say, roughly speaking, with 300 minority members at present, the noble Earl's proposal is that we should have probably 200 minority members. That is not what we are after. I do not think the noble Earl can have taken the constitutional point. We do not want minority members in the House of Commons, and I say that on behalf of the British Constitution. I say it is really a vitiation of the Constitution. The noble Earl says, in effect, "Let us have two-thirds of the minority members that are likely to be thrown up." Unless he means that rural districts will not have minority members, I am afraid he is wrong. I am afraid a great many minority members come from places outside the boroughs.
That being the case, it is obvious that it would be quite contrary to the fundamental principle of this clause to limit it to, roughly speaking, one-third, or it may be one-quarter, of the constituencies. Accordingly I cannot hold out 609 any hope that the Government will be able to support this Amendment. I am not speaking unadvisedly or giving a hasty response. We have had to consider these Amendments, and I can only assure your Lordships that he cuts down the proposed reform to two-thirds. To leave the evil existing for two-thirds of the electorate is not what the Government could support. It would really be going back upon the whole principle of the clause. The noble Earl opposite asked me to explain the First Schedule. I must beg him to read it very carefully. It has been drafted by a very competent draftsman, and I think it does explain what is the process. I think that process will be clear to him if he really looks as it. Second votes will be taken so long as there are second votes, and after the second vote the next process comes in. If you cannot take the second vote, you take the third vote. Of course, if it be found necessary it can be redrafted, but I am not going into that now.
THE EAEL OF MIDLETON
I would like to say a single word in reply. To say that this country has never had a different system for large boroughs from what it has had for other parts of the country is really a mistake. I think in this case the experiment is so clearly justified that I will ask your Lordships to divide on the Amendment.
§ On Question, Whether the words "in all Parliamentary boroughs in London (other than the City of London) and in municipal boroughs elsewhere having a population according to the published returns of the last census for the time being exceeding two hundred thousand" shall be there inserted?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 80; Not-Contents, 29.609
|Somerset, D.||Stanhope, E.||Ellenborough, L.|
|Sutherland, D.||Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Ernle, L.|
|Fairfax of Cameron, L.|
|Bristol, M.||Bertie of Thame, V. [Teller.]||Faringdon, L.|
|Camden M.||Burnham, V.||FitzWalter, L.|
|Exeter, M.||Cabham, V.||Foxford, L. (E. Limerick.)|
|Linlithgow, M.||FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)|
|Normanby, M.||Hailsham, V.||Hampton L.|
|Hambleden, V.||Harlech, L.|
|Airlie, E.||Hereford, V.||Heneage, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Hood, V.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Sidmouth, V.||Hunsdon of Hunsdon, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Ullswater, V.||Kylsant, L.|
|Beatty, E.||Latymer, L.|
|Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)||Aberdare, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Addington, L.||Monckton, L. (V. Galway.)|
|Harrowby, E.||Annaly, L.||Polwarth, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Banbury of Southam, L.||Roundway, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Bayford, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Biddulph, L.||Sinclair, L.|
|Midleton, E. [Teller.]||Brancepeth, L. (V. Boyne.)||Southampton, L.|
|Morton, E.||Castlemaine, L.||Stonehaven, L.|
|Peel, E.||Clements, L. (E. Leitrim.)||Swansea, L.|
|Plymouth, E.||Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Poulett, E.||Cranworth, L.||Thurlow, L.|
|Powis, E.||Danesfort, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Sandwich, E.||Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.)||Wavertree, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Dynevor, L.||Wharton, L.|
|Sankey, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Arnold, L.||Marley, L. [Teller.]|
|Ashton of Hyde, L.||Meston, L.|
|Reading, M.||Boston, L.||Passfield, L.|
|Clwyd, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Denman, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Macclesfield, E.||Dickinson, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Strafford, E.||Doverdale, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Ker, L. (M. Lothian.)||Sanderson, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Kirkley, L.||Snell, L. [Teller.]|
|Luke, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Marks, L.||Tenterden, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON moved to leave out subsection (4). The noble Earl said: This is consequential.
Page 2, line 13, leave out subsection (4). (The Earl of Midleton.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
I beg to move that the proceedings on the Bill be now adjourned, and that we resume the Committee stage on Thursday next, which, I understand, will be for the convenience of the Committee. We have disposed of Clause 1 and Clause 2. This is a good break in the Bill. The remaining provisions are quite different.
§ Moved, That the further consideration of the Bill in Committee be now adjourned until Thursday next.—(Lord Passfield.)
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I presume the noble Lord will be able to see to it that this Bill is the first Order on Thursday next.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and the proceedings in Committee adjourned accordingly until Thursday next.