§ 2.37 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
My Lords, I have the honour to move that this Bill be read a second time. It is a very comprehensive Bill and in many respects deals with the reforms that have been in demand for a long time past. I shall refer to some of them in the course of what I have to say. The Bill deals with the reform and the unifying of the franchise on the basis of a qualification of "One man, one vote." It deals, too, with the distribution, or redistribution, of some seats, with a small resultant alteration in the total number of Members of another place. It introduces some long-delayed and acceptable reforms in voting and other matters. It well may be that your Lordships feel that this is a Bill which is mainly concerned with another place. At the same time, it is an important constitutional matter of which this House quite properly takes cognisance.
The first important aspect of the Bill is that it gives effect to the principle of "One man, one vote"—and one vote only. It is based upon residence. Happily it dispenses with something which some of us who were in another place in years gone by and were acquainted with the duties of our election agent's office felt was a very troublesome affair—the ascertainment of the period of residence and other matters affecting qualification. But, in this case, there are two registers a year. It is the business of the registration officer to take a house-to-house canvass of the constituency and enter up those who are in bona fide residence at that time. Those who are so in residence, if they 289 are also otherwise eligible by reason of age and so on, are enrolled on the register for that constituency. The adherence to this principle, to which we attach prime importance, has involved a departure in one respect from the recommendation of the Conference on which perhaps some of your Lordships may have some animadversions to make; and as a result those of us who are university graduates will not in future have two votes. We shall not have an additional vote because we are university graduates.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I stand corrected by the noble Viscount. We are classed with those who are not capable of voting! However, putting aside the point which for the moment I must confess I had overlooked, that I happen to be a member of this distinguished House, I would remark that in years gone by I was a Member of another place, for fifty years or so I have been a Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and upon various occasions I have had an opportunity of exercising a vote. To be quite frank with your Lordships, I have never been particularly impressed with the privilege. I quite agree that my views may perhaps have been a little jaundiced by the fact that never in my life as a university graduate did I vote for a candidate who was successful. An experience of that kind is apt to influence one's point of view. However, that no doubt applies to a great many more people. At any rate, the university vote will be abolished by this Bill, and along with it will go the second vote which was previously available to those who had business qualifications. That has a great effect, particularly upon the City of London, where the business vote was, of course, predominant. For my part—I speak now as a loyal member of long standing of my university, who has for many years taken an active part in its business—I do not in the least deplore the ending of the distinction between university graduates and other citizens, and I think that the adherence to the principle that one man should have only one vote is right.
That principle has involved in the House of Commons—for which this Government must take full responsibility—the abolition of the university seats. It 290 carries with it, also, a consequence which, from the point of view of tradition and sentiment, some of your Lordships might wish were otherwise but which is inescapable. In the City of London there are, in all, fewer than 5,000 resident voters, and it would be quit absurd that a constituency of that size and character should be entitled to two Members. Alterations have been made, to which I will refer in a few moments, with regard to the City of London representation.
Having said a word on the principle of "one man, one vote" which is embodied in the Bill, and what it carries with it in those two respects, I would like now to say a word about the redistribution of seats. There were two Speaker's Conferences and other Committees, to which I will refer in a moment, that dealt with the boundaries of constituencies and so on. Previous to the setting up of these Committees, there were 615 Members in the House of Commons, including the university seats and Northern Ireland. But that has not been a constant number. I find that from 1895 to to 1918 there were 670 Members of the House of Commons, and from 1918 onwards there were 607 Members; so there is nothing sacrosanct in the number of 615, which was the general objective of the Boundary Commission. The principle that was taken, on which I shall have to say a word, about the alterations that were made in the other place, was that, in general, 50,000 electors should be taken as the unit to return a Member to the House of Commons.
The effect of the original recommendations of the Conference was this—leaving out the hundreds and taking it in thousands: the average electorate per seat in England was 58,000; in Scotland, 49,000, and in Wales, 51,000. The numbers for the boroughs, as we should expect, were higher than those for the county seats; and—again leaving out the hundreds—the average number of electors per seat in the boroughs was 61,000; in the counties it was 55,000. In the course of the discussions in the other place, it was found, notwithstanding this general aim to have a unit of 50,000, that there were eight boroughs with more than 80,000; and these eight boroughs were each divided into two constituencies, giving two Members for the borough. They are well known to your Lordships, I take it—Battersea, Blackburn, East 291 Ham, Gateshead, Hammersmith, Norwich, Paddington and Reading. Each of those boroughs has more than 80,000 electors, and so it was decided to give them two Members. It appeared, also, that there were nine boroughs in which the numbers of Members proposed gave an unduly high electoral number. There was Birmingham, which had an average at that time of 63,000, Bradford with an average of 71,000, and so on. It was therefore decided in the House of Commons—all kinds of reflections have been made upon this, entirely unfairly, as I shall show your Lordships in a moment—to give an additional Member to these nine boroughs: Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield.
The result of the addition of one Member to those large areas is that in no case is the electorate less than 50,000. The smallest electorate of them all is in the sub-division of Leicester, where the electorate is 51,827 per Member. So it cannot be said that the alteration made in the other place in that respect has departed in the least from the spirit of the general intention of the Boundary Commission, which aimed at a minimum of 50,000 or thereabouts. The result of this has been to make the total number of the Members of the House of Commons 613, apart from the Members for Northern Ireland, of whom there are 13. There are 506 Members from England, with an average of 56,000 electors each; 71 Members from Scotland, with an average of electors of 49,000 (which is all very proper, seeing that the population in many parts is more widely distributed), and 36 from Wales, with an average of 51,000. So it will be seen that, whatever may be said as to the Bill as it now stands, the average number of electors for all the newly divided boroughs is substantially more than the minimum looked for. It is clearly right that in those places there should not be an average (as there would have been, for example, in Bradford) of 71,000 electors per Member. With the addition of one more Member the actual number of voters per Member in that city is 53,350. I am quite sure that no one would say that an electorate of that size was not entitled to elect a Member to the House of Commons.
292 I pass from that point, but I thought it was fair to give a general indication of what the position will be as a result of the small number of changes made in the House of Commons. Four Committees have sat on this matter—the two Speakers Conferences, the Oliver Committee on Electoral Registration and the Carr Committee on Electoral Law Reform. I will mention some of the alterations to the law which I think will be acceptable everywhere. Whatever criticisms your Lordships may make of the two matters to which I have already referred, I believe there will be general agreement on these other alterations. The basis of registration I have explained. It will take in all those qualified who are residents at a given time. It will be the business of the registration officer to ascertain who the residents are, and that will avoid what many of us with long experience of this matter have felt to be exceedingly undesirable—namely the touting around, shall I say, of agents and so forth, to ascertain names. It will all be done properly by the registration officer of the district.
Another important change with regard to the facilities for voting is one which I am sure everyone will welcome. It is provided in the Bill that every parish—and some of them are very scattered, as we all know—shall have a polling station to ensure that people do not have to go unduly long distances in order to vote. This, as we know, has been in the past a great hardship upon a good many people. In some cases there are scattered hamlets with only a few voters, and places with only 30 electors will be able to make representations for additional facilities for voting. Another very acceptable change provided with regard to facilities for voting is that of voting by post. This will apply to Servicemen and people living in very scattered districts, such as the Islands off the West Coast of Scotland, civil servants who may be away on duty and their wives, and Service personnel generally. I think, too, we ought to be glad that Parliamentary candidates who may be away electioneering in another area will now be entitled to a postal vote for the constituency where they reside. That will apply to Parliamentary candidates and their wives.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
No, not by post. I am sure we shall all agree that this is a desirable improvement in the facilities for voting. There are various other minor matters which I need not particularise too much. Where there is an equality of votes, instead of the returning officer having the painful duty of giving the casting vote it is now to be done by drawing lots. The hours of polling in all places are to be from seven in the morning until nine at night, which will avoid the necessity of having to make application, and so on. Another valuable improvement is that it will be the business of the returning officer to send to every elector a poll-card showing the place and time of voting. Of course, that card will not contain names of the candidates with a cross marked against one name, as we have been accustomed to send out in the interests of our own Parties in times past.
Similarly there are important and welcome changes with regard to local government elections. The residential qualification remains the same, but in local government franchise there is an additional vote for business or other property. The qualification is that it must be of the value of at least £10 a year and in some other place than the property giving the residential qualification. That is to say a person ought not to have two votes in the same place, but if he has business premises in one place and lives in another he will have a local government vote in both areas, one in respect of the business premises and one in respect of his residence. The times and facilities for postal voting are the same as for Parliamentary elections, except that postal voting facilities do not apply to rural district elections or to parish council elections.
Another useful alteration in local government electoral law affects the date of the election. In the past we have often felt it very inconvenient that voting for boroughs should be in November and for councils in May. Now it is provided that voting in the boroughs will be altered from November to May. County council elections will be changed from March to the week including April 9. Rural district and parish council elections will be in the week including May 9. So we shall complete all these elections in the months of April and May, which I am sure will be a convenience. In the 294 case of Scotland, they will all take place in May.
One important alteration has been necessitated in London. Owing to the reduction in the number of members' constituencies it was found that to have two London County Council members per constituency would not provide a sufficient total of members for the London County Council to enable that body to do its work properly. The London County Council has a vast amount of very complicated work to do, and it was felt that we must find some way of keeping up the number of members of the Council. It is therefore provided that in the future there will be three County Council members for each constituency, instead of two.
An alteration which would have been welcome to some of us, at any rate, in times past, relates to the amount of money which can be spent in an election. At present the amount for a Parliamentary election is 6d. per elector plus £75 in respect of an agent. It is 5d. per elector in boroughs plus an agent's fee. In the Bill it is provided that there will be a basic figure of £450 allowed plus 2d per elector in the counties, and 1½d. per elector in the boroughs. I can give your Lordships the net result by this illustration. If you take a constituency of 60,000, you will find that in the case of a county the maximum that may be spent under the present law is £1,575. Under the Bill, the maximum that can be spent is £950. In the case of boroughs, the sum is reduced from £1,300 to £825, which I think is a welcome change, though even the latter amount seems a lot of money.
Then there are changes in the law affecting the use of motor cars which, I think, will be very useful and which I believe are only right, particularly in country areas. It is possible under the Bill for the agent to employ motor vehicles for the carriage of electors to the poll, provided he shows a suitable placard on the vehicle—one car per 1,500 in counties, and one per 2,500 in boroughs. The Bill also provides that, notwithstanding the provision I have mentioned, people with cars can take members of their own households to vote. As to who are members of their households, I will leave others to define. At all events, it is quite proper that people should be allowed to take members of their own families in their own cars, but they 295 are not allowed to carry a placard asking people to vote for anyone, or behave as if it were a hired car. There are a considerable number of other minor alterations affecting such things as agents' fees, meetings, payments of speakers, and other matters which I do not think I need to detail to your Lordships. But the use of wireless transmitting apparatus in elections is prohibited, and people will be spared that infliction in their own homes, which I think is all to the good. Many of these minor amendments in our election law and conduct are exceedingly welcome, and, on the whole, I have great confidence in recommending this to the House as a very good Bill. I beg to move.
§ Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Addison).
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I should like, if I may, to begin by thanking the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for the very full account that he has given your Lordships of this Bill, though I am sure he will not expect me to agree with everything he has said. Let me say at once, however, that we on this side of the House do not intend to reject or even to amend this Bill. It is not, as the Leader of the House himself said, in the same category as those other measures on which we have considered ourselves obliged to oppose the Government. It is evident that this Bill is of more direct concern to the House of Commons than to the House of Lords. It is true that the other place do not seem to have had quite the same sense of delicacy about the composition of this House; perhaps it would have been somewhat better if they had used the same discrimination as we do on this particular occasion! But, in any case, it will be agreed that it is unnecessary for us to follow their bad example in that respect. It should be remembered that under the Constitution your Lordships, together with criminals and lunatics, do not enjoy the privilege of exercising the Parliamentary franchise. And therefore it seems hardly appropriate, even if it is constitutionally legitimate, that we should attempt to mould the machinery to enable others to do what we ourselves are not allowed to do. That, it might well be argued—and no doubt would be argued—is somewhat outside our sphere. But if it is undesir- 296 able that we should try to amend a measure of this character, that surely does not preclude us from making comment on it. Whatever difference of view there may be about our other functions, there is one, I believe, on which there is complete unanimity; and that is that we should have the power, and indeed the duty, to discuss matters of burning public interest. I should have thought this certainly comes into that category, for with the three exceptions I have already mentioned it directly affects every grown man and woman in this country.
Many of the provisions of the Bill which deal with the actual machinery of voting are, I think, not controversial. With those I do not propose to deal this afternoon. But there are others which have been the subject of bitter controversy in another place, and I am bound to say at the outset that we regard this Bill as it emerged from the other place, in spite of the skilful and elaborate special pleading to which we have listened from the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, as a pretty shabby affair. As to the desirability of some measure to revise the machinery of the election of Members to the House of Commons, there is, so far as I know, no difference between any Party. Obviously some such action is necessary from time to time, if Parliament is to be what it purports to be—that is to say, if it is to be representative of the general population of the country as a whole. As was said a great many centuries ago, "Times change and we must change with them." That is specially true of the century in which we live. I do not suppose that there has ever been a period in the whole of our history which has seen such rapid and extensive movements of population. What were thirty years ago thriving urban areas have now become almost "pocket boroughs"; and other parts of the country which thirty years ago were remote and lonely parts of the countryside have now been transformed into thriving industrial towns or thickly populated suburbs. Clearly, account must be had of changes of that kind, if Parliament is to be in any way representative of the broad mass of the citizens.
It was for that reason, I understand, that it was decided during the last Parliament, by agreement between all Parties, that they should embark on the task of redrawing the boundaries of the 297 constituencies. According to what has become a fairly well-established custom in such circumstances, a Conference was convened, under the Chairmanship of the Speaker, to examine the position, and if possible to produce a Report which would be acceptable and agreeable to all sections of opinion. To this procedure, all Parties assented. In due course, as your Lordships are aware, the Conference sat; and they produced a Report. That Report was not dissented from by any portion of the Government of the day, which, conveniently, at that time represented all the main Parties in the State. All that would appear to have been needed was to implement these recommendations. That was the position which was accepted by members of all Parties, not only in the last Parliament, but also in the early stages of this Parliament. It was agreeably recognised on every side that the traditional procedure for securing an agreed solution had once again justified itself. The British genius for compromise had won another notable victory. I have here, but I do not want to weary your Lordships with them, a number of quotations from Socialist Members of another place, which I think amply confirm the view I have given.
Then—I think this is the only possible conclusion—quite suddenly a number of sinister figures appeared on the stage—the successors of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, the Party managers of the Labour Party. A whisper began to be heard; "Was this settlement quite so good as it appeared? It may be fair, it may be British, but how will it affect the Party?" This agreed solution was going to lose the Party 35 seats. Was it not possible to pay too high a price for a fair and objective outlook? Gradually this whisper spread—we could even hear it in this rarefied atmosphere—from managers to Back-Benchers; and from the Back Benches to the Front Bench. And the more the representatives of the Government 'thought about these 35 seats, the more intolerable the situation appeared. Some way out must be found from obligations so foolishly entered into, when they did not know that they were going to have a majority in the next Parliament. No doubt that was a situation that was extremely embarrassing. Extricating oneself from agreements into which one has entered is always awkward. But, 298 "where there's a will there's a way," and eventally some ingenious mind, which I take to be the mind of the Lord President of the Council, found a way out.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
May I interrupt the noble Marquess? I am wondering where he gets his figure of 35. There appear to have been 17 alterations plus the university seats.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If you alter 17 which were against you to 17 in your favour, you get a total of 34. Anyone who has taken part in a Division in this House will see that that is not an unfair calculation
As I said, a new formula was propounded—namely, that what is done in an earlier Parliament does not bind the next Parliament. From from moment all was plain sailing. All that remained to be done was so to cut about the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference that the loss of 35 seats to the Labour Party was entirely neutralised. They were quite frank about it; there was hardly an attempt to conceal their real motives. They entered into this Party game with gusto and, I must confess, with very considerable success. They started first on the university seats. These had proved, as your Lordships know, singularly reluctant to return representatives of the Labour Party. As the voters for the universities are both intelligent and independent minded, this is perhaps not so very surprising; but it was quite sufficient to ensure their liquidation. It was argued that the university seats are not logically defensible—we heard it today from the noble Viscount the Leader of the House—on the rigid basis of "one man, one vote." That may well be true. But there is a great deal in the British Constitution which is not logically defensible.
The real question is: Do the university Members provide a useful element in the House of Commons? That is the point that ought to lave been considered, and to that, I should have thought, there is only one conceivable answer. They do—did, I am afraid it will soon be. They provide an independent element in a House which is already far too much dominated by the Party Whips. If the Members for the universities are not Socialists, they are, for the most part, certainly not Tories. Take such Members as Sir Arthur Salter, Mr. Wilson Harris, 299 and Miss Eleanor Rathbone. I mention only those names; your Lordships can think of many others. Can anyone deny that those Members were not only ornamental but useful to Parliament? I would suggest that this action which has been taken by the House of Commons must be particularly interesting to noble Lords in this House. In recent months we have heard a great deal from the Government Benches here in the House of Lords about the value of the Cross-Bench mind. It constantly cropped up during the debates on the Parliament Bill: the Cross-Bench mind must be preserved in any scheme for reform. That, we have been told, is absolutely vital. The university Members are the only Cross-Bench minds in the House of Commons, yet that did not save them from extinction. I think we can now see how much value we must attribute to Government protestations on that point. So much for the universities.
And what about the City of London? It is equally easy to make a logical case against the representation of the City of London. But the City has played an immense and glowing part in Parliament throughout British history. Through all the period of the civil war it was firm against reaction, and to-day, and for long past, it has been the financial centre of the whole Commonwealth and Empire. Can anyone who looks at the matter with an objective mind say that the lustre of Parliament is not going to be dimmed by the abolition of the constituency of the City of London? Yet, because it was not a good Socialist seat, it was enthusiastically swept away into the limbo of the past.
One might have thought that, having struck so valiant a blow for sectional as against national interests, the supporters of the Government would have been satisfied. But not at all. It seems that gerrymandering is rather like drink: it goes to your head. Having started on their career of destruction, the Labour Party ran amok, and they went on hacking about the Report of the Speaker's Conference until the ultimate result was, not what the delegates to that Conference had agreed was right for the country but what the Socialist wirepullers thought was right for their Party. Nor did they concern themselves merely with redrawing boundaries and constituencies; they threw in 300 extras, such as limiting the use of cars at elections, to which the Leader of the House has referred. The reason for that, I take it, is that it is assumed that only the rich have cars. But I should have thought that the storm over the basic ration would have disabused the Government by now of that illusion. In any case, this provision will not hurt the rich, who have their own cars. The only effect, undoubtedly, will be to make it difficult, if not impossible, for many poor people to register their votes at all. That is a strange achievement for a Government which says that it stands for democracy, and nothing but democracy.
I do not know whether the Labour Party are satisfied with this Bill as it has left another place. No doubt, from the purely Party point of view, it is an improvement upon the original recommendations of the Conference. But is that the only, or, indeed, the best point of view? Taking the long view, have they not sacrificed more than they have gained? How can anyone in the future have any confidence in any agreement of this kind into which that Party enters? The other day, during the debates on the Parliament Bill, I remember the Lord Chancellor making a most moving and persuasive appeal to your Lordships to accept the Government proposals. I am speaking without the book, but I think the sense of it was to accept the Government proposals and put this problem to sleep again for another thirty years. If we had allowed ourselves to be persuaded by that plea, what would be our position now, under the Lord President's new formula? As soon as it was convenient, out that formula would come from its pigeon-hole—if, indeed, it had ever been put into its pigeon-hole. We should be told that nothing that was done in a previous Parliament bound the next, and further steps would be taken to eliminate the remaining powers of this House. It is as well that we should be wise to the new and convenient morality of the Labour Party in this particular respect. If the Leader of the House is doubtful about what I have called the "Morrison formula," I shall be delighted to give him the extract from Hansard. If he is already satisfied, I will not weary the House with it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Very well. It is in Column 1002 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the proceedings in another place on February 17, 1948. It arose from an exchange between the Lord President and Mr. Peake. Mr. Peake had said:I am obliged to the right honourable gentleman. He would make things clearer if he would state categorically now whether he admits there was a bargain and agreement in the Speaker's Conference in 1944. Does he agree to that?MR. MORRISON: Certainly, in the Speaker's Conference in 1944 there were compromises, there were accommodations, that were reached.…MR, PEAKE: I am obliged to the right honourable Gentleman. He has made it clear that yesterday, when he said there was no bargain, he was saying that there was no bargain that would extend beyond the life of that Parliament.MR. MORRISON indicated assent.That is the extract. I am very glad to have had the opportunity of elucidating the point for the benefit of the Leader of the House. I do not, of course, mean that, if one Party in Parliament imposes a certain measure upon the other, the other Party cannot reverse it in a subsequent Parliament—of course I do not mean that. Clearly that would be entirely legitimate. But when the Parties have freely agreed to a certain course of action, and when one of those Parties, unilaterally, at a later date decides to repudiate that agreement, if it is not a breach of faith it is certainly a breach of one of the oldest and most highly respected traditions of Parliament.
When I think of the general conduct of the Labour Party with regard to this Bill, I am reminded of an incident which occurred during the sittings of the Nonintervention Committee before the war. On one occasion, that rather ill-omened Committee had had a particularly unfortunate meeting—no progress had been made and general depression prevailed. In order to some extent to lighten the depression, one of the younger members of the Foreign Office went up to the Soviet delegate and said to him: "The Committee may not be making very much progress, but at any rate it has had one good result. All you gentlemen are learning excellent English." The Russian looked at him with a stony eye and said: "Well, there is one English word which the Italians evidently do not yet understand." "What is that?" asked the 302 Foreign Office representative. "Cricket," said the Russian. It may indeed be doubted, in the light of recent events, if even the Russian Government have entirely mastered the more delicate nuances of that word. But I am afraid that that is equally true, in the light of this Bill, of a good many Members of the Socialist Party in another place.
The House will recall that, when the Conference held its meetings, and when it made its recommendations, the Conservative Party were in the same position as the Socialist Party now are. They had a great majority in the House of Commons. They could have pressed their own point of view far more strongly than they did. This was recognised by the Lord President himself in a speech which he made in another place on June 17, 1945. He said:Let us be perfectly frank and honest. What was the issue before the Labour members of the Speaker's Conference on this question of plural voting"—which was at that moment under dis-cussion—and what was the issue before the Conservative Members? Conservative Members had to consider, 'Ought we to give up anything or to stand pat?' They could have stood pat: they had a majority. There was nothing I could have done about it if they had decided to stand pat. They did not.We did not insist on proposals which were to our advantage, because we considered that the way of compromise and moderation was the way of wisdom. I do not claim the slightest credit for the Conservative Party in that respect. I think they took a very proper course and a right course. But the Labour Party, when once they gained power, merely used this agreed compromise as a jumping off place for further demands. I submit that that is hardly in full accord with British traditions of fair play. Whether they have definitely committed a breach of faith regarding the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference may no doubt be disputed by those who accept the Lord President's formula. But they have certainly debased the currency of fair dealing, upon which Parliamentary institutions ultimately depend.
There is not the slightest doubt, I think, that in the earlier stages—and I do not think the Leader of the House denies it today—the Government regarded themselves as bound by the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference. As late as 303 October, 1947, the Lord Chancellor, in the debate upon the King's Speech, used these words:A Bill will be introduced, which will contain provisions for the Electoral reform arising out of the recommendations of the Committee of Electoral Registration, the Speaker's Conference and the Committee on Electoral Law Reform. If, as I fully expect, the noble Viscount"—that is, the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel—is familiar with all the proceedings in those Committees, which I am not, he will know precisely what the Bill is going to do.Now would he have said that if he had thought that his Party were fundamentally to alter the proposals of the Conference?
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
May I interrupt the noble Marquess? This has been quoted so often. It was a somewhat light-hearted remark in answer to an equally light-hearted question of the noble Viscount, who had asked me whether we were going to introduce a system of proportional representation. It has been quoted completely out of its context ever since.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I think that when the Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords makes a light-hearted remark which does not mean what it purports, he ought to ring a bell.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I can quite understand that the country might be deceived, but I hope the noble Marquess will no longer be deceived.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Of course, I accept what the Lord Chancellor has said, but I hope that in future his lighter remarks will be in accordance with his more serious thoughts.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Any remark taken out of its context is bound to be misleading. It is quite unfair to read that remark without any regard to the context in which it was made.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not think I said anything unfair.
No doubt in particular the noble and learned Viscount assumed that the university franchise would continue, and it was natural that he should assume that, because he himself has entered as a candidate for a university seat, although he was, unfortunately, not successful.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
May I interrupt the noble Marquess again? Would he say, because he was opposed to the nationalisation of transport, that when it was decided to nationalise transport he must never ride in a bus?
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
If Parliament decide that they are going to retain university seats, is the proposition that no Socialist Member must ever stand as candidate?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I was merely saying that I presumed that the noble Viscount would not have stood for a seat if he was against university seats.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If the noble and learned Viscount does not understand that, I really cannot undertake to make the point clear to him.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Then it is another case where I must regard the noble and learned Viscount as humbugging himself.
In any case, these proposals of the Conference have been altered, and they have been altered not for the good of the State but to secure temporary Party advantage. I repeat that we do not intend to reject or even to amend this Bill, for reasons which I have already explained. But we regard this measure as one that reflects very little credit upon either the Government or the Labour majority in the House of Commons, and I believe that it will be rightly reprehended by all those who hold the high reputation of Parliament dear.
§ 3.28 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, we on these Benches do not differ in any material way from the general approach indicated by the noble Marquess to the discussion of this Bill in your Lordships' House. We recognise that the proper distribution of Parliamentary constituencies and the due regulation of the electoral machinery are a matter for another place, and that it would be inappropriate for your Lordships' House either to 305 reject the Bill or, indeed, to amend it in any substantive sense. But we desire to express—and, if I may say so, not lightheartedly—our regret (it would be an exaggeration to say our disappointment) that the opportunity has again been missed to make such an alteration in the voting system in this country, either by way of proportional representation, the single transferable vote or otherwise, as would ensure that the composition of another place more accurately represented the view of the electorate expressed at the polls than it does under the existing system. Perhaps we are not altogether surprised that no provision to that effect appears in the Bill. After all, the highest that we Liberals can now aspire to be is to have a status equal to vermin—for noble Lords on my Left are now proclaimed to be lower than vermin. At the risk of irrelevance, I would beg leave to interject that I have never, in a good many years of reading and listening to speeches, read a more deplorable speech than that made by the Minister of Health and reported in this morning's papers.
The fact that we do not propose to criticise the individual provisions of this Bill does not, in our view, in any way inhibit us from expressing some views upon the circumstances surrounding its introduction, with which the noble Marquess has already dealt. It so happens that I heard the greater part of the Third Reading debate in another place. When the debate on the Amendment moved by the Opposition for the rejection of the Bill began, I confess that I had it in my mind that the Amendment was perhaps founded rather upon a tactical than upon an ethical basis; but as the debate went on I came, quite objectively, to the conclusion that the main charge had been made out, although the indictment was perhaps drafted in somewhat flamboyant language. Three points seem to me to emerge in connection with this particular controversy.
The first is that this was not just a casual conference, or a conference presided over by some outside person; it was a Speaker's Conference, with all the prestige that attaches to a Conference over which Mr. Speaker consents to preside in person, and with the presumed status of the representatives of the various Parties selected to attend a Conference on that level. The second salient point is that 306 the recommendations of that Conference, upon which members of all main Parties served, were unanimous. And the third point—a highly important point—is that that Conference took place in 1944. In 1944 it was reasonably evident that the War was coming to a close. It was equally obvious that with the end of the War there would in all probability be a break-up of the National Government and the substitution for it of a purely Party Government of one Parry or another. It was, therefore, surely in the contemplation of the representatives of all Parties attending that Conference that, even if it were possible—unlikely as it might have been—to introduce legislation to deal with some part of the recommendations of that Conference, it would be quite impracticable, while the War went on, to deal with so voluminous a range of matters as are incorporated in the Bill now before us.
It is said now that the decision of one Parliament is not binding upon its successor I do not propose to argue that point at any particular length, except to remark in passing that that doctrine does not altogether enhance our confidence in the assurances which are constantly given us in this House, when we take exception to the very wide powers for which Ministers are asking in Bills, that those excessive power will never be used to excess. I cannot help thinking that those who were present at that Conference, bearing in mind the date on which it was held, bearing in mind the probability of an entirely different set of circumstances supervening in a short space of time, must have had it in mind that the obligations into which they were entering were not confined to the duration of that Parliament but would carry over into the future. I find it difficult to believe if the result of the subsequent Election had been different from what it was—provided always that the Socialists saw some advantage to themselves in the result of that Conference—there would not have been raised a universal shout that the other Party—whichever of the two other Parties might have been in power—were jettisoning for purely partisan advantage an agreement freely arrived at by the consensus of Members of all Parties.
If I may say so respectfully, I am afraid this is one more instance in which Ministers fail to remember that they are a Government and not a governess. They 307 are very fond of going about the country delivering harangues upon the high standards and lofty ideals of public life, but at the first remote muffled peal of thunder on the Left they drop all their protestations and scuttle for shelter. We had an instance of this, of a minor character, the other day in the Law Reform (Personal Injuries) Bill, in which, quite obviously as a result of internal pressure, they had changed the whole of one important clause. Here in quick succession is another example. It is true that the Government in power are not the Government which were in power at that time. But it is also true that the leading Ministers of the present Government were members of that previous Government, and that certain Ministers now holding office in the Government were actually representatives of their Party upon the Speaker's Conference. That being so, what are the considerations which have led those representatives, who arrived at unanimous conclusions, to change their views? The same factors, surely, apply now as applied then. If these recommendations were right then, they are right now; and if they are right now, they ought not to be abandoned merely because the Government are frightened of their own Shadow Cabinet.
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MARGESSON
My Lords, as I was a member of the Conference presided over by Mr. Speaker, I hope your Lordships will allow me to say a word or two this afternoon on this subject. This is the first occasion on which I have had the privilege of making a speech in your Lordships' House. When I was Chief Whip in another place, new Members about to make their maiden speeches would come and ask me, as an old friend and counsellor, for some advice. I always said: "There are three things you must observe. First, crave the indulgence of the House, because no matter how well you may speak there are others who can speak far better than you can." That, my Lords, is what I do to-day; I crave the indulgence of your Lordships' House. Secondly, I used to say to those new Members: "There are many people who spoil their speeches by going on for too long." I assure your Lordships that I shall be brief.
308 Thirdly, I would say: "Try to avoid matters of sharp controversy." There I am afraid that I cannot follow the good advice that I gave to others, because the matter under discussion to-day is a matter of some considerable controversy. I find myself in this slightly awkward position: that my noble friend and leader, Lord Salisbury, and the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, have covered the case, from my point of view, so amply and so much better than I could that comparatively little remains to be said. I agree entirely with what my predecessors have recently said.
However, I ought perhaps to say one or two words upon the abolition of the university constituencies. I am not going to argue the merits of that proposal, although I am absolutely convinced that a very strong case indeed can be made for the retention of the university franchise. But I am going to argue as to whether it is seemly and right, in view of Mr. Speaker's Conference and of what has happened since, that these proposals should be made at this particular point. If everyone is in agreement, there is no need at all for a Conference, for there is nothing to confer about. It is just because there were differences at the time inside the Coalition Government that a Conference was called together to see whether, by good will and by a spirit of give and take, those differences could be ironed out and agreement reached. From the point of view of the Party to which I belong, it would have been perfectly easy for us to go to that Conference and voted for everything we liked and against everything we disliked, and let the matter rest there. But what would have happened to the Conference? There would have been no Conference at all. It would have ended in stalemate; it would have ended in failure, just like the Conference which was presided over by Lord Ullswater in 1930. That Conference came to an end because all the points put to it were voted upon on purely Party lines.
Believing, as I do, that the success of a Conference depends, to a large extent, upon the amount of ground work that is done behind the scenes before the Conference meets in full session, I was very glad to have some informal conversations with the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence—who, incidentally, I am sorry to hear cannot be present to-day—to see 309 if we could resolve some of the difficulties which were bound to come up in front of the Conference, I have known the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, for a number of years. We were colleagues together in another place. We have been friends for a long time. I have always found him to be a most reasonable and fair-minded man, a man of whom one can say that his word is as good as his bond. I simply cannot believe that the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, is happy about what is being done to-day. Knowing the noble Lord and the conversations which I had had with him across the floor of the House in another place, it came as no surprise to me that we were able to agree without much difficulty on the main points that divided us. It was, therefore, agreed that I should recommend to my Party that the Parliamentary and local government franchise should be assimilated, and that he would recommend to his Party the retention of the university constituencies and some other proposals dealing with the business vote.
When those matters came before the full Conference, they were agreed to without a Division; there was no controversy over it at all. Indeed, I do not now recall any Labour representative or Independent raising his or her voice in a contrary sense. There were long debates and sharp differences over other points. There was a great deal of controversy and, by looking at the White Paper, it will be readily seen that Divisions took place upon those subjects. But on this matter of the universities—No; there agreement reigned. We had at that Conference people of such Left. Wing opinions as the late Mr. Maxton and Mr. D. N. Pritt, Members who were not afraid to say: "It is all right for you people; you can agree upon this, but I do not." So far as I can remember, the Conference was unanimous in passing this recommendation that university representation should be maintained.
Furthermore, I do not recall any member of the Speaker's Conference saying: "This agreement to which we have come is only of a temporary nature and will last only up to the next General Election." I do not remember it. Therefore, I am entitled to say—and this point was made very clearly by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading—that, in the opinion of those who took part in that Conference, the agreement to which we came was an 310 agreement that was going to stand, at any rate for some time. Whilst I fully agree that no Conference, however authoritative and however weighty, can bind Parliament, yet I do say that there is such a thing as fair play and honest dealing. It is only by strictly observing these rules that politicians can avoid being dubbed "tricky." Outside, it is a common thing for people to say, "Yes—tricky politicians." I deny that absolutely. But I do say that unless we observe the rules of fair play and honest dealing, that term of "tricky" does bear some weight. In this case, I am bound o say that I think that the Government have been tricky. I think that they have, if I may use a term which is not perhaps quite appropriate to this House, been a bit "hot." They have not fulfilled their side of the agreement, whereas our side of it was fulfilled in December, 1944, when the Parliamentary and municipal franchises were assimilated and became the law of the land. So the Government have done all the taking and refuse now to do any of the giving.
Do they really think that they would have got the assimilation of the two franchises through the Cabinet in 1944 if they had said quite frankly at that time: "If we win the forthcoming General Election, we shall throw over the Speakers Conference and do away with the university seats"? Never: If that had been made perfectly clear to the Coalition Cabinet in 1944, I do not believe that that provision would have been agreed to. I know that there was a great deal of hostility amongst my friends and supporters on account of our having agreed to the assimilation of the two franchises. It was considered to be something of most doubtful merit. But we were prepared to agree in general to the all-round basis of the agreement reached under the chairmanship of Mr. Speaker. If, however, it had been said: "No university seats are going to remain," I do not believe for one moment that agreement would have been reached in the Cabinet.
Suppose the situation were reversed; that we, the Conservatives, had won the General Election of 1945, and that we had brought in a Bill to disfranchise 7,000,000 municipal voters, what would have happened? A howl would have gone up from the Socialist ranks and, in my view, 311 that howl would have been justified. We should have been called "dishonourable"; we should have been called "untrustworthy"; we should have been called "cheats." It would have been said: "What can you expect from the gentlemen of England?" All the old sneers that I have heard so often in the other place would have been trotted out again, with increased vehemence. The only difference would have been that on this occasion the sneers and gibes would have been justified. If my Party had acted in such a way as that and if I had been in office, I should most certainly have resigned, rather than serve a Government that acted so shabbily. Had I been a Back Bencher I would have come to your Lordships' House and repudiated my Party by speech and by vote. I feel that that is the action I would have been called upon to adopt by reason of the breaking of the agreements that had been come to in Mr. Speaker's Conference.
I noticed the other day in The Times a report of a speech by Mr. McNeil, the Minister of State, who was speaking at Greenock with reference to the situation in Berlin. He used words which struck my eye as being relevant to what we are discussing to-day. He said:When we make bargains, we make them to keep them. We expect other Powers to do the same, and we will not yield upon this.My Lords, I commend that doctrine to the present Socialist leaders and to all their followers.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I consider it a great privilege to follow the noble Viscount to whom we have just listened, and I am sure I am speaking for as your Lordships when I say that, whatever we may think about the subject matter of the speech, we shall be pleased to listen to him again because he speaks with such sincerity. This subject to-day is one with which I have been closely connected over many years. During the past year or two, it has been a pleasure to me to be a member of various Committees appointed by Governments to consider a reform of the franchise—a pleasure increased because of the fact that, in addition to myself as the chief agent of the Labour Party, there were present on those Committees the principal agents of the other Parties; and on their 312 behalf I would like to say that, whatever may be the faults of some parts of this Bill, the Bill in its main features provides a basis for settlements reached during our discussions. During the work of those Committees I have been particularly friendly with Sir Robert Topping, who was the principal agent of the Conservative Party. In matters of politics we have been friendly rivals, but in matters of detail, in technical subjects, we have approached our problems as fellow craftsmen and it has not been in the least difficult to reach conclusions about them. I think it is as well, if this Bill goes through your Lordships' House, that we should think not only of what we owe to leaders and to Members of Parliament but of what we owe to the artisans of Party politics who, in the main, have to remain behind the scenes.
The first thing I did, on looking at this measure, was not to read the first few clauses but to look at the schedules at the end of the Bill. I was anxious to know what particular measures which have guided our work in the past are to swept off the Statue Book, and I was agreeably surprised to see that a large number were to 'be dealt with in that way. However, I do not think that, when the schedules have gone through, the law of elections will be as simple at it ought to be. Indeed the Committees of which I have been a member have urged that after the passing of the present Bill there should be introduced a consolidation Bill which would make the law relating to elections mote easily understood by those who desired to use it. It must be remembered that whereas few lawyers give time and attention to this side of the law, no measures that go through Parliament receive such close attention from the rank and file of the great political Parties.
I propose to deal in a moment with one or two of the points raised in the discussion, but before I do so there are two other points I would like to discuss. I would like, if I may, to issue a word of warning about absent voting, about the use of the proxy and of the postal vote. If I had been at the Home Office and I had been responsible for this Bill, I would have lent my influence towards a reduction in both matters. First of all, I have not been able to convince myself that a proxy vote, or the nomination by a 313 soldier, of a proxy elector, does in fact mean exercising a soldier's vote; it is not a direct vote by the soldier on the issues of the day. To my mind, the proxy elector is a new form of plural voter, and if we remember that some of the principal features of this Bill are to wipe plural voting off the Statute Book, we must remind ourselves that, when the business vote has gone and the university franchise is no more, there will remain upon the electoral registers a substantial number of plural voters, voting as proxies. The postal vote can be a grave danger to us. Before 1872, in elections in this country corruption was rife. Many attempts were made to break down those features of the electoral system, but it was only when the Ballot Act of that year was carried into effect that we began to put a stop to corruption and bribery as it had previously existed. A man who bribes an elector is anxious to buy something that the elector has. So long as his bargain can be brought home to him he will continue to bribe; but if, because of the secrecy of the ballot, he can never be certain what takes place in the polling booth, he must always be in doubt whether he has had his money's worth. Since 1872 that feature of our electoral system has been almost entirely killed.
Now we come to the matter of the postal vote. An elector receives, say, an envelope in which there is a ballot paper and a certificate of identity. Someone approaches him and offers a sum of money for the ballot paper after it has been completed and after the identity form has been filled in. They are both then enclosed in the envelope and the envelope is handed to the person who tenders the bribe. That means that the briber has not only paid his money for a vote but has the value of the vote in his own hands. I am not going to suggest that there has been a great deal of bribery in recent years, in connection with the postal vote, but I think noble Lords will realise the possibilities that exist; and, they will, I am sure, take great care not to extend absent voting with postal voting so as to bring back into British politics the bribery and corruption which were formerly known.
I wish now to refer to one feature of plural voting to which little or no attention has so far been given. When speaking of plural voting we have been thinking 314 more especially of the business vote. I want to say a word or two about the university vote. It is sometimes claimed—indeed it has been claimed in your Lordships' House to-day—that the university constituencies provide a means by which distinguished men of peculiar attributes can reach Parliament. If it could be said with truth that such men could not reach Parliament by any other means, there might be a case for the continuance of these seals. But it would be untrue to ay that the only independent men, the only distinguished men, who have been in the House of Commons during the past fifty or sixty years have been those who have been elected for university seats.
There is another point, however, and I think that we ought to be more concerned about this than about the representation of these constituencies. A second vote is given to those in possession of a degree. This degree is conferred upon a man or a woman at about the age of twenty-one, not because they have made any special contribution to the well-being of the country, not because they possess great knowledge and experience, but simply because they have succeeded in passing an examination at a university. Millions of people in our country, before reaching middle life, have not only made far greater contributions to the country's welfare than the man who merely wins a degree but have gained knowledge and experience which university students, even with first-class degrees, cannot obtain or possess so early in life. Yet, in order that we may have university seats, we have a university franchise which confers a second vote upon a man or woman long before it has been earned by services to the State.
The noble Marquess made some reference to the subject of redistribution, and he also made a reference to myself. It was, I think, very highly coloured.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If I may say so, I did not make any reference to the noble Lord—certainly I did not intend to do so. I think I spoke of "the noble Lord's successors." I believe those were the words I used. I certainly would not wish to make any animadversion upon the noble Lord.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I thought the noble Marquess's statement was rather highly coloured, and rather amusing. It is a pity that it was not true. Parties do 315 not work in the way the noble Marquess described. If the suggestion is that some of the faults committed by this Government, or some of the errors contained in the Bill, are due to the intervention of either myself or my successors I want to give a categorical denial at once. We have our own views, of course, and we can express them in our Party conferences. We can make representations if we so desire; and we can discuss these matters in our executive committees if we wish to do so. But the members of the Labour Party, whether in Parliament or serving on the Speaker's Conference or other Committees concerned with this matter, are just as free and independent as the members of other Parties. It is just as well that we should understand that, because it has been said on more than one occasion that this Government would have carried through a supposed agreement of the Speaker's Conference if the Government had been left to themselves. It has even been suggested that the only reason why the agreement was not kept was that pressure was brought to bear from outside. That is quite wrong. It ought to be stated that we, on our part, have some right to resent such a suggestion.
The noble Marquess who sits on the Liberal Benches addressed your Lordships in his usual manner, and the result of his remarks was to cast doubt upon the honour and integrity of the Labour Party. The noble Marquess and the Liberal Party which he represents do not wish the Labour Party to carry through their work under certain conditions. For instance, they have objected to the Labour Party introducing through this Government, a Bill which is designed amongst other things, to do away with the university seats; and because that has been done, they suggest that we ought not to run candidates for the constituencies in question. I want to say to the noble Marquess, as I say to any member of your Lordships' House, that if there is an Election, whether we like the existence of the seats or not, we are going to fight those seats, because that is the only way in which we can try conclusions with our political opponents.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
I am obliged to the noble Lord for his reproof, 316 but I said nothing in the nature of what he has just attributed to me.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I beg the noble Marquess's pardon. I am very sorry, and I do express my regret to him. But I want to repeat to the noble Marquess who sits on the front Conservative Bench, and who made the remarks, that whether we agree with the principle of university seats or not, if there is an Electon we shall take advantage of them in order to fight our political opponents upon the issues of the day.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not wish there to be any misunderstanding about this. I quite see that on this question differing views can be held. There may well be those, like the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, who hold the view that so long as there are university seats, even if you do not believe in the existence of such seats and do not think that any of the voters ought to be entitled to vote, nevertheless you are entitled to stand and get yourself elected by them if you can. That is the view taken by the Lord Chancellor. I do not take that view. I, personally, would not feel justified in standing for a seat in Parliament, if I felt that none of the electors in the constituency ought to have a vote. I should feel that to do so would be contrary to my convictions. I still hold that view. I should feel very much embarrassed if I were asked to take the sort of view which is put forward by the noble Lord. No doubt there may be two views about this. But to say that you propose to stand for a seat when, in your heart of hearts, you feel that there ought not to be such a seat, and that none of the electors ought to have a vote, is the sort of thing that I should find it impossible to do.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
The noble Marquess must, of course, make up his own mind on this question. I am certain of this, that in all types of constituency in future, there will be Conservative and Labour candidates fighting on the programme of their Parties, whether they like the seats or whether they do not.
The noble Marquess on the Front Liberal Bench did denounce the Labour Party because of certain features of the Bill. He said the Labour Party were bound by the agreements of the Speaker's Conference. Well, if one assumed that 317 the Labour Party had been remiss on these matters, why should the Liberal Party follow their example? During the Speaker's Conference there was mention of P.R. and the alternative vote. Neither of those subjects was contained in the agreement finally reached. Although agreement could not be obtained upon them, they were subjects of the Speaker's Conference and as the Liberal Party were bound by the Speaker's Conference I should like to know why, when this Bill went through the House of Commons, the Liberal Members put down Amendments to the Bill in favour both of P.R. and of the alternative vote. Liberals cannot have it all ways. If the Speaker's Conference binds the Labour Party, it also binds the Liberal Party. We have as much right to claim liberty in this matter as our friends the Liberals.
One other point before I sit down. The Bill before us contains a good many things which, had they been discussed in Committee, would have afforded us an opportunity of reviewing the whole electoral system of the country, but as this is not likely to be, I would like to finish by making an appeal—this time to the Government. The appeal is made on the subject of election petitions. The Carr Committee decided to recommend to the Government that the law on election petitions should be altered because the present law had come to a dead end. No political Party now had enough money to undertake the expense of election petitions. The Government decided that they could not proceed with this subject in this Bill, but proposed to reserve it for a future occasion. I hope they will remember that, because I was not the only politician in favour of amending these laws. My opposite numbers of all political Parties, after consultations within their own ranks, were agreed on the matter. Therefore, I hope we may have some assurance from the Minister, either now or before we leave the Bill, that at some stage in the very near future, the law on election petitions will be brought up to date in order that the purity of our elections may be maintained.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ LORD MACDERMOTT
My Lords, I would offer, if I may, one or two observations on that part of this measure 318 which proposes to abolish university constituencies, and I would offer these observations with particular regard to the university of which I am a graduate and on the Senate of which I have the honour to serve—I refer to Queen's University, Belfast. I propose to speak briefly for two reasons. First of all, it is becoming that one who has not had the privilege of addressing your Lordships before should be brief and, if he can, to the point. Secondly, as one rising from the Cross-Benches and ordinarily serving this House in a judicial capacity, I want to avoid the controversies which have arisen both as regards the history of this measure and the principle on which so much of it turns—namely, the principle of "One man, one vote." That is a principle on which reasonable men may take different views, but I propose to assume that it is a principle which is deserving of the highest respect and nothing should be contained in the Bill which would do it a real injury.
But the question still remains whether, in order to preserve that principle, one has to sweep away every anomaly which may stand in its path and perpetuate an absolute uniformity. I venture to think that the retention of university constituencies would not imperil the principle of "One man, one vote" in the least. References have already been made to the fact that this interesting Constitution of ours already contains many anomalies. I am sure I shall be forgiven if I refer to the classic instance represented by the office of the Lord High Chancellor. Everyone agrees that good government means the separation of executive and judicial functions. Every visitor to our shores who studies our Constitution at once remarks on the circumstance that the head of the Judiciary is a member of the Government of the day. No one would suggest now that the principle is injured by that circumstance, and I do not think anyone to-day would propose that the situation should be changed. And I am quite certain that, if it were, as conditions stand the loss would be great and the gain imaginary. I venture to Biggest to noble Lords who represent His Majesty's Government that if university representation is allowed to remain, it may well be the exception which proves the rule, represented by the principle of "One man, one vote."
319 On this general issue one has to remember that to-day, as never before, the universities are faced with an enormous task and with great responsibilities; that to-day, as never before, their activities mean more to the community as a whole; that to carry out those responsibilities, universities have an income which is increasingly provided, I believe, from public funds; and that they also are the custodians of a unique and very precious liberty which everyone agrees is essential for good education. It would seem to be fitting that the custodians of that liberty should have representatives in the councils of the State, who may be called to account for their stewardship and who may be able, if necessary, to protect the liberty of which they are the custodians. I do not suggest for a moment that the present Government want to curtail that liberty or that they have anything other than good will for the universities; but we are legislating for the future, and I suggest that it is not unfitting that in another place representation should be found for those who guard such liberty.
I would like to add a special point which has reference only to my own university. It raises a principle which I doubt if the Government considered but which I think is worthy to be regarded in considering how far the principle of "One man, one vote" is to be carried. The point arises in this way. Before 1920, Queen's University had one representative in this Parliament. It was then, as it is now, the only university in Northern Ireland. When the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, was passed, that representation was continued. As your Lordships are aware, that Act represented a constitutional settlement which, though not greeted with enthusiasm in any quarter, was accepted by Northern Ireland and has since been operated. When the settlement was being worked out, it was necessary to do two things. It was necessary to delimit the powers of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, and to provide for representation in this Parliament in respect of a realm which was still in the exclusive jurisdiction of this Parliament. In the course of arranging that representation, the representatives from Northern Ireland were reduced by about 50 per cent. and were fixed at twelve from ordinary constituencies and one from the one university constituency. It 320 is quite clear from the Government of Ireland Act that there was good reason for that decision, because that Act provided that the privileges, rights and immunities of Queen's University should not be touched by the Parliament of Northern Ireland without the consent of the university. So in 1920 the University of Belfast was left with a voice in the only Parliament which, without its consent, could affect its rights.
I think it is a generally accepted principle of practice that a constitutional settlement, once effected, should not be lightly disturbed in the absence of consent. I do not suggest for a moment that circumstances may not arise in which it will be necessary to change a constitution of that kind. Time may bring alterations; there may be some grave change in circumstance. But I think it is generally recognised that, in the absence of any such factors, what has been settled should be left alone, unless there is a desire and an agreement for its change. The Government of Ireland Act, in so far as it affects Northern Ireland, has been changed on a number of occasions, but always with consent, and always after a full exchange of views. This Bill, I think for the first time, proposes an alteration in the basis of the settlement which has not the consent of the body most concerned.
I do not want to exaggerate the effect of this measure on that settlement if it is passed into law. There will be no cataclysm; there will be no alteration, I am sure, in the friendly relations which have always existed between the University of Belfast and the Government and Parliament of Northern Ireland. But this is not a case in which there has been any change at all; this is not a case in which any unusual circumstance has arisen. What is really happening is that this Bill is saying that the settlement of 1920 should be altered, not on account of something which has happened since, but because when that settlement was made it should have been different. I venture to suggest that that is a very dangerous precedent which, if accepted, may have repercussions far beyond the part of the United Kingdom with which I am most concerned. I would suggest that there is there a principle which must be considered face to face with the principle of "One man, one vote." That principle has been meticulously recognised and 321 observed by this Government and by their predecessors. So far as I am aware, this is the first time that there has been any suggestion that the settlement of 1920 should be altered without any change of circumstance and without consent. I would ask His Majesty's Government to consider this matter fully before they embark on a change of such a sweeping character, which would take away that right which has existed since Northern Ireland was constituted as a separate State, a right which is greatly valued by the university which on this occasion I have the honour to represent.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, it falls to my happy lot this afternoon to congratulate the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down on the maiden speech which he has just delivered in your Lordships' House. I am sure I have the support of all your Lordships in saying how delighted we have been to hear him. The noble and learned Lord, if I may say so, an absolutely true to the Ulster tradition of standing up for the rights of that very gallant and energetic part of the United Kingdom. While I am talking of maiden speeches, perhaps I may be allowed, also, to congratulate my noble friend Lord Margesson, under whom I first served in the Whips' Office in the House of Commons, on what Lord Shepherd has rightly described as an extremely sincere speech. We are all very glad that he has taken part in this debate, for he was actively concerned in the Speaker's Conference.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, made some interesting observations, both about the postal vote and about the proxy vote. If I may say so, I agree with him that the Service man's proxy does, in fact, mean giving somebody a plural vote. I quite see the possible disadvantage of any great extension of the postal vote facilities, for the very reasons which the noble Lord gave. I thought he was on less sure ground when he was attacking the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, about proportional representation. The difference between what happened at the Speaker's Conference on proportional representation and the university vote was that there was complete agreement on the maintenance of the university seats, whereas there was a division about proportional representation, which was carried against the four members of the little group who voted 322 for it. That puts the university vote into a completely different category from the proposal in regard to proportional representation which, as we have heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Margesson, this afternoon, was one of agreement between the parties—a "give and take" between them—as indicated by the unanimous report they made on those particular items.
The noble Lord entered into the conflict about standing for university constituencies. He said that Labour candidates would continue to stand, if there were in future—as there certainly will be—university constituencies, although it has long been a principle of that Party to abolish those constituencies. If that has been the principle of the Labour Party, it may in some way account for the fact—which seems to be a matter of complaint in the Labour Party—that there have been no Labour Members returned from the universities. Obviously, if it is a principle of your Party to abolish that type of constituency, and you are an advocate of that principle, it is not very likely that the electors will return you as their Member of Parliament. On this matter of the university constituencies, I very much deplore the action that the Government have taken. I agree with the noble Lord that not every good man who sat in the House of Commons came through a university constituency—of course not. I can name a large number on both sides of the present House of Commons, or of the House at the time when we were there ourselves, who did not. I was never returned for a university constituency myself—not that I say I am a great man; but I certainly would not put it forward on that ground. But it does enable a certain number of extremely good persons to have a seat in the House of Commons. I take a man for whom everybody who has worked with him, or who knows him, has the greatest possible respect—the Right Honourable Sir John Anderson.
It is not for me to express that opinion. As has been pointed out already to-day, I no longer have a vote for any Parliamentary seat in the country. I should think that a 323 sensible constituency would be likely to return Sir John Anderson. On the other hand, Sir John Anderson has a large number of other things to do; for instance, he is Chairman of the Port of London Authority, and has other very responsible positions. He is the kind of man who probably—I have not consulted him about this—has not the time to attend to the large number of duties that a Member for an ordinary constituency has to perform. In that matter, although he is not in the organisation of a Party, perhaps he is a better man than the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd——
§ LORD SHEPHERD
Would the noble Lord agree that Sir John Anderson is not the only man of that quality at present sitting in the House of Commons as representative of an ordinary constituency?
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
As my noble friend behind me says, he sits as an Independent Member, and in the Coalition Government he was always an Independent Member. In the times when I was working for him one certainly could not rely upon him to take the Party view—not that many of us in that Government ever did, I am glad to say. But there are a number of people who, through the ages, have entered the House of Commons through university seats. I would only say two things on this. First, the abolishing of these university seats will be a loss to the House of Commons. I think it is a complete repudiation of an agreement that was made; and it seems to me that this means that we have had the last Speaker's Conference ever. It means that the Party who are at present in power have taken steps without the preliminary of a Speaker's Conference, and there is no reason why some other Party, when they return to power, should not take other measures without any such preliminary as we used to think was a proper prerequisite for action of this sort. I deplore the loss of the university seats because it seems to minimise the importance which Parliament places upon a good education in our universities, and I think that that is a bad thing. I deplore, equally, the loss of the franchise for the 324 City of London and for the same reasons. That again is going back on agreements reached, and at a time when we ought to do all we can to maintain our financial and economic position in the world. It shows the world that Parliament and the present Government are minimising the position of the City of London.
I do not want to say much more about that. I am glad the noble and learned Viscount is on the Woolsack, because I want to read the whole of a remark that he made in this House of October 21 of last year. It is true that he was replying to a passage in the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in which he had been discussing whether anything was to be done about proportional representation or the alternative vote. The Lord Chancellor said this:The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, asked me a question about the phrase: 'to reform the franchise and electoral procedure.' He will not be surprised, and I hope not unduly disappointed, if I tell him that that does not mean that we propose to introduce proportional representation.I agree that a person like myself would recognise that that was said in—I would not say a lighthearted manner, which is the phrase the Lord Chancellor used, but perhaps, after what we have heard from the Lord President, a better term is a 'bantering' manner. The Lord Chancellor goes on to say what it does refer to. He said:It does refer to a Bill to be introduced, which will contain provisions for the electoral reform arising out of the recommendations of the Committee of Electoral Registration, the Speaker's Conference and the Committee on Electoral Law Reform. If, as I fully expect, the noble Viscount is familiar with all the proceedings in those Committees, which I am not, he will know precisely what the Bill is going to do.I have so much respect for the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack that I do not believe that at that time he knew the Bill would contain provision for the abolition of the university seats; otherwise, I think he would have told us so. I do not believe that at that time the Government had made up their mind; otherwise the noble and learned Viscount would have been quite frank with the House and told us so.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
That is quite right. I do not think I had this matter in my mind at all. I agree that the adverb I used was most unfortunate, 325 but as one has a great many speeches to make on a great many topics, one would be very lucky if one did not sometimes make unfortunate remarks.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
I did not say that it was an unfortunate remark at all. But we all, rather naturally, took it at that time that the Government intended to implement the recommendations of those three Committees—including the Speaker's Conference—and that at that time they had not decided to abolish the university seats. I do not believe they had, otherwise the Lord Chancellor would have known about it and would have told us about it. The comment we make, that this was a later decision, is rather borne out by the Lord Chancellor's remarks on that occasion.
Before I sit down I want to say one thing about the new provision in regard to the use of motor cars. This is quite obviously a restrictive provision. The election agent will be able to hire a certain number of motor cars, which was not possible before; but apart from that it will restrict people from putting their cars at the disposal of a political Party to take their supporters to the poll. That is rather reminiscent of some of the things we have seen going on in Eastern Europe. The first thing that happens is to make it more difficult for your opponents to get to the poll. The second step is to have only one list of candidates for whom the electors can vote. We have not yet reached that stage in this country. But obviously the feeling is that there is an advantage to the Conservative Party in having more cars at their disposal, so that they may be able not only to convey electors to the poll but also perhaps to "show the flag" around the constituency. The feeling seems to be that the Conservatives have a greater advantage in this matter than their opponents.
Let us remember, however, that this is the first time in the history of this country that legislation has been brought in which has the effect of making it more difficult for people to get to the poll. That is what this provision is going to do; and this will be the first Government to introduce a provision of this kind. It is quite true that we are to have more polling stations—and I am glad that we are—but we could have had them and still had the use of any motor cars that 326 might be available. It looks as if the Government are saying, in effect, that rather than that the electors should be given a lift in a car and helped to the poll, they should be given to understand that their votes are not wanted.
It is quite clear why this originated. There are certain respects in which the Labour Party have political advantages over the Conservative Party. There is a considerable advantage, for instance, in being able to collect political funds through the trade union machine; and it is possible that there are other matters which may later on follow the same lines. I am therefore very sorry that in these matters the Government have departed from the agreement made at the Speaker's Conference and have introduced such matters as this one about motor cars. They have obviously been put into the Bill entirely for the advantage of the political Party in power at the moment. Most of the Bill tends to clear up electoral difficulties and it contains much on which we are all agreed. It is because these other things have been tacked on that I at any rate think it was not, as has been said, an honour for the noble Viscount the Leader of the House to introduce this Bill—although it may have been his duty.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, I shall take up very little of your time, because so many of the important points of this Bill have already been dealt with by previous speakers. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, referred to the City of London, and pointed out how grievously it feels the taking away of its Members. On the other hand, in the City of Westminster in which I reside, and in which the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who is chairman of one part of the Conservative Association there, takes such an interest, I am glad to say that though we are not satisfied we think the Bill is much better than the original proposals. As regards Chelsea, I believe the people in Chelsea, too, are more satisfied. This is, not to say, however, that we are content. I do not want to elaborate this point because it has been made over and over again in both Houses of Parliament. All I would say is that this measure is a pis aller.
There is, however, another point to which I do not think anybody has called your Lordships' attention, and that 327 concerns London County Council representation. As noble Lords will be aware, in every electoral division there are now to be three members of the London County Council instead of two. How does that work out in the City of London and the City of Westminster? At the present moment they have eight members of the London County Council. When the Bill comes into operation they will have only three, because there is to be only one Member of Parliament for the two Cities of London and Westminster. I think that would be rather hard. I know that for the London County Council election there are statutory requirements to take into account as regards the various differences of rateable value; but the fact remains that there is an enormous difference between the Cities of London and Westminster and the rest of London. Those two Cities are responsible for £16,000,000 out of the £54,000,000 total rateable value of London.
Now let me turn to the electorate for a moment. The number of electors whom these three gentlemen will have to represent is colossal. I think there are nearly 80,000 electors on the local government list. How can those three representatives tackle all the intricate questions which will arise, especially from the business centres? The two Cities are putting forward a claim for six members instead of three. They quite realise that they cannot have all they want—namely, the original eight members—but, as I have shown, the disparity in both rateable value and in the number of electors is enormous. This number of 80,000, or, to be more exact, nearly 90,000 electors, compares with an average electorate in other districts of 55,000. It will be a tremendous job for anybody who represents those two places. Therefore, I hope that some consideration will be given to the humble request from the two Cities that they should have more members allotted to them. It will be an almost impossible job under this representation for the members of these two Cities to cope with the letters they will receive. Will the noble Lord consider that when he comes to deal with this point?
§ LORD AMMON
I wonder if the noble Lord will tell me how he makes up the 80,000 voters in Westminster and the City? There are only 5,000 in the City.
§ LORD JESSEL
I am talking about local government. It is so. The number is 12,000 alone for the City. I think you will find that I am correct when you come to analyse my figures. It was an official statement that was presented to the Home Secretary. I am sure that my two figures are correct on addition. That is all I have to say. The matter arises later in the Bill. I thought it only right to adumbrate this point so as to bring out the very big discrepancies that exist. It will be quite an impossible job for the gentlemen who are elected for both Cities.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
My Lords, when the noble Lord opposite replies to the debate, I hope that he will not talk about "One man, one vote," as the noble Viscount the Leader of the House did, but will say "One citizen, one vote," because there are women concerned in the matter.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I am quite well aware of that. That is a common expression that takes in both sexes.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
I wish to add a few words about the university seats. Of course, everybody agrees that there are no restrictions upon Parliament's powers. That is not the question here at all. As I see it, the point is this. A proposal to Parliament is made by His Majesty's Ministers in this Bill. Some of those Ministers, to say the least of it, were deeply involved in the Speaker's Conference. The question is, whether in the circumstances they are really justified in making the proposal which they do make about university seats. Going back some way, I recall that I criticised the university vote, when the university electorate consisted (as it did some thirty-five years ago) of nothing except M.A.s who kept their names on the books. That was the old qualification of a university voter. In substance, that amounted to this: that, apart from certain teachers in a university, the electorate, to a vastly preponderant extent, consisted of clergymen who kept their names on the books because, as members of this or that college, they there by might have a better chance of being given a university living, if the occasion arose.
All that was changed by the earlier Speaker's Conference, of which I was a member. The Representation of the 329 People Act, 1918, provides (in those days it affected only men; women came in later) that:A man shall be entitled to be registered as a parliamentary elector for a university constituency if he is of full age and not subject to any legal incapacity, and has received a degree (other than an honorary degree) at any university…"—and so on. To-day, of course, the electors for a university seat are not some select body of M.A.s who, for whatever reason, have kept their names on the books by continuing to pay a small fee; they are, in fact, everybody who has a B.A. degree or any other degree in the university. When you add to that the fact (and it is one which satisfies us all) that those who go to the universities come from a much wider range of homes—indeed, in the university which I know best the majority to-day come from elementary or secondary schools—then I do think that the university electorate, as they are now, form a valuable and fair cross-section of the community, taken as a whole.
It seems to me, having read these papers with all the care that I can and with as little prejudice as I can, that the case is clearly made out for saying that, in the circumstances which now exist, it is not right for the Government to present to Parliament and endeavour to carry through a Bill which abolishes university constituencies. I say so frankly and firmly, and I have four reasons, which I will state briefly. The first is that this was an all-Party Conference, proposed in the year 1944 when Parliament had only another year to run, to be presided over by the Speaker. It is quite obvious to anybody who looks at it fairly that in an all-Party Conference of that sort, proposals, if agreed, are intended to have a certain measure of permanency. To suggest that it was a Conference for the "fag end" of a particular Parliament until there was a General Election, is to suggest something which I think few people sincerely considering the matter will feel able to accept.
The second reason is shown quite clearly in the Report of the Speaker's Conference, which I have here. It includes a number of unanimous recommendations, some of which could not possibly be carried out before the General Election 330 and which would be quite useless if regarded as limited to the life of that Parliament. You could not have the elaborate arrangements which were proposed far revising the boundaries of constituencies and redistributing the electorate, and do the whole thing within matter of a year. Nobody ever imagined such a thing. It is, therefore, quite obvious, from the character of the Report and that unanimous recommendation, that it was never intended to be simply a recommendation for the Parliament then sitting. It was unquestionably intended to be a proposal which would be carried through in due course by agreement.
In the third place, I must say that I share the feeling of my noble friend, Lord Llewellin. I find it impossible to believe that when these declarations were fist made by prominent spokesmen on the Labour side on this subject they had any other idea. I am very sorry to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, is not able to be present to-day, otherwise I would have quoted from him; but I will content myself with saying that no candid and fair-minded man can read the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, on December 19, 1994, without seeing that the proposition that I am advancing is correct. In that speech, he was urging that we should accept the Bill that was then brought forward; for instance, to assimilate Parliamentary and local franchise, and one or two other things. And he was saying in terms, "This is part of the agreement that has been reached. This part may well be thought to benefit my own side, but it is only half of the agreement. The other half of the agreement"—and he is plainly referring to the university seats, because he mentioned them by name—"is equally binding and will in due course be fulfilled" I can easily quote his words if it is desired; I have not in the least altered the substance of them. I say again, that nobody could read Lord Pethick-Lawrence's speech on December 19, 1944, without seeing that he was saying, as he thought as an honourable man he ought to say, "You are getting the advantage now, but it is you who later on will have to give to the other side what you think is their advantage, when the time comes, in respect of university seats."
331 Lastly—and it is strange that this should not have been mentioned; I leave out the Lord Chancellor's declaration and accept what he has said; and there is also a declaration by Mr. Attlee—of all the declarations that have been made, the one to which some attention must be paid is that of the Secretary of State for Scotland. He stands in this matter in a position of exceptional authority. To the best of my belief, he is the only Minister who was an active member of the Speaker's Conference and a Cabinet Minister whose name is on the back of the Bill. He spoke, therefore, as indeed he was claiming to speak, with special knowledge. His theory of the matter, as given to the other place, was this: "You say there was an agreement, and an agreement which extended to this present Parliament. Oh yes, but it was the Conservative Party that broke the agreement, and therefore we are now released." I would venture to read a sentence from the statement made by the Minister of the Crown:But, since the election, the Conservatives have broken that agreement by using the university vote to send back to this House Conservatives whom, at the General Election, the electors rejected at the Poll.There is no point in such an observation unless it involves saying this: "Yes, I was a member of the Speaker's Conference; there was an agreement. It was an agreement which was not limited to the last Parliament, but ought to be fulfilled in this. But I must find a reason why it should not be fulfilled, and here it is—that the Conservatives have broken the agreement by returning Conservative Members for the universities."
I am sorry that Lord Shepherd is not here at this moment. I was interested to hear his remark, though he might not approve of university seats, "We shall certainly fight them if they remain." What sort of logic is this? Apparently you may have a university seat and a Labour man may fight it (indeed, as a matter of fact a very distinguished Socialist and friend of mine, Mr. J. B. Cole, did stand for the University of Oxford), but if a Conservative stands, then that is a breach of the agreement. If the country paid the slightest attention to this argument, they would be bound to reach the conclusion that this is a miserable attempt to excuse what, in the opinion of some of 332 us, is conduct which is not to be expected. It is silly to suggest that a Speaker's Conference was called to decide something that would run for twelve months. It is silly to suggest that Lord Pethick Lawrence, as a member of the Conference, did not speak as a man of honour would be expected to speak when he said, "We are getting part of the bargain now, but we shall have to give part of the bargain to the other side later." It is amazing to me that the Secretary of State for Scotland, with his special connection with this particular subject, should be reduced to offering the argument: "No doubt there might be an agreement, but it has been broken; and, as it has been broken by one side, then we can break it in our Party." I recognise that at best it is only a gentlemen's agreement, and nothing more. I do not for a moment deny what no doubt the Lord Chancellor would confirm, that you cannot get an injunction to stop people breaking a gentlemen's agreement; that is not what a gentlemen's agreement means. But in the circumstances, it is not surprising that even "vermin" should turn.
§ 5.5 p.m.
Before the noble Lord replies, there is one point I would like to raise on this Bill because, as was said by our Leader on this side, we are not going to move any Amendment on the Committee stage. I would like to raise the point as to whether merchant seamen can vote by proxy. On this Bill as drawn at present, there is a little doubt about that point. Perhaps the seaman will be classed under the heading of "auxiliary forces" in Clause 8. During the war he was classed under such a heading. But what is his position now? As many of your Lordships know, seamen frequently have no residential qualifications, because in between voyages they go to a room in a seamen's lodging-house, and then they go to sea again. I would like to have an assurance from the noble Lord that he will look into that point and make quite sure that the merchant seaman is covered so that he can vote by proxy in the same way as members of the Services.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ LORD MORRISON
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord who spoke last would allow me to reply to his question at once. I have not had an opportunity to inquire 333 into it, not knowing that he intended to raise this point but I can tell him at once, that the point will be looked into in a friendly way. I will communicate with him in regard to whether it is met and, if it is not met, whether there is any way in which it can be met. When the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, asked me to wind up this debate, I was in some considerable doubt as to what kind of a debate it was going to he, and therefore I came to the House this afternoon thinking it would perhaps follow the line that has obtained during the time I have had the privilege, of being a member of your Lordships' House. However, I find that it has been an entirely different debate from any that has taken place since I have been in this House. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who opened the debate, said that your Lordships did not consider it would be proper for them either to reject this Bill or to move any Amendment to it, and so some of your Lordships proceeded in full strength to throw at the Bill as much mud as possible. They said, "We are not going to reject it; neither are we going to amend it, but here goes," and on we went.
§ LORD MORRISON
It occurred to me that there was an easy way to reply to this kind of debate, and that all I need do, in order to make an effective reply, would be to equip myself with a large stock of similar ammunition to that which has been fired from the other side, and then launch it. Those of the public who read your Lordships' debate would then have come to the conclusion that it is a case of "the pot calling the kettle black." I am not going to do that, because I do not think that is the kind of reply that is most suited to your Lordships' House.
May I digress for one moment? I am now informed that merchant seamen can claim the right to vote by post if in the United Kingdom—here I refer to Clause 8 (1) (b) (i)—and by proxy, under Clause 8 (2). We will have this matter clarified, however.
Having rejected the easy way of replying to this debate, I have to fall back upon the difficult way. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, when he made his announcement that there would be no 334 rejection and no amendment, said at the same time words to the effect that there was no reason why they should not have a good "go" at this Bill. That makes it no easier for me, because in the ordinary circumstances many of the points brought up this afternoon would have been brought up on an Amendment and considered in detail. I would not for one moment have your Lordships suppose that I am complaining of these tactics. After all, noble Lords on the other side get plenty of brickbats thrown at them from another place, and it would be too much to expect them to resist the temptation to throw a few back. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, while not proposing any Amendment or rejection, said that he and those with him stood up for the right to comment; and their first comment was that this Bill was "a pretty shabby affair." That sounded to me more like the language used frequently in another place. The noble Marquess will know that both he and I have been Members in another place, and I hope it is not going to be said that I am settling down more quickly in this House than he has done.
The noble Marquess then went on to develop his argument on the assumption that the officials and managers of the Labour Party are clever, cunning and crafty, while the managers of the Conservative Party machine are, without exception, innocent, straightforward, and honest-to-goodness paragons of virtue. In reply to that I would say only that; with a fairly long experience, it seems to me that the noble Marquess's assumption is a little exaggerated. I can only urge him for his own good, when he employs that kind of ammunition, to read some of the speeches of his opposite number in another place. I will say no more about that. Some of us have had a difficult task in a House where the Government are represented in a considerable minority, and we have to exercise a great amount of restraint. I do not know whether noble Lords opposite know how much restraint we have to exercise. Therefore, I am appealing to the noble Marquess not to exasperate us too far.
My opinion may not be of as great importance as that of the noble Marquess, but I think it would be of more value to the country if this problem were approached on the assumption that both 335 Parties were actuated by equally honest motives. When I came into your Lordships' House I endeavoured to assume all the time that wherever noble Lords were sitting, and however diametrically opposed to mine their views might be, I ought to give them credit for being as honest and sincere in their opinions as I am in mine. If we depart from that and accuse each other of craftiness and cunning we are not doing ourselves any good, but we are letting this House down in the opinion of the country. The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, who, if he will forgive my saying so, represents a Party more numerous in this House than in another place, followed on somewhat similar lines, and what I have just said in reply to the noble Lord, the Marquess of Salisbury, applies to him.
The maiden speech on the noble Viscount, Lord Margesson, has sustained the high opinion which I had of him in another place. But he put up the argument that if the Conservatives had won the last Election, they wound have been quite honest in this matter, whereas the Labour Party has been dishonest, and so on. Is that as high as your Lordships' House can get?
§ VISCOUNT MARGESSON
What I said was that if we had gone back on our part of the agreement the other side would have said, justly and rightly, that we were not behaving in an honourable fashion.
§ LORD MORRISON
I must point out to the noble Viscount that it is customary to make a maiden speech as little provocative as possible.
§ VISCOUNT MARGESSON
I did warn the noble Lord at the beginning that I should have to be provocative.
§ LORD MORRISON
The noble Viscount has travelled a long way from orthodoxy since he left another place, where he exercised discipline, though I myself never came under it. Then the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in a practical speech, entirely free from allegations against honesty, reminded us of the law of election petitions. I may tell the House that it is intended to consolidate the election law at the earliest opportunity. The noble Lord, Lord MacDermott, again in a maiden speech, upon which I am glad also to congratulate 336 him, raised, not for the first time, the question of university representation. That was largely the subject also of the speech by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon. I would remind him that there are in the present Parliament, I think, 422—but in case I am wrong in my figure, let me say, between 300 and 400—graduates of universities, and a large number of them in your Lordships' House. In those circumstances, it would be difficult to convince the public—and, after all, the public are the masters of all of us—that the universities are in any way handicapped in their representation in either House of Parliament.
Indeed, if I may draw upon my experience in another place, university Members have not taken part there to any extent distinguishable from that of other Members. It may be difficult to assess this when one sits and listens to debates day after day, month after month, and year after year, but if one reads the debates without knowing what constituency a Member represents, I think it would be difficult to find in the speeches of university Members—who take part in all the debates in another place—any feature which is particularly distinguishable from the kind of view put forward by the ordinary Member representing the ordinary constituency.
The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, dealt again with the subject. I notice that he did not repeat the statement, made by the Leader of the Opposition in another place, that if a Conservative Government are returned the university seats will be restored. I am sure that the public would be interested to know whether that statement made by the Leader of the Opposition in another place also expresses the opinion of your Lordships. Possibly this is a question upon which you are not supposed to make any comment.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
In fact I did. In part of my speech I said that I believed university seats would be restored, and as I thought at an early date. I meant immediately after the next General Election.
§ LORD MORRISON
Then from my comparatively limited knowledge of the people of this country, I can only say that I do not think any great proportion of the public will be very enthusiastic about that promise. It seems to me that if the noble Lord's Party are looking for- 337 ward to a majority at the next Election they will need something heavier in their locker than that particular item.
§ LORD MORRISON
Similarly, I am certain that the public in this country would not support the retention of a constituency like the City of London—a constituency with 5,000 people returning two Members of Parliament. I think that public opinion would be firmly against that.
In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, may I say that I believe that the marriage of the City with Westminster will turn out to be a happy one for both parties? I was glad to hear him say that, to some extent, at any rate, he agreed with that. With regard to his other point about the London County Council, I am authorised to say that the Home Secretary will consider a request for greater representation on the London County Council on its merits, but taking no account of rateable value. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, spoke at some length about the use of motor cars in elections. He carried my memory back to the election when I was elected, at the first time of asking, to the British House of Commons. My opponent, a Conservative, had the use of 150 motor cars, and it was only a small constituency. I had the use of one car and it broke down at 3 o'clock in the afternoon.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
May I ask whether that disaster was caused in the same way as one which occurred in that very same election in my constituency? Someone foolishly put one of the posters of Mr. Ramsay MacDonald over the radiator of a car of which I had the use and so prevented any air getting through it.
§ LORD MORRISON
The breakdown of my car was due a much simpler cause. The election took place in November. A dense fog came down on the constituency, and my car struck a lamp-post. The result was that I had to walk for the rest of the day, and my supporters were put into the position of either having to walk or of travelling in Conservative motor cars—which I consider a most reprehensible expedient. I am sure that I have collected many hundreds of votes from people who have travelled to the 338 poll in Conservative motor cars, but it was always difficult to know whether they were going to do so. Frankly, consider that it is a practice to be discouraged by everyone concerned. May I remind the noble Lord that candidates will not now be allowed to hire cars? They will be able to employ only cars which are lent to them. Under Clause 33, a person is permitted to give his neighbour a lift if he does so out of neighbourliness, and not with a view to promoting or procuring the election of any particular candidate. I think that noble Lords in your Lordships' House who have spent any considerable time in another place may be forgiven if they fall back on their own past experiences occasionally. I had on one occasion an opponent who appeared in the constituency only the day before nomination day. He, or his agent, had a brilliant idea. At that time, the names of women were set out separately in the electoral lists. This candidate, or his agent, managed to get hold of a list of the women voters. The word went round: "Concentrate on using the cars to get all the women you can to the poll." The assumption was that, in those days, the result of having a motor car call for a woman to take her to the poll, would ensure her voting for the candidate in whose interests the car was being used.
I think that, as this part of the Bill will work out, it will prove an advantage. I do not agree that it is limiting the power of people to go to the poll. I think there is a great deal in this Bill which will make it much easier than heretofore. To sum up these somewhat disjointed remarks, I think that this has been a short but interesting debate. When the public read of it, or of such small passages of it as the Press will be able to print in these days of small newspapers and large cricket scores, I doubt whether it will cut much ice with them. If I may say so, I think that one of the habitual mistakes made by noble Lords opposite is to exhibit a tendency to underrate the intelligence of ordinary people. I know what the ordinary people of my old constituency, amongst whom I still live, will say about this debate, particularly about the speeches of noble Lords opposite. They will say: "Satan rebuking sin."
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.