§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (LORD PASSFIELD)
My Lords, this Bill in my opinion proposes to effect various improvements in the method of election to the House of Commons, and, except for the fact that any Bill called "Representation of the People Bill" always excites controversy, 125 I should have thought it was almost a non-controversial Bill. At any rate, I must confess, from such information as I have been able to get together, and such opinion as I have been able to form, I cannot myself believe that the proposals of this Bill, if carried into law, would effect anything more than a microscopic change in the balance of Party representation. What that microscopic change would be, which Party it would favour and which it might injure, I am utterly unable to predict. Other people have other opinions, but I am confirmed rather in my own estimate by the fact that all the other people seem to differ in their opinions as to the probable effect.
Your Lordships are no doubt fully aware of the contents of the Bill, but it would be wanting in respect not to run over them briefly, and I will leave the discussion of them to those who feel more qualified than I am to discuss their merits and demerits. This Bill proposes to make seven separate amendments in the machinery for taking the votes of the electors, the most important, or at any rate the most controversial, of which is of course in Clause 1, which proposes that subsequent elections shall be carried out on the principle of the alternative vote. Instead of taking the candidate who obtains the largest, number of votes, it proposes that if there are three or more candidates the electors shall have the privilege of specifying their preferences in order, so that if the top candidate on the list does not get an absolute majority of votes the second preferences will be counted. The result might be that the one who was, so to speak, first past the post would eventually not be the winner.
That is, of course, a substantial change. It is an innovation in our system of election and it has been supported and denounced with considerable vehemence by different people—I think without adequate regard to the smallness of the result that will probably follow. I may say that I do not know which Party is likely to gain or to lose by the substitution of the alternative vote for the present system. I will only take two facts from the 1929, Election which I think are a little illustrative. It is quite certain that the candidate who is last on the list will gain nothing because his votes will be wiped out if the top 126 candidate does not get an absolute majority and transferred under the scheme to one or other of the remaining candidates. I have had the curiosity to see who, at the last Election, was at the top of the poll. I find that the Conservative candidate was at the bottom of the poll in 24 cases. The Labour candidate was at the bottom of the poll in 111 cases. The Liberal candidate was at the bottom of the poll in 171 cases. If anybody can extract an inference from that as to which side is going to benefit, I can only say it looks as if the Conservatives will stand to lose least and the Liberals to lose most.
In order to test the matter in another way, I took the numbers of those who stood second en the list, as the man who comes second on the list will gain if the one who is first does not get an absolute majority on the first count. He would benefit by having transferred to him some of the useless votes of the third or fourth candidate (if there is a fourth). I find that the Conservative was second in 133 cases, the Liberal was second in 95 cases and Labour was second on the list in 78 cases. If there is any inference to be drawn from that it does not seem to me as if the Labour Party is going to gain or the Liberal Party. My conclusion, first of all, is that the effect such a change would have on the total number of members returned belonging to each Party would be very small, and, secondly, that it is almost unpredictable—at any rate I am not prepared confidently to assert—which side would be likely to gain. It will differ in different places, but on the whole I think it is a small thing.
If that is the case why is it proposed to effect a change? I am not going to answer for anybody else, but I will give reasons which seem to me to be of some weight. The number of three-cornered contests at the last Election was no fewer than 469 out of, roughly speaking, 600. The number of three-cornered contests has been rapidly increasing since the War. Before the War the number of three-cornered contests was, usually, very small. Since the War it has been large and it has increased up to the last Election when it was no fewer than 469. Of these three-cornered contests there were no fewer than 308 cases in which the 127 member returned did not have a majority of votes—308, which is half the membership of the whole House of Commons; so that half the House of Commons consists of minority members. I would reassure your Lordships, or any of your Lordships who think there is any politics in it, by saying that these minority members are dispersed over all three Parties and are very much in proportion to the number of members returned by all three Parties. It is impossible to say that one Party or the other gained by being able to get members in on a minority vote; but I think it is objectionable that we should go on with that system which gives us half the members of the House of Commons who cannot claim to represent even half the voters in their constituencies.
That may not matter, but it causes people to object, and it does seem to be a weakness that a member who speaks for a constituency should not be able to say that he is supported by at any rate a majority of the voters of his constituency. The fact that positively a majority of the electors voted against him and did not want him as their member, constitutes a weakness, I think, a weakness not of any one Party but a weakness in the existing system. It is therefore proposed that henceforth elections, where there are more than two candidates, should be on the principle of the alternative vote. That involves certain consequences which are in themselves important. Leaving out University seats which are not affected—and which have, by the way, a system of Alternative voting of their own—there are 11 surviving two-member boroughs, a small remnant of survivors of what was once practically the universal form of representation. Prior to 1832, I seem to remember—though I have not looked it up lately—with some few exceptions the whole of the constituencies then returning members to the House of Commons returned two members. There were some exceptions both ways, but practically the whole House was elected in twos. Breaches were made in that system, and finally a very big breach was made by the Reform Bill of 1885 which swept away a very large number of the two-member constituencies. Indeed it was said by the Royal Commission of 1908–1910, over which Lord Richard Cavendish presided, that it was only the innate conservatism of Mr. Gladstone which preserved this 128 small remnant of two-member constituencies, for no particular reason.
With the exception of the City of London it is proposed that these two-member constituencies should each be divided into two, the division to take place through the well-recognised method of Commissioners being appointed by the King to hold an Inquiry and prepare a scheme for the division of each of these boroughs, the scheme to be then laid before both Houses of Parliament and to be adopted by those Houses by Resolution, thus not coming into force until the whole thing is settled in that way. With regard to the City of London, logically—if we were creatures of logic in this country—it ought to share the fate of the other two-member constituencies and be divided; but the City of London occupies a unique position and is of such a unique character, has such a very small number of electors by residence and such a considerable number of electors by other qualifications, that there is common agreement that it ought properly to be left as it is, with the privilege of returning its two members jointly by the old system. It is practically impossible to apply the system of the alternative vote to constituencies electing two members. It is not, of course, quite impossible, but it would involve such complications and such a series of mathematical conundrums that it is not practicable. Accordingly the City of London, while returning two members, would retain the accepted system of election.
Clause 3 proposes to enact that no person shall henceforth be entitled to be registered by virtue of a business premises qualification, except in the City of London. That is to say it is proposed to take practically the last step towards "One man, one vote." At present about 500,000 persons on the register are there in respect of a business qualification, and I think that, roughly speaking, 40,000 or 50,000 of those are in the City of London. You have those 400,000 or 500,000 out of a total of 29,000,000, who retain this peculiar qualification and have the right, at present, in another constituency from that in which they reside, to cast a second vote at a General Election. No doubt there are some who will support anything because it exists but I venture to submit that, whatever case may be made out 129 for giving a second vote to property as distinct from person, there seems to be hardly a reasonable case for giving a second vote to people who happen to hold, not property but this particular kind of occupational qualification.
The present system does not give a second vote to people possessing property. Many of them, perhaps most, are not qualified for a second vote. But it does give a second vote to people who have the peculiar occupational qualification which implies that they are in some sort of business. It may be a man who has a grocer's shop other than the one in which he lives, or it may be a man having fifty or five hundred of those shops, but he is not given a second vote because of his property or even because of this particular occupational qualification unless it happens to be in some other constituency than the one in which he resides. It is therefore such a haphazard and accidental privilege that the House of Commons, almost by common consent, proposed that it should be given up. Clause 4, therefore, lays down that no person shall vote at a General Election in more than one constituency. That would be the final carrying out of a series of reforms which have taken place under the various Reform Bills, and it is proposed that it should now be made universal.
Clause 5 is at least one which I hope will really be non-controversial. It provides in simple words that, if with regard to any island forming part of a constituency the proper authority, the returning officer or whoever it may be, is of opinion that there may be some risk of his not getting his ballot boxes back by reason of storm or inability to communicate on account of the weather, he shall be allowed to appoint the best possible date for taking votes in that island. At present I am told there is an indisposition to have polling stations in some of these small islands because of the difficulty of reaching them. If the ballot boxes are not in the hands of the returning officer at the prescribed time, he is not able to count them and the whole election runs a great risk of being nullified. These British subjects and citizens who live on these outlying islands are mostly, I suppose, in the West of Scotland, but the clause also includes, I assume, the Scilly Islands. There is no 130 reason why we should not make a common-sense arrangement, if the weather is going to be bad, for the returning officer to take the poll in those islands on the earliest day that he chooses to fix, if the weather improves or is held to be likely to improve.
Clause 6 proposes a much-needed regulation of the system of lending vehicles at Elections. Your Lordships will remember that this arose out of an old law in one of the Reform Acts (I forget which) prohibiting payment for hiring vehicles in which to bring up electors. It seems a common-sense arrangement that you should be able to hire in order that electors who are infirm may be able to come to the poll; but your Lordships will also remember that this was found an extremely convenient way of illegitimately using money—in fact of bribing. There are cases in which thousands of pounds were spent for hiring vehicles, the real object being, not to bring up electors, but to find a way of distributing money to the electors which seemed to come within the law. There were other similar cases, and the law laid it down that there should be no hiring of vehicles. That left it open for people to lend their vehicles for nothing, provided they were not usually let for hire. You are not allowed to lend your vehicle for nothing, even if you have it, if it is usually let for hire, but the law does allow the use, as noble Lords well know, of privately-owned vehicles of a genuinely private description, and there has been a constant demand that this should be regulated in some way.
The wisdom of the House of Commons decided that the best way of regulating it was, first of all, to give up the case of extensive and very sparsely inhabited constituencies, the line being drawn at 400 square miles. That seems a prodigiously big constituency but, as a matter of fact, there are, I think, about seventy such constituencies in Great Britain. I am not quite sure of the figure, but I think there are some thirty or forty in England and Wales and a similar number in Scotland. At any rate, in all the constituencies which are of a superficial area of over 400 square miles, the law is left as at present. In the other constituencies, however, which certainly constitute the great majority, vehicles will not be available for that purpose 131 except and unless they are registered with the returning officer, and the returning officer shall not accept more than one vehicle for 1,000 electors in a county constituency, and one vehicle for every 2,000 in a borough constituency. There is nothing about any arbitrary division of these vehicles among the Parties. Whatever privilege a Party may possess, including a large number of members who own such vehicles and are willing to lend them, is left to that Party, but there is a fixed limit as to the maximum number that can be lent—a limit proportionate to the number of electors.
Then somewhat coupled with that, there is another clause which proposes simply to reduce the maximum premissible election expenses from 6d. to 5d. per elector in the counties and from 5d. to 4d. in the boroughs. These are not matters in which anybody here is closely concerned, but, speaking from some little experience of electioneering, I venture to say that there is practically no other case in which there is such a large proportion of money wasted as in connection with election expenses. Our present election expenses survive from the time when money was poured out like water, perfectly legally, and for years we have been engaged in cutting down that wasteful expenditure. My own experience is that a great proportion of that expenditure is wasteful expenditure, which does not affect votes at all, and which might just as well be saved. I think it can be shown that the present maximum of expenditure is unnecessarily high and leads to more waste than there need be.
We have heard a great deal in this House lately about the necessity for economy, and I am sure that those who urge economy from the point of view of the welfare of the nation will agree that economy is equally necessary, whether in the expenditure of the Government of the day or in the expenditure of private incomes. There is no greater loss to the community by unnecessary or wasteful or improper expenditure on the part of the Government than there is by similar expenditure incurred by private individuals. This Bill does not propose to inflict anything like sumptuary law upon individuals. They retain liberty to waste money and incur expenditure which is unnecessary and wasteful and uneconomical, and therefore injurious to 132 the community, except in connection with elections, and it is suggested that nothing but good can result from a reduction in the possible maximum of expenditure—which is sufficient to do all that is necessary—from 6d. to 5d. and from 5d. to 4d.
Those are all the substantive provisions of the Bill. The other provisions are just in common form, for the sake of providing machinery to carry out these provisions. I venture to repeat that if it were not for the fact inherent in every Representation of the People Bill, that it calls forth fears that one side or the other is going to suffer disadvantage or gain advantage, this would be a non-controversial Bill. I am quite aware, however, that people will argue fiercely about this Representation of the People Bill, because they imagine that some evil consequence will come to their side or that some particular friend of theirs in another House may lose his seat because of the change. I can only say that to the best of my judgment the effect of this Bill on the balance of Parties in the other House will be microscopic, and whether larger or smaller it is impossible to predict with any assurance which Party will gain and which will lose. My own view is that there will be no gain or loss to anybody.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
I suppose the noble Viscount does not suggest that the Government bring in only those Bills which they think will benefit only their own Party at the Election. I suppose the Government bring in Bills and the House of Commons pass Bills because they think they will be of advantage to the community. At any rate, I claim the votes of those who have been speaking on economy. This Bill will certainly effect economy in money, and save practically one-sixth of the cost of a General Election, which is no small sum, and, as I have said, economy is equally valuable to the community whether it be economy in the use of private incomes or economy in public expenditure. There is no special evil in public expenditure. The evil is in wasteful expenditure, and economy in the personal expenditure of individuals is as valuable to the community from an 133 economic point of view as is economy in the expenditure of the Government. From that point of view, the Bill is an advantage, and it is also an advantage because it improves the system of elections to Parliament. It does not make the system perfect. There are other things to be said and other steps which ought to be taken, and which have not been taken in this Bill because they would lead to too great expenditure of time and also because the way of coping with the evil has not been sufficiently ascertained. This Bill so far as it goes will effect improvements in the method of election and save a certain amount of money, and at the same time will not be unfair in its incidence to any political Party. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill now read 2a.—(Lord Passfield.)
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM, who had given Notice that on the Motion for the Second Reading he would move, That the Bill be read 2a this day three months, said: My Lords, the noble Lord who introduced this Bill began by saying that he was surprised that anybody could consider the Bill controversial; and I see he agrees with me in that statement. I think he must have been living in some place remote from this world, because if he had read what had occurred in another place during the passage of the Bill there, he would have found that there were at least 250 members who considered that the Bill was very controversial. Unless I am very much mistaken they considered it so controversial that they divided against the Third Reading. The noble Lord went on to give us some figures as to the number of Conservatives, Liberals and Socialists who were at the bottom of the polls at the last Election, and I understood him to say that in his opinion if this Bill made any change it would be in favour of the Conservative Party. I presume that is the reason why he is bringing it in.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
Then the noble Lord is bringing in this Bill without being able to know what the result of it will be, but in the general idea that something might happen. If 134 that is so, it seems to me to be a very light-hearted way of treating a most vital question. The constitution of another place is certainly one of the most vital questions that we have to consider, and an alteration in the method of election, I venture to say, should not be undertaken in that light-hearted spirit. I do not propose at the moment to discuss whether this Bill will be of advantage to the Liberal, or the Socialist, or the Conservative Party. I propose to take quite a different line. In my experience no alteration has ever been made in the franchise unless there has been a demand for it in the country, and unless one or other of the Parties has expressed its intention at the General Election of making some alteration in the franchise, should it be returned to power. So far as I know—and I have looked up the Election addresses of the Leaders of all the Parties—I cannot find that at the last Election anything whatever was said in any of the addresses about the alternative vote; there was no indication that they intended, if they were returned to power, to bring in a Bill enacting such a change in our system. Nor can I find that any questions upon the subject were asked in the constituencies.
There were a great number of societies for doing all kinds of things—equal rights for women, and so on—but apparently there was not a single society or a single constituency which expressed a desire for this change. That being so, it seems to me that the duty of your Lordships' House is to give the country an opportunity of considering whether or not it wants this change in the franchise. If we throw out the Bill on the Second Reading the country at the next Election will have an opportunity of saying whether or not it wants this kind of change, and I think I am right in saying that should the country desire it this House would at once accede to its wishes. In order to exercise our duty as a revising Chamber it seems to me that we ought to give the country such an opportunity of pronouncing an opinion.
The noble Lord at the end of his speech said he did not think the Bill would make any difference to any Party, and he really did not quite know what the effect of it would be. I hold in my hand a pamphlet which has been issued by the Proportional Representation Society, and in which it is stated what is the 135 result of the alternative vote in those places where it has been tried. I understand that one of the reasons for bringing in this Bill is that there are certain places in which the electors in constituencies in this country have returned by a minority certain members to the House of Commons, and this Bill is supposed to alter that. Let us consider what the result of the alternative vote has been in countries where it has been tried.
In Alberta the alternative vote applied in fifty county constituencies, with the following results:—The United Farmers' Association received 69,000 votes and obtained forty-two seats; the Liberal Association received 37,000 votes but only got five seats; the Conservative Association received 26,000 votes and got no seats. I do not know whether the noble Lord is sorry for that or not. The Labour Party received 5,000 votes—remember that the United Farmers' Association received 69,000—and the Labour Party got three seats. I am not surprised that the noble Lord smiles at that, because I believe that in his inmost heart that is the sort of thing he desires at the next Election in this country. Take another example. The alternative vote is applied in the election of the Australian Commonwealth Senate in constituencies returning three or more members. In 1925 this was the result:—Nationalists and Country Party, 1,537,000 votes, number of seats, twenty-two; Labour, 1,263,000 votes, number of seats, none. That is a result which I should not be sorry to see here.
We have to consider some of the other features in the Bill. There is the question of plural voting and why the City of London has been singled out to allow an elector to be registered in that constituency—because it does not go beyond that—and why the Universities have been singled out to allow an elector to be registered there. I think that advantage, if it is an advantage, is not a very serious one, because no man and no woman can vote in more than one constituency. The result will be, therefore, that in the University seats probably the majority of University voters will prefer to vote in their own constituencies, instead of taking the trouble to go either by train or motor car to Oxford or Cambridge; and in the City I should think the probability is that the 136 majority of people will vote in their home constituencies and nowhere else.
That is really the entire abolition of plural voting, and it results in this, that of the 26,000,000 electors or thereabouts every man and every woman, irrespective of whether they pay taxes or not—and, in the vast majority of cases, if you do not smoke or drink you do not pay any taxes—will have an equal voice in the government of the country. The result will, therefore, be that something like 23,000,000 people who pay no taxes whatever will have the power of deciding what the minority who pay Income Tax, about 2,250,000, shall pay, and what the still smaller minority who pay Super Tax, about 95,000, shall pay. That means that 23,000,000 in round figures will be able to decide whether 2,500,000 shall pay one half of the taxation of the country. That seems to me to be a most serious position; it is one which has been written about by a very eminent Liberal, Mr. Harold Cox, and one which, I think, we ought to consider before we pass the Second Reading of this Bill.
I do not know what steps your Lordships are likely to take. I understand that possibly there may be some Amendments. I always dread the idea of passing the Second Reading of a Bill which you do not like in order that you may later on put in Amendments. In nearly every case that results in a fight between the two Houses, in which this House always surrenders; and in regard to an important Bill of this sort I repeat what I said when I rose, that we ought to give the country an opportunity of saying whether or not it desires this change. I beg to move.
Leave out ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day three months").—(Lord Banbury of Southam.)
§ EARL PEEL
My Lords, the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill told us it was intended to effect certain improvements or, as I should perhaps call them, changes in the electoral system. I was extremely glad to hear that this Bill was introduced with no Party motive whatever. That was entirely aside. In fact, so utterly free were noble Lords opposite from having any Party feeling in the matter that they positively were totally unable 137 to judge what the effect was to be on the Elections of the future. Nothing, I think, could be more satisfactory and, so far as I can, I will try to follow that broad uncontroversial line in the few observations I address to your Lordships.
I regret, however, that there seems to have been amongst the subjects dealt with, and they are varied subjects, a certain amount of picking and choosing. For instance, there are certain matters which are brought very strongly before members of Parliament; certainly I have had to deal with them at Elections myself. There is the system of political libels; libels issued the day before the poll which are very difficult to deal with. That is, I think, a most cowardly matter which ought to be dealt with with some severity. Then there is a matter from which many of us on this side have suffered a good deal, namely, rowdyism at public meetings, when a certain amount of organised opposition makes it almost impossible for anybody to make himself heard or for the electors to hear what is said. I regret, for instance, that those matters were left out. Possibly the greater elasticity of our procedure may permit us to deal with some of those things.
I would divide this Bill very shortly into the controversial part and the non-controversial part. In the non-controversial part I would pass by, of course, the matter of the islands and the question of the division of the double-member constituencies, only saying a few words of regret that such an ancient institution should come to an end. Most of all would I compliment the Government, or perhaps another place, on having decided to do what they could to reduce their election expenses. The height to which those expenses go now is very unfortunate. Many young men, I understand, who have no great fortune of their own are prevented from giving their abilities to the House of Commons simply because of this high cost. The noble Lord also told us that they would be entirely free as regards expenditure in other directions. I had hoped when he was telling us how wise they were in reducing the election expenses of candidates that he would have made some observations about the reduction of the national expenditure at the same time.
138 I cannot help regretting, and I think my noble friend Lord Banbury alluded to it, that it would have been far better if a Bill of this kind dealing with these changes in the constituencies had been introduced as a result of some agreement or compromise between the Parties. I remember very well, of course, that Act of 1918. I had the honour of being in charge of it in your Lordships' House and there was much discussion on the subject, but it was not necessarily of a Party kind. Any agreement reached as the result of a compromise between the three Parties would clearly give far greater satisfaction to the constituencies and the electorate than something which is intended to be forced on one Party by the other two, and indeed is bound, I think, to give greater stability to our none-too-solid Parliamentary institutions.
Again, I regret that, owing to the narrow way in which this Bill was introduced, another place was not given sufficient opportunity of considering other methods of dealing with electoral change. I do not profess to be a very great supporter of any of the new systems of election, whether the alternative vote, the second ballot, or proportional representation; but it is remarkable that this Bill should have been so far limited in another place that the different methods of giving representation perhaps to minorities or, if you like, to majorities, which I understand is the purpose of this Bill, were not fully canvassed. Members in another place did not have an opportunity of comparing the systems when they arrived at their decision. I do not know whether the greater elasticity of procedure in your Lordships' House will give noble Lords an opportunity of discussing that other system and of comparing it with the method of the alternative vote.
There have been, of course, a great many rumours as to the basis of this Bill and as to its effects on Party fortunes. I was glad that the noble Lord opposite was not a party to any of these discussions. One has heard that a good many Socialist Members of Parliament are very anxious about the effect of this Bill on their fortunes and would be very glad if the Second Chamber should relieve them of a certain difficulty by throwing out the Bill. I need hardly say that is not a ground on which I should feel inclined to urge your Lordships to throw out the 139 Bill. Again, it is said to be the result of a great Liberal achievement. I do not know whether that is so, or whether this Bill has anything to do with any bargain or arrangement. I only say from my observation of the relations between the two Parties during the last eighteen months that I should not oppose to a suggestion of that kind any profound or any unbending scepticism. I believe the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, speaks after me, and he will tell us, no doubt, the history of the remarkable and very interesting changes in Liberal opinion on this subject. It was only a very short time ago that a very eminent chairman of the Liberal Party denounced the alternative vote in very strong terms. I always like to know the mental processes by which great men arrive at a change of opinion especially when that change is rather rapid, and I think it would he very valuable if the noble Marquess would give us a little information regarding the reasons.
I am not much moved by general considerations of this kind because I do not believe that any Party is likely to improve its chances very much at the Elections by any manipulation of electoral machinery tending to give it some superior advantage. I think the history of our institutions during the last thirty or forty years shows the terrible retribution that falls upon any Party which tries to prolong its Parliamentary existence beyond the period which seems suitable to the electorate. I want to test this Bill by the different factors that should be taken into account in considering changes in our Parliamentary system. There are, of course, two very sharply contrasted views. There is one school which thinks that the system should give a very fair representation particularly of currents of public opinion, and there is the other school which would like a more exact picture or mirror of the many-sided and changing facets of public opinion at different times. I confess that I stand with the former school, in thinking that in a Constitution where there is that close connection between the executive and the legislative we have to regard not only the exact picture of representation but the effect it may have on a vigorous, consistent and authoritative Government. Undoubtedly, the second view leads to or is coincident with a multiplication of 140 Parties and the more Parties, you may say, the more bargaining. There are some, I know, who like bargaining. It is part, as it were, of their trade. Unfortunately, the public statement of these arrangements does not always coincide with the secret arrangements that are made at the same time. Thus the public does not know always what is the reality of these arrangements that are arrived at.
Unfortunately even bargains are not apt, I think, to be necessarily for the benefit of the country as a whole; but, within that general framework and within that necessity for providing a general representation for the main current of opinion, I think we might also say that if one of the great Parties feels that the particular system then obtaining does not give it what it considers to be its fair share of representation, if it is unduly handicapped, so to speak, in the Parliamentary race, then we ought to examine the whole business and see if some remedy can be devised. It is true on this occasion—and it is a fact we have to meet—that a very substantial majority of the House of Commons consider that there was a case for making some change, that certain grievances existed which ought to be remedied. I say in another place, because, apparently, the noble Lord who introduced this measure did not seem to think there was any particular grievances to be remedied; and he did not seem to think that if there were any grievances they would he remedied by this particular Bill. But that is the case as we have had it from another place. Therefore I submit in contradistinction to my noble friend who has moved the rejection, that your Lordships ought to have the chance of examining carefully and in detail not only the particular grievance that is said to exist, but also the different methods by which redress might he given to those who suffer.
I feel that if we were to meet this Bill by premature rejection on the Second Reading, we should be really guilty of a considerable constitutional discourtesy to another place. They have, after all, told us that these discrepancies do exist affecting the election of persons to the House of Commons and the distribution of Parties. That I think we are bound to look into. Moreover, if we did take my noble friend's course, we should be 141 deprived of all those opportunities for improving these methods or the Bill by amendment which we should otherwise enjoy. I cannot help feeling, too, that general opinion in the country itself might feel that we had acted in rather too rigid and severe a way if we had rejected without careful and prolonged discussion a measure of this kind; and that this Bill itself would tend to acquire, not upon its merits possibly, a temporary and fictitious popularity which it would not otherwise have acquired. My noble friend Lord Banbury has asked your Lordships to reject the Bill. My memory may be wrong, but I seem to remember a similar Motion made by my noble friend on other Bills which have been brought forward in this House.
§ EARL PEEL
I was trying to recollect a single Bill which I had the honour of introducing in this House either under the Coalition Government or during the late Government since the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, arrived in this House to which he did not put down a Motion for rejection, and I should be extremely sorry to think that every Bill I had fathered in this House was so bad a Bill as my noble friend suggests. But I would say to him that after the very interesting and luminous criticisms that he has given on this Bill, I trust that he will not press his Motion to a Division, but will devote his critical abilities to the later stages, in spite of the fact that he has some objection to making improvements in rather bad Bills.
§ EARL PEEL
I hope the noble Lord will assist us to improve it. I said that we ought to examine it. That is not only my own view, but it is the strongly expressed view of my colleagues. I certainly say we shall not be in any way taken as approving the alternative vote when we say that. I do not know that I need on this occasion go into every objection that there is to the alternative vote. I have a great many. One of them was stated by my noble friend Lord Banbury when he told us of the extraordinary result that happened in the Senatorial Elections in 1925 in Australia, but so far as I have been able to judge by examin- 142 ing—and I have examined a great many of the previous experiences with the alternative vote—it does not seem to do what it sets forth to do, secure the rights of minorities. Moreover, it is very difficult to see, on grounds of equity and justice, why a second preference, or in some cases a third preference—why a second preference, shall we say, should have exactly the same value as a man's first choice and be counted equal and together for the purpose of electing a member to Parliament; or why the preferential votes of the first and second candidates, for instance, should not themselves have due weight.
It certainly does tend, and it would tend at elections, not only to those bargains some of which exist no doubt already, but immensely to multiply bargains. This system would tend also, I think, to the defeat at elections of vigorous personalities, and to produce a, set of parasitical trimmers. After all, if you consider the feelings in the constituencies themselves, I am not very sure that there would be great enthusiasm elicited from the voters in a constituency if the first man had obtained most votes on the first count, and then it was discovered, owing to the preferential votes to the third gentleman, who was cut to pieces in the electoral process, that the second man went to the head of the poll and became the member for the constituency. But I do not wish to go into the whole story of the objections to the alternative vote, because there are many different forms of the application of the alternative vote, and I think those might be fruitfully examined by your Lordships when we come to the Committee stage. I do not wish to damn too severely, as it were, one form of the alternative vote when others might commend themselves more to your Lordships. The House has behind it the Commission of 1910, which gave a blessing, though it was a very qualified blessing indeed I think, to the alternative vote. I read the criticisms passed upon the alternative vote by that Commission, and so many were those criticisms that at the end I was not quite sure whether the alternative vote was being either blessed or cursed, but if it was blessed it was so tepid a blessing that I do not think very much attention need be paid to it.
So much for the technical side of the alternative vote. I should like just to say 143 a word before I sit down on what I call the disfranchising clauses, and on the carrying out rigidly of the great principle of "One man, one vote." That is a principle which is honoured in Parliamentary circles, but to which no one outside pays the slightest attention, and indeed, if anybody acted on such an absurd proposition outside Parliamentary circles his business or his affairs would very soon collapse. Indeed, I think, if we consider the perplexity of affairs, to apply one bare rigid principle to their elucidation is a hopeless system. We all remember the Treaty of Versailles and the business connected therewith, and how the too rigid application, without modification by other principles, of the principle of self-determination has led to great difficulties which we are still feeling all over Europe.
Let me refer then for a moment to this business vote, as it is called. It is quite possible that it is not the most scientific way of giving representation to business. It is quite possible it might want some modification, but I should like to remind your Lordships that it was left in as part of the compromise of 1918. It really therefore requires a good deal of defence on the part of the Government and they have to explain why they are doing away with it, more especially as they have stated that in an electorate of 26,000,000 it is a comparatively small vote of 500,000. For myself I defend the retention of this vote because, after all, it does give particular and additional representation to classes who are very badly represented on the whole in our electoral system; that is to say, those who have general control of creative production and also of the distribution of our products. I think it is part of the best Socialist doctrine nowadays to give far more support and weight to the controlling and constructive elements in our society than they did thirty or forty years ago.
It is of course on the activities and business capacities of these men and women that the whole structure of our economy depends, because we depend on that and on our export trade and production to sustain our gigantic volume of expenditure. Therefore it seems to me a little unwise that these people should be put on exactly the same basis as the consumers and—shall I say?—the wage earners who have not that great responsibility for the conduct of business 144 in this country. I do not put it on the ground that it is the representation of wealth. For some reason or other the Home Secretary seemed to take that view. It is not the representation of mere wealth. It is the representation of the constructive elements in the making of wealth and of the brains and intelligence which go to create that wealth.
On the narrower point—shall I call it?—of University representation, I certainly should like very heartily to congratulate the Government on having retained University representation. It would have been rather absurd in these days when we talk of the value of higher education, if the Government had deliberately taken away representation from Universities. It is perfectly true that I think they had a tendency that way at first, but that tendency was cured by the vote in another place and they very frankly accepted that vote. Their education, as it were, was improved in that way, and I want to improve their education one step further because if you are going to do a thing you ought to do it not half-heartedly but with a certain generosity. If you apologise, apologise fully. If you thank a man for what he has done, thank him with effusion. Do not merely retain these University seats and then say that the voter must make the unpleasant choice of voting either in his own constituency or in the University. If you do that you lend yourselves to all sorts of undesirable arrangements and wire-pulling and the very idea of University representation is therefore spoiled, because a man, though he may vote on ordinary lines in his constituency, can in his University vote forget the mere ordinary political tendencies by which he is swayed and vote on higher considerations promoted by University education.
As to the City of London representation, the Government say that you can register in the City but you cannot have more than one vote. Therefore, you are going to have the City represented by whom? Not by the great financial and business interests, but probably by a few hundreds of caretakers who live in the City. I would urge the Government therefore to reconsider not only the business vote but as part of it this question of the double vote and the question of making real the representation of Universities and of the City of London.
145 I do not think I need say more than a few words about the last clause which deals with the use of motor cars. It is really rather a relief to come to it because it provides a sort of comic relief. Of course, it is of the most farcical character and I do not think the noble Lord pretends that it has been introduced for any other reason than to keep Conservative voters from the poll or make them walk—to put the penalty on them of walking if they have the misfortune to be Conservative voters. It is absurd and it is also extremely unfair because a Rolls Royce is put on the same footing as a Ford car. There, seems to be no equality there of any kind. In large areas it is a question of circulation and of horse power. If you do a thing, do it fairly and thoroughly and do not leave the matter in the inchoate condition that it is left in here. Apparently you can have as many cars as you like in a large constituency, which is the very place where wealth will gain, because it is more difficult for people in a large constituency to walk to the poll. If you had an election on the Thames, apparently you could make use of motor boats to any extent, but you are not allowed to have motor cars. The whole thing is ridiculous and the best way of dealing with it is to take it as an excellent farce.
To sum up, although there are many parts of the Bill one cannot approve of, yet I think that when these grievances are presented by a substantial majority in another place and when it is stated that one large Party feels that through the working of the electoral machinery it does not get justice at the poll and sufficient representation in Parliament, it is your Lordships' duty carefully to examine these things, not to throw out the Bill on Second Reading but, with a wider view and wider sympathy perhaps than is displayed in another place, to give your close attention to the examination of these grievances and to remedy these grievances if they appear to you, after carefully examining them, to be grievances indeed.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, those with whom I am associated in your Lordships' House have every reason, I think, to be gratified with the reception given to this Bill so far as one can judge at this early stage. Except on the part of the noble Lord, Lord 146 Banbury, who has moved the rejection, there will be no objection to the Second Reading so far as we can judge at this moment. The criticisms of the Bill, and particularly those of the noble Earl who has just spoken, are, in the main, criticisms of detail and do not affect the main principle, and he has himself said that he will wait until the Committee stage to ventilate any particular point he and noble Lords associated with him wish to make.
The noble Lord, Lord Banbury, took a different line—one to which, if he will permit me to say so, we are accustomed. Speaking for myself, I should have been gravely disappointed if when a measure of progress—of progress towards a more democratic system—was brought forward there had not been heard the voice of Lord Banbury to move the rejection of it. Indeed, it would have occasioned us all, I think, very real regret because if that had taken place, we should have been convinced that the virility, strength and vigour of the opinions which the noble Lord has hitherto held and pronounced so well in this House were weakening, not in consequence of age—because to that he is invulnerable—but solely because somehow or other the bacillus of progress had entered into his mind. But we are all relieved. I was interested particularly to note the observations he had to make, because I thought that at least we should hear all that could be said against the Bill and hear it put in its most extreme form, although, as always, with perfect courtesy. All I could discover was that the noble Lord thought that, in some way and for reasons I was quite unable to comprehend, before a proposal of this character could be made the matter must be mentioned in the address of at least some of those Leaders who were desirous of the reform. If he means by that that reference must have been made in the past to the necessity of electoral reform, I should not quarrel with him; but if he means, as I understood him to mean, that there must be in the Leader's addresses a reference to the alternative vote and a request for a mandate for that and for that alone, I differ entirely from him; and, indeed, I very much doubt whether that is what he meant.
LORD BANBURY OK SOUTHAM
What I meant was that, so far as I knew, 147 in every case where there has been alteration in the franchise the matter had been discussed and there had been people who desired it. In this case nobody had said anything about it and nobody had asked for an alteration of the franchise.
THE MAKQUESS OF READING
When the noble Lord began his speech, if I recollect aright, he suggested that the noble Lord who introduced this Bill must, by reason of some of the observations that he made, be living in another world.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
May I, with all respect, make the same observation to the noble Lord? May I remind him of what otherwise I should not have introduced into the debate, because I should have thought that it was well known—namely, that in the year 1924, when there was a General Election which he certainly will recollect, the Conservatives were returned with a majority of 200 members over the whole House, and that the votes cast showed quite clearly an average of 20,000 votes for one Conservative seat, 40,000 for one Labour seat and 90,000 for one Liberal seat. That, no doubt, would strike the noble Lord as a perfectly fair and just system of representation, but the result was that—
THE MAKQUESS OF READING
The result was that it occasioned a great deal of comment, particularly, as might be expected, from the Liberals, and from that moment there has been constant agitation in the country and addresses have been made again and again by the Leaders of the Liberal Party insisting upon some measure of electoral reform—although I agree that they did not particularise to the extent of pinning it to a particular proposition; I should think, very wisely and rightly. No one for a moment would suggest that, if you are entering into a scheme of electoral reform, you should say that there is only one particular kind that you will accept. If I may remind the noble Lord, there is much more behind it than that. I do not want to refresh your Lordships' recollection of the his- 148 tory of all that has taken place; of the Royal Commission of 1910, the Speaker's Conference of 1917, the Bill of 1918, the Ullswater Conference that took place later, and all the discussions that have taken place on this subject. I doubt very much whether any question has been so much debated and discussed in all its various forms as the relative merits of proportional representation, the alternative vote, the suggested combination of the two and the various methods of conducting each. It is, if the noble Lord will forgive me, rather futile to suggest that this matter has not been before the constituencies.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
Will the noble Marquess tell me if it formed part of the programme of any political Party at the last Election?
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
When the noble Earl talks of a political programme, I should like that programme in front of me before I commit myself, but I will certainly say that, so far as I know, electoral reform was, from beginning to end, put forward, with unemployment, as an issue for which the Liberal Party asked consideration; and certainly, in the two Elections in which I had an opportunity of appearing, this was so most definitely and, not only in speeches but in their addresses, the candidates did refer to electoral reform. It could hardly be otherwise, because Liberals were still smarting under the grievance, as they thought, of the system that had so far affected them that they had such a very small number, notwithstanding the votes cast.
I doubt whether there was anything else that was said by the noble Lord that would justify even the consideration of rejecting this measure. I perfectly well understand that one who has avowedly and quite candidly stated again and again, or at least has used arguments that would show, that he is against any extension of a democratic system of government in this country, would naturally object to any proposal that would introduce more satisfactory conditions, give us a more democratic result and enable us at least to know that the members returned better represented the constituencies than under the present system. I am not going into details of the various results that might be obtained. I will content myself by this one observation 149 in regard to the Parties, that I think this House ought to consider, and will consider, the proposals of this Bill apart altogether from Party considerations. We really have nothing to do with sectional matters of that kind when we are dealing with the representation of the people. I noticed, of course, that it occasioned a smile on Lord Peel's face, and I should have been surprised again, and almost despondent, if I had found him sitting down after standing at that Table, if he had not in some jocular—
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
It is quite impossible. It arose both in the noble Earl's appearance and in his voice, but it was there all the time. He seemed to think it was quite impossible for other Parties or other politicians to consider the representation of the people apart altogether from Party considerations. I would not suggest for a moment that the noble Earl himself, in the observations that he made and the scepticism that he expressed in regard to some of the details, was in the slightest degree actuated by any thought of what the effect would be on the Conservative Party. Far be it from me to make any such suggestion, for nothing could be further from my mind. But when he referred to the particular clause dealing with vehicles, he seemed to think—I do not know why—that the effect of it was intended to be that Conservatives should have to walk to the poll, but not any others—
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
Then let us pass from that. Whatever may have been said, we are surely now going to consider this from a much larger aspect. To do justice to the Conservative Party, of which the noble Earl is a distinguished member, I do believe that this is the way in which it is intended to approach this Bill on Second Reading. It was made clear to us that there was no intention of standing in the way. We may accordingly look at it from a purely dispassionate point of view. It does not follow, because any one of us says this, that he may not hope that his Party will receive some benefit from it. Of course he does. As a Liberal I adroit that I 150 am hoping that, when we come to the poll, Liberals will get more votes than on the last occasion, and that the result of this fairer system of election will be that more Liberals will be returned than under the old system. I suppose that is the view of every Party. But nobody can foretell what the result will be. That, I think, all must agree. Everybody can be sure that, whatever Party is returned, his Party hope to get some benefit out of it, simply because they hope to get more votes.
I will not stay to consider that side of it any further. The only observation I wish to make is that undoubtedly there are grievances. It is beyond question that our present system does not work fairly. I doubt whether anyone can contradict that. I gave figures of one Election. I could give a great many more, but most of them are familiar to your Lordships, and one instance is quite sufficient. But we are at a stage, it seems to me, in our political history where it is quite impossible to think that we shall go back to a purely two-Party system, or that we should continue that system for any length of time if we did recur to it. There are too many shades of opinion for that to happen. I might add also that there are too many leaders or would-be leaders, and it is an impossibility. As political education and knowledge is becoming disseminated throughout the country, so you have so many shades of opinion.
There is another aspect worth consideration. Politics now-a-days are very largely questions of economics, and there are various shades of economics. As a student of the subject, I deny entirely the view, accepted I believe by most, that a man must be either a full Protectionist or a classic Free Trader. There are many intervening shades. There are those who would not go the length which Conservatives might desire, but who nevertheless think that some change should be made in the present situation. They are entitled to their opinions, and some means must be taken to give them at least some opportunity of expressing their views. When dealing with the system again from this aspect consider for a moment what the situation is. I do not for a moment suggest that this Bill is going to remedy this grievance, or to place everything on a fair and just 151 basis. It cannot and does not attempt to effect mathematical precision, but it is a step in advance, and because of that we on these Benches welcome it.
I remember reading, I think it was during the debate on the Second Reading in another place, that a reference was made to an election which had taken place some two or three months before in the Shipley Division of the West Hiding. I take that as one instance of another character to which I wish to refer. In that division, 15,000 Conservative votes were given and the Conservative won the seat. He stood, as I understood, mainly on the policy of Safeguarding, and won. There were over 13,000 votes polled for Labour, and some 12,800 votes polled for the Liberals. Both the Liberal and the Labour candidates were against Safeguarding. Both the Liberal and Labour candidates were in favour of Free Trade. Nevertheless the result was that the Conservative, who polled 15,000 votes, took his seat in the House of Commons as a supporter of Protection to the extent of Safeguarding, whereas the 26,400 voters who were opposed to him in the constituency have no representation at all. That is an illustration of the difficulties in our present system, and some means must be devised by which we can give a better expression to the views of the electorate, move especially if we want to maintain interest—I was going to say re-excite interest—in Parliamentary constituencies in the Parliament of the day.
I do not propose to discuss the various other matters, save to say that I think it is a satisfaction to find that the principle of the abolition of plural voting, which has undoubtedly been dear to the Liberal Party, has been made effective in this Bill, and that plural voting will be abolished. That there is to be a reduction in the cost of Elections is all to the good. We must all, I think, agree that it was necessary to deal with the question of vehicles, although we may differ as to the means to be adopted. In truth, this Bill is one which just moves further forward. It is not the best, according to my view, that could have been done, but it is the best, at any rate, that we are able to get. I noticed that the noble Earl was very anxious to know something about what had happened.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
I do not forget such a question, especially as I knew it was one of those questions which you would put before you sat down.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
I was prepared for the question, and prepared to answer it. The noble Earl wants to know whether this Bill is the result of a bargain. All I can say, speaking from the knowledge that I have, and I think it is pretty thorough, is that there was no bargain and no pact. I would remind the noble Earl of what perhaps he had forgotten, that in the King's Speech, when no one suggests that there was any understanding or pact between the Liberals and the Labour Party, there was a very definite reference to the question of electoral reform, and a definite statement was made that a Bill would be introduced to give effect to it. If the, noble Earl would like to know my opinion, whether I think the Bill goes sufficiently far to cure the grievances to which I have referred, I would answer unhesitatingly "No." It may be that proportional representation would give us a far better chance of just representation in the House of Commons. When I say "us" I do not mean Liberals only, but all the people in the country. I am not, however, going into that now. It may have to be discussed on the Committee stage. But what I do know is that notwithstanding that Liberals have expressed that view before—it is no secret; they have expressed it at conferences and in another place—they took the view, as sensible men, that although they could not get all they wanted this Bill did give them a chance of making a step forward, and consequently they supported this Bill. For my part, speaking on behalf of those with whom I am associated, we give our hearty support to the Bill and hope it will be passed without much change.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (LORD PARMOOR)
My Lords, I think it has been made clear by the noble Earl opposite that the Second Reading of this Bill will be obtained without a Division, and I heartily agree with the speech which 153 has just been made by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading. I just want, however, to say this. First of all, it is a mistake to suppose that the question of electoral reform was not referred to during the General Election as part of the programme of the Labour Party. Secondly, I think we cannot forget as the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, pointed out at the end of his speech, that there was a passage in the King's Speech which dealt primarily with this very matter. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, is here; I will just read it to him:My Government propose to introduce an examination of the experiences of the election so that the working of the law relating to Parliamentary elections may be brought into conformity with the new conditions.I should have thought that would have exactly met with his views. There is not only a positive statement that a proposal for electoral reform would be brought forward, but there is a further statement that it would be based on experience obtained from the Election which was just over.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My point was that it was not in the programme of the Labour Party at the last Election. I said nothing about the King's Speech.
§ LORD PARMOOR
But I deny both those propositions. I say it was in the programme of the Labour Party, and, as you would expect in those circumstances, it was put prominently forward in the King's Speech. There can be no doubt about that. How far that is material I do not care to discuss at the present moment. I am afraid the noble Lord has been mistaken under both heads. I think this question ought to be approached from a slightly different point of view from that which has governed the speeches in this debate. I entirely agree it would be quite wrong on any great constitutional question—and I regard this as a great constitutional question—that each Party should have in mind what it thinks may be best for its own interests. I am sure that has not been the attitude of the Labour Party; it has not been the attitude of the Liberal Party.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Well, I am very glad that noble Lords opposite should show that they appreciate what has been put forward by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, and what is notorious at the present time. I do not suggest that noble Lords are either opposing or supporting the Second Reading at the present time on the ground of advantage or disadvantage to their own Party. But why cannot we all agree, particularly in this House, to take a higher view on matters of this kind, and to endeavour to approach the question from a wide national standpoint? I think there is no answer to what the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, has stated. It is not any particular case. Particular cases were fully discussed in 1917 and at a subsequent date when the alternative vote, was suggested in this House by the Leader of the Liberal Party, and I had the honour of supporting him on that occasion. It was not pressed forward because it was not thought right, that a change of that character should be introduced by a private member.
I start from this position, that if you want a true representation of all the members of our democratic society—I mean, treating them all on one equal basis—you do not get it, and you cannot get it under the existing representative electoral system. Every election has brought about the same result. I noticed some reference was made to a statement made by Mr. Humphreys about proportional representation, which personally I am in favour of, and always have been. But it is not possible at the present time. No one has emphasised more clearly than Mr. Humphreys has, and no one has given more satisfactory statistics in proof of it, that in existing circumstances you cannot rely on the representative principle working effectively in the House of Commons, because popular opinion, under our present electoral system, may be grotesquely misrepresented. I do not think anybody denies that. It is a very serious matter. In my opinion, the only safeguard of democracy is a true principle of representation. It is from that point of view that I, for one at any rate, have urged for a great number of years that it is a great constitutional blot on our country to go on with a system which gave a grotesque and utterly untrue representa- 155 tion, and, at the same time, to rely on the House of Commons as the representative of popular opinion.
Is there any one in this House who does not desire to introduce reform, so far as is possible, in order that the House of Commons may be truly representative of the opinion of the electorate? What has happened is this. No doubt we have given a low franchise—what I may call a universal franchise—but that is no good unless at the same time you allow those persons to whom you have given that franchise an effective opportunity of giving their vote when the Election comes round. I recollect very well, because we had great discussions about this matter here in 1917—a quotation being made from President Garfield, the President of the United States, where, at the time that he was speaking, the method of election was much the, same as it is in this country at the present time. He said:As regards the minority in the district where I live, they have no more voice in the government of the United States than if they lived in the Arctic regions.That is true of a very large number of persons to whom we have affected to grant the franchise, but to whom we have not given any method by which they can give an effective vote.
I have looked up what the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, referred to as an ineffective or doubtful passage in the Report of the Royal Commission of 1910. I find no doubt about it. They say in their "Final Conclusions," on page 37:We recommend the adoption of the alternative vote in cases where more than two candidates stand for one seat.You must recollect that in the discussions we had in 1917 the House of Commons desired, I will not say insisted, that single-member constituencies should be the dominant factor in our electoral system. What the Royal Commission says is that where you have that system of election the application of the alternative vote is recommended in order that there may be a fair representation of the people who are entitled to vote. It is well known that there are portions of the country at the present time where large numbers of persons—minorities in certain districts—have been disfranchised for years. The result of that is that not only is the effect of their vote lost, but they in turn lose their whole interest in 156 political life, and under a democratic system that is one of the worst possible results that you could have.
The alternative vote was considered in the Report made by the Committee presided over by the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater. Of course, proportional representation is not applicable to single-member constituencies, and for a system of single-member constituencies, which is the basis now—a basis which cannot be altered at the present time, particularly after the passage of this Bill, under which the boroughs having a double representation are to be divided so as to have only one representative—no system has yet been suggested, except the alternative vote which gives any possibility of obtaining results so that the popular opinion is really represented in the House of Commons. I throw out that challenge to the other side; I do not mean in the sense of provoking discussion. The only other possible system which has ever been suggested is the second ballot. If your Lordships refer to the Reports made particularly in 1917 and 1918—they can all be quoted—you will find the result is not that you get an improvement in the elected members. On the contrary, under the second ballot, apart from other inconveniences, there is a tendency to relegate just those people whom you want to see elected to a secondary position. That is the difference from the alternative vote; you give the alternative vote before you know what the result otherwise would be. I recommend anyone who wishes to study this question carefully to look into all the reports that have been received as regards the second ballot, because I think it has been universally condemned.
There is very little more that I want to say beyond this, that when this matter was discussed in 1917 and 1918 under the Representation of the People Bill, Lord Halsbury, who was a very strong opponent of the Bill and objected also to the fact that it was brought forward before the War was finished, advised your Lordships' House with all his authority that they should not throw it out on Second Reading but should allow the whole matter to be thoroughly discussed, as it can be discussed in this, the Second Chamber. He gave, in fact, the same advice almost verbatim as was given by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, to-night. I do not know that I need emphasise that, but I suppose it may be 157 taken for certain that we shall have a Second Heading of the Bill and that in detail the various matters to which Lord Banbury and Lord Feel referred can be opened for further discussion. Let us get the first step of a constitutional reform. It is quite time and it is overdue, and the only method by which we can proceed at the present time is the alternative vote. The alternative vote would be effective in preventing minority representation either in particular constituencies or in the House of Commons at large. Every time it has been considered it has been held to be an effective remedy, and I hope that, subject possibly to the discussion of minor points which I will not deal with now, after the Second Reading has been given this House will go forward. I for one do not in any way desire discussion to be curtailed, but that it should be entered upon in a sympathetic spirit as though we were dealing with a constitutional reform, which is the only way in which a Bill of this kind should be regarded.
§ VISCOUNT ULLSWATER
My Lords, as I have stood for some little time outside Party politics I approach this Bill, perhaps, rather from a different point of view and from a different angle to that from which other speakers have approached it. I must say that I was very much surprised at its appearance. I was surprised for this reason. During the last forty or fifty years it has become our constitutional practice not to make large changes in the electorate or the electoral system except by general agreement between the Parties. That begun in 1884 when I first entered Parliament. The extension of the suffrage proposed by Mr. Gladstone did not take place until after an agreement had been made with the Opposition under Lord Salisbury as to the system by which the new seats were to be redistributed. That was the example of 1884. When we come to 1917, it was only after, I was going to say two years', but say eighteen months' discussion in what was called the Speaker's Conference, that a general agreement was come to and that a Bill founded upon that general agreement was proposed and carried through Parliament.
It seems to me a matter of regret that on this occasion this Bill should be introduced not only without the consent 158 of the Opposition, the opposing Parties, but in the very teeth of the agreement which had been come to in the last Committee over which I had the honour to preside. This Bill breaks the agreement of 1913. Noble Lords will remember what a great contention there was first of all regarding the questions of "One man, one vote," plural voting, women's suffrage and so forth. These matters in 1918 were all adjusted and agreed, and on the agreement then arrived at the Representation of the People Bill was brought in. This Bill breaks the agreement which was then made. That in itself is regrettable, I think, and for this reason that probably it will be found in the future that other Parties who succeed noble Lords on the Treasury Bench will feel that they also with their own motive and of their own motion are entitled to bring in Bills which will vary and alter the proposals contained in this one. This subject of electoral reform, instead of being a subject on which all Parties should agree, will be one which will again lead to the contention which used to take place in the bad old times.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, has referred to the Committee over which I presided, which sat last year and the year before, I should like to say something in regard to it. I shall not give away anything that took place in the Committee because everything that is material was stated in the letter which I addressed to the Prime Minister on July 17 of last year, which was published as a Parliamentary Paper. The object of our Conference was to endeavour to secure that "the composition of the House of Commons should properly reflect the views expressed by the electorate." It was felt after this Parliament came into existence that as there had been five million persons who had voted for the Liberal Party that Party was grossly unrepresented in the House of Commons. I think the Liberals have fifty-eight members or something like that when they ought to have at least 130 or more. That was the chief grievance which was before our minds when we entered upon the consideration of the matters, I was going to say referred to the Electoral Conference. As a matter of fact there was no reference to the Electoral Conference. No terms of re- 159 ference were drawn up at all. We were told to find our own topics. It appeared to us that the chief topic and the most important one was that each Party should get a fair representation in the House of Commons.
After considerable discussion a resolution was proposed by the representatives of the Liberal Party. That resolution was this:Any change in the present system of Parliamentary elections should include the adoption of proportional representation with the single transferable vote.That was thoroughly discussed. I think we were at least ten days, we had at least ten meetings, over it, and at last a decision was taken. It was strongly opposed by the Labour representatives but it was supported by the Liberal and Conservative representatives. The result was that there was a majority; I forget the exact numbers, but there was a considerable majority in favour of that resolution. And that resolution, if adopted, the application of proportional representation, would to a considerable extent meet the grievances which we had set out to try and overcome. The proposals in the present Bill do nothing whatever for that; in fact, I am not sure that they do not make it really rather worse, because it is quite possible that under the alternative vote minorities will be far worse off.
The object of the alternative vote is not to assist minorities, but is to assist majorities. Incidentally, I may say that I have grave difficulty in persuading myself that it is right that the voters who vote for the candidate who is at the bottom of the poll, and who, therefore, have made a bad choice to begin with, should be given a second choice, whilst those who have voted for the candidate at the head of the poll, and who have obviously selected the best man for the constituency, are given no second choice, and are liable to have their choice overridden. On a day such as this I am a supporter of the horse that is first past the post, and I cannot help thinking that if the alternative vote should result in a considerable number of candidates who obtain the greatest number of votes at the election being over-ridden and set aside by a second candidate being placed over their heads when the second preferences of the voters for the third candidate are considered, it will 160 arouse a great deal of indignation in the country, and it will be an extremely difficult thing to persuade voters that they are being fairly treated, and I cannot help thinking that it will lead to—I will not say reprisals but certainly to reversals and repeals.
Another matter to which I should like to make a few references is what fell from the noble Marquess, Lord Reading. He referred to the Shipley election. I gather that his figures were that the Conservative who was in favour of Safeguarding was returned with 15,000 votes, Labour had 13,000 and was against Safeguarding, and the Liberal had, we will say, 12,000 votes, and he also was against Safeguarding. Then the noble Marquess said, what a scandal it is that whereas Liberal and Labour, who were both against Safeguarding, had no representative, the Conservative, who was in favour of Safeguarding, was returned although a majority of the electors was against Safeguarding. Yes, that may be true, but what a still greater scandal there would have been if Labour, having only polled 13,000 votes, had been returned, whilst the Conservative with 15,000 votes and the Liberal with 12,000 votes, both of them opposed to Labour, should not be represented though in the majority. The truth is that the application of the alternative vote very suitable where you have one particular issue to decide, but it is not suitable where you have to decide as between three or more Parties. There the only way you can decide is by taking the first past the post.
The real grievance which the Liberal Party have, and with which I feel sympathy, was illustrated in some figures which were referred to by Sir Herbert Samuel when he pointed out that in the County of Surrey there were 500,000 Conservative votes, and 400,000 Opposition, and yet all the members for Surrey are Conservative. The Opposition did not have a look in. Another instance of that was in the County of Durham, where Labour polled 393,000 votes and the Conservatives polled 386,000, and all the members elected for Durham were Labour and not a single one Conservative.
§ VISCOUNT ULLSWATER
Well, one. That is quite out of proportion to the numbers they polled. Again, take Wales 161 as a standing example. There Labour polled 574,000, Liberals polled 438,000 and Conservatives polled one quarter of the electorate—namely, 289,000—and yet they only hold one seat. Those are the grievances which appeal to me, and those are the grievances which we set out to attempt to remedy. I can only regret that the Government did not adopt the views which were supported by the Liberal and Conservative sections. I admit that the Conservatives were not in favour of a change, but if any change at all was required they were in favour of a change in the direction of proportional representation. It appears to me that His Majesty's Government are very fond of instituting Commissions and Committees, but when those Commissions and Committees report they absolutely disregard their findings. This is only one more of such cases.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, may I intervene as one who for many years was associated with Parliamentary matters in another place, having been, I think, fourteen years a Whip, and I suppose no one at that time was more familiar with the intricacies of Parliamentary representation than I was. I had also the charge of carrying through the House of Commons the Plural Voting Bill on more than one occasion, and had it not been for the War, that measure would have passed under the terms of the Parliament Act. But, owing to the War, the operation of the Parliament Act was suspended, and it was due to the noble Viscount who last addressed the House, in his kindness in presiding over a Conference, that the difficulties which had faced us in another place under the conditions of the War were overcome. The Liberal Party in those days said that they thought the greatest injustice, with a residential qualification and no longer a property qualification being required for a vote, was that property should be represented rather than residence.
My noble friend Lord Banbury has always been quite sincere in believing that the intelligence of the country was with those who possessed property. I remember him speaking in the House of Commons and saying that in consequence he was justified in voting as he did and in opposing the proposal with regard to the plural vote. But the difficulty at that time was whether the abolition of the 162 plural vote, which has been completed under this Bill if it passes into law, and the principle of one vote one value should be secured together or separately; and it was owing to the War that a compromise was effected. Instead of having the plural vote with all its abuses which previously existed, that plural vote was diminished to a power of only exercising two votes, and we had an equitable redistribution of seats carried through.
Now I submit that in this Bill we are carrying through the only successful method of quickly dealing with a great grievance. I was going to emphasise the very point which the noble Viscount has emphasised in regard to the representation of Durham and Surrey and other places, but I need not now dwell upon it. I recognise that proportional representation would no doubt deal with that effectively if you were going to try to get an absolutely logical system. But we are not in a position to deal with the abolition of single-member constituencies which would be necessary for proportional representation. In 1832 there were only five single-member constituencies. We gradually increased the number of single-member constituencies until we have nothing but single-member constituencies except the eleven set out in the Second Schedule of the Bill, which are going to be abolished. With the passage of this Bill, we should have only single-member constituencies and that, I think, would be a great gain.
At the present moment, to call upon Parliamentary candidates to accept a system of proportional representation, which means much bigger constituencies than they have at present, is, not really practical politics. Members in another place have so much work to do attending to their electorates in their limited constituencies which, at the present time, contain about 50,000 electors, and attending to their work in the House of Commons, that it is almost impossible for them to contemplate having much bigger constituencies such as would be necessitated by any scheme of proportional representation. Therefore, whilst I believe in the logic of proportional representation, I believe much more in the practical need of dealing with a great evil at the present time. It is not going to be entirely removed, but to a certain extent it will be modified by the adop- 163 tion of the alternative vote. The second ballot was often discussed in earlier days. It was pointed out then that the same electorate would not vote for it and that the expense of running an election would be doubled; and so the second ballot was ruled out as a practical proposition. Therefore, we are left with the alternative vote as the one means by which we can reduce a real grievance which is in existence to-day.
It is suggested by noble Lords behind me that this Bill represents some kind of device on the part of the Liberal element in another place in order to secure better Parliamentary results for their Party. I would venture to point out to them that the Liberal Party, from 1906 to the present time, have been absolutely consistent in asking for the alternative vote. They have desired it in order to prevent an individual misrepresenting the views of the electors as a minority representative. Whilst formerly the grievance was not very great, to-day it is a great injustice to the electorate that they can be so misrepresented. The figures of the last Election are extraordinarily impressive, because the Conservatives who, according to the number of votes, ought to have 232 seats, have actually 256 seats. Labour ought to have been in a minority in the number of seats held in another place. They ought to hold 225 seats, according to the number of votes received, but actually they were returned 288 strong. The Liberals ought to have 143 seats but actually they have only 59 representatives in the other House. Whilst I agree with the noble Viscount who spoke last that proportional representation might repair that injustice, yet, at the same time, as I have already said, I do not think it is possible to carry such a measure rapidly through this House or the other place.
§ LORD GAINFORD
I am coming to that in one moment. There were 4,976,000 electors who voted for 308 minority Members of Parliament. There were 6,318,000 who opposed them. I say it is intolerable that we should regard ourselves as having a representative chamber in another place when we ignore the views of 6,318,000 electors and take in their stead 4,976,000. You take those who are elected by the 4,976,000 and you 164 reject the individuals who have behind them 6,318,000 electors. I will put it in another form. There were seven uncontested elections. There were 139 straight fights between two of the three Parties. There were 161 who, in three-cornered or four- or five-cornered fights, secured an absolute majority of those voting. There were 308 who, as the noble Lord, Lord Passfield, told your Lordships, were returned by minority votes. I say that when more than half the House of Commons is returned by minority votes, it is not a truly representative assembly. The alternative vote is one means by which you can get an assembly which is more representative. I do not say it will be absolutely representative, but I do say that the alternative vote will enable the electorate to have better representation than at present.
The root principle of our Constitution is that government of the people should be by the people and for the people, to use an old expression. Government should be by the consent of the people. If you are going to have minority representatives you are not going to secure that respect for law and order which you would have if the people felt that they were more adequately represented under the system of the alternative vote, instead of feeling that somebody whom they had not voted for was representing them. I know there are objections to the alternative vote. There is the objection that you may have a certain amount of trimming by Parliamentary candidates with a view of catching the second vote. I will admit that that is a possibility, but I think that the evil in connection with that may be exaggerated. I admit that this is not an entire solution of the difficulty, but it will bring about a modification of a grievance and it is a remedy which Liberals consistently supported when they were in overwhelming numbers in the House of Commons. They are absolutely consistent in supporting the Bill which has now been introduced by the Government. It is a Bill which is going to remedy not only this anomaly, which is a considerable one, but it is going to remedy other anomalies to which reference has been made and about which we shall hear more on the Committee stage. Speaking as one who has been interested in electoral reform for many years, I feel that this is a step in 165 the right direction, that it will modify a grievance and help to secure the return to Parliament of members who represent a majority of electors instead of a minority as so many do now.
§ LORD CRAIGMYLE
My Lords, I am in some difficulty because we have had a long debate and I do not want to protract it, but if your Lordships will allow me to put in a brief and compendious way the case as I see it for the alter native vote I should like to make a few observations. It is on very rare occasions that I take part in your Lordships' debates, but it happens that I have made some particular investigation, and in deed have written some of my views, upon the question of the alternative vote, and that subject is the main burden of this Bill. I have looked into the question on its merits as a State measure and, if your Lordships will permit me to say so, quite apart from its Party aspects. I wish that I were sure that, in a Bill of this kind, that obvious duty would always be remembered. Discussions grow embittered over Party prospects, and suggestions as to Party motives fly about, with hopes and fears in and about and behind this Bill. So much is this so that it seems sometimes almost out of place to discuss the only relevant thing in the debate—namely, the Bill itself. It is on the Bill that I ask the House to be so good as to suffer from me a few words.
After much study I am of opinion that this is a good Bill, that the Government ought to be thanked for bringing it in and that its passing into law would be a great advantage to the nation. There is hardly a doubt in the minds of thoughtful men of the existence of a state of electoral affairs which amounts to a great public grievance and demands a remedy. I do not go into single instances, such as those referred to by my noble friend Lord Ullswater and my noble friend Lord Reading. There are always apt to be pitfalls lurking in single instances. One cannot study statistics for many years, as I have had to do, without knowing that. But there is this to be said, that at the back of every Election, as for instance at the back of the Election of 1929, the public was smitten with a sense that some real mischief had been effected and that a public wrong had been done. Let me explain that. What is wanted is 166 that Parliament should, of course, represent and not misrepresent the country. There are many illustrations of the fact that at present it does not truly represent the country. I do not care what Party one belongs to, or what Party the alteration will advantage. That is the fact—that the result of the Election under our present system was most unsatisfactory to the public mind, and convinced the public that a wrong had been done.
I do not think this House sufficiently realises the true significance of the fact, more than once referred to, that 308 members of the other place, the majority of the other place, had not one of them a majority of their constituents behind them. What did it amount to? I avoid single instances, but I will give the House the facts in the mass. For those 308 seats the number of citizens who voted was 11,500,000—I put it in round figures. What was the voting strength for the 308 successful members? It was less than 5,000,000 votes. What, on the other side, was the number who by their votes had plainly shown that they would prefer other representatives? They numbered 6,500,000. That is to say, their votes exceeded by nearly 1,500,000 all the votes which were declared to be absolutely and entirely in favour of those elected. The entire representation had gone to the minority of 5,000,000.
A great deal is now said in public discussion of the defence and protection of the rights of minorities. Is there not something to be said for the defence and protection of the rights of majorities? Some electoral practice prevails under which majorities are victimised. Then public discontent arises, and an unquestionable grievance has come to light The House of Commons is open to the taunt—for it is a taunt, and ought to be a taunt—that, by its very electoral constitution, when it is presuming to govern it is, in fact and in truth, a minority House. This is a travesty of representation. It is an injury, and I seriously believe it may be provocative of great danger to the State. I am inclined to believe that it is a growing danger. The varieties of political opinion in our day increase. That point was alluded to by the noble Marquess, Lord Heading. New Parties with new ideas take the field, and old Parties are subject to splits, with each portion, of course, claiming to be 167 the real and original article. And so new Parties are formed. So that more and more it will become necessary to take some precautions to secure that our country shall be run by the majority of our people, and not tricked out of its rights by the caucus, or the defects in our political machinery.
This Bill, I humbly think—and I say so after no little consideration—is a useful and quite practical measure in that direction, and it is high time that it be passed into law. The dissatisfaction to which I referred is established by the nature of much of the opposition to the Bill. You have seen glimpses of it in the discussion in this House to-night. A good deal of the opposition starts with the fact that there is a great wrong to be remedied. It admits the danger and the injustice, and then it turns round to this little Bill and says that the remedy demanded is proportional representation—that alone and nothing else. I can imagine, however, the execration with which, in these days in which we live, proportional representation, as it is called, would have been greeted had it been proposed by this Government. On to a representation just doubled—that is what would have been said—by the inclusion of women on the roll, untried and inexperienced, on to that system you are proposing to come along with a revolutionary scheme, the very first step in which is to redistribute all the seats in the country, to obliterate all the electoral boundaries and to make people vote for candidates whom they have neither seen nor heard, but who are said to wear a particular Party ticket. The Government that proposes such a thing is not only a bad Government, it is a mad Government. I fancy that some of those who are now using proportional representation as a stone to throw at the alternative vote would be using even bigger stones to throw, when the time came, at proportional representation itself. Proportional representation is not helped by this attitude to this more moderate and practical reform.
The object of the alternative vote is to provide against the misrepresentation, in fact the swamping, of those majorities to which I have referred. The Bill tries to do something effective to prevent that. It is most desirable to avoid one cardinal mistake in the plans dealing with the electoral rights of a great body of 168 our citizens. That mistake is in demanding too much. If you begin with the idea that nothing else will satisfy than a plan which will meet every case, and be perfect down to the minutest detail, you will indefinitely postpone the plainest remedy for the plainest wrongs. In these electoral reforms the counsel of perfection is a fantastic demand. The alternative vote is perfectly well justified, not if it reaches perfection, but if it makes a substantial step in the right direction, and that step is to approximate, so far as can be done, the electoral and Parliamentary result to the lines and proportions of the actual opinion of the electorate and the people themselves.
Be pleased, my Lords, to consider the peculiar impressiveness of the broad general case. That case, as I have just put it, is the case of more than half of the entire House of Commons, the case of 308 members who are minority members. Those 308 cases, it may be mentioned, were cases in which the number of candidates was three, with the exception of only 25 cases in which the candidates exceeded that number. Here I differ very much from observations made in the course of the debate, that there may be Amendments which may go to the effect of possibly undermining the goodness of this measure. The voter in the case that I have put, is put to the duty of considering the whole list of candidates for the honour of representation. When there are three candidates he will record his vote by marking the man whom he selects as his best man 1, and, to provide for the case that his candidate should not succeed, he will mark his next best man with the figure 2. There is nothing confused or complex about it. The system proposed is very plain and familiar. It is adopted already in some of the Legislatures of Australia, and it is well known in ordinary meetings, ecclesiastical meetings, public meetings, and meetings of all kinds, both in Scotland and, I understand, also in England.
The first operation is simply the operation of shortening the list. The candidate with the fewest first votes, say C, stands down, and A and B, a short leet of two, remain to be considered. I quite admit that the thing which even in explanation seems complicated is far more simple in practice. One might say that it was a difficult thing to imagine, that 169 it was as I have called it elsewhere a stiff psychological problem, for the voters in favour of C, to turn their attention to any one else. But once they realise that they have the opportunity of giving a final vote, as between the two men at the top of the poll, then they are in the position of considering what is most important—namely, what am I, the voter, to do if my own first preference man does not obtain a place? My own man has dropped out; A and B remain. Am I to leave A and B to fight it out on their bare numbers, or am I to take my share in saying that I prefer A to B or B to A as my Member of Parliament?
This stiff problem would be worked out probably by the voter in many cases—I believe far more than is generally thought—on these lines: "My own man has not succeeded, but I have indicated very plainly by my second preference which of A and B, who are in the short leet, ought to succeed. I dislike the politics of both of them. How am I to determine"—and this is the psychology of the position—"which of these two men should be Member of Parliament for this constituency? My politics are out of it; I dislike both their politics; but I know something of these men. I know one of them to have been a citizen valued in the whole public life of the district, whose character and whose opinions I much prefer to that of the other, and I prefer the man whom the district knows as the capable friend of all good causes to the roan, say, foisted upon me by some electoral machine. Or I may know both the men A and B very well, and, although I differ from their politics, I know their characters, their services, their records, and on that I have not a doubt which is the fitter and the better man. I claim the right to say so, and exercise that right by my alternative vote."
Your Lordships may say—I know that the caucus will always say—that that kind of voter is the most difficult man we have to handle, the man who will not come into our lists and whom we know not how to classify. But there are millions of such men in the country, and, as politics cross and shift about, that class of man will multiply. They are the class of men I wish to gather, not into the caucus lists but into the Constitution itself, with a voice which is an active and a steadying power. At present, if their preference for their own 170 first man fails, their power and influence in the Election comes to an end. I think this is a loss to the State. I think, after much consideration, that the alternative vote will turn that loss into a gain. The alternative votes may not be political votes, but they may be perfectly sound votes for all that, and even more for the safety of the State. For, my Lords, we need not be blind to what is going on. More and more politics are entering the sphere of personal and social service, and more and more public life must come to be measured not by political but by social values.
It is that class of voter, the voter who judges things and men on this new standard, whose rights we should not cripple but encourage. The class is very numerous, and I believe growing in number, whose rights we ought to conserve and protect. Under the present system those rights are obliterated; under the system of the alternative vote they would be represented. Their votes should not be wasted, but salved, and salved for the final and crucial selection. They form no trivial body. I thought the actual results might interest the House, and I have had the figures carefully checked. They number nearly 2,500,000 voters, and this great body of voters have before them no trivial task, and, as I submit, no trivial right. That right is to express their opinion which of the two outstanding men they would wish to be a Member of Parliament, and their Member of Parliament.
The present attitude of the law towards those citizens appears to me to be cruel, and to be worse than cruel, to be stupid. The crux of the contest has been reached; two men remain and the issue is now between them. But the law says to those voters: "To you, equally with all the electorate, these candidates have expounded their views and given their pledges; you know their record and can judge it; the issue between them is finally joined. Upon that issue—concentrated, crucial, final—upon that you must not judge: at this critical moment you must stand down, be disfranchised, disfranchised though your numbers be millions. Take this from the State: you dared to be independent and you must be sacrificed." I venture to think that this is an unworthy procedure and is a loss to the nation, and that the grant of an alternative vote would tend to remove that un- 171 worthiness and loss. I venture respectfully to submit to the House that the successful man, elected upon this vital issue, with the advantage of the assistance of the votes rendered upon an alternative choice, would enter Parliament a stronger and a truer representative, and I do not doubt that a Government supported after such a fuller ascertainment of the electoral will, would be on firmer ground, less induced towards shifty courses, and more fitted to govern.
§ VISCOUNT NOVAR
My Lords, the noble Marquess, Lord Heading, and the Leader of the House have adjured us to deal with the national interest and not with Party interest. I think that interest has been somewhat overlooked in this debate, and it is on that that I wish to make a few remarks. What is the first national interest? It is to have a strong and stable Government, and, along with that, a strong and stable Opposition. I disagree with the noble Marquess in his hope that we shall resolve ourselves into a system of group government.
§ VISCOUNT NOVAR
I beg pardon. I admit it looks rather like it, but I do not know of any strong system of government that you could have except His Majesty's Government and His Majesty's Opposition; and to that end, therefore, I would rather direct our endeavours than towards facilitating the group system. I am perfectly familiar with some of these devices in the Bill for ensuring what is called true representation, that is, that every vote of the twenty or thirty millions shall have equal weight in the election of members to the House of Commons. My experience is that the result is extremely unsatisfactory, that it leads to instability of government and log-rolling. I believe that the simpler the system of election is the better, and that it is much better that insignificant minorities should be dealt with in the constituencies, and come to an end there, than in Parliament itself. I think that if they can be squeezed out at the polls it is better than in Parliament itself. My noble friend Lord Gainford has spoken 172 in support of the Bill, but I was once associated with him in Party management, and I never met a Party manager who was not for the utmost simplicity of election. I believe that is the true system, and, as this Bill goes counter to my cherished aspirations, I shall vote with my noble friend Lord Banbury.
§ LORD DICKINSON
My Lords, at this late hour, I shall not attempt to keep your Lordships long, but there are one or two observations I should like to make, especially as I was a member of the Speaker's Conference in 1918, and I had a great deal to do with the introduction of the alternative vote into the recommendations of that Conference. I am sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, has gone, because I wished to remind him of that Conference, over which he presided with the pre-eminent skill and wisdom which he always shows. He was quite right in saying that the Conference consisted of members of all Parties, and that the decisions were made unanimously.
One might say that the proposal to introduce the alternative vote made by the Speaker's Conference was unanimous in this sense; that whilst certain members of the Conference did not approve of that proposal, others did not approve of proportional representation, and therefore the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference included both those proposals. But the important point is that the proposals made by the Conference extended over the whole country. They were unanimous in the decision that the existing system should be put an end to. They were not unanimous as to how it could be best changed, but the proposals that were brought up would have embraced the whole of the country. Part of the country would have been under proportional representation, but in all the other parts of the country there would have been the alternative vote. That is, I think, a very important evidence of the fact that even at that time the Speaker's Conference had abandoned the principle of "First horse past the post." That principle to which my noble friend has referred has great attractions in it, but it was then abandoned as having brought about such unsatisfactory results in experience.
173 This unanimous view of the Speaker's Conference—namely, that there should be some change made which would do away with the existing danger of a Government being appointed by a minority vote, was also shared, I think, by this House; and if your Lordships study the debates which took place in January and February, 1918, you will see that even the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, himself announced it as his view that the existing system was very unsatisfactory. It is quite true that when he did so he was proposing to introduce proportional representation, and he attached much greater importance to proportional representation than to anything else. He would have done away with the existing system, but he would have replaced it with proportional representation. That matter was a matter of long discussion and interchange of view between the two Houses, and the Bill went backwards and forwards at the last moment—I think it went down the Lobby at least six times. The Conference had recommended that both systems should be introduced. The House of Commons cut out proportional representation and left in the alternative vote. The House of Lords cut out the alternative vote and put in proportional representation. And so it went backwards and forwards, and ultimately the House of Lords succeeded in defeating the House of Commons.
The House of Commons had to give way and abandoned the alternative vote, and the House of Lords did succeed in putting on to the Statute Book of England a scheme for proportional representation. It is important to remember that, because that scheme stood for some time on the Statute Book. It is quite true it was to be applied after some method or form of inquiry. It was to be applied to a certain number of constituencies so as to allow 100 members to be elected by that process. However, it stood on the Statute Book, with a Schedule of the names of boroughs and counties to which it was to be applied, for nine years. During those nine years a Coalition Government, a Conservative Government, and a Labour Government held office. Not one of them tried to make that clause effective, with the result that in 1927 it died a natural death—or rather an unnatural death, because it 174 was put into the Statute Law Revision Act, and thus disappeared.
I merely quote that in order to show that the introduction of proportional representation is perfectly hopeless in this country, and, moreover, in my own opinion, it would be extremely unwise. We have to fall back, therefore, as we do now, on something else, because the existing system cannot go on for long. I think that throughout this discussion it has been perfectly clear that everybody agrees that we must find something we can substitute for the existing system, and the proposal here is the alternative vote. May I be allowed to read to your Lordships the words of a member of your Lordships' House who is now dead, but who was looked upon as a man of the soundest judgment and the greatest political experience, Lord Balfour of Burleigh. He said, on February 6, 1918:I think there is a great deal of logical force in the contentions on behalf of the alternative vote. I believe it will be a very real calamity if any large proportion of the members were returned to the House of Commons by a minority vote."A very real calamity." With great respect I agree. I believe it is a calamity which we cannot longer allow to continue. We must find some means whereby we can get out of this position in which a very large number of members are returned by a minority vote.
What is it we want? We want to make the system of popular election as effective as possible. We do not look to popular election to give us the wisest decision. I do not believe it is possible to get the wisest decision by that means. What we look to it to give us is a definite decision upon some great issue or upon the question of whether one Party or another shall conduct the government of the country for a certain number of years. In order to achieve that we must, I submit as other speakers have submitted this evening, find some means whereby it is the majority that decides and not the minority.
Your Lordships have had before you a great many figures. I have a good many in my hand, but I will not trouble your Lordships with them at the present moment. Perhaps, however, your Lordships will allow me to mention one new aspect of the case. I have taken the 175 eleven Elections from 1892 on. I have taken the total number of votes polled for each Party. I have added them together and divided them by two, and then I have seen whether the Government that took office after an Election had a majority behind it. Out of those eleven Elections I find that no fewer than eight resulted in a Government holding office against whom a majority of the voters voted. In eight Elections out of eleven the Government came into office despite the votes of more than half the electorate, and in some cases considerably more. It seems to me that here is the problem. Are we not wise in trying to solve it?
I do not warn to weary your Lordships with any further discussion of the question of proportional representation, but I would make one observation. The principle of proportional representation is, as has been well said, I think, by one of your Lordships this afternoon, that you get in your Parliament a mirror of public opinion all over the country. If you do get a mirror of public opinion all over the country it is a mirror of chaos. It is not a mirror that can possibly carry on the government of this country. What is the result as we see it in other countries? The moment an Election has taken place there is no decision at all. Various groups, ten, twelve or fifteen in number, meet together and try to settle among themselves by all sorts of processes of log-rolling, etc., what Government is to take command. That is the result of proportional
§ representation. What we want to do is to get something settled and decisive, as my noble friend Lord Craigmyle said, so that the country can decide once and for all whether there shall be a Liberal, a Conservative or a Labour Government.
§ Proportional representation can only really succeed if, as has been said, the constituency is the whole of the Kingdom. That is to say, that in order to be really effective proportional representation must have a constituency all over the Kingdom. That is what has happened in some countries where it has been introduced. A friend of mine, a German member of the Czecho-Slovakian Parliament, told me that he represents all the fag-ends and spare votes that have been collected from constituencies all over the country in favour of his particular Party. He has no real constituency at all. That is the system which holds good when you try to introduce this very attractive but very deceptive idea of proportional representation. I apologise for having detained your Lordships at this late hour. I trust that this Bill will go through, and that we shall, at any rate, get rid once and for all of the fact that the Imperial Government depends, as a rule, upon the results of a minority vote.
§ On Question, Whether the word "now" shall stand part of the Motion?
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 50; Not-Contents, 14.177
|Sankey, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Elibank, V.||Ker, L. (M. Lothian.)|
|Hood, V.||Luke, L.|
|Wellington, D.||Mersey, V.||Marley, L. [Teller.]|
|Bath, M.||Aberdare, L.||Noel-Buxton, L.|
|Linlithgow, M.||Addington, L.||Passfield, L.|
|Reading, M.||Amulree, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Arnold, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Chesterfield, E.||Ashton of Hyde, L.||Sanderson, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Bayford, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Craigmyle, L.||Snell, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.)||Stanmore, L.|
|Peel, E.||Desborough, L.||Stonehaven, L.|
|Poulett, E.||Dickinson, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Radnor, E.||Ellenborough, L.|
|Scarbrough, E.||Ernle, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)||Tenterden, L.|
|Hawke, L.||Treowen, L.|
|Allendale, V.||Hay, L. (E. Kinnoull.) [Teller.]|
|Bortie of Thame, V. [Teller.]||Banbury of Southam, L [Teller.]||Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow.)|
|Cobham, V.||Forester, L.|
|Hereford, V.||Biddulph, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Novar, V.||Digby, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Dynevor, L.||Trenchard, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.